Jancis Robinson, Rosé & I

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
June 1, 2005

In the June 4th weekend edition of the Financial Times, wine critic Jancis Robinson dedicated her weekly column to the too-often-overlooked rosé wine. She gave her stamp of approval for this wine and cheered it on by entitling her piece “The Rise and Rise of Rosé”. This article thrilled me! Open-minded and curious, Robinson is a bona fide oenophile who understands and embraces wine from different regions, gives credit to wines of varied styles, and most endearing is her never-too-serious attitude. I really enjoy her consistently honest writing with a witty tone. Her rosé endorsement will surely encourage readers who are either unfamiliar with this often misunderstood wine or who shun it due to a vague impression of its supposed frivolity to simply give it a chance. As a big fan of Robinson’s writing and of rosé, I felt inspired to dedicate my June entry to my favorite wine critic’s rosé recommendations as well as some favorites of my own.

Personally, my affinity for rosé comes from many summers spent in France. Used to having a glass of something with every meal, I find chilled dry rosé the perfect solution in hot weather. It is also an apt aperitif for lounging around on a lazy estival afternoon…

Because rosé can be made from practically any dark-skinned grape and from any wine region (the sky’s the limit!), you will see endless variations of this wine at your local retailer. Grenache, Cinsault, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are just a few commonly used varieties. The color of the wine also covers a wide spectrum from pale onion skin to bright Bing cherry depending on the grape-skin color and its contact time with the juice. Stylistically, rosés can range from the light and bone-dry sipping wine to the fuller-bodied and more complex food-pairing wine.

One recent evening, I headed for Il Buco in NoHo to have a glass of rosé from the famed Chianti Classico producer Castello di Ama. My former boss at Sherry-Lehmann tapped me into this wine, and it really is a stellar rosato in a class of its own. On an earlier visit when I spotted it on the wine list by the glass (it’s already hard enough to find by the bottle, let alone by the glass) at Il Buco I knew I was set for the summer. The evening I dropped by, Roberto, the general manager and the creator of the wine list, happened to be sitting next to me at the bar having a racy steak tartare with an eye-catching dose of jalapeños! My night of just-one-drink-to-wind-down turned into a serendipitous soirée of rosé tasting and excited wine exchanges.

In her short paragraph on rosés from Italy, the Castello di Ama was the only rosé Robinson explicitly cited as being “especially delicious”. My personal penchant for this predominately Sangiovese-based (90% Sangiovese blended with 10% Canaiolo) wine comes from its beautiful structure and balance. It has a bit of weight to it, which makes it a perfect wine to have with a meal. I especially crave this rosé due to its limited production and circulation, but also because of its exceptional quality as a serious wine with aging potential rather than the mere common virtue of being a sipping wine.

The next rosé I tasted at Il Buco was from Southwestern France: the 2004 Coteaux du Languedoc from Prieuré Saint-Hippolyte. A classic Languedoc rosé made with a Syrah-Grenache blend, it is much lighter and dryer than the Castello di Ama. This is reflected in the light watermelon tint of the wine. Filled with strawberries and currants, it is fruity and crisp with just the right amount of acidity to balance the wine. This dry wine revealed the best qualities of simple French rosés as a versatile choice for summer dining.

Soon to be on the wine list at Il Buco is a California rosé, the 2003 Montevina rosato from Amador County in the Sierra foothills. Surprisingly, a Nebbiolo-made American pink wine! Roberto gave me a tasty preview. Salmon-colored, floral in the nose, I was not sure what to expect from this New World rosé but was quickly won over after one sip. It’s incredibly well integrated, elegant, and filled with scents of nectarines; definitely not an afterthought wine. As Robinson quotes Dirk Niepoort, producer of the much soughtafter Redoma rosé from Portugal, “To make a good wine you need to make a rosé deliberately rather than as a byproduct.”

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