By Celia Strong
So is it hot out there yet? Has the humidity shown its damp, dripping face? Seems to me it came in awfully fast this year, and, I for one, am not ready or looking forward to it. But, one thing that can help is a fresh mind-set. And that means some nice new wines that are suited to heat, humidity, slow moving and summer foods. And guess what? Yep, for this week, it’s pink.
As we’ve said before, pink wine is not always sweet wine. Until about 30 or 40 years ago, when Robert Mondavi came up with the idea for White Zinfandel, pink wines were dry wines — caught between reds and whites but always acceptable. Unlike now. As the story goes, when Mondavi was at the beginning of his career, he saw the value in the old Zinfandel vines growing all over California vineyards. It would be a shame to lose them to non-use, so he made a blush wine from them. Apparently, he was right in assuming Americans had palates that preferred sweeter style wines. Blush wines are sweeter because the fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is converted into alcohol. This leaves some sugar in the wines, sweetness, and then they are “blushed” with a bit of red grape juice to make them pink. While many of us no longer like these sweeter wines, we have to give them, and Mondavi, credit for bringing many of today’s wine consumers into wine drinking, period. The next step is we have to accept that pink is a color of wine, like red and white, and not a style. Maybe, if we can think about it as just a color, we can enjoy more pink wines more easily. It’s all in our heads, you know. So, trust our mouths.
While the United States, and mostly California, has probably cornered the blush wine business, rosé wines are made all around the world. The good news is that, mostly, rosé wines are not expensive, don’t need aging or breathing or any other special care. A glass and something to chill them can be it. (Screw tops rule!) Our little list of summer wines has a couple of rosés on it. Yay!
For today, we’re going Italian. Specifically, to northeastern Italy, near the city of Verona. Here, in the hills east of Lake Garda, they make a red wine called Bardolino. Bardolino is a town on the shore of the lake and its wines, the red wines at least, were granted DOC status in 1968. (DOC is the Italian version of the French appellation laws.) The three main grapes used for these wines are Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. After that, up to 15 percent of the final mix can be Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese and/or Garganega. (We have done a couple of these varieties in the last month or so. Hope you remember, but now you know why we never know all the grapes we’re drinking!) Just as an extra bit of wine info, the same three main grapes are also used to make Valpolicella wines. These are also red and often referred to as the bigger, heavier version of Bardolino. In truth, Bardolino uses less Corvina grape that gives its wines body and structure and more Rondinella that is more neutral in a wine. But, back to Bardolinos. Within the types of Bardolino, there are “superiore” wines that have one more percent alcohol in them and must be aged at least 12 months before their release, rosé wines that are known as “Bardolino Chiaretto,” lightly or “frizzante” Bardolinos and, the newest since the late 1980’s, “Bardolino Novello,” sort of like a new Beaujolais.
We’re going to back up a bit and do the pink. It is made by Santi, a winery known to so many of us for its Pinot Grigio. The Santi winery was founded in 1843, by Carlo Santi, in the village of Illasi. The original winery was situated in the heart of the most acclaimed wine growing zones in the Veneto region where Lake Garda is. The Santi business was based on Soave, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella and Amarone (the big boy version of Valpolicella). These wines are mostly made from estate grown grapes augmented by some contracts and special relationships with friends and neighbors. Any of us who’ve had the Santi Pinot Grigio or Valpolicella know how good their wines are, year after year. Their rosé is just as good. These grapes come from vineyards within the boundaries of the Bardolino DOC, just east of Lake Garda. It is made from 65% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Yes, that’s a higher percentage of Corvina than usual for Bardolino. The 2010 rosé is bright and crisp, with strawberry and red cherry flavors. And the acidity is mouth watering so its very much a food wine.
Which leads us to our next tidbit this week. Rosé wines are very, very good food wines. It just takes a bit of drinking to really get used to using them. Darn! Drinking? Oh, goody, goody! Anyhow, for food, rosé wines are extremely versatile. First of all, since they are between reds and whites in color, it’s an easy step to use them when reds are too whatever and whites aren’t enough. That means anything from heavy seafood like swordfish, salmon and tuna, to poultry and light game birds to pink meats like pork and ham to room temperature or chilled red meats like cold filet.
Just like red wines and white wines, rosé wines are made from assorted varieties so they have a range of weights and flavors. When you are fully indoctrinated into using rosé wines, these variations become fun to discover and perfect pairings. A spicy gazpacho is much better with a fruity rosé. A fruity salsa with a kick of jalapeño begs for a rosé. Grilled vegetables with olive oil and basil or other herbs taste better with a rosé. Sausages and salami become gourmet fare in the world of rosé. Asian steak salad is dinner fit for a king with rosé. Rice and grain dishes come alive with a rosé. Never have the right wine for barbecue sauce? Yes, you do! Rosé. Having some cheese and crackers with a friend? Think pink. Doing fruit instead of cheese. Think pink again. I guess there’s not too much rosé wine doesn’t go with.
So, ready to try this week’s rosé? Hope so. The usual price on the Santi Infinito Rose is $9.99. A while ago we got a bit of a deal on it and it went down to $8.99. But now, for all the rosé we have to start drinking, it’s $6.97. Infinitely better. Infinitely good. Infinitely pink. Enjoy Infinito!
By Celia Strong