Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Lookin’ Through Rose-Colored Glasses
With the mercury near 90 on a regular basis these days, what do you sip as a reward for finishing the yard work, or cleaning out the garage, or replacing that leaky commode? A cold beer? Too predictable. Red wine? No, still too hot. A glass of Cabernet, Syrah or Zinfandel is like wearing a wool blanket on your palate. Chardonnay? Again, too predictable.
So, how about looking for inspiration through rose-colored glasses — or simply with rosé in your glass?
Who Grows Those Pink Grapes?
I’ve seen red grapes and white grapes, but never the pink grapes used to make rosé wine. Actually, no matter what color appears on the outside of the grape, the juice in all grapes look the same — a slight tinge of yellow, even in the darkest red grape. That explains white wines from white grapes. But how do red and rosé wines get their color if all grape juice is almost clear?
While the free run juice from all grapes is almost clear, the skin of the grape contains all of the pigmentation and the essential flavor components. If that clear grape juice comes into contact with the grape skins, some of the red pigments will eventually bleed into the juice, turning it first into a pleasing salmon hue, eventually to red and then a purplish red hue if it is in contact with the skin for long enough. In French-speak, the method is known as saignee.
More often than not, rosé wine production is simply a by-product of red wine production. If your winery produces primarily red wine, you have two options. You can hope that Mother Nature cooperates and gives you ideal growing conditions, that is, the perfect “hang time” in the vineyards, so that the sugars, acids and polyphenols are in optimum balance, producing perfect wine to help bolster the concentration of flavor compounds in the finished wine.
Or, you can bleed some of the pressed juice so that the grape skins, where flavor components and tannins reside, interact with less juice resