How to Drink Rosé This Spring Without Embarrassing Yourself

Often thought to be a bland, compromise candidate for a meal including both fish and red meat, rosé wines are finally getting the popular attention they deserve.

Noga Tarnopolsky
Noga Tarnopolsky
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Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead. A thrilling hybrid with the finest characteristics of both red and white wines.
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead. A thrilling hybrid with the finest characteristics of both red and white wines.Credit: Dreamstime
Noga Tarnopolsky
Noga Tarnopolsky

It’s finally spring and we’re in the pink: pink blossoms, pink sunsets, pink wine. Rosé wines to be precise, which range in color from the palest tint of old rose powder to an alluring, clear, deep, ruby claret.

Sometimes, people misguidedly believe that to refer to a rosé wine as “blush” is to somehow add to its refinement. Not true. “Blush wine” is a term cooked up by a few Californians looking for a new marketing scheme.

Rosé, which merely means pinked, as in rendered rosy, is a real and wonderful family of wines. Pinked is the time white blossoms begin to flush.

Before getting to the heart of the matter we should sweep away a few myths related to rosés. These include the notion that they are a blend of white and red wines; that they are sweet, bland or sweetly bland; that they are not manly, not muscled; and that they are a pallid compromise: If white wine goes with fish and red with beef or lamb, this sort of thinking goes, then rosé is an all-purpose white bread of a wine, compatible with all dishes but inspiring with none.

None of this is true. A rosé is in almost every case a wine produced from red grapes — colored, full-bodied, tannic — that are processed using the methodology of white wine making, that is skinless and non-oaked. As such, we are talking about a thrilling, often very interesting hybrid in which the drinker should be able to detect the finest characteristics of both reds and whites in a refined, enticing iteration. An excellent rosé should be a joyful, even exhilarating drink.

Rosés are excellent wines to drink with any number of sophisticated but not overwhelming dishes. Among those that come to mind are blue cheese, foie gras, sausages, smoked or dried meats, duck or goose breast, pasta in salmon and cream sauce; rare, thin steak; an elaborate fish preparation, such as quenelle, and fresh strawberries, as-is or macerated in sugar.

(In terms of definition, there is one disputed exception, though not all agree that the wine is, in fact, a rosé: pink Champagne. This rosy, sparkly, lightly yeasty, bracingly acidic and deeply fruity wine is traditionally made of a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. While it is pink, it is considered part of the family of sparkling wines, not rosés.)

Eli Ben Zaken of the Castel winery, left, and Noga Tarnopolsky at a wine tasting, April 2015.

A vintner making a rosé hopes to achieve the mellow, full body and mouthfeel of reds without any of the tannins together with the lightness and fruitiness of whites, while cultivating a depth of flavor that is impossible to produce from white wine grapes. In other words, producing an excellent rosé is the high-wire act of premiere wine making. It’s a serious test of equilibrium, requiring skill and a steady hand.

Some commentators go so far as to say that the dexterity and artistry of a wine maker can be gauged by his or her rosé. I have occasionally been guilty of throwing down this gauntlet.

To celebrate the season, we held a tasting of a dozen Israeli rosés about a week ago. Among the standouts were two very fine rosés produced by Recanati Winery.

The most unusual, and the most surprising, was the Gris de Marselan, produced from 100-percent Marselan grapes, with a vivid rose color that is sold in appealing, retro jugs reminiscent of carboys. It is a fruity, delicately spiced wine with great body, and we couldn’t get enough of it. (It does not appear on the Recanati website.)

The second Recanati rosé we tasted is called Recanati Rosé and is a classic blend of Merlot and Barbera grapes that form an exuberant, crisp, fruity wine in a very playful, pale shade of ruby.

We tasted 10 more.

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