Welcome to Varying Hues, a new column in which Wine Steward Maxwell Leer explores unsung, colorful wines from around the world.
[Winemaker Jordi Sanfeliu at Vinya Sanfeliu, Spain.]
In Los Angeles, where the average temperature is 66° and most days are sunny, one of the most pleasant wines to drink year round is rosé. Women love rosé. Schoolteachers love rosé. DJs love rosé. Aqua-vegans love rosé. Not rosé in the sense of blush wine, White Zinfandel, or any of the clichéd wines which have tainted its reputation. Rather, rosé which is dry, convivial, and dynamic. Rosé (which means 'pink' in French) is by definition an extremely light red wine. When served chilled during or after a long day, rosé ranks amongst the most beverage-able of all drinks. It has the power to make you dance to Maroon 5 in the midday and transform treats into tremendous vittles.
Technically, rosé is made by removing the juice of the grapes from its red grape skins at a stage in the fermentation cycle so that liquid remains light and fresh as opposed to dark and heavy. To those who drink rosé outside of L.A, the drink may be referred to as: Rosato (Spain), Chiaretto (Italy), Weissherbst (Germany), or even Oeil-de-perdrix ('Patridge’s eye,' Switzerland). Although it is mostly varying shades of pink, rosé may also appear faint as a pastel Easter egg or dark as a fresh huckleberry.
It seems fitting to provide two styles of rosé as these wines differ from the barely perceptible to flat out rich in texture. Vinya Sanfeliu makes a rosato in Costers del Segre, Spain (i.e. Catalonia or N.E Spain) from a grape known as Trepat. This light, unfiltered pink wine is candy-colored like a peppermint swirl and tingles your taste buds with teeth-sucking tannin. The flavors of this rosato are like linking Limonata, the sour-ales of Belgium and the vibrant punch of Dutchess County well water. In 'Wild Fermentation,' Sandor Ellix Katz cites the term zoyers, a Yiddish term for sour flavors in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, as the source and origin of his fascination with the natural phenomenon of fermentation. Vinya Sanfeliu turns Trepat grapes into zoyers with the 2010 rosato. A suggested pairing for this wine could be cilantro salsa and chips or deep fried 'jerky' from Thai Town.
On the other end of the flavor spectrum is the North Coast rosé made by a father and son team from Sonoma County: Tony and Nick Coturri. Made of Merlot grapes, this rosé boasts the mouthfeel of a Manhattan as opposed to a sea breeze. This is by far the most unique rosé California has to offer. Made of a grape as banal as Banana Republic, this wine extends the rosé palate to bombastic and nutty deliciousness. After all, it isn’t about the grape variety per se. It’s about the vineyard’s territory and the winemaker; it’s about vision. The Coturri’s are also a rare breed in the state, as they were one of the first to put in place environmentally conscious viticultural practices decades before the emergence of 'vegan' wine and other obnoxiously gimmicky marketing slogans. The name Coturri and the term sustainable are synonymous. The North Coast rosé with peppered salami and sharp cheddar is a game changer. If by chance you are near a butcher with Jamón ibérico de bellota to spare, put your money on the table and crack a bottle.
As a result of White Zinfandel, Blush wines and other incarnate forms of mid-70s American wine trends, rosé bears an unnecessary legacy as being either sweet or semi-sweet. Both rosés in this piece, and most rosés prevalent on wine lists in L.A, are dry wines distinguishable with or without food. For those sensitive to sulfites, both Vinya Sanfeliu and Coturri are wineries that boast no added sulfur to their wines. Moreover, both wineries are grower winemakers (winemakers who grow their own grapes) who treat their land and the environment around them with respect and practice wild fermentation as a result.
In closing, you don’t have to be a wine expert or a super-taster to have an opinion about wine. Fermented grape juice has been around for over 8,000 years. Continue to explore, find words for those expressions, and most importantly enjoy. — Maxwell Leer