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Rosés Blooming in February

Rosés begin blooming in February in the restaurant business. 

This is the time that chefs, sommeliers and beverage managers are stealthily working on sprightly spring menus and warm-weather wines-by-the-glass programs while they continue to serve the rest of us – who are still clearing away the last vestiges of snow – venison stews, root vegetable purées and murky Syrahs.

I was reminded of this last week when I attended a luncheon tasting of the wines of Château La Nerthe at the Capital Grille in Baltimore.  Maybe it was because the abnormally warm day had given me a case of spring fever, but I arrived at the Inner Harbor restaurant anticipating the glories of the red and white La Nerthes from Châteauneuf du Pape – and they were glorious – but I drove away with pink on the brain.  I was bedazzled by the Prieureé de Montézargues Tavel, which the Richard family of La Nerthe also owns and which was served as an aperitif for our pre-lunch reception.

It is true that tout le monde, Americans included, has again fallen in love with rosés.  Still earlier in the week, I had sat in on a presentation at the Four Seasons in New York City by Vinexpo 2011 of global wine trends.  One of the findings was that in 2010, Americans drank about 48 million cases of pink wine or about 16 percent of our total consumption of table wines.  Worldwide, about a quarter of a billion cases of rosé were drunk, or 9.5 percent of total consumption.

The first thing that I thought when I tasted the Montézargues was how clean and refreshing it was.  The second sip reminded me that it had the body (13.5% alcohol) and the balance among fruit flavors, acidity and a touch of residual sugar to be a good food wine – which is one of my prerequisites for a great rosé.  And, indeed, when the canapés of smoked salmon with horseradish aioli and duck prosciutto with truffles arrived, this expectation was confirmed.  Overall, the wine had light red raspberry, strawberry and orange peel flavors with a crème fraiche undertone and very good finishing acidity.  It is made chiefly with red and white Grenache and Cinsault, though a half-dozen other grapes found their way into the mix.

Although some delicious rosés are made by bleeding red grapes (saignée) that have been harvested primarily to make red table wines, I generally prefer rosés where the grapes are picked early – as winemaker Christian Voeux had here – for extra freshness and acidity, which is not an unusual practice in pink-only Tavel.

There was a lot of chit-chat between the importer (Pasternak) and the regional distributor (Southern) about availability (late March) and price (about $25 a bottle).  One Pasternak exec commented on the long-necked, colorful, elegant, magnum bottle (“sommeliers love it!”), while a Southern manager stated, “This is the kind of wine consumers buy by the case, not by the bottle.”

Of course, the 2010 Montézargues is only my first fresh rosé of the new year.  While it may not be to die for, it is to fall in love with.  But I expect to fall in love frequently with rosés as spring stretches into summer.  They bring out the youth in us, the ability to look at things afresh.  Who knows what pink will next turn our eye as it splashes playfully into the glass?

Still, for the moment, the Montézargues is quite a temptress.  Perhaps a case might be in, or on, order.






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