I’m often asked in my wine and cheese shop what wine to pair with barbecue, and more often than not, my response is rosé. I’ll provide the same answer for wines for a picnic, an outdoor party or a summer wedding reception or to pair with salmon, a caprese salad or fried chicken.
Sometimes the customer will squinch up his face and say, “Rosé, like white Zinfandel? No thanks!” I’ll patiently explain that real rosés aren’t that treacly stuff still found on supermarket shelves. For the most part, they’re crisp and dry, yet offer plenty of fruit flavors ranging from strawberry and raspberry to watermelon, and it’s the wine that many folks in France, Italy and Spain drink daily from May to October.
There’s generally a bottle in my refrigerator, as I find it to be one of the most versatile wines around. It pairs well with fried, Asian, Mexican and spicy foods, and is one of the only wines that works with egg dishes and goes well with the bold flavors of barbecue and the crispy salads, making it the perfect wine for summertime.
Rosé wines are perfect for red wine drinkers. In fact most rosés are pale red wines that get their distinctive color—from the palest of orange to a dark, nearly purple and opaque pink—from contact with the skins of red wine grapes, called maceration.
There are several methods for making rosé wine: Skin contact, saignée (French for to have bled and pronounced SEN yay) and blending, with saignée being the most prevalent.
The saignée method is a great testament to the efficiency of modern winemaking. With saignée, the winemaker produces two wines for the price of one—a red and a rosé wine. The grapes are crushed, and the juice is left to sit in contact with the skins, typically for one to three days. When the desired color is achieved, some of the juice is bled off and fermented into rosé, leaving juice that is still in contact with the grape skins. This adds more tannin, structure and color to the remaining juice, which ultimately produces a stronger, fuller-bodied red wine.
The skin contact method is essentially the same as for saignée, except that no juice is bled off, and the end product is just rosé wine. The blending method is just what the name implies, a mix of red and white wines. Generally this is used for wines of lesser quality, but there are some sublime blended rosé wines available, particularly from Spain.
Rosés are made in nearly every winemaking country and come from a wide variety of grapes. In addition to rosé, they can be called vin gris, rosado (Spain), blanc de noir (South Africa), ros ato (Italy) or blush.
There’s even a wine region in France where the only wine made is rosé—the Tavel AOC (for Appellation d’Origine Controllée, the French geographical indication of quality for wines and cheeses and other agricultural products). Tavels were the favorite wines of Louis XIV, the Avignon popes and the novelist Balzac (and me).
Sonoma County vintner Jeff Morgan not only co-founded a company dedicated to making only dry California rosé wines (SoloRosa), he also wrote a book on the subject, called Rosé: A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine.
Freelance writer Jeff Diamond owns and operates Farmstead Cheeses and Wines in Alameda and Montclair Village. He drinks rosés all year round.
You can find rosé wines at every price point—from $10 to $35-plus a bottle. Here are some of my favorites, available at several East Bay shops, bars and restaurants.
Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé—Probably the quintessential dry French rosé and served at top restaurants, this expensive (over $35!) blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Grenache and Carignane has a copper color, rose and strawberry nose and a bone-dry finish.
Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel—Made by Christophe Delorme, one of the wine world’s leaders in biodynamic wine. This French Rhône charmer has a dark pink color, with a complex nose of flowers, red and white fruits aromas. Round, full bodied with a long lasting fruity finish.
Unti Vineyards—Mick Unti of outside of Healdsburg makes a crisp, light bodied, balanced pink from Grenache and Mourvèdre that pairs well with tapenades, egg dishes and cheeses.
Muga Rosado—Is a blended rosé from Rioja in Spain, a mix of Tempranillo and Grenache (red) and Viura (white). Like all Muga wines, it’s barrel fermented and has a depth and richness that matches well with heavier foods, like grilled veggies, chicken or shrimp.
SoloRosa Napa Valley Rosé—Reminds me of the Jolly Rancher hard candies of my youth—sweet and sour watermelon flavors and a lovely pale salmon color. It pairs well with salads, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork tenderloin and Asian food.
Cristallino Cava Rosado—This pink Spanish sparkling wine is perfect with paella and seafood. And its under $10 price point won’t break the bank.