War of the Rosés

It’s summertime, y’all, and that means, in addition to 100-degree days, crisp rosés. Texans, bucking the national trend, seem reluctant to drink them at any time, but Omniboire will persevere until pink wine has a positive reputation.

The Fig Tree’s Moe Lazri needs no encouragement. “I grew up drinking rosé in Tangier,” says the Algerian-born restaurateur, and he is also on a crusade to improve the wine’s word-of-mouth. His prix-fixe Taste of Provence menu currently on offer at Fig Tree showcases dishes such as crab-stuffed zucchini blossoms, loup de mer (sea bass) en papillote, and roasted lamb chops ratatouille along with three classic Provençal rosés from Château Routas, Domaine Ott, and Domaine Tempier.

These are the wines that set the standard for rosé: crisp, fresh, utterly dry, redolent of berries and stone fruits, and bolstered by a vein of minerality. Coppery pink in color, they also look great in the glass. None of these wines was in the lineup at the tasting Lazri hosted at the Fig Tree, but others from Provence and nearby regions were, and you would be forgiven, given the pro-French rave above, for thinking that one of them would have come out on top. But nay — the winner was Spanish. It was also the cheapest wine of the afternoon. We love it when this happens.

Other tasters at the pink party included Karen Ayala, wife of Republic National’s Ray Ayala and possessed of her own formidable palate (“My girlfriends call me ‘the sommeliette,’” she said); Eric Rodnite, Certified Wine Educator, also of Republic; and Mike Patton, husband of Tanji and, of course, traveling partner during their frequent wine-tasting trips. (Watch Tanji’s videos on Texas wines at youtube.com/user/gotexanwine.)

Throughout the tasting, food pairings were tossed out like so many challenges in an Iron Chef competition (“rabbit paella” proffered Rodnite at one point). But actual tasty tidbits appeared before us from time to time as well. The traditional Mediterranean socca (a chickpea-flour pancake) was simple and sensational, skewers of monkfish with an olive-oil drizzle slipped right into place, and so did strips of rare lamb — all bolstering the claim that rosé is a food-friendly wine with a broad embrace.

Readers interested in doing hands-on rosé research might want to check out Rambling Rosé, an event of the New World Wine & Food Festival (of which I’m a founder and coordinator), at Becker Vineyards near Stonewall. It features a panel of tasters, and the audience tastes along with the experts at several sessions during the afternoon of August 15. For information, go to nwwff.org.

2007 Sangre de Toro de Casta, Rosé Catalunya, $11
Clean and fresh with strawberry notes and zesty acidity, great value
“I thought it was French,” admitted Lazri. In the panel’s defense, the wine does include the classically Provençal grenache grape, here called garnacha, in its blend. The wine also lacked the vivid magentas of some of the more highly extracted New World rosés. “There’s great strawberry — but not so much that it starts getting sweet,’ offered Patton. “It also has higher acid; it’s all about acid in France,” added Rodnite. “It definitely exceeds expectations,” said Ayala. You can cut off the silly plastic bull dangling from the closure if it offends you.

2008 Charles & Charles Vol. II Columbia Valley Rosé, $13-$14
Classic rosé dancing between delicacy and earthiness, good even slightly warm
At $14, wine number two was a little more expensive, but almost equally surprising; the river that runs through this region is not the Rhône but the Columbia. Yes, Washington state — but there’s a story here. The 2008 Charles & Charles Vol. II Columbia Valley Rosé, made of 100-percent syrah, is a collaboration between Washington’s Charles Smith and France’s Charles Bieler. “There’s a balance between earth and delicacy,” Rodnite said. “Sexy,” thought Ayala.

2008 Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Couteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé, $15
60-percent cabernet lends classic nose but bigger flavors with stone fruit, dry minerality
“This is rosé all the way,” enthused Lazri. “It’s got hints of dark stone fruit,” claimed Rodnite — which turned out to be prescient as the wine has an unexpected (and untraditional) cabernet component of 60 percent. “Lots of layers of flavor,” thought Omniboire.

2007 Prièuré de Montézargues Tavel, $20-22
Cherry nose with floral aspects, focused flavors with blood orange, long finish
France came through again with the most traditional wine in the lineup, which is named after a 12th-century abbey — you have to admit that does add curb appeal. “It makes me think of summer and anticipate `drinking` more,” said Ayala. “It’s the classic nose,” seconded Patton. Lazri detected acacia aroma and called the wine “formidable.” “This is the most focused wine,” said Rodnite.

2008 Robert Oatley Mudgee Rosé of Sangiovese, $14
Initially funky with some dill, but structure triumphed
“It was not love at first taste,” suggested Ayala, “but got more becoming as I got back to it.” She was being kind. But we all warmed up to it as it warmed in turn and whatever flaws it had blew off. “It’s probably American oak that gives it that `initial` dill quality,” said Rodnite, adding that “sangiovese is hard to do.” Omniboire has really liked this wine in earlier vintages, so either the bottle was a little off or other factors intervened.

2008 Château de Campuget Costière de Nîmes, $11-$12
Peony pink with light strawberry and cola, some clove and spice
A wine from the Costières de Nîmes, the 2008 Château de Campuget, that should have scored on location, location, location alone, managed to eke out a number-six position. To be fair, it was the first wine in the tasting lineup, not always the best position — and it changed dramatically over time. Rodnite got clove and spice from the syrah component; Patton “was looking for more fruit.” But it’s only around $12 retail, and it did hold up well the day after, so don’t rule it out.

2007 Gordo Yecla Monastrell, $15
Both strawberry and rhubarb with tart streak dominating
Barely making the 13-point cutoff was another rosé from a country with a good track record — Spain. The importer, Olé, is an Omniboire fave due to its informative back labels, appealing lineup, and generally praiseworthy product. But we admit there was a mean streak in the 2007 Gordo Yecla Monastrell. The promised “ripe fruit aromas akin to confiture” gave way, for some, to smoke and cedar instead. “The curtains and the carpet didn’t match,” quipped Rodnite. Omniboire actually got some strawberry confiture on this one, but also detected rhubarb, and unlike the classic pie, the pairing was only marginally successful.

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