by Dave Nelson
With rosé weather having descended on St. Louis with a vengeance, Gut Check swung into action, snagging a selection of six newly arrived rosés from the 2009 vintage. All were purchased from local retailers, and all came recommended. We ended up with five from France and one from California.
What makes a good rosé? It needs to be refreshing -- flabby, heavy, high alcohol levels won't cut it. Rosé needs to be versatile too -- able to accompany a wide range of food, and to be quaffed enjoyably on its own. Above all, rosé should be fun. (Admittedly, the "fun" factor is not easily quantifiable, but a spontaneous smile is usually a good indicator.)
Tasting with me were RFT editor Tom Finkel, a longtime wine lover, and his wife, Karen Tedesco, a personal chef and food blogger with a background in the retail wine biz. Tom and Karen tasted the wines double blind (they had no idea what wines were being poured, or in what order), while I tasted single blind (I did not know the order).
We initially sampled the wines on their own, and then with a selection of rosé-friendly dishes that Karen had prepared. Unlike many tastings, we took our time, spending a couple of hours getting to know the wines.
2009 County Line Alexander Valley Rosé ($23) This is not your everyday rosé, but it was so delicious and complex that it was our unanimous top choice. This wine is more clear than pink. It seemed a bit shrill at first, but as the chill factor diminished, the acidity faded and layers and layers emerged. The fruit reminded us of perfectly ripe strawberries -- sweet, but balanced with just the right amount of tartness. There was a pleasant undercurrent of spice, and some earthy notes too. Probably a bit better with the food than on its own, but a delight either way.
This was a recommendation from Jeff Stettner at 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar in a recent installment of Gut Check's Wine Buy the Bottle series.
2009 Mourgues du Grès Les Galets Rosés ($15) Prototypical southern French rosé here. Pink, but with a peachy blush to it. Ripe melon, and raspberry and, as Karen correctly pointed out, the unmistakable aroma of sauvignon blanc piercing through to keep it lively. Of course, there's no sauvignon blanc in the wine -- it's a blend of syrah and grenache -- but this element adds a wonderful racy edge to the wine. It's well-balanced with decent acidity, good fruit flavors and no alcoholic heat. Topping things off, it's widely available and very reasonably priced.
Recommended with Reservations
2009 Domaine Lafond Tavel ($19) From its almost lurid fuchsia hue to its intense aroma of very ripe raspberries, this is a rosé that cranks the amp to eleven. It pushes the edges of what rosé can be, and for some folks it may well cross the line from unique to too much. The fruit borders on overripe, almost a bit candied, but there is enough acidity to keep it in check. The alcohol does make an appearance as the wine warms, but there's so much intensity behind it that the heat is not obtrusive. This is no wine of finesse, but if you're looking for something to pair with heartier fare, it's worth a try.
2009 Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Costières de Nîmes ($14) Another peachy-pink wine. It too brings many of the classic southern French characteristics. There's nice cherry and strawberry fruit, with a touch of spice. But this one's kind of flabby and gives of a blast of alcohol once it warms up. Karen picked up a slight mushroomy note that she did not like. This held up well over a couple of days in the fridge. Not really anything wrong with it, but the Mourgues du Grès was better all around for essentially the same price.
2009 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris Corbières ($15) More classic peachy pink. Very weak aromas, with some light strawberry and a hint of boiled egg. Yeah. Somewhat flabby and indistinct on the palate, with a prickle of alcoholic heat to boot. Tom really wanted to like this one but couldn't bring himself to. He did report that it seemed better the next day, but who opens a rosé a day in advance? A disappointment considering that legendary importer Kermit Lynch brings this one in.
2009 Domaine Charles Audoin Marsannay Rosé ($20) By far the biggest disappointment when the wines were revealed was this 100 percent pinot noir rosé from Burgundy. It was extremely light in color, which isn't odd given pinot noir's relatively low level of coloring compounds, but the "light" theme carried through to the aroma, where only faint cherry and watermelon could be detected. "Light" is about the best you could say for the taste; initially quite tart and acidic, it quickly calmed to...nada. Karen aptly summed it up: "You could drop an ice cube in it" and not do it any harm.
With extremely rare exceptions, rosés are best consumed fresh. Pass over those '08 and '07s that you might still find on shelves -- even if they're a few bucks cheaper -- and make sure you pick up '09s. The first wave of '09s rosés hit local stores a couple of weeks ago, so get 'em while they last.
(A big thanks to Paul Hayden of the Wine and Cheese Place, who loaned us a set of Riedel glasses so that we could taste all of the wines at the same time, from identical glassware.)