Think Pink

If the word "rosé" makes you gag—if it reminds you of that time you got ill on sickly sweet "pink champagne" at your big brother's wedding—it's time to think again. Serious winemakers are once more crafting pink wine, though mostly in tiny, experimental batches. Recently one of David LeClaire's invaluable trade and public tastings offered an opportunity to sample a wide range of rosés, domestic and foreign—probably a wider range, in fact, than has ever existed before. Rosé isn't made from pink grapes, of course. It comes about when a winemaker lets red-skinned grapes ferment a while "on the skins," then decants the liquid to finish fermenting. Color is not the only factor affected; a great deal of a wine's flavor depends on complex compounds in the skins. These compounds are extracted, each at its own rate, in fermentation, allowing a winemaker exquisite control over the flavor of his product. (Fermentation temperature also affects the rate and concentration of flavor components, offering another handle on the final result.) Even when rosé was in the deepest fashion eclipse, some traditional exemplars continued to be made: most famously in the southern Rhône commune of Tavel, source of a powerful wine with a pleasant cedary aroma and an agreeable, subtle tannic rasp on the tongue. Tavel rosés feature the grenache grape, but grenache is not the only varietal subjected to the technique. In Spain the widespread tempranillo gets the treatment in some wines of the Duero. And last month's tasting at Seattle's Waterfront restaurant demonstrated that there's hardly a red grape grown these days that someone isn't converting to rosé. Kay Simon is an old hand at this; every vintage of her Chinook rosé made from cabernet franc grapes is eagerly awaited. Tefft, Yakima Cellars, DiStefano, Three Rivers, and Syncline also use cab franc (the latter does a more traditional grenache rosé as well); at Hinzerling, Mike Wallace uses pinot noir; in California, Joliesse employs syrah and Miner sangiovese; while Washington's Preston and Yellowhawk pioneer uncharted territory with rosés made from, respectively, lemberger and gamay, of all things. (I didn't even know anybody in Washington grew gamay.) Now that winemakers have provided the raw material, it's the consumer's turn. Rosés are traditionally (in the U.S., at least) associated with casual summer sipping, but the good ones have always deserved better. One reason "rosé" tends to equal "summer" is that rosés can tolerate extreme chilling without losing all their charm. But with the spectrum of flavors and mouthfeels they now offer, we owe them the courtesy of pairing them with food. I've tried Simon's Chinook rosé with cold tarragon-roasted chicken, with knockout results, and some of Europe's robuster rosés hit the spot with a pungent paella; I look forward to the grilling season as an opportunity for further experiment. If you find some stellar combos, let us know.

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