Wine that's coming up roses

IN MY GLASS

June 14, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Rose, the pink wine that had a reputation for being sugary and girly, has changed its image. It has dropped the sweetness, picked up a bit of muscle and regularly appears in mixed company. These attributes plus its attractive price, between $9 and $25 a bottle, make it an appealing chilled beverage, especially during Maryland summers when the temperature and humidity soar.

Once valued primarily for its empty bottle that doubled as a candleholder, rose's rise has been fueled in large part by an influx of foreigners. Dry roses from Spain, France, Italy, Australia and Argentina, made from a variety of grapes, have penetrated our borders, bringing with them proof that pink wine can be flavorful without being cloying.

Dry roses taste different from blush wines, such as white zinfandel, which are also pink but notably sweeter. While most dry roses come from overseas, California winemakers also have been making dry rose, crushing their red grapes, allowing the skins a brief period of contact with the juice, then hurrying the bottles to market.

This summer, dry rose has generated media buzz, with stories in food glossies such as this month's Food & Wine as well as a delightful book, Extremely Pale Rose by Jamie Ivey (St. Martin's). This is an account of the author's travels through France to find the palest rose, which according to French lore, should be the pink of a baby's skin.

Inevitably the wine's pink color raises the issue of gender preference, always touchy ground. In Extremely Pale Rose, for instance, a Frenchman who is director of a laboratory studying rose offers the distinctly unscientific opinion that women adore pink wine because it is the color of love and passion.

Closer to home, Peter Wood told me that over the past three years, he has seen a change in the demographic makeup of customers who buy rose at the Wine Source, the Hampden store where he works. "It went from older women to all women, to women and a few grudging men, to now, when it is popular among both men and women."

Indeed, at an outdoor rose wine tasting and cookout held last week at the Wine Market in Locust Point, many men, including some of my old, sweaty softball buddies, were sipping rose, eating grilled food and smiling.

In some homes, dry rose serves as a compromise wine, a happy medium between the man who drinks red wine and the woman who prefers white.

Another important factor in the popularity of dry rose is its uncomplicated style. With its bright fruit start and acid finish, it seems to be in tune with many American palates. The flavors, while not especially pushy, are balanced and the alcohol level runs down around 11 percent to 14 percent.

There are few rules with rose. But one, according to Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy in their book Wine Style (Wiley), is that roses should always be chilled. "The cold temperature enhances whatever acidity the wine has and makes the wine more refreshing," they write. Another rule, the authors relay, is to drink roses when they are young. In no case, they advise, should you buy a rose that is more than three years old.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Tasting

Recently, after sampling dozens of dry roses from around the globe, I picked five favorites and paired them with some typical summer fare.

Domaine de La Petite Cassagne 2005, $9. Reddish rose from the Rhone with aroma of strawberries and crisp acid finish. Terrific with a pork shoulder that had been grilled and laced with garlic. Stood up to grilled onions as well.

El Coto Rioja 2004, $12. Pale pink Spanish rose made with Grenache and Tempranillo grapes that has a cherry aroma, medium body, slightly orange hue and a remarkably clean finish. Excellent partner with grilled chicken.

Etude Rose Carneros 2005, $23. Made with pinot noir, this rosy Californian had the most flavors to offer and was the most expensive. It paired well with grilled salmon topped with a curry aioli.

Kir-Yianni Estate Akakies Rose 2005, $9. A vibrant, versatile beauty from Greece. An excellent companion to chipotle seasoned steak and grilled corn.

Charles Melton Rose Barossa Valley 2004, $18. A heavyweight rose from South Australia, a mixture of shiraz, grenache, cabernet sauvignon and pinot meunier, this has more muscle than most of its pink pals. A great mate for grilled burgers.

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