Pairings: Cuisines of the Rosé

Pairings: Cuisines of the Rosé

Cuisines of the Rosé

Not just for summer sipping and bouillabaisse, rosé wines pair well with all kinds of cuisines, all year long.

With the possible exception of jug wines or sparkling Shiraz, there are few wines taken less seriously than rosé. Maybe it’s the appealing blushing color, possibly construed as powder puff, cotton-candy frivolity. Or maybe it’s because Americans are still emerging from the sticky torrent of poor-quality white Zinfandels that flooded the market back in the 1980s. Mass produced and cloying, the majority of these wines were to the precise, bone-dry rosés of Europe what a Snickers bar is to Valrhona extra-bitter chocolate. Perfect for easy mindless enjoyment but nothing to sniff, swirl and contemplate.

Despite their reputation in this country, rosé wines have a lot more to offer than quaffability. At their best, these fresh-tasting wines combine the balanced acid, delicacy and refinements of elegant whites with a hint of the fuller body of quality reds. Given these qualities, it’s easy to see why many sommeliers and wine gurus consider rosés the most food-friendly wines in the spectrum, making a suitable match with everything from a fiery Indian vindaloo to cream-enriched, truffle-gilded haute cuisine.

The challenge can be convincing people to try a rosé with their meal in the first place. At Spiaggia, the lakeview Italian restaurant in Chicago, serving rosé as part of a tasting menu is one of the only ways sommelier Henry Bishop can get his customers to try it. Offering it by the glass is another. “Where people can be resistant to buying a whole bottle of rosé, they are usually more than happy to have a glass,” Bishop explains, “especially in the summer when people think about rosé as a lighter alternative to red wines. But you can drink rosé all year long. It goes well with seafood like lobster and scallops, with truffles, and I use it with lighter pasta dishes or gnocchi. Rosé makes a good bridge from the white wine to the red.”

Bishop loves to pull out a rosé or two when pairing wines with the chef’s tasting menus, but he also recommends them for full-flavored and ethnic cuisines. “You can use rosé nearly everywhere,” he says. “They will work with the appetizers or even dishes with bold, spicy flavors like lemon, garlic, anchovies or capers. It’s a remarkably adaptable style of wine.”

The range of rosé styles includes the austere yet aromatic, pale onion skin-colored wines of Domaine Ott in Provence, the bright, tightly knit sparkling rosés of Champagne and the generous, jewel-toned fuchsia chiarettos of Southern Italy. You can find a rosé to go with just about anything, from traditionally white wine-friendly ingredients like goat cheese and olives and tomatoes, to those that fall into the more classically red wine sphere, such as red meats. In general, Southern France produces the leanest, driest rosés, with a deep minerality that surrounds the berry fruit. These wines can be a magical substitute in situations where you might pair a white wine, especially with salads, cheese and shellfish. Not surprisingly, New World rosés from Australia, California and New Zealand, tend to be bigger, heavier and more intensely fruit forward, and can sometimes be off-dry depending upon the amount of residual sugar. These are best with heartier, richer fare, like seared duck breasts or grilled steak, and they also work well with chile- and spice-laden food, where the combination of acid and fruit can tame the heat. There are even dessert rosés, such as Inniskillin 2002 Ice Wine Cabernet Franc from Ontario, Canada, which is possibly the most perfect complement to a berry dessert.

As with any wine, the character of a rosé depends on the place of origin, the grapes used, and the winemaking style. These days, two methods predominate. Higher-quality rosés are produced using a method called saignée, which involves macerating crushed red grapes and their skins for a relatively short time—from 8 to 36 hours—then “bleeding” off some of the now-pink juice. Darker, more pigmented grapes need less maceration time to yield a pink wine, while lightly hued grapes need more time. In addition to color, the contact with the grape skins gives the wines more depth than you’d find in a white wine, but not as much as if the maceration went on for long enough to yield a red wine. (Usually the grapes used to make rosé are the same ones used to make red wine, which would be allowed to macerate for a longer period of time.)

