Monday, December 28, 2009

Rosés from Provence: Perfect for the Holidays

Rosé, now that it has finally broken through the American wine-drinking consciousness as a serious option for serious consumers--it’s no longer seen in the same light as sweet, simple white zinfandel, thank goodness--has one more hurdle left to surmount: The perception that it is strictly a warm-weather treat.

Fans of rosé know very well that it is one of the great treats of the spring and summer; indeed, the arrival of the new vintage each year symbolizes the coming change in season as well as a sunny forecast by the TV weatherman. And, yes, there are few moments as charming and as evocative as nibbling on, say, a salade niçoise at a sidewalk cafe table while a glass of rosé gently sweats before you.

But to limit your rosé consumption strictly to the warm-weather months is to miss out on one of the top pleasures of the wine world the rest of the year.

Here, then, I’d like to make a suggestion: That you consider rosé right now, in the dead of winter. It may go against common practice, sure, but lots of worthwhile things do.

Right now, as the days are just about as short as they’ll be until next winter, we all could use a little sunshine. And few things provide it in such abundance as a bright glass of rosé. The fruit, the acid, the quaffability: It’s all there, and perfectly appropriate for the season in exactly the opposite way that rich reds are.

Then there’s the food-pairing part. For this gluttonous time of year--with fried potato latkes for Hanukkah and hearty hams for Christmas and who-knows-what-abominable-combinations on New Years Eve--my money is with rosé and Champagne in the pairing department. Few wines offer the same level of versatility at the table as these two.

Great rosé is made all over the world, from Europe to South America to the United States and beyond. Exploring examples from all of these places is bound to be a rewarding and delicious endeavor. Still, though, rosé finds its ancestral homeland of sorts--and one of its greatest expressions--in Provence.

I recently had the opportunity to taste a number of excellent examples from that famed French countryside, and was blown away by the range and quality of them. What really amazed me, though, was the ability of many of them to last (and, indeed, evolve) well beyond the point at which they are traditionally “supposed to be consumed.” In fact, it’s a good idea to look for successive vintages of Provençal rosés: Tasting a young one alongside a bottle that’s slightly more mature is educational in the most delicious way possible. And the slightly older ones, with their more pronounced earth and spice notes, provide a whole added layer of complexity with which to pair heartier holiday-season foods. That kind of versatility is awfully hard to beat.

Here are my tasting notes for a handful of standout rosés from Provence. Keep in mind, though, that this list is far from exhaustive, and that there are all kinds of rosé treasures out there right now, just waiting to be plucked from shelves.

Chateau du Rouët Coeur Esterelle Rosé 2008 - The color here is a beautiful light salmon that’s almost autumnal in hue. Hints of flowers and underbrush on the nose lead to flavors of red berry fruit, spice, and something just the slightest bit herbal. The fact that some of the fruit has fallen away at this point is actually a benefit, as the underlying complexity really has the chance to shine through. Excellent.

Rimauresq Selections Rosé Classique Cru Classé 2008 and 2007 - Fresh, springlike aromas and a burst of peach precede a palate more concentrated and slightly more powerful than the Coeur Esterelle. This 2008 tastes of peppercorn, spice, and garrigue, and shows more linearity than the previous one. The 2007, on the other hand, gives evidence of its extra bottle-age in its more amber-toned color, as well as in the mushroom and dried fruits and flowers of the nose. The palate of the 2007 is far creamier than the 2008, with unexpected hints of caramel and chocolate, all of it lifted by excellent acidity.

Rimauresq Selections Petit Rimauresq Rosé 2008 - Summertime notes of watermelon jump from the glass, buttressed by rhubarb and a creamy sense of richness that make this appropriate for the heartier dishes of the holiday season, or, really, with nothing else at all--just a glass and a half-hour to savor it.

Cellier Saint Sidoine Cuvée Entre Coeur Rosé Coste Brulade 2008 - Classic pink color and a nose so quiet it almost whispers give little indication of how complex this wine really is. It tastes of marzipan and sesame paste with brioche, wild strawberries, and spice, all of it balanced and subtle and calling out for food to enjoy alongside it.


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