One of my favorite get-togethers with friends is a “small plates” party, with little portions of everything from Spanish potato omelet to spicy shrimp to soy-glazed salmon chunks to my guilty pleasure, the all-American cocktail weenie. Oh, and squid salad, just to see who likes an adventure.
To go with everything, I pour a white wine, a red wine and a rosé.
Very often, nobody drinks rosé. It’s too bad. Rosés still bear the onus of the 1970s, when California winemakers flooded the market with cheap, sweet, bland, pink versions.
But times have changed. Today wine fans can find crisp, dry, delicate, intensely fruity rosés that are some of best wines in the market. If nothing else, rosés are beautiful. Depending on the grape and how they are made, their color can range from pale salmon to neon pink to almost fully red. Just line up five or six glasses and note the rainbowlike range of colors.
Rosés, when well made, reflect the flavors of the grapes from which they are made, from pinot noir to merlot to grenache to zinfandel.
A tiny bit of tannin comes through as well. In fact, rosés have a special place among wines. Positioned between red and white, they go with a surprising range of dishes.
Rosés go well with rich fish such as salmon or tuna, with simple roast chicken, ham or cheeseburgers. They go with picnic fare from egg salad to chicken salad to cold fried chicken to hot dogs. They’re good with barbecue, pork ribs, simple pastas. They’re a top pairing for pizza, particularly the Hawaiian favorite, ham pizza.
Rosés sparkling wines are great all by themselves as aperitifs. They’re so pretty that they make a great wedding or birthday toast to your significant other.
Rosés are made in two ways. The basis of both is that even red grapes have white juice. To make a fully red wine, vintners crush the grapes and leave the juice soaking on the skins for up to several days to pick up color, tannin and flavor. But if they soak them for only a few hours, they have rosé wine.
The other way to make rosé is to press the red grapes immediately after they’re picked, not even taking the time to crush them. Then part of the juice is “bled” away from the skins very quickly, creating an especially pale and delicate rosé. Then, the rest of the juice is left on the skins to ferment, creating an even more concentrated red wine because the juice-to-skin ratio is reduced.
Actually, there’s a third way. St. Francis Winery in Sonoma County makes rosés by simply adding 10 percent of viognier, a white grape, to its red zinfandel.
▪ 2013 Bonny Doon “Vin de Cigare” rosé wine, Central Coast (35 percent grenache, 18 percent mourvedre, 16 percent grenache blanc, 12.5 percent roussanne, 8 percent carignane, 8 percent cinsault, 1.5 percent marsanne, 1 percent counoise): pale salmon hue, floral aromas, flavors of tart strawberries and mint; $18.
▪ Nonvintage Schramsberg “Mirabelle” Brut Rosé sparkling wine, Sonoma, Monterey, Napa and Mendocino counties, (53 percent chardonnay, 47 percent pinot noir): myriad tiny bubbles, full body, aromas and flavors of red raspberries, long finish; $28.
▪ 2012 Sofia Rosé, by Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Monterey (65 percent pinot noir, 35 percent syrah): bright rose color, crisp and dry, flavors of strawberries and spice; $19.
▪ 2014 Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rosé, South of France, (40 percent syrah, 35 percent cinsault, 25 percent grenache): pale rose color, aromas and flavors of black cherries and watermelon; $13.