Toast the Holidays with Rosé: The New Sparkling Wine

Every holiday season, the ubiquitous stories appear in newspapers, magazines and blogs about the ever-versatile Champagne as the requisite wine of choice for holiday food pairings. This seemingly annual rite of passage for wine writers, some of whom take an almost apologetic tone for having to yet again try and reinvent the wheel, led me to the conclusion that perhaps it’s time to put down the Champagne and consider another wine as the go-to drink for the holiday season: rosé.

In Eric Asimov’s recent Champagne piece in the New York Times, he refers to the growing prominence of rosé as the convergence of critical acclaim combined with its acceptance in pop culture claiming it is now a “mass-market fashion” – for the unsophisticated palate. Eric obviously isn’t referring to Domain Tempier Bandol, or any of the great rosés of Provence, but instead something that might be served with an ice cube. Still, his inclusion of this reference in a story about Champagne demonstrates that rosé still doesn’t have the caché of sparkling wine, especially in consideration for all-important holiday festivities.

In John Bonne’s December San Francisco Chronicle column, aptly titled “Which wine for holiday? Food-loving Champagne,” the title says it all, as if it would be silly to even consider another wine for the holidays. He says, “Champagne is quite simply the most food-loving wine ever, for a variety of fairly esoteric reasons.” But some people simply don’t like sparkling wine, or at least want variety with their festive holiday libations.

So why not mix it up a little bit this holiday season and consider serving a variety of rosés?

First of all, rosé can be made from almost any red grape. Rosés are very versatile, and often exude the distinct characteristics of the grapes they’re made from. Whether rosés are from the U.S. or France, rosados from Spain or rosatos from Italy, they can be made from Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Zinfandel (not white zinfandel!).

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Good rosés are dry, or a tad sweet, but never overtly so, and are best when fresh, usually not more than one or two vintages old. Rosés can also take on many styles, depending on how long the winemaker chooses to keep the juice in contact with the skins. They can range from very light in color and body to a bit darker with more tannin and structure. You can also get quite good rosé for $25 or less, sometimes considerably less. These wines are usually a bargain, especially compared with their red wine brethren, and certainly compared with many Champagnes.

This range in styles allows for easy mixing and matching with all types of foods. A light-bodied rosé can pair well with seafood or mild cheeses, while a more full-bodied, robust example can stand up to cured meats or a grilled steak. Buy a wide selection and see which pairings work best.

When in doubt, look for producers from France, especially Provence. Spain also has many widely available offerings, such as Las Rocas Rose, made from Garnacha (Grenache). Another good rule of thumb for choosing rosés is to go with producers you already know. Chances are if you like their red wines, you’ll like their rosés.

Here are a few more recommendations:

  • Quivira Rosé: this stand-out producer from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley makes a rosé from a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre.
  • Spelletich 3 Spells: this small family-owned Napa winery makes a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend rosé that is light in body and color and is a great aperitif or complement to lighter fare (full disclosure: Spelletich is a client of Fineman PR).
  • Tablas Creek Dianthus: the Paso Robles producer of Rhone varietals makes this signature rosé from a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Counoise and pairs well with Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Lynmar Estate: this Russian River winery produces two rosés, Rose of Syrah and Rose of Pinot Noir – try them both.

And if it’s really the bubbles you crave, but you like your wine with some color and the flavor components of red wine, consider these sparking rosé recommendations from Sara Schneider at Sunset Magazine. Made mostly from Pinot Noir grapes, these blanc de noirs will all work with darker meats like duck, lamb or beef.

No matter what wine you choose to celebrate the holiday season and ring in the New Year, remember to the follow the cardinal rule – drink what you enjoy.

Cheers.

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