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Everything’s Coming Up Rosés

14 May

Earlier this week, I attended RAPwine‘s (RAP stands for Rosé Avengers and Producers) Pink Out! event in San Francisco.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited to the Trade/Media tasting, which was provided free of charge.  RAP also held a consumer tasting later in the day, and tickets for that cost somewhere around the $40 mark.  It was a sellout.

When I was just starting out as a wine merchant (a little less than a decade ago now) we offered free daily tastings at the shop where I worked.  At regular intervals in the Spring and Summer, we’d pop open a rosé for the daily tasting.  I hated working the tasting bar on these days.  Not because I hated rosé.  (For the record I loved it and still do.)  But because I hated rejection.  On those days, when I offered a free taste of pink wine, 99% of customers who walked through the door would turn me down.  Many did so by recoiling in horror at the suggestion, many scoffed, others laughed and asked “are you kidding?”  I remember very clearly the face of one man who looked at me with a combination of pity and disdain.  On rosé days, I always went home feeling drained and dejected.

For the record, I blame White Zinfandel — Sutter Home, Lancer’s, Mateus, whatever.  Because of its ubiquitous presence at every airport bar, office party, and Oliver Garden in America social wine drinkers clearly went through a period of White Zin induced PTSD, unable to unlock the mechanism in their brains which, when it saw pink, immediately thought sweet; unable to understand that it didn’t always have to be that way.  One thing I learned from attending RAP’s PinkOut! tasting?  We have definitely recovered.

Recent studies have shown that over the last couple of years, during a down economy when the wine industry as a whole has been struggling to stay afloat, rosé producers have been enjoying a renaissance.  In fact, sales of imported rosés were up 28% last year.  A huge number given economic conditions.  When researchers talk about imported rosés, they’re really talking about France, and when talking about French rosés, they’re really talking about Provence, which accounts for about 40% of all the pink wine produced in that country.  It also sets the standard for what a blush can really be — pale-hued, mouthwateringly refreshing, with elegant minerality and subtle fruit.  Interestingly, at the PinkOut! tasting, only two Provençal rosés were on offer.  The vast majority of wines were from California.  Interesting, given that 10 years ago very few CA producers (but for the Sutter Homes, Beringers, Gallos and the like) were even making rosé.  A fact borne out by my own simple research.  As I worked my way around the tasting, I asked every winery representative I met how long they had been producing rosé.  The vast majority told me that it was their second or third vintage.

Not that that’s a bad thing.  One of my favorite wines of the day was one called Lorenza ($20).  A pink wine produced by the mother-daughter team of Melinda Kearney and Michele Ouellet at Intersection Wine Company from a blend of Mourvèdre, Carignane, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah.  In only its second vintage, this wine showed the kind of charm, restraint, and elegance I tend to favor.  It wasn’t a hot pink hued wine bursting with ripe berry fruit.  Rather, it was a cool, crisp pour without even a whisper of residual sugar.

Speaking of color, I’ve focused a lot here on pale pinks, but the fact is that rosé comes in every hue from carnation to magenta, and I was a little surprised at the number of wines at the PinkOut! event that tended toward the latter.  While scanning my notes, I noticed that I wrote the words fuscia and hot pink quite a few times to describe a wine’s color.  This made me wonder if more domestic rosés tend to fall into the darker end of the spectrum?  Seems to me that it would be a possibility given American red wine drinkers’ penchant for dark wines.  Maybe the same follows for pinks?

I’m not typically one to advocate for trends, but in the case of pink wine I’ll make an exception.  Drink more pink…regardless of whether you like it salmon-hued or fuscia.  Just promise me it won’t be Boone’s Farm.

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Ms. Drinkwell’s Top 5: Shoulder Season Wines

13 Oct

boarding-bass-shiraz_1Welcome to shoulder season, that moment between the lows and the highs.  It’s a term used almost exclusively by the travel industry, but I don’t see why it can’t also be used in the context of wine.  In fact, it seems to fit quite nicely given that the wine industry is also a cyclical one with (usually) predictable high and low periods.  Wine sales are traditionally at their lowest during the summer months and peak during the November and December holiday season, which means that now, in October, we’re in the lull.

