As much as I love the first greens and herbs of spring, the most unfettered and rewarding time of year for a cook is summer, the time of year with the largest and most diverse selection of flavors and ingredients for cooking. A wonderful but frequently overlooked accompaniment to so many of those flavors is a good rosé wine, something I crave when the temperatures rise, we fire up our grill, and the garden really begins to produce.
Mind you, a good rosé is not the insipid and sweet pink plonk from a box that so many of us were weaned on in college. The technique for making pink wine is the same in most cases. The term saigneé (named for the French “to bleed”) refers to the process by which red grapes are crushed and left to stand in a tank or vat for a period (just hours or in some cases a few days) in which the dark skins impart a rose color to the juice. Before fermentation begins, the juice is then “bled” off the skins. Generally speaking, the longer time of contact results in more color, body, and intensity of flavor.
The Armas de Guerra Rosado Mencia 2016 ($15) is a lovely delicate thing so pale as to have only a hint of pink color. The nose suggests fleeting strawberries and roses, with a tiny floral hint of acetone (in a nice way) on the first sip. There is also a suggestion of petrichor (the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the smell of rain after long dry weather on dry earth). But don’t let the timid color of this wine deceive you—it really expands on the palate like a sleeping lion, especially when consumed with food. The ancient vines also contribute a great depth to the wine, with red fruit, pleasant acidity and mineral notes in the finish. Truly delightful—and a great companion to our lunch of turkey polpettone (meatloaf) and a rocky mash of sweet potato and spinach.
Sean Minor’s Four Bears 100% Pinot Noir Rose ($9.99), has a Kansas City connection. Wine maker Sean Minor was born and raised in Overland Park, moved with his wife to work in Napa Valley, studied viticulture at U.C. Davis, and later moved to the Pacific Northwest to work for King Estate Winery (another Kansas City connection winery). A few years after returning to California, he founded Sean Minor Wines, a family-owned winery, with a belief that great wines could be made without “severe consequences on the pocket book.” The Four Bears (their four children) pinot noir has a warm, light salmon color and is the most austere of the three wines discussed. The nose opens with subtle stone fruit like peaches and nectarines, but has the strawberry hints that one expects with a rosé. It opens up at a slightly warmer temperature than the other wines, and that it expands even more with food. It’s very dry, with raspberry acidity and hints of flint from the Sonoma Valley pinot noir grapes they use.
The Bastianich Rosato di Refosco ($15.99) has the biggest expression of these three roses. A professional disclosure: In addition to writing, I also work for the family that produces this wine, and I have worked with this wine for years. It is made from the Refosco grape, a grape indigenous to Friuli, known primarily for producing spicy red wines with dark fruit flavors and aromatic intensity. As a rosé, this is a unique expression of Refosco, and its dynamic personality certainly comes through. I asked the producer (I have a few connections here) what the absolute perfect companion to this wine was and I was told prosciutto from Friuli (we know it here as Prosciutto San Danielle) and oysters. I only had simple Prosciutto di Parma at the time, and it was a lovely combination. I imagine that the prosciutto from Friuli would be even more delicious because that type of prosciutto tends to be much more floral in nature and would play beautifully with the strawberry notes of this wine. As we had no oysters hanging out in the fridge, I had to make do with my turkey polpettone. The nice bit here was that the bolder rosato stood up nicely to the tomato in the sauce, and I know from experience that this wine is a wonderful companion to many other summery Italian dishes.
As summer approaches and you feel more and more like dining al fresco, please don’t forget the rosé. And do yourself a favor: build an antipasti platter with prosciutto and other cured meats, as all of these rosés responded beautifully to the salty cured pork and its accompaniments.