Wayne Garcia on Rosé

In addition to his work as a freelance writer and illustrator, Wayne Garcia oversees the tiny but carefully chosen wine list at Piccino Café in Dogpatch, where his wife Sher is a partner, and writes a wine column for
Edible San Francisco. When not sipping rosé, Garcia also writes about music and high-end audio gear for The Absolute Sound magazine, is editor of the soon-to-be-launched website marshallphoto.com (showcasing the work of San Francisco's legendary music photographer Jim Marshall), and spends many hours tending the wood-fired oven in the couple's Potrero Hill backyard.

Of Cowboys & Indian Summers

While musing over the course of the current presidential campaign, a friend compared the McCain/Obama contest to the rivalry between John Wayne and James Stewart in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In that 1962 classic, Ford tells the story of an old-fashioned warrior and a new-fashioned lawyerly thinker, who only fights when no other choice presents itself. "Americans seem to like John Wayne," my friend sighed.

His observation also summarizes the kind of wines most of us prefer--big, strong, none too subtle, and ready to battle all comers for the Parker prize. And let's not even get on the subject of the French!

But I'm going to anyway, because with San Francisco's Indian Summer around the corner, there is no better time to uncork what is arguably the most French of all wines: rosé.

Perhaps most strongly identified with Provence--where hot days require a cool, quaffable, food-friendly wine--rosé is simply a blush wine made from any region's red wine grape varieties, typically by a brief maceration of juice and skins immediately following the crush. After separating the liquid from the skins, the juice is fermented in the same manner as white wine, and is generally released from six to nine months after the harvest. Although some rosés gain complexity with a few years of aging, most are best drunk in their youth, when their bright fruit flavors and crisp acidity are at their peak.

The rosé that many fans identify as the one that awakened them to the beauties of blush is Domaine Tempier's Bandol, from Provence. Made largely from the region's mourvèdre grape, Tempier rosé is the ideal wine for the region's bouillabaisse, has long been imported by Berkeley's Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, and is a perennial on the Chez Panisse wine list.

Rosés are now available from a wide range of growing regions outside of France. Especially Spain, Italy, and California, which is finally recovering from the lengthy hangover "white" zinfandel gave to so many wine drinkers, who to this day steadfastly hate all pink wine.

But rosé is hugely popular in the Bay Area. Their color spectrum runs from the faintest hint of blush to pale and rich salmon, copper, watermelon, strawberry, magenta, and some that are borderline purple, so close to red wine is their color.

And their range of aromas and flavors is equally varied, offering a lovely expression of the grape varietals and regions they come from.

Take Italy, for instance. From the Veneto comes the classic Bardolino "Chiaretto," which blends grapes such as rondinella, corvina, and molinara into a vibrant, richly hued wine that might suggest cranberries and spices. From Trentino and the region's native lagrein come rosés hinting at floral and cherry aromas, with a pronounced minerality. Or how about a nebbiolo rosé from Piedmont, full-bodied, yet elegantly balanced between berry fruit and spice elements. Or a weird yet completely beguiling lacrima di moro rosé from the Marche, which is akin to sniffing a glassful of dried, spiced rose petals.

Spanish rosés can be either musky and full, and smelling of cherries and raspberries, as delivered by the tempranillo grape in the Duero region, or sassy with the bright fruit of garnacha (grenache), from Navarra.

Returning to France, the Languedoc is blending syrah, mourvèdre, and cinsault into salmon-colored wines that manage to ideally balance ripe fruit with bright acidic finishes; the Loire Valley creates earthy, terroir-driven, less fruity bottlings from cabernet franc, as well as an unusually delicate rosé of pinot gris, which presents clean and slightly floral mineral notes. Tavel rosés from the Rhône valley can be big, fruity, and seemingly of the stony earth they grow in, while a marsannay rosé from Burgundy lends a twist to that area's pinot noir.

Although I've tasted several fine California rosés, I find our state's wines more representative of the winemaker and grape varietals than of any particular growing region. That said, check out Unti Vineyard's classic provençale blend of grenache and mourvèdre, one of Robert Sinskey's pinot noir rosés, or Pey-Marin's vin gris, which blends pinot noir and merlot into a full, dry wine flirting with strawberry, herbs, and a touch of flintiness.

If you've yet to discover what all the fuss is about, add to the above list these more specific suggestions below, followed by a list of a few places to purchase them.

07 Régis Bouvier, Marsannay, Burgundy
07 Mas Champart, Saint-Chinian, Languedoc
07 Domaine de Fontsainte, Gris de Gris, Languedoc
07 Bergerie de l'Hortus, Languedoc
07 Charles Joguet, Chinon, Loire
07 Domaine de Reuilly, Loire
07 Domaine Tempier, Bandol
07 Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol
07 Château de Trinquevedel, Tavel, Rhône


07 Nicola di Buscareto, Lacrima di Moro, Marche
07 Cesconi, Lagrein, Trentino
07 Corte Gordoni, Bardolino "Chiaretto," Veneto
07 Ioppa, Nebbiolo, Piedmont

06 Gonzalez Lara Fuente del Conde, Cigales,
07 ZaZa, Navarra           

Where to purchase:
Biondivino Wine Boutique
Kermit Lynch
Paul Marcus
Terroir Natural Wine Merchant
Ruby Wine
Whole Foods