What’s so great about shoulder season is that it makes you think differently.  Ever dream of Christmas in Hawaii?  So does everybody else.  It’s as common as going into a wine store on New Year’s Eve and declaring that you want a bottle of Champagne.  Everybody wants Zinfandel and Pinot Noir on Thanksgiving and Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November.  They want big, impressive (but not too expensive this year) California reds to wow friends or clients during the month of December.  In wine and in travel, it seems that everybody wants the same thing at the same time, often dictated by the weather or the holidays.  But, what if, as now, there is not discernable weather pattern to guide you, no big holiday to prepare for?  What do you drink?  And where in the world do you go to find it?

Below are five shoulder season suggestions from wine roads less traveled that are both budget friendly (all under $20) and perfect for milder weather.  Welcome to the delicious in-between!
* Importer, where applicable, and approximate retail price in parentheses.

2008 Quinto do Alqueve, Ribatejo, Portugal (Robert Kacher Selections, $12)

quinto do alqueve

So many Rhône varieties, so little time… and so much money.  I’m often disappointed by white Rhône because for all its heady aroma, it’s often flabby and overpriced.  This Portugese pour made from Fernão Pires is from the Ribatejo region, which lies about 40 miles north of Lisbon.  A superior stunt double for the French stuff in terms of quality and price, it offers a nose redolent of dried apricot and linden blossom.   It’s chiffon-soft mouthfeel is at first ripe with pineapple and mango but finishes a squeeze of meyer lemon juice to give it just the right amout of zip.

2008 Cor Cellars Alba Cor, Columbia Gorge, WA ($17)

Alba Cor

Not only is the Columbia River Gorge (the natural border between Oregon and Washinton), well,  gorgeous, it also produces some mighty fine wine, like this 52% Pinot Gris, 48% Gewürztraminer blend.  It’s lychee and rose petal aromas give way to full bodied flavors of clementine and dried nectarine that are stopped just short of sweetness by a backbone of mouthwatering acidity.

2007 Domaine de la Pepière La Pépiè Côt, VdP de Jardin, France (Louis/Dressner Selections, $16)

50_274_274_pepiecot1

A Malbec by any other name would never taste like this.  Marc Ollivier’s very natural (only natural yeasts, no sterile filtration) Malbec, which goes by the alias Côt in the Loire Valley, is an elegant take on the variety.  One you’d never expect if your only experience has been in the form of brawny Argentine versions or even the inky, earthy offerings of Cahors.  No, here in the Garden of France Malbec is treated delicately and the finished product is a nearly clear garnet stunner that’s much more elegant than its drunken chicken label might imply.  Each pour brims with black raspberries, bing cherries, and violets.  Can’t get much lovelier than that.

2008 Palmina Dolcetto, Santa Barbara County, CA ($16.50)

palmina dolcetto

I admit that I have not traditionally been a fan of the Cal-Ital movement, primarily because I have found time and time again that Cali wines labeled as Sangiovese or Barbera are more or less unrecognizable as their stated varieties.  They have no character.  Thankfully, there are a handful of producers like Palmina, who are dedicated to upping the ante in the Cal-Ital game and are doing so with integrity and offering good quality at fair prices.  During shoulder season I like their Dolcetto, a friendly, easygoing wine filled with spicy cherry, rhubarb, and plum flavors that shows the characteristic Italian brightness (i.e. the acidity hasn’t gone down the tubes in favor of squeezing out extra gooey fruit).  Tasty and true.

2006 Bibich Riserva, North Dalmatia, Croatia (Blue Danube Wine Co., $18)

Bibich

This blend of three grapes — Lasin, Plavina, and Babic — drinks like a lusty, dusty spiced Dry Creek Zin poured into a lithe dancer’s body.  There’s a lot of muscle here but it’s lean, meaning this wine’s berry spiced intensity is discovered slowly, one sip at a time, not in a single knock out punch.  A perfect red to ease you into heartier glasses come winter.