Even us ragtag, everyday-is-a-bad-hair day winos can think pink without our bumhood being challenged. Blue skies and beating suns this time each year always make me think of a long departed, newspaper cartoonist friend of mine named Harry Lyons, who could always be counted on for an encouraging word; and not just during the countless hours we shared at a certain dark bar we frequented some years ago in Hawai`i.
Harry penned a series of articles called The Vagabond Gourmet for the same restaurant industry publication (long defunct) I wrote for; and my all-time favorite was one he called "Wine Bums" – about the scourge of the “Gallic dandies” who once dominated the sommelier profession in the sixties and seventies:
Not very long ago, a guy whose only felony was craving red wines with his fish course was made to feel like a buffoon and pariah. Wine stewards would turn in their keys before they’d serve the dreaded, bastard rosé wine. And to bring you wine “on the rocks?” It is to laugh. In short, diners whose tastes in wines and service requirements differed from the dreary norm were considered on the same social level as the bleary, bearded hobo with feet wrapped in newspaper and cigar stub on a toothpick, cooking his beans in a can over a fire while swilling Muscatel from a jug in a pager bag… bums!
And yes, the late, great Harry Lyons that I knew in the eighties brazenly drank all his wine on the rocks (Burgundy, Chablis or Vin Rosé, he never discriminated), which even I wouldn’t dare in those days. Despite his calling himself a “wine bum,” we both knew that in reality he was more of a connoisseur than so-called connoisseurs. Like a true connoisseur, he consumed his wine with knowing relish, rather than with self-conscious superficiality.
I like to think we’ve evolved far beyond those dark, old days of “fine dining” and “continental cuisine,” when sommeliers (like me) wore velvet bows, cummerbunds, chains and ashtrays over their frilly tuxedo shirts, and when much of what was called service entailed “teaching” customers the proper ways to enjoy food or wine (or as Harry often put it, “the hoary old matches that originated in Europe”), but oft-times I wonder... especially in this day and age of 100 point scores, and the obsessive prattle of wine geeks and collectors, unknowingly (or so it seems to me) fueled by lifestyle magazines and journalists determined to pigeonhole wine into neat, little quality categorizations suitable for Consumer Reports. Shut up and drink your wine!
Where have all the wine bums gone?
Harry Lyons was ahead of his time, but he probably wouldn’t have given a hoot about all this anyway. He'd just order up another round for all, asking for another side of rocks for his jug wine rosé!
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE ROSÉS (AND PINK WINE FOODS)
Summery pink wines taste great by themselves, and are even better with food – from hobo style weenies on toothpicks, to endless Babette-like feasts among babbling foodies. The following are my favorites, which I suggest with one caveat: never, never buy a bottle that is over two years old. For pink wines, dry or sweet, it’s always the-fresher-the-better…
SoloRosa (California) – Now here’s an idea whose time has come: a North Coast brand specializing in exactly one wine – a bone dry rosé. And no, it’s not a “Rhône Ranger” or anything gimmicky like that, but rather a serious winery, sourcing sangiovese, merlot and occasionally some syrah from the Russian River and Napa Valleys that are grown for the express purpose of producing the finest, juiciest pink wine possible. The good news is that it’s been a winner – avoiding the rough, burnt out, annoyingly overripe taste of many North Coast rosés of the past. Instead, SoloRosa is consistently rich and refined, neither light-weight nor heavy, with creamy, barrel fermented textures underlying usually an intense mélange of raspberry, cranberry and strawberry fruitiness, with just enough citrus-like crispness to keep things honest.
One of the easiest things in the world for good dry pink is salmon – cast iron or charcoal grill charred, simply brushed with butter, or lavished in ponzu marinades or even sweetened soy glazes. But despite its dryness, SoloRosa’s fruit qualities are luscious enough to balance almost any chili spiced meat, red or white, as well tearfully hot dishes like Jamaican jerks, Cajun blackened or chili specked Thai shrimp, or pork coated in Szechuan spices. This is one wine that can be put to work; which, of course, is what SoloRosa has been about since its noble inception.
