When in doubt...pink.
Words to live by when you're considering food pairings. Few things go better with...well...everything than rosé. As I've pointed out in the past -- I'm not talking about white zinfandel here. White zin is perfect for making sangria or if your hummingbird feeder has run dry. (And we'll get back to this in a moment.) Otherwise, just stroll on by and get to the real stuff.
A quick refresher -- almost all rosé starts as red wine. Red wine gets its color through a process called maceration. Maceration occurs during the fermentation process. With most red wines, the grapes are crushed and the resulting empty skins are left in contact with the juice as fermentation begins. The resulting heat and production of alcohol causes the coloring agents in wine, called anthocyanins to leach from the skins. The tannins in wine also come from this process. The longer the contact, the darker and more tannic the wine. For many big, dark red wines, this process may take as long as a month.
For rosé, however, the skins are left in contact with the juice for only a matter of hours or a couple of days at the outside. At this point, a winemaker wishing to make rosé has a couple of options. The most common process is simply to move the wine into another container at this point, discarding the skins and allowing fermentation to continue normally.
Another process is called saignée, where a winemaker trying to create an intense red wine will bleed off some of the juice at an early stage of maceration. The remaining juice has more concentrated contact with the skin, creating a stronger red. The bled-off pink juice is then made into rosé. A winemaker can also blend red and white wine to make something pink -- but this is rarely done other than in the process of making true rosé Champagne.
For the record, White Zinfandel came about in the mid-70's. Sutter Home winery was making rosé from Zinfandel grapes by the saignée method. One batch had a "stuck fermentation" -- which means that the yeast died before fermentation was complete. They put this half-fermented, sweet juice aside. The wine was sampled not long afterwards, people liked the sweetness, and White Zinfandel was released large-scale on an unknowing populace. High schoolers everywhere rejoiced.
As I noted in the Vine's early tendrils, pink is not a flavor -- but the ubiquitousness of White Zin scared a lot of people away from ordering one of the best wine values out there. As you'd figure, the flavor of rosé tends to be on the light side, but even the small amount of tannin in rosé can contribute to an interesting structure. When I say that you can drink rosé with almost anything, I'm quite serious. Salads kill wine, generally -- but rosé can hold its own. Almost any kind of fish, chicken, pork, or veggie preparation (as long as it's not in a big cream sauce) will work. Some of the bigger rosés can even handle red meat.
While it's traditionally a summer wine (especially some of the light, delicate ones from Provence), I'll have at a bottle of the stuff any time of year. We generally keep a couple of bottles around for when we want a pairing but can't exactly come up with something perfect. You can file rosé under "good enough" for any occasion. Here are a few I've tangled with recently:
Argiolas 2008 Serra Lori Rosado -- This was the rosé that we had with Thanksgiving dinner, and it was the first Italian rose I think I've tried. It hails from Sicily and largely made from a varietal called Cannonau. The nose is friendly, full of candied apples and flowers. It's got solid acidity and good weight on the palate. The finish is acidic with a whip of orange zest and a little lingering stringency. This isn't delicate wine by any stretch, instead providing a very firm structure and nice acidic balance. It's a hearty glass that reminded me of many Spanish roses, if that's your cup of tea. With the leftover turkey and beans from our Thanksgiving meal, it was an absolute champ. ($14)
Louis Jadot 2008 Gamay Rosé -- While we're still running with "firsts," as I mentioned, I'm quite used to seeing rosés from France. I was picking up a Beaujolais, and this pink bottle caught my eye. A rosé...from gamay? Gamay is same grape that comprises Beaujolais. Since Beaujolais is such a light red anyway...I was very curious what the rosé would yield. Well...it was pretty much exactly what I expected -- an extremely light rosé. I thought it had about the weight of a pinot gris. Like a pinot gris, it had plenty of acidity. There's a little of that familiar gamay/Beaujolais flavor in the middle and especially on the finish. It's a very drinkable wine that would go with any kind of light food, but I'd probably think of it more of an aperitif, especially once the weather warms up. At $10, it's a decent enough value if you're looking for a change of pace with your pinkness.
E. Guigal 2008 Cotes-du-Rhone Rosé -- The Rhone region is the home to one of my favorite rosés, a big fruity pink wine called Tavel. Tavel is one of the few wine areas that strictly produces rosé from blends of traditional Rhone grapes -- largely Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. With the increased interest in pink wine, some Rhone producers using similar grapes to make reds are using saignée to make less expensive rosés with Tavel-like characteristics (and to make their reds more intense). Guigal makes plenty of very decent Cotes-du-Rhone, so I thought their rosé from there might be interesting. The nose was of a general melon persuasion, which moves to a full, wall-of-flavor feel. It's not subtle -- you get a blast of tart/alcohol/fruity all at once. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It makes for a very solid food wine, especially with things like roasted fish & vegetables. We roasted red snapper filets, purple cauliflower, garlic, and carrots in lemon juice and olive oil (not all in the same pan, mind you). The straightforward pink wine handled all the flavors wonderfully. However, it did make me curious how the actual Tavel would stack up.
The Guigal 2006 Tavel was available, so a bit later, we tried that. This Tavel could almost pass for a light red. It's really a pretty looking wine. The fragrance is very delicate. I first smelled roses when I got a whiff of it, but as it opens (definitely let it breathe a bit), melon and cranberries emerge. The body is solid and aromatic -- and has a complex balance of fruit and acidity. The finish is dry and a bit tangy. Where the CdR rosé wasn't subtle, the Tavel most certainly was. The weather got unexpectedly warmer, and we had the Tavel with a trout, orange, and fennel salad. Subtle flavors melded with subtle flavors for a meal we could linger over. The CdR is around $10-12. The Tavel is around $20.