Thursday, August 03, 2006

By the way, which one's Pink?

When my s.o. (girlfriend? partner? Is there a better term when you’re in your 30’s and shacking up?) read my last column, she came across my throwaway line where I disparaged white zinfandel. “Afraid of the pink, are we?” she said.

I’m not afraid of the pink – pink wine, that is – I’m just judgmental. I freely admit, for the longest time, I’d see people around me in a restaurant ordering pink wine and feel a little rush of pride that I had better sense. I don’t like white zin for the same reason that I don’t like fruit wines – I look for a giant smiling pitcher to crash through the wall hollering, “Oh yeahhhhhh!” after the first sip. To me, white zin is wine for folks who…well…don’t like wine.

One of the strangest white-zin-related things I ever saw was on the patio at Pompilio’s (for non-residents of Cinci-tucky – Pompilio’s is a divine neighborhood Italian restaurant up the street from the homestead) – a man ordered a pitcher of ice, a carafe of water, and a carafe of white zin. He poured the wine into the pitcher, then filled it the rest of the way with the water – I still haven’t figured that one out.

Over the years, I developed a real distaste for anything resembling white zin. Then Renee Koerner, the person who taught me the most about wine, uttered a simple sentence on a lovely spring day in 2005:

“Remember…Pink is not a flavor.”

And thus, my mind and palate were opened to the world of rosé.

Rosé should never be confused with white zin. Rosés are made with the same process and attention to detail as red wines – except that the grape skins are removed from the fermentation container after a couple of days. The skins of grapes give red wine its color, so the wine ends up a light pink. The skins also give red wine richness – so rosés tend to be lighter in body and slightly sweet.

A quick word on fermentation. Fermentation is a glorious chemical process in which yeast is added to a solution containing sugar. In simple terms, yeast eats sugar, farts carbon dioxide, and pisses alcohol. Tasty, no? The type of yeast, the speed of fermentation, the temperature, the sugar concentration, and sundry other fermentational factors affect the flavor of wine.

White zin starts in a similar fashion to rosé, but the winemaker not only pulls the skins out, but generally ferments the juice much more quickly, and leaves a good deal of sugar in the wine to mask any “imperfections” in the taste. The result, in my estimation, is a salmon colored, syrupy mess. OK, OK – some people legitimately enjoy drinking white zins – and I know that those are good people at heart. Really. Honestly. I just think there are better options if you want something sweet and wine-related…

Rosés are great summer wines. They’ve got a little more “oomph” than many whites, so you can use them with any number of foods, but they’re still very refreshing when you’re in the midst of a season when you feel a twinge in your head and wallet any time you hear your a/c compressor kick on.

Les Jamelles 2004 Cinsault -- Strawberry fields forever! Cinsault is best known as a French blending grape. France actually plants more cinsault than cabernet sauvignon. As for this wine, light and fruity to the nose, Les Jamelles is much more on the "white" end of the rosé spectrum. The taste is very much like a sauvignon blanc -- a little citrusy and a lot of strawberry. It finishes with a little crisp bite on the back of your tongue -- like you've finished a really good grapefruit. Perfect for sitting by the pool, or with a light fish or chicken dish. Hits right around the $8 price range.

Muga Rioja 2004 Rosé --. Riojas are classic Spanish reds made from mostly the tempranillo and garnacha grapes. Riojas tend to be big, fruity wines, and a rosé made from those grapes follows that lead. This winery's name splits neatly into two syllables that tell you all you need to know about this wine's flavor: Mu-Ga -- Melon/Grapefruit. Once the wine warms up a bit (you do not want to drink this ice cold) -- the initial scent of this one is a ripe melon. This stays with you through your first sip, but the wine widens to a grapefruity taste, and then stays just on the sweet side of strong citrus through the taste. If you've got any kind of pork or jerk chicken, go with this one. Muga will set you back $9-10.

