In the pink, and at the circus

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

So, here we are at the first big holiday, for many of us, of this year. After this, most of our holidays become more outdoor and more casual and more relaxed. Mostly because of the hotter weather over the summer and early fall, or so I’ve always assumed. Anyhow, we’ll be finding ourselves at dining tables, with lots of food and fixings. And, probably with an assortment of people, family, friends and a few new acquaintances. Again, I’m assuming here too, but a glass of wine or two will probably make the food and the company better. So, having made all these assumptions, our job today is to find a good wine for the occasion. And, maybe all the assuming won’t come back and bite me?

Since Easter is celebrated around the world, I didn’t think where our wine came from really mattered; more important was how it tastes and how much it costs. Because ham is such a big favorite for Easter dinners, I thought we should find a wine for it. And, here we go!  To southeastern France. To the Languedoc area. A Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes.

Just so we get all our info on this wine together, it is categorized as a Vin de Pays. This is a legal level of French wines, literally translated as “country wine.”  The labels of these wines do designate their geographic origins, and the grape varieties used are controlled by what is allowed for their specific origins. These wines are also submitted for tasting each year. As of 2009, though, the Vin de Pays classification was replaced by the “PGI,” Protected Geographical Region. Another assumption here?  As hard as French wine traditions are to change, I think all of us who have lived with Vin de Pays as a wine category, for over half a century now, will take a while to remember it is now PGI. But, we’ll all know what we mean, won’t we?

The Languedoc-Rousillion area is home to the Vins de Pays d’Oc appellation — the largest PGI in all of France. Cotes Catalanes, our wine’s origin, is near the Languedoc and near northern Spain, including Catalonia, for which this PGI is named. (The French word “cotes” means slopes or sides of an area.) Once we know that, all kinds of other pieces of information fall into place — like the grapes that are used for our wine, normal in both French  and Spanish wines,  wine styles, and, not to be left out, food styles that go well with our wine.

So, what are our grape varieties?  We get three —Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Grenache Gris.  Grenache, and mainly the Noir — dark, red skinned — is well known because of its use all over the Cotes-du-Rhone. From Spain, we’ve seen it as Garnacha. Mourvedre is another Rhone varietal, used more for blending because of color and fruit flavors it can give to wines. Grenache Gris is the gray-skinned one in its family, less used and less well known than the Noir and the Blanc. Like Pinot Gris, Grenache Gris’ skin is a mix of green purply punk blotches. It gives a bit of acidity to red wines when used in small percentages.

Rosé wines are very popular in this whole area, French and Spanish. Each appellation has its own one, with a specific color and grape varieties. Rosé wines are named for their pink color; that’s what “rosé” means in French. They are usually made like red wines, with skin contact for color, just much less of it time-wise. The first rosé wines may have been made accidentally, centuries ago, when what was supposed to be a red wine was not allowed enough skin contact time. A cute old name for some of these early rosés was “vin d’une nuit,” wine of one night, meaning skin contact just from one day to the next. Historically, red wines used to be much lighter and less dense in their red color than they are now. That must have made it a bit confusing, choosing between shades of pink. (When we shop for rosé wines now, the depth of their pink is a sign of the intensity of their flavors, just like with white and red wines.)

Because of the shortened skin contact, rosés can be fruitier than red wines, have different aromatics (more fruity) and more acidity and less tannins. According to a French government agency, the shades of rosé wines can range from melon (cantaloupe) to peach to red currant to grapefruit to mango to mandarin. In studies, it has been shown when consumers can see the shade of a rosé wine, they prefer the darker shades. When tasting rosés, in black wine glasses, so they can’t see the color, they prefer the lighter colored wines.  All very interesting. And, it shows us that rosé wines are as complex and different from each other as red wines and white wines are. We usually tend to think of rosé wines as an option to red wines as the weather gets warmer through the summer. Truthfully, rosé lovers can look for darker colored ones in the winter and lighter wines in the summer and enjoy them all year. Again, like red and white wines.

Our wine is Le Cirque, means “the circus,” 2011, from the Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes PGI. It is made from Grenache Noir (50%), Mourvedre (40%) and Grenache Gris (10%). These grapes come from 50 year old vines that are limited to no more than two tons per acre, a fairly small amount for any PGI wine. They are fermented in stainless steel tanks and no malolactic fermentation is done. The wine macerates on its skins for three hours, a lot less than one night. And the wine is not oaked at all. Its color is intense, but light pink. It is fresh and spicy with strawberry, watermelon and sage flavors. It pairs wonderfully with pork products — sausages, patés, and, yes, ham, as well as poultry and seafood. But, where does its name Le Cirque come from? The village that its producer is located in, Tautavel, is ancient and full of history. That includes an old amphitheater bowl, now filled with vineyards. “Le cirque” also refers to the shows, spectacles and pageants that took place in this amphitheater. All this, wine and history and a good dinner, for $7.99!  And that puts us in the pink and at the circus!  Wine-wise, of course. Enjoy.