At sidewalk bistros all over Europe this time of year, people are drinking rosé wines. Rosés are not only great for summertime weather, but they’re also one of the most food friendly of all wines, perfect for the tropical flavours of Cayman. Three wine specialists from Jacques Scott put five different rosés to the test over a waterfront lunch at Ortanique at Camana Bay.
Most North Americans associate rosé wines with the semi-sweet White Zinfandel wines that became the king of picnics and barbecues starting in the late 1970s. Although the popularity of White Zinfandel looks to have peaked, there are still more than 16 million cases of this pink wine sold every year.
In Europe, however, rosés are, if anything, gaining in popularity, for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it is such good wine for the summer. Many people prefer red wines to white wines, but drinking red wines in summer heat, especially outdoors, isn’t a good way to enjoy red wines. Rosés are a great summertime compromise for red wine lovers: They’re crisp like white wines, but maintain some of the red fruit and berry flavours found in red wines without being sweet. What’s more, rosés are best served chilled, so they are refreshing even on the hottest of days.
Rosés are also one of the best wines for pairing with foods – they’ll go with everything from seafood to steak – so in the summertime, when groups of friends tend to gather outdoors, rosé is a wine that can serve the whole table.
The colour in wines doesn’t come from the juice, Jacques Scott’s wine specialist Paul McLaughlin pointed out.
“All juice from all grapes is white,” he said. “It’s the skins that gives wine its colour.”
Rosé wines, however, do not come from pink-skinned grapes, rather from a process that at some point must include the juice being in contact with the skin from red grapes.
Rosé wines can be made in one of three ways, one of which – by mixing red and white wines together – is only really considered acceptable with rosé sparkling wines and Champagne, and even then, not encouraged.
Another method involves just leaving the grape juice in contact with the skins of red wine grapes for a certain period of hours or days – the longer, the deeper the colour of the wine – before separating the juice from the skins.
The third technique is called saignée – the French world for ‘bleeding’. With this method, a rosé wine in created as a by-product during red wine production. After a short period of maceration – the process in wine making where the juice of grapes interacts with the skins, seeds and stems to impart the colour, flavour and tannins in red wine – a percentage of the pink juice is extracted. This makes the remaining juice more concentrated, producing a richer red wine. The extracted juice is fermented into rosé.
White Zinfandel, America’s top selling wine uses the skin contact method and then purposely halts fermentation – the process where the natural sugars in grape juice are converted to alcohol by yeast – by lowering the temperature of the juice low enough to kill the yeast. The result is a sweeter, lower alcohol pink wine.
Real men drink pink
To see how rosé wines taste in combination with Cayman’s climate and food flavours, five different wines were tasted over a long lunch at a waterfront table on Camana Bay’s Town Centre Crescent at Ortanique restaurant.
In addition to McLaughlin, The Journal joined two other of Jacques Scott’s wine specialists – Lee Royle and Sergio Serrano – for an afternoon of pink wines and, as Ortanique calls it, cuisine of the sun.
Ortanique was given the wine list in advance and chose dishes that they thought would go best with each of the five wines tasted.
First poured was Château Minuty’s ‘M’ de Minuty Rosé ($13.99), a light pink-gold blend of three grapes – Grenache, Tibouren and Cinsault – from the Côtes de Provence in France.
Served with the wine was Ortanique’s grilled asparagus and Tarentaise cheese salad, one of five imaginative signature salads the restaurant serves at lunch time. In addition to the asparagus – always a tough ingredient to pair with wines – and the cheese, the salad had arugula, romaine, roasted tomatoes and an agave lemon vinaigrette. In combination, this was a sommelier’s nightmare because of the many different tastes involved. Surprisingly, the M de Minuty Rosé was a very good pairing.
“That’s the think with rosé,” said Royle. “It goes with everything; it’s so versatile.”
Drinking the wine ice cold and in breezy conditions outdoors, it was tough to pick up the wine’s aromas at first. But as the wine warmed in the glass a bit, it gave of soft notes of peach and melon, and strawberries on the palate.