Folie a Deux 2005 Ménage a Trois Rose -- The sweetest of our selections. I'd tried some of the other Folie a Deux blends (and they're from Napa, not France) -- and I'd enjoyed their red and white. This rosé had a marked berry nose, but tastes like strawberries and peaches (minus some sweetness) when quaffed. The finish is much less sharp than the other two, making this the quintessential pool wine. If you're laying out during the rest of the summer, chill this down and bring it out when you head outside -- let the sun warm both you and the wine a bit before you start drinking. You also could also pair this with some grilled shrimp if you wanted. This one’s right around $8-9.

Before we depart the pink -- I must report that I have found a use for white zinfandel. While I have no doubt that it would also work wonderfully in a hummingbird feeder, an ambitious picnic-goer can make a killer sangria with it. Mix a bottle of white zin with a ½ cup of peach schnapps, a shot of triple sec, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, and some sliced fruit. Chill that well in the fridge, and just before you serve it -- throw in a 10 oz. bottle of club soda. Enjoy!

Until next time -- Santé.


JettieSatellite, The_Wizard of Covington said...

Pink's for pussies.

Anyway, they always leave me with a wicked headache, so I'll stay red.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Mike. White Zinfandel, which is really not white at all but pink, is for "wine" pussies, if you will. Perhaps I'm soured on it (pun not really intended) because it was my ex-wife's only preferred alcoholic beverage--Beringer White Zinfandel, to be exact.

Because it's sold in a wine bottle, maybe even with a real cork, I view White Zin as only one notch above Bartles & James Wine Coolers. Sweet and sryupy is right. I think my Oxford Companion to Wine (1st ed., 1994) suggests a similar dismissiveness in the language of its comparatively curt entry:

White Zinfandel, undeterred by the fact that it is neither white nor crucially Zinfandel, was California's great commercial success story of the 1980s. Although he was not the first to vinify California's ubiquitous Zinfandel grapes as a white, and therefore a Blush, wine, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home launched White Zinfandel down the commercial slipway in 1972 and was to see his own sales rocket from 25,000 cases in 1980 to 1.5 million cases six years later. The wine evolved as a way of making California's vast acreage of Zinfandel acceptable to the predominantly white wine-drinking American public. So successful was it that it stimulated an outbreak of new plantings of the variety expressly to keep pace the demand for this decidedly ersatz version. The wine is usually pink, decidedly sweet, often enlivened with a touch of gas, and scented with more than a dash of other, more obviously aromatic, grape varieties such as Muscat or Riesling. So successful was the wine that it begat styles such as White Grenache, designed to glamorize vineyard Cinderellas."

I think it's rather telling subtextual commentary that in the film Sideways Merlot becomes the new whipping-wine whereas White Zinfandel is never mentioned despite its "great commercial success."

All hail the light-hearted Beaujolais, the delicate Pinot Noir, the hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and, yes, even the luscious Zinfandel!


DrPuma said...

Salut Mike. I like the site.

Jim said...

I really like the start you've made... keep it up!

Jim said...

Oh, and what was the name of that wheat whiskey you brought again?

The Naked Vine said...

It was Bernheim's wheat whiskey. Not bourbon, technically...but just delicious...

Anonymous said...

mike - great start here! Congratulations, and thanks for your suggestions.

JenJen said...

Hey Mike... is someone at the New York Times reading your blog?

Rose - The Summer Drink To Be Seen With.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I like Beringer white zin. Not for when I want to drink wine, mind you; just for when I want to drink.

Doug "Turtle" Creutz

Anonymous said...

This is probably a ridiculous question but I have an allergy to strawberries are there strawberries in white grenache?

The Naked Vine said...

There are no ridiculous questions. There are only ridiculous people who won't ask them.

But no, there are no strawberries in white grenache. Grenache is the
grape. As a red, Grenache often has flavors of raspberries and blackberries -- and since you're going to have more sugar in a white grenache, it wouldn't surprise me if it tasted like strawberries.

So, drink up without worry!

The Naked Vine said...

Spammers can suck on my old vine.

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