Days of Rosés and Roses

Inga Brennan/

In a month for romance, surprise your beloved with a novel wine

As Valentine’s Day rolls around, consider the impact of presenting that special someone with a bottle of pretty pink wine and a bouquet of pretty pink roses. Certainly you could go for the traditional red, but that would seem oh-so-expected.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to divulge that the only blush-colored wines I have remotely enjoyed have been a couple of high-end Champagnes. My friends who discover I might actually promote the purchase and/or consumption of a rosé may point their fingers and shout, “Sellout!” But I’ll take my chances, because nothing — including risk of personal ridicule — should stand in the way of love.

To my way of thinking (to paraphrase the ultimate romantic), “A rosé by any other name would taste as sweet” — thus, my proclivity to steer away from anything that looks even remotely like the sweet white zinfandel favored by those I’ll call “the uninformed.” But Anita Worthen, who possesses a particular fondness for rosés, draws a distinction.

“Rosés are not blush wines,” she claims. “I don’t care for sweet, sweet wines like white merlot or white zinfandel.” When I hear that her tastes run toward cabernets and zinfandels, I listen closer.

“I love rosés because they are not as heavy mouth feel, not as strong as cabs or zinfandels.” Having lived in a hot climate, she says she “learned” to drink lighter-style wines. “Rosés give you the acidity that you want. They give you the freshness that you want.” She likes their subtlety, she says. “I drink them sometimes as an aperitif.”

Still, I’m thinking I may need a trip to France — specifically the Right Bank of the Rhône — to convince me. The area known as Tavel is the only appellation in a country known for wine that produces only rosés — bone dry at that, with hints of spice and berries. Tavel vintners primarily use grenache grapes, with smaller amounts of cinsault, mourvedre, and syrah.

Grenache is also favored for rosés from Spain, Australia, and South Africa. Spain even makes rosé (which they call rosado) from petit verdot, a varietal often used in red Bordeaux blends.

Vintners in California and Sancerre in the eastern part of the Loire Valley in France lean toward rosés made from pinot noir grapes. And since Champagne is made from only three grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier), you’ll find most pink-tinted bubblies made from the most abundant red varietal: pinot noir.

When Worthen retired to Beaumont from Tucson, Ariz., a little over a year ago, she had 300 bottles of wine. Not wanting to transport them all, she held a few large parties and then packed the remaining 150. Rosés account for about 20 percent of her collection (now down to about 80 bottles). Looking through them, she points out some of her favorites.

ZaZa, a grenache rosé from Spain’s Campo de Borja region, became one of her wines of choice during the cooler temperatures of winter. “It’s not as light as other rosés,” Worthen says. “It’s a little heavier in the mouth feel.”

Another favorite is La Ferme Julien, a blend of 50 percent cinsault, 40 percent grenache, and 10 percent syrah from the Rhône Valley. “It’s light in your mouth, but full bodied,” Worthen says. “It goes with about anything, with the exception of beef. You could go beef with ZaZa.”

Rounding out her top three is Bouvet, a sparkling rosé made with pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay from the Loire Valley.

“The one I used to buy before the price went up too high was a sparkling wine called Billecart-Salmon,” Worthen says. The French Champagne was $40 when she started buying it. “I used to buy three or four bottles,” she says, adding that her purchases of the salmon-colored sparkler dropped as the price climbed  — to $50, then $60, then $70.

Her substitute, at $30, is Moët & Chandon’s Nectar Imperial (again a Champagne made with pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes). “It’s full bodied and has the right bubbles,” Worthen says.

Two other still rosés she recommends are Château d’Aquéria (a blend of grenache, syrah, cinsault, and clairette grapes) from Tavel and Montevina made with nebbiolo grapes from Amador County, Calif. “Nebbiolo is a real tannic grape, but this one is pretty good because they pick it early,” Worthen says.

While many people save rosés for hot summer days specifically because of their refreshing qualities, Worthen drinks them year-round. So put a log on the fire, play a Barry White CD, and fan the flames of passion with roses and rosé. Just, please, leave the sweet stuff for a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

As for me, I still need that trip to France.

To read about one winery's devotion to rosé, click here.

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