May 2012


I love rosés. There, I said it and I’m not sorry. Once the temperature goes above 70, I’m ready to be charmed and delighted by these pale, dry, stony evocations of sun and wind and dusty herb gardens and hot stones and bowls of dried or fresh and spiced fruit. Today we look at a group of rosé wines that includes examples from the South of France, their natural home; from France’s Loire Valley; and from diverse areas of California: North Coast, Central Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. The range of grapes is diverse too, mainly reds that we associate with Provence, the Rhone Valley and Languedoc — syrah, grenache, cinsault and mourvèdre — but also pinot noir, cabernet franc and even pinot gris, whose pinky-gray skin — it’s nominally a “white” grape — can impart the slightest pale hue to the wine. Rosés are versatile in their relationship with food, and we tend to drink them throughout the Spring and Summer with just about everything from snacks and appetizers to entrees except fish, which can make the wines taste metallic. Whether you’re feeling carefree or care-worn, a crisp, dry elegant rosé will perform wonders at elevating the mood and creating a fine ambiance.

The French rosés here were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event; the others were samples for review.
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Saint Martin de la Garrigue “Tradition” Rosé 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. 13.5% alc. 50% cinsault, 30% syrah, 20% grenache. Pale melon color with a slight violet tinge; classically proportioned, dry, austere; raspberry and a touch of tart cranberry, dusty and herbal, wet stones, flint and chalk. Very Good+. About $15.
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Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rosé 2011, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire. 11.5% alc. Ruddy copper-salmon color; dried currants and raspberries, hint of mulberry; provocative whiffs of thyme and white pepper; chalk and limestone, crisp, tense acidity, with a spicy, flinty finish. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris Rosé 2011, Corbières. 12.5% alc. 70% grenache, 10% each mourvèdre, carignane, cinsault. Pale copper-salmon color; very floral, very spicy, compote-like maceration of strawberries and raspberries highlighted by dried spice; limestone and flint, slightly dusty and earthy, touch of dried thyme; crisp and lively. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $16.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2011, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. 73% grenache, 10% mourvèdre, 8% grenache blanc, 5% roussanne, 4% cinsault. Pale yet radiant melon-copper color; fresh and dried strawberries and red currants, hint of watermelon with an overlay of peach skin; a little dusty, earthy and brambly; very dry, spare, elegant, an infusion of macerated fruit with scintillating liquid limestone. Excellent. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Domaine de Reuilly Pinot Gris Rosé 2011, Loire Valley. 12% alc. Very pale onion skin color; dried raspberries and red currants, quite dry, spare, elegant; lots of stones and bones and crisp acidity; hints of roses and lilacs; buoyant tenseness and tautness balanced by an almost succulent texture. Really attractive and tasty. Excellent. About $20.
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V. Sattui Rosato 2011, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Grenache, syrah, carignane grapes. A Florida of a rose, that is, florid, floral, the color of hibiscus, the scent of roses, violets, strawberries and raspberries, cloves, hints of orange rind and peach; more layered and substantial than most rosés, like what in Bordeaux is called clairette, falling between a rosé and a full-blown red wine; savory limestone and spice-laden finish. This could age a year. Excellent. About $21.75.
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Charles Joguet Chinon Rosé 2011, Loire Valley. 100% cabernet franc. Very pale melon color; ripe and fleshy yet cool, dry, packed with limestone and bright acidity, a touch austere; spice-infused red currants and raspberries. Very Good+. About $22.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir Rosé 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 12.5% alc. Very pale shimmering onion skin color; very dry, spare, austere; imbued with nuances of spiced and slightly macerated red currants and raspberries and, as in a dream, an evocative and fleeting scent of dried rose petals; structure is all clean acidity and honed limestone. A superior rosé. 119 cases. Excellent. About $24, and Worth a Search.
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Perhaps Americans who care about wine romanticize the notion of a European wine culture. You know what I mean, the image we carry around in our imaginations that depicts a long table set outside under ancient olive trees — this would be in Provence, of course, or Tuscany — with three or four generations of the family partaking of utterly fresh and simple yet wonderful food while sipping from glasses of a tasty unpretentious local wine. The kids get a little wine diluted with water in their glasses, and the teenagers are allowed one glass and no monkey business, thank you very much! See, these people know that learning about drinking starts at the family table, with Grandma and Grandpa looking on benevolently as the youngsters are gradually initiated into the knowledge that so many Americans can’t comprehend: That wine is part of life and is inextricable from the enjoyment of food. Gosh, wouldn’t we like to be in that movie!

Because the truth is somewhat different. In Great Britain laws governing the consumption of alcohol have become draconian. Germans are turning away from wine and drinking more beer. The French — sacre bleu, the French! — have become almost hysterically puritanical about alcohol consumption, though now that their non-drinking prez has been booted out perhaps the atmosphere may lighten up a bit. In any case, America traditionally looks to Europe for its lessons about food and wine and life the way that an ingenue looks to a wiser, more sophisticated older man for instruction in love. Oops, not anymore! That’s a different motif from a different time and a different movie!

