A variety of appealing rosés landed on my porch just in time to combat the sweltering heat that slammed us here in Virginia. None of the wines we tasted are from everyone’s go-to for rosé wines, Provence; I felt as if we should explore the world a bit and see what else is out there. So these wines hail from several continents, are crafted from various varietals, and are as different in style as wines in the same category can be: There is something for everyone in this line-up. Six people (two professionals and four civilians) participated in the blind tasting, which proved educational when an avowed dry wine drinker fell in love with a juicy rosé that was frankly sweet — it just goes to show that tastings can reveal preferences we never knew we had.
This cheerful, brightly hued wine, made from South Africa’s own 100 percent pinotage grape, is unapologetically sweet. The nose is pure strawberry, and it replicates intense strawberry with a touch of Kool-Aid on the palate. A short finish; heavy, round mouthfeel; and low (11 percent) alcohol make it easy to drink alone; anyone who loves moscato should give this wine a try.
Western Cape, South Africa
Crafted from 100 percent merlot grapes, this wine is a very pretty raspberry color in the glass. This is a surprisingly light wine for a Spanish rosado: faint strawberry with a hint of that raspberry in the nose, light fruit on the palate, light body, and light, acidic finish. It is quite dry, but lacks the character we’ve come to associate with Spanish wines at this price point.
This 100 percent cabernet sauvignon is a pretty deep salmon pink color and will appeal to anyone who likes a reasonably dry, fruit-forward, well-priced wine. It landed, with one exception, in the middle of the pack — not a bad place to be if you’re trying to appeal to a large crowd, say at a picnic or family gathering. There’s a touch of minerality in the finish, which cuts through the fruit nicely. Toss hot spice-rubbed chicken or a few garlic- and lemon-marinated lamb chops on the barbie: DMZ can handle both.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
This wine was in everyone’s top three, and it is no wonder: the style of this 100 percent mourvèdre is distinctly Provençal: crisp, fresh, exceptionally well-balanced, and very food-friendly. The pale apricot salmon pink is gorgeous, and the nose is exceptional, redolent of honeysuckle, with berry and current on the palate, a silky body, and a refreshing finish with a touch of mineral and smoke. This is a lovely wine, and would pair well with almost any food from grilled shrimp or steamed lobster to Provençal specialties like pissaladière.
Creamier and a bit more complex, with better structure than many of the wines we tasted, this pleasing blend of grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah is full of berries, boasts a lovely round mouthfeel, and the natural acidity of Paso soils ensures a refreshingly acidic, Meyer lemon finish. (At 14.5 percent, it is higher in alcohol than average for a rosé, which makes for a bit of heat in that finish.) Happily, it handles spicy food with ease — bring on your Cajun or your dry-rubbed barbecue and know you’re doing good: $1 of the profits from every bottle sold is donated to cancer support.
Paso Robles, Calif.
King Family Vineyards
This local favorite did well in the blind tasting, coming in just after Stinson and Blenheim. It is a light, fresh, easy-drinking rosé, and what it lacks in complexity it makes up in crowd appeal, with likable zesty grapefruit in the nose, berry and a bit of currant on the palate, and a humidity-busting citrusy finish. It is a lovely salmon rose pink in the glass and, once stripped of its wrapping, the bottle proved to be exceptionally pretty, too. It would pair perfectly with any simple picnic fare, and could handle fish with ease.
Another local favorite that aced the blind tasting, this pretty salmon-hued rosé is an appealing, complex blend of 58 percent merlot, 16 percent syrah, 14 percent pinot noir, and 12 percent petit verdot. With fresh herbs and watermelon enlivening the nose and then blackberry, a bit of grapefruit, as well as a flavor the vintner correctly describes as rhubarb on the palate, this wine flirts with savory and sour notes, creating a surprisingly refreshing, layered tasting experience. It has a silky mouthfeel and a moderately long, zesty tannin finish, and could handle just about any food you could throw on your barbecue — as well as more sophisticated offerings.
Made from 100 percent cerasuolo grapes, this pleasantly dry, drinkable wine is a light cherry red in the glass and glides over the palate with more soft cherry, a bit of herb, a touch of mineral, and a soft tannin finish, which hides the 13 percent alcohol. It is nicely made, with good balance and structure, and would complement the lazy antipasti platters of summer or Abruzzo specialties such as mussels with saffron, as well as heartier soups and pastas come fall.
One doesn’t generally begin a discussion of a wine by describing the label, but this label, a black and white photo fragment of a beautiful Euro-style blonde’s face with “taste” typed in red in her open mouth, is arresting, to say the least. Designed by artist Barbara Kruger, the label is provocative, sexy, and sassy. Could be the power of suggestion, but that pretty much describes the wine as well. A well-balanced blend of cabernet franc and merlot with a hit of malbec and a touch of syrah, the wine has a light, floral, and tropical fruit nose, and explodes on the palate with more tropical fruit, berry, lemon zest, and pink peppercorn. The finish is crisp and refreshing. It is a beautiful salmon pink in the bottle. Food? Who needs food? Toss on a negligee and enjoy it as is.