The second course was one of Ortanique’s daily specials, grilled shrimp with curried vegetables, rice and haricot vert green beans. The curry gave the dish some spiciness, something Ortanique doesn’t shy away from on its menu items, but a challenge for many wine pairings.
Served with this dish was Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro’s Manzano Pepe Rosa ($19.99) from Tuscany, Italy. Pepe Rosa – which literally translates to ‘pink pepper’ – was only produced in 2008. This salmon-coloured wine was made with the saignée technique from 100 per cent Syrah grapes, which gives it its peppery aromas an flavours.
Because curry is spicy and the wine had peppery flavours, Royle was worried the pairing would be too ‘hot’ in the mouth. But because Pepe Rosa is relatively low in alcohol content – only 12.5 per cent – the pairing was really quite good, especially considering the bold flavours in the curry.
“When you’re dealing with strong flavours, you have to have a wine that will stand up to it,” Royle said, adding that the Pepe Rosa did just that with the dish.
Given the flavours of the food and the outdoor setting, a nicely chilled rosé was the perfect choice.
“If you were drinking a red wine right now, you’d be sweating,” McLaughlin said.
Next served was Ortanique’s chef’s fritters with Chipotle-spiced red pepper coulis and Mount Diablo corn salsa. Paired with this dish was another rosé from Provence, this time from the Bandol region.
Chateau de Pibarnon ($27.95) rosé is a blend of two grapes – Cinsault and Mourvèdre – that has a deep orange-pink colour. Although rosé wines are usually made to be consumed very young – three years or less – the wine served was from the 2007 vintage and was drinking nicely.
“Rosés, made well, can get a little bit of aging,” said Royle.
Pairing any wine with a fried fritter isn’t the easiest task, but once again rosé showed its versatility, with the flavours of berries and orange complementing the red pepper coulis well.
For the next course, Ortanique served one of its signature hot appetizers, curried jumbo lump crab cake with sorrel flower paint, papaya coulis and tropical fruit salsa. Served with this was what is heralded as the world’s greatest – and most expensive rosé wine – Chateau d’Esclans Garrus ($92.99).
Made in very limited quantities – only six barrels per vintage – this wine is a blend of old vine Grenache and Rolle. Fermented in 600-litre oak barrels called demi-muids, Garrus is elegant and creamy, with minerality at the finish, reminiscent of another famous French wine.
“In a blind tasting, a lot of people would think this is white Burgundy,” said Royle. “And they would be shocked if you told them it was a rosé from the Côtes de Provence.”
The 2008 Garrus has only a little colour – “just a whiff of pink” is how Royle put it – and had aromas of red berries, roses and vanilla. It had a creamy, long finish that made it a good pairing with the crab. The Garrus receives critical acclaim and ratings in the 90s every year and based on its quality, it is well deserved.
Finishing up the meal was Ortanique’s jerk chicken penne pasta with sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh basil and Shittake mushrooms in a light cream sauce. This spicy dish was countered with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi White Zinfandel ($10.99), a blend of mainly Zinfandel grapes.
With only 10.5 per cent alcohol, the Woodbridge was able to pair with the spicy jerk seasoning without feeling too hot in the mouth.
“I was really surprised,” said Serrano.
Although White Zinfandel is often criticised for being a poor quality wine, it still has its place in the spectrum of beverages – as most wines do. It not only pairs well with spicy foods, but it would also be equally good at an outdoor gathering with burgers from the grill, bratwursts, barbecued chicken, or with a summer fruit salad. Since it’s light on alcohol, it’s also a good afternoon wine.
Perhaps best of all, White Zinfandel is a great wine for a gathering that includes people who are just starting to drink wine – like those in their late teens and early 20s. Like most alcoholic beverages, the appreciation of wine is an acquired taste. Because White Zinfandel has a lot of residual sugar, it is often more palatable for beginning wine drinkers.
It’s also a wine you can break rules with, like putting it on ice or mixing it with soda to create at cooler on a hot summer day. You wouldn’t want to do that with a good bottle of Burgundy, just as you wouldn’t use a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to make mulled wine or a fine bottle of Gran Reserva Rioja to make sangria. But just as there’s a place for mulled wine and sangria at a gathering of friends, there’s also a place Zinfandel coolers.