So, to the question “Could America become a country with a genuine wine culture, in the sense that wine is accepted as a foregone part of household and family existence, that wine is a natural accompaniment to food and belongs on the table, that wine, moderately consumed, is an enjoyable, even celebratory aspect of life,” I have to answer — “I think not.”

I’ll provide a tiny admittedly isolated though, I think, potent example of why I believe this is so. Here’s the background:

To the east of Memphis lie the smaller towns of Germantown and Colllierville, all these contiguous cities and towns running up against each other, so you could drive on Poplar Avenue from downtown Memphis, on the Mississippi River, east to the Shelby County line and seldom be out of a major shopping area. When I was in college, a drive from the center of Memphis out to Collierville felt like an all-day expedition; now the road is six lanes all the way and in a sense the drive is even more tedious.

Germantown and Collierville began as villages, and they each grew and grew, so that even these suburban towns have their own suburbs and malls and shopping centers and civic plazas. The heart of Collierville, however, is the old town square that retains a bit of original quaintness and a group of 19th and early 20th Century houses that surround it. Like many old villages that expanded into the era of urbanization and its growing pains, Collierville tries to hold on to its heritage, especially through an annual town fair that celebrates its history and its present.

Here’s the point of this preamble, quoting from a recent story about the Collierville town fair in Memphis’ daily newspaper, The Commercial Appealr: “It’s just part of Collierville. It is family-friendly, you know there isn’t alcohol served, and Collierville is all about family,” said Twentieth Century Club president Karen Ray. (Serendipitously, the article was written by reporter Chelsea Boozer.)

Anyway, there you have it: “Family-friendly” and alcoholic beverages are antithetical. The town of Collierville and its fair are “all about family,” and family values and alcohol don’t mix. (Though a good name for a cocktail would be “Family Values.” I’ll let you contemporary mixologists work on that.)

Now you may be saying, “FK, don’t get hysterical. This is one comment from one person.”

And while you would be right, I cannot help thinking that the statement epitomizes the attitude of a great deal of America’s conservative population regarding alcoholic beverages, whether we talk about beer, wine or spirits. The case doesn’t merely reflect a lack of sophistication; it’s more a matter of real apprehension about alcohol in its old-fashioned guise of Demon Rum. In truth, alcohol has been more and more demonized lately, not only in this country but, as we have seen, in Europe, the great home of vineyards, winemaking and food and wine culture. I would never downplay the real harm that excessive alcohol consumption can result in nor the devastation visited on some families and society generally by alcoholism; the physical, emotional and financial losses are tremendous. Alcoholic beverages, however, are designed to give pleasure, and used legitimately and with common sense they indeed impart a great deal of pleasure, yes, occasionally of a heady, giddy sort, to our lives. Americans, though, have historically fostered a love-hate relationship with alcoholic beverages, viewing their manifold pleasures as well as their deleterious effects with equal suspicion. Never will the dual nature of this contingency be resolved, because these suspicions, anxieties and alarms have been hard-wired into the consciousness of certain portions of the population for generations.

I wish American families could take as their models the Reagan family on the CBS dramatic series Blue Bloods — re-signed for a third year — in which three generations of New York police officers, centered around the police commissioner portrayed by Tom Selleck and including his long-retired father and his two sons, one a beat policeman and the other a detective (a daughter is an assistant district attorney), along with spouses and children, gather for family dinners at least twice during each broadcast. And there on the table always stands a bottle of wine, and there on the table stand wine glasses from which the adults sip throughout the meal and pause to refill those glasses. No one ever mentions the wine because there’s no need to; wine goes with food and is obviously a natural part of their daily life. It’s so damned refreshing!

Some of my readers may say, “Oh sure, and the Reagans are Irish Catholic, and we all know about them.” All right, then, perhaps it’s time that a whole lot of Americans should learn a lesson from these very loving and family-oriented Irish Catholics.

Al fresco dining image by Alexandra Rowley for sbchic.com. Collierville town square image from tnvacation.com. Blue Bloods image from tvfanatic.com.

Since 2003, Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Blanc has consistently been one of the best Rhone-style white wines made in California. The high quality continues with the version for 2010, a blend of 55 percent grenache blanc grapes and 45 percent roussanne grown in the bio-dynamic Beeswax Vineyard, in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County, south of Soledad. This is mainly white grape territory, with chardonnay and riesling leading the pack. Beeswax, indeed, since the wine exudes in plenty the characteristic waxiness of the grapes and a touch of small waxy white flowers, like camellias, to which add roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pears and yellow plums and hints of bay leaf, hay and leafy fig. The wine is ripe and spicy and savory — there’s a fleck of rosemary-like or pine-like resin — yet its juicy pear, peach and fig flavors are allied to a sense of spareness and astringency; there’s nothing opulent or voluptuous strung on this glittering structure of plangent acidity and scintillating limestone, aspects reinforced by the long, lively, spice-packed and faintly bitter finish. 12.7 percent alcohol, and boy, it’s a long time since I saw a wine from California with that little alcohol. Winemaker was Randall Grahm. This was terrific with asparagus risotto with roasted garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

I know, you’re thinking, “F.K., why don’t you just call this weekly series Saturday Wine Sips, since you seem to have so much trouble getting the thing written and posted on Friday?” Well, because Friday is the lead-in to the weekend, and I think of this series as brief reviews of wines My Readers would like to find for their weekend (moderate) drinking enjoyment. So I miss by a day here and there! So what!

A group of Italian wines today, whites and reds from Tuscany and Piedmont, including one of the best wines made from vermentino grapes that I have encountered; there’s also an excellent Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, even when I post on Saturday, I deliberately keep matters brief and decisive by striking to the heart of the thing and eliminating the usual data about history, specific geographical matters, winery personnel and so on. What you read is what you get. The Poggiotondo wines were samples for review; the others were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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La Scolca White Label Gavi 2010, Piedmont. 13% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale straw-gold color, faint green highlights; spiced lemon with a touch of lemon balm, hints of almond and almond blossom, peach and pear; crisp, lively, alert; pleasing texture infused with limestone-and-shale-like minerality; spicy finish. Very attractive for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poggiotondo Vermentino 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 100% vermentino grapes. Radiant pale gold; fresh and floral as a spring garden; yellow plums and thyme, roasted lemon and pear; clean, bracing sea breeze and salt marsh astringency; quite spicy, very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality supporting ripe stone-fruit flavors; long spice-thronged finish. Now through 2013 or ’14. One of the best vermentino wines I have encountered. Excellent. About $20, a Notable Value.
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Poggiotondo Rosso 2010, Toscana. 12.5% alc. 40% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 30% syrah. I was not as impressed by the Poggiotondo red wines as by the Vermentino, but I definitely liked the Rosso better than the Chianti. Simple and direct and tasty; gushes with spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors balanced by bright acidity and sleek, moderately chewy tannins; the finish adds leather, briers and brambles. A decent quaffer for red sauce pasta dishes, pizzas and burgers. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11.
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Poggiotondo Chianti Cerro del Masso 2009, Toscano DOCG. 13% alc. 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% each syrah and colorino. A curious marriage of bland and harsh; takes rusticity to the edge of roughshod. Sangiovese deserves better. Not recommended. About $15.
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Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Dogliani “Papa Celso” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% dolcetto grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet-magenta cast; warm, fleshy, meaty floral bouquet, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, undertones of lavender and leather; quite earthy, with touches of moss and underbrush, a little spare and austere yet almost succulent in texture, almost velvety; a graphite-like strain of minerality through the finish keeps it in line. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba “Rinaldi” 2009, Piedmont. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby-purple; leather, plums and mulberries, briers and brambles, a little fleshy and floral; very dry, packed with dried spices and dried red and black fruit flavors; fairly foresty, burgeoning underbrush, austere from mid-palate back through the finish where it picks up some granite-like minerality and a bit of heat. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Nebbiolo d’Alba “Bricco Barone” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo grapes. Classic. Deep ruby-purple; tar, earth, violets and truffles, rosemary and its bit of resiny astringency, black currants and plums; full-bodied, dense, very dry, jammed with finely milled and sifted tannins, graphite elements and woody spices; touches of fruitcake, potpourri and bitter chocolate; long, spun-out finish. Demands rabbit fricassee, game birds, venison. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Gary Andrus and a group of investors founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978. (Remember, this “Old-School California Cabernet” series is devoted to wineries established in 1980 or before.) Now the company owns about 200 acres in some of Napa Valley’s prime vineyard areas: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Oakville District, Carneros and Howell Mountain. Pine Ridge’s reputation rests on cabernet sauvignon wines — there’s also chardonnay and the popular chenin blanc-viognier blend — and the emphasis from the beginning has been on classic restraint and proportion; nothing flamboyant or overdone issues from this winery. General manager and winemaker is Michael Beaulac.

Pine Ridge bottles separate cabernets from each of its appellation vineyards, but the focus of the Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, is a general sense, as far as it can be manifested, of the region itself and its character as an ideal location for the grape, a character cemented after Prohibition by Beaulieu Vineyards, Louis M. Martini and Inglenook and built upon by many other wineries over the decades. The wine is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent petit verdot, 6 percent merlot and 4 percent malbec, drawn from Pine Ridge’s estate vineyards, mainly in Stags Leap and Rutherford. It aged 18 months in 60 percent French and 40 percent American oak barrels, of which 50 percent of the barrels were new.

If your ideal of a Napa Valley cabernet is a brilliantly dark-hued wine that exudes cool aromas of pure and elemental (and slightly briery) cassis and black cherry freighted with dusty cloves and thyme, graphite and iron with undertones of cedar, tobacco, black olive and bittersweet chocolate; if that ideal wine embodies a marriage of elegance and power in its balance among a sleek supple texture, a dense chewy structure and a combined sense of deftness, fleetness, substance and dynamic energy; and, finally, if that ideal Napa Valley cabernet would feel packed with spice and warm, ripe and slightly macerated black and blue fruit flavors supported by clean earthy granite-like minerality, burnished oak and prominent but modulated tannins: Well, brothers and sisters, this is the wine for you. And, in fact, for me. A sensible 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18, especially with a crusty medium-rare strip steak right off the smokin’ grill. Excellent. About $54.

A sample for review.

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