Ahh, rosé season… Every March, I wait expectantly for the release of the year’s rosés like a puppy waits for a treat. I feel a special giddiness the moment we fill our wine shelves with pretty pink and peach-hued bottles that beautifully catch and reflect the sunlight. Rosés are the much-anticipated first release of the spring season, they are a litmus test of a vintage, and a tease of what their more robust, red brothers will deliver later in the year.
There are three primary ways that rosés are made. In a process called saignée (which translates from French as, “to bleed”), rosés are made from the very same juice as their darker counterparts. In this method, the winemaker drains the first bit of juice off the skins before it has had enough contact time to become a complete red. The rest of the juice is then left in contact with the skins to fully develop into a red wine. A second method of making rosé is also through skin contact. This method is used when rosé wine is the primary product being made. Red-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with all of the juice for a short period. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). Less commonly, a third way of making rosé is when red and white wines are vinified separately and then blended to reach the pink balance of red fruit and white crispness that the winemaker is looking for.
All of the following rosés are made using either the saignée method, or with a light crushing, the second method described above. They are fresh tasting, food friendly and versatile, expressing the minerality and zip you might find in a white wine — as opposed to the berry fruit notes and structure typically associated with the red varietals that they are made from. These wines are a natural pairing for so many springtime foods: from fresh goat milk cheeses, to fresh lettuce, to peas… not to mention, a broad range of proteins – eggs, spring lamb, duck and fish. In fact, as much as I love to quaff a bottle of rosé in solitary splendor, even more satisfying is finding those perfect springtime foodstuffs to pair with it. As we move into the heat of summer, rosés become the perfect aperitif with their bright, refreshing flavors, pretty colors and lower alcohol. As you plan your next spring or summer gathering, think pink! Here are a few of my favorites:
Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2012
The mere mention of rosé, and I immediately imagine the hillsides of Provence, purple with lavender. Château Peyrassol is one of the more illustrious producers of Côtes-de-Provence – originally established by the Knights Templar in 1285 (!!), who settled in the area to protect crusaders en-route to the Holy Land. Today, the Rigard family (Philippe Austruy and his nephew Alban Cacaret) organically farm 80 hectares and focus on making reds, whites, and rosés that are expressive of the terroir in the Var, just north of St. Tropez.
This year’s bottling is one of the more delicate rosés on our shelves. It is a light pressing of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah. The nose is full of fruit blossoms and strawberries, and in the mouth it’s full of small forest fruits with a bracing minerality reminiscent of wet river stones. This is my breakfast wine. Now, don’t judge me too quickly – but it’s true, coupled with its low alcohol content – just 12.5% – and its delicate strawberry nose, I just love it with a poached egg and spring pea shoots.
Lieu-dit Cocagne Coteaux-du-Vendômois 2012
Made with Pineau D’Aunis (also known as Chenin Noir), this rosé is produced by a cooperative of 12 producers in the Coteaux-du-Vendômois – north of Touraine. Every year, I come back to this bottle for its satisfying nose of watermelon and citrus peel, not to mention a gulpable palate of ruby-red grapefruit and minerals. Buy a few bottles and enjoy them with the first-of-the-season goat cheeses. I like it best with Ruggles Hill Creamery Alys’s Eclypse, a startlingly herbaceous, ash-ripened button, or with a salty feta, mint, and watermelon salad.
Azienda Agricola Pacina “Il Rosso” Rosato 2012
Our wine buyer, Gemma, has been on the edge of her seat waiting for this rosé – made by her dear friends Giovanna and Stefano. She doesn’t call herself a rosé drinker but I think she agrees with me when we say “wow” about this Tuscan Sangiovese rosé, definitely another summer love of mine. The racy acidity of Pacina’s remarkable Chiantis show through in this lively pink – dark pink I should say. This is a full-bodied rosé that drinks like a red. Many of you already know the easy drinkability of “Lo Secondo” – so grab this instead for your next light pasta with blistered cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of good olive oil, or piece of seared tuna over arugula. It’s bold enough to stand up to your next meal of BBQ as well, with its distinctly Sangiovese nose of spice, and structured mouthfeel.
Lo Spaventapasseri “Rugiada” Rosato 2012
I tasted the 2012 Rosato from Simone of Lo Spaventapasseri (“the scarecrow”) at VinItaly this year, and have been eagerly waiting for it to arrive – it should be with us in the next week or two! Made of 100% Pinot Nero, Simone calls his pink “rugiada” which translates from the local Italian dialect to “dew.” He chose this name because that is how he wants the wine to taste, like the blush of condensation on the grapes at sunrise – simple, fleeting, and satisfying. It is a deeper red than most of our rosés, and carries that lovely distinctive Pinot Nero nose (strawberry and blueberry fruit), and tastes ripe and clean on the palate. I recommend drinking this with a Robiola Enrico and a dab of Simone’s homemade red pepper and raisin conserve.
Take your pick from this spectrum of pink and put it to the test! My guess? I think you will find these rosés just as exciting and intriguing as I do – maybe even for breakfast too!
Jessica Smith is the Assistant Wine Buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.