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Rose: The Ultimate Picnic Wine Comes of Age


One of the mysteries of my life is how White Zinfandel took off like a rocket while rose languishes in obscurity.

If you taste the wines side by side, you'd see White Zinfandel as the silliest of wines, while rose would be the "in" thing for the upwardly mobile. Rose is fermented longer on the skins and picks up more color and flavor than the "blush" White Zinfandel, which is technically a blanc de noirs.

A good rose beats the best White Zinfandel at love, as they say in tennis, and anyone foolish enough to take a blush wine over a good rose to a picnic deserves what he gets, which is thin, lackluster, flavorless wine that's best served at the temperature of a Popsicle.

Rose once was an alternative to white and red wine. When dry or just off-dry, it worked well with a wide variety of food (Asian; barbecue; grilled meats, especially sausages; cold seafood; many salads). And it's a cooling beverage on a hot afternoon.

For the latter purpose, even if the wine is a bit sweet, I just toss in a couple of ice cubes to cut the alcohol and sugar and make it more refreshing. This may not sound like "serious" wine, but when the thermometer is pushing 100, I'm quite serious about cooling off, and rose is often my choice.

I learned of rose in the carefree 1970s, when a lot of wine was still a beverage, before it became the refuge of snobs. About 1978, I'm guessing, wine gained a certain je ne sais quoi snobbishness.

Snobs hate rose because they can't play their favorite games like lifting a pinkie to tout it as rare and arcane. Moreover, it usually is slightly (or very) sweet. Horrors.

But the major problem with rose for the wine snob is that it robs him of one of his most odious traits: The "rite of age." Wine snobs love to tell you when a wine will be ready to drink. For almost all rose, the answer is "now." No mystery here: Rose should be drunk immediately upon release, if not sooner. The faster the better.

Snobs hate this.

I've had a love affair with rose ever since tasting my first one 20 years ago. OK, I'll admit it. It was Lancer's. There, I've said it. Put an L on my chest, I liked Lancer's. It was sweet, it was fizzy, it was cold, it was cheap, and it went fine with my hamburger assistant, or helper, or whatever it was I was cooking back then.

Sure, a lot of rose was pretty dull then--not fresh, not made carefully, too sweet. But as rose became an "out" wine, all of it disappeared, the good with the bad.

So when I decided to do my annual comparative tasting of rose wines a few weeks ago, it took me a full two weeks of searching (in some of the oddest of wine shops) before locating a reasonable sample of 20 rose wines.

The tasting was conducted with much forethought and rigor. The bottles, submerged in ice in a large, green plastic tub on a patio deck, were pulled out and labels shown to the tasters one hot Sunday.

The coals in the barbecue were lighted and thence commenced the opening of the bottles, from dry to sweet, as best I could guess. The smoke from the barbecue intermingled with the aroma of the wines, making it difficult to smell the nuances of fruit in the wine--but this was by design. This, after all, is the way most of us will consume the wine.


The following four wines are made more like white wines and should be served with lighter food, the way a fine Chardonnay would be. They are all highly recommended.

* 1992 Etude Pinot Noir "Rose" ($10)--A stylish vin gris style of wine, totally dry and coming across the tongue sort of like a still Champagne cuvee. Wonderful Pinot fruit, very dry.

* 1991 Au Bon Climat "Vin Gris" ($9)--Creamy and textured in the manner of Chardonnay, with Pinot aftertaste.

* 1992 Saintsbury Cellars "Vincent Vin Gris" ($9)--Cherries and cream, a classic rendition of Pinot Noir made in its lightest, driest style.

* 1992 Bonny Doon Vineyard "Vin Gris de Cigare, Pink Wine" ($8)--Another gem from winemaker Randall Grahm, but in some ways a better wine than in the past. A true rose with rose petal notes in the aroma. Stylish and complex.

The following wines are all darker in color and thus have more flavor. They are recommended with heartier foods.

* 1992 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Grenache "Rose" ($9)--Annually one of the finest rose wines in the world. Grand raspberry and pomegranate aromas, a dry taste and superb fruity finish. This is a deep, serious wine, as good a rose as you're likely to find, and a wine that truly does go with almost anything.

* 1992 Heitz Wine Cellars Grignolino "Rose" ($6)--The bargain of the year. After a few dull vintages of this rose, Heitz is back to the top rank with an amazingly complex wine that has hints of cooked cherries, orange blossom and clove. A very dry, deeply rewarding wine.

* 1992 Tavel "Domaine de la Mordoree" ($10)--A classic dry rose, loaded with black cherry and raspberry scents and a totally weighty but dry finish. Very complex.

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