Bokisch, Lodi Rosada (California) - Produced from garnacha (a.k.a. grenache), which tends to express more of a strawberry fruitiness; and Bokisch's is as fresh as they come. In the best Southern French and Spanish tradition, this a completely dry style of rosé, exuding a bell ringing varietal fruitiness with cranberry/pomegranate-like zip, its body full yet fluid on the palate. Naturally Hispanophile grower/vintners Markus and Liz Bokisch would suggest Spanish style tapas, although the wine is great sitting on patio table by its lonesome. I've enjoyed the Bokisch with marinated shrimp and fresh chopped chile spiced guacamole in one of those restaurants where they mix the avocado in an oversized stone mortar at the table for you. Given my Hawaiian island inclinations, I also think this would be dynamite with simple fried little fish (like anchovy and sardines) and rice seasoned with everything from Japanese furikake (chopped seaweed and sesame seed seasonings) to pickled ginger, umé (sweet-sour plum), soy, and sesame seeds.
Rosé di Regaleali (Sicily) - The world owes Italian wine importer Leonardo LoCascio a debt of gratitude for discovering this perennial winner and bringing it to America. Made from indigenous Sicilian grapes, this is always a completely dry rosy colored wine, and its juicy, fleshy, mouth-watering flavors allow it to cross all kinds of food barriers. Red barbecued chicken is a no-brainer; so is meatloaf in an herby, mushroomy or tomato-laced gravy, or anything pink like salmon or half-rare tuna
Robert Sinskey, Carneros Vin Gris of Pinot Noir (Napa Valley, California - Although very little of this precious fluid is made each year, I was pleased to discover (during a meeting with Rob Sinskey last year) that this full fledged Biodynamic© winery is determined to keep this wine in its portfolio. Especially since this is this is as refined as a pink wine gets, yet always more exuberant than the occasional sightings of Marsannay rosés (also made from pinot noir) coming out of Burgundy each year. Speaking of which, whenever you find a recent vintage of French rosé from Marsannay, Chinon (made from cabernet franc) or Cassis (primarily from grenache), praise the lord and buy the bottle; and I would spend more time talking about such delicacies if their supply in the U.S. were more consistent. Typically, the Sinskey vin gris is very pale in color, bone dry, lithe, delicate, and bursting with fragrant, red fruit with rose hip tea-like suggestions: not something you have to think twice about with summer pastas in fresh herbed marinara or cold shrimp with sweet-spicy cocktail sauces; and although it's not exactly everyday (unless you live in Plan du Castellet like Mr. Lynch), some duck confit, cornichons and olive oil drizzled rockette would be nice.
Charles Melton, Barossa Valley Rosé of Virginia (Australia) - My first taste of this seriously bone dry and full structured pink wine was in one of L.A. star chef Joachim Splichal’s restaurants – matched with foie gras with rhubarb and strawberries! With fireworks, drums, and entire symphonies going off in my head, the wine’s luscious, cherry-bright fruitiness made this powerful dish even richer and more decadent. How many rosés can do that? Every year Charles Melton’s grenache based Rosé of Virginia is as rich and full as a pink wine gets. Therefore I suspect that it could do just as well with grilled fish with chutney, squab with figs, duck with plum sauce, or any other dish that combines meats and natural fruits.
The iconic Kermit Lynch (Berkeley, 2009)
Château de Trinquevedel, Tavel Rosé (Rhône Valley, France) - Imported by Kermit Lynch, this is the richest French rosé I know; firmly dry, yet effusively fruity, giving deep, full, lip smacking flavors just hinting at wet stones and green leafy herbs. Wines like this easily handle grilled chicken, roast turkey, squab, pigeon, and any game bird, especially with generous sides of squash and root vegetables.
Domaine Tempier, Bandol Rosé (Provence, France) - Also associated with Kermit Lynch, and produced by the Peyraud family, who has inspired legions of American gastronomes like Richard Olney and Alice Waters. Yet this is pink wine, not the stuff of royalty. What you will always find in Domaine Tempier’s rosé is something remarkably fresh, flowing, bone dry yet forwardly fruity – the essence of miniature sweet strawberries rolling across the tongue – finishing with a soft, stony smoothness. If you think ”Provence” when you pop a Tempier – ravioli and ragout, salt cod (or brandade) and anchovy, pesto and aioli, ratatouille and bouillabaisse, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, etc. – you really can’t go wrong. In a pinch, Château de Pibarnon also makes an excellent Bandol Rosé – even dryer and firmer than the Domaine Tempier’s, but no less soulful.