Relax. It's Rosé.
Every so often, I come across the argument that rosé lacks merit as a wine, and, therefore, has become over-hyped. I disagree--why manufacture controversy over a drink as pleasurable as rosé? To the residents of southern France, rosé equals lifestyle; I doubt they would agree their Provençal existence isn't deserving of recognition, and they drink pink almost year-round. Many aspire to it, as readers of Peter Mayle confess. So relax already. It's fun. It's rosé!
Rosé often gets tossed into one all-encompassing category. But Texans aren't New Yorkers (and vice versa), and the wines from different pink-producing regions are strikingly dissimilar yet equally embraceable. So, in preparation for New York's summer drinking season, when pink bottles nestled in ice buckets adorn sidewalk tables everywhere, I gathered 30 wines for a comparison tasting between two European heavyweights of rosé production: Provence and Rioja.
Provence holds universal status as the kingdom of rosé for good reason: Winemakers there are specialists. Rosé has dominated production in the area for centuries, and the region holds its vintners accountable through a quality control system called Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC); Southern Rhone grapes--including Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Tibouren, and Cabernet Sauvignon--provide the foundation. Provençal wines tend towards pale salmon in color, and they are bone-dry on the palate with bright acidity that matches well to the local cuisine, including abundant vegetables, seafood, olive oil, and herbes de Provence.
Rioja, traditionally recognized for Tempranillo-based reds, now produces and exports more rosado (the Spanish term for rosé) than white wine. The Garnacha grape dominates, but increasing amounts of Tempranillo are also used. Production swings toward greater extraction of color, and wines can hit the fuchsia end of the spectrum; the bigger body and fruitier style is intended to pair with the region's hearty, meat-based cooking, though rosado also loves problem veggies like asparagus and artichokes. The wine also offers serious value, since bottles are often priced at one-half to one-third less than their Provençal cousins.
All of the wines I tasted were samples gathered through regional education and marketing boards from the 2012 vintage; they represent a cross-section of styles and prices and are or will be available in the New York market.
Five to try from Provence
1. Chateau Sainte Roseline, Cuvée Lampe de Méduse, Cru Classe, $30: Pale salmon, bone-dry, tangy and mineral-driven with grapefruit, citrus pith and salty sea breeze.
2. Chateau Thuerry, $22: Salmon-hued, dry and refreshing showing minerality with traces of melon.
3. Chateau Coussin Sainte Victoire, $21: Onion-skin pink, dry, elegant, and juicy with a whisper of pear, lemon, and strawberry.
4. La Croix du Prieur, $15: Cotton candy-pink, dry, light and bright with a soft mouth-feel and faint raspberry, citrus, and herbal flavors. Good price point.
5. Chateau Pigoudet "Insolite", $19: Palest pink, dry with exotic fruits and citrus on the round, juicy palate.
Five to try from Rioja
1. Muga Rosado, $14: Dark pink color with soft, friendly flavors of fleshy, ripe peach, tangerine, and strawberry.
2. Sierra Cantabria Rosado, $10: Raspberry-hued, fruity wine with good acidity, bursting with orange peel, yellow peach, white raspberry, citrus pith. A crowd favorite.
3. Marques de Vitoria Rosado, $8: Creamy texture with notes of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry. Good value.
4. Dinastia Vivanco Rosado, $10: Vibrant pink; refreshing bite; loaded with ripe watermelon, raspberry, and citrus; faintly spiced.
5. Marques de Caceres Rosado, $9: Coral-hued, vivid acidity, red berry fruits and a hint of anise.
Where to Buy:
Union Square Wines, 140 Fourth Avenue, 212-675-8100
Mr. Wright Fine Wines, 1593 Third Avenue, 212-722-4564