The other method consists of blending small amounts of red wine into white wine. Although for the most part this produces less interesting, less nuanced rosés, the one exception is in Champagne, where blending is both codified and sanctioned. And rosé Champagnes can be, without a doubt, some of the world’s most excellent wines.

With the exception of vintage rosé Champagnes, rosés are not meant for aging. The rule is the fresher, the better, when the wine can still flaunt its zesty mix of fruit and youthful exuberance. This summer is the time to look for 2003 releases, though some 2002s and a few 2001s should still be showing well. However if it doesn’t taste of ripe fruit, even a one- or two-year-old rosé may be past its prime.

“With fresh, young rosés, there is a sense of grapiness that you don’t necessarily find in white or red wines,” says Bishop. “There are invisible tannins and some body at play, but there is also the acid of a white wine. The combination is part of its appeal and makes for a very approachable wine that’s extremely versatile with food.”

Or even on its own. As many fans of the pink know, there are few more delightful experiences than sipping a well-chilled rosé on a balmy summer evening as an apéritif, while watching the sun set. Or try it in the winter, sitting in a cozy room around a fire before dinner. Of course the inherent beauty of a rosé—aside from its rosy hue—is that the same wine will work throughout the entire meal, almost no matter what you are serving. In that sense, the bloom is never off a rosé.


From Chef James Boyce, Studio at Montage Resort & Spa
This gorgeous salad is best assembled just before serving, but the cucumber jelly should be made at least one hour in advance and chilled in the refrigerator until set. And if you don’t have time to make the jelly, feel free to substitute a seeded, cubed cucumber instead.

For the cucumber jelly:
1 lemon
1 English (seedless) cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped (to yield about
3 cups)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (1Ă‚ÂĽ4 ounce) powdered gelatin

For the pesto:
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons toasted and chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
Salt and ground black pepper

For the salad:
1 pint small cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pint medium strawberries, halved
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar Salt and ground black pepper
6 thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or 2 tablespoons shredded)
1 cup baby arugula leaves
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

To make the cucumber jelly: Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. To section the lemon, use a serrated knife to cut the top and bottom off the lemon, cutting through all the white pith to expose the pips. Stand the lemon up on the cutting board and cut the remaining peel and pith from it, working with the curve of the fruit. Holding the lemon over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between the membranes to release the sections, letting them fall into the bowl. Squeeze the remaining lemon juice into the bowl.

Place the cucumber, lemon sections and sugar in a food processor and puree until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until warm; add the gelatin and stir to dissolve. Transfer to the prepared pan and cool in the refrigerator until firm, 1 hour.

To make the pesto: Place the garlic, pistachios, Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a blender and purée until smooth, adding a little more olive oil if needed. Add the basil leaves to the blender and continue to purée. With the blender running, drizzle in the remaining oil and continue to blend until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble: Place 6 salad bowls in the refrigerator to chill. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, strawberries, lime zest and juice, sugar, and vinegar until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Remove cucumber from pan and finely chop. Spread equal amounts of cucumber jelly in the bottom of well-chilled soup bowls or soup plates. Using a slotted spoon, divide the strawberries and tomatoes among 6 salad bowls, reserving the liquid left in the bowl. Top each serving with a slice of Parmesan cheese (or shred the Parmesan and sprinkle over arugula). Toss the arugula in the large bowl with the reserved liquid and the olive oil. Place arugula on top of the Parmesan cheese. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of pesto around and over the cucumber jelly on each plate and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Wine Recommendations: Head sommelier at Montage Resort & Spa, Christopher Coon, says that this salad presents a challenge because of the inherent sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes and strawberries. He recommends a dry, minerally rosé, such as one from Languedoc-Boussillon or Provençe, like the Les Beaux de Provençe 2002 Mas de Gourgonnier Rosé. “A wine like this,” he says, “will have a bright acidity to match the strawberries and tomatoes, and a superripe core of fruit similar to strawberries, so the flavors in the wine echo those on the plate.”

For more recipes, see the July issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Published on July 1, 2004