Rosé, Can You See? 

The perfect wine for summer is pink.

For the record, rosé wine is not a mix of red and white grapes; that would be called "gold wine." Mixing wines together was how the Romans made it, but they had to dilute their vintages because they were so harsh. When it came to vino, what the Romans lacked in finesse, they made up for with gusto. They attacked whatever it was they were drinking with a weapons-grade enthusiasm.

Rosé, on the other hand, calls for a lighter touch. It is made from red grapes with a process that is close to how white wines are created. The truth is that all grapes, even red ones, have white flesh that produces clear juice. What gives red wine its dark color — and tannins and all its other wonderful qualities — is the grape skin. Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio as the Italians say) is actually a big blue-purple grape, even though it's a white wine. When the grapes are crushed, the juice is separated from the skins to keep the light color and flavor.

To get a rosé, red grapes are lightly crushed, with the skins allowed to sit in the juice from anywhere from a few hours (for a wine light in color and flavor) to a few days (for a darker, bolder wine). The result is a fresh summer wine — a white for red wine lovers.

You don't need to look for an old respectable vintage when choosing a rosé. In fact, don't even try. If you did find an older vintage, there is probably a nasty reason it hasn't been opened. Age doesn't improve a rosé.

The free-market upside to all this is that good rosés are cheap. After a quick trip across the top shelf of several liquor stores, the most expensive one I could find was about $30. And from what I've tried, there is no reason to pay any more than $15.

click to enlarge spirits.jpg

The real problem with pink wine is perception, perhaps rooted in having watched your Aunt Erma haul around a hatbox full of Franzia. Or maybe that's just me. When I pull the cork from a rosé bottle, I can almost hear the train conductor calling, "Now arriving at Rosé ... Next stop: White Wine Spritzer!" I have no moral issue with white wine spritzers; that's just not a road I want to travel.

Because rosé can be created from any red varietal, they are made nearly everywhere. European rosés tend to be drier — wine speak for less sweet — than New World wines. I am, however, painting with a wide brush here. The Provence region of France is famous for its dry rosés. Champs de Provence will run you about $16 a bottle. It's light and pale and dry enough so you don't get sweet mouth. Or, I'd imagine, a roaring hangover. There are also several Côte du Rhônes that are very good. Try M. Chapoutier's Belleruche for about the same price point.

If you are looking for a bigger wine with more fruit, try New World rosé wines — Californian or South American. And Spanish rosados are another lively option. Or Germany's Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé. Only the Germans would have a winery called Wolf. I was at a loss to describe this vintage until a friend, a veteran of the wine business, told me the word I was looking for was "fleshy," which is wine-speak for God only knows what. Still, the term was weirdly on the mark. So yes, the Germans make fleshy rosés.

As for food pairings, rosé is the sort of wine that really sings with cheeses and cold, smoked meats or oysters with a mignonette sauce. Or, for that matter, fried chicken. Don't sneer until you try it; this is Memphis.

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