I have a friend who says that every holiday season he feels like the turkey because he doesn’t know what wine to serve with the holiday meals.
It’s a topic of considerable differences of opinion. My friend John Blanchette likes a spicy, slightly sweet white wine to bring out the various flavors of the different dishes traditionally served. But there’s an old French saying about wine that seems appropriate here: “The young start with white wines. In middle age we begin to appreciate red wines. And as we become fully mature the beauty of rosé strikes our senses.” John is a lot younger than I am.
But first of all, who am I to make a suggestion about wine? For 25 years I was a business lawyer, too busy to savor the taste of wine. At cocktail parties, when asked “what do you do” I would say “I’m a lawyer.” Typically my conversation partner would then “accidentally” spill her wine on me, and walk away, muttering something about getting another drink. Then I left the law and became a wine writer and importer. Now when I tell people what I do they light up in a big smile, and sometimes kiss me on both cheeks. So now I’m a wine writer and importer. For the past 20 years, while traipsing through vineyards in France and Italy, I’ve noticed quite a difference between the wines the local producers in France and Italy drink, and the wines we drink in California.
Because Californians are so used to drinking Chardonnay, that’s the wine typically matched with roast turkey. Sometimes I read a recommendation for a Riesling, the delicious white wine of Germany with a distinctive flavor; and sometimes I see an adventurous writer suggest Beaujolais, the light, fruity wine from the area just south of Burgundy. Certainly these are good suggestions, and will please many palates.
But in the south of France, and in many hillside communities in Italy, we are more likely to see, next to the roast turkey or other poultry dishes, a bottle of rosé. Rosé is essentially a light red wine. It is made from the same red grapes that are used in red wine, and, in fact, can be made from just about any of the varieties used to make red wine. The difference is that the grapes are kept in contact with the juice for less time when the winemaker wants to produce rosé. And the style of winemaking used is often different from that used to make red wine, so that the winemaker can create a wine that is fresher, less tannic, and ready to drink at an earlier age.
There is as much or more diversification in the production of rosé wines than in red or white wines. Dry, medium, and sweet wines are made, as well as light, full bodied, and fruity ones. Some of us are old enough to remember the craze in the United States for Lancers, a sparkling rosé made in Portugal and sold in little ceramic bottles. And throughout California these days one finds white zinfandel everywhere — a sweet rosé that is better as an aperitif than an accompaniment to food.
There are a number of rosé wines made in California, but most are boutique wines of small production. The most popular imported rosés are from three areas of France: rosé d’Anjou, from the Loire Valley (near Gérard Depardieu’s vineyards), rosés from the Rhone Valley, near the town of Avignon, and the many rosé wines from Provence, in the south.
Rosé d’Anjou is a beautiful orange color with a mild nose and a hint of sweetness. Rosés from the Rhone Valley are typically drier, and slightly heavier — a bit more like red wine. The Rhone rosés are redder in color, and somewhat more full flavored. To my palate they are perfect with roasted poultry. As with other wines of the Rhone Valley, the better wines carry the name of the town where they are produced, such as Lirac. The wines from the Provence region of France, where more rosé is consumed each year than any other region, vary greatly in color, taste and price. Certainly one of the most popular both there and here is the rosé of Chateau Minuty, a vineyard just outside of San Tropez.
This year when you toast your family and friends over the holiday dinner, look through a glass of rosé and start the year by looking at the world through rose colored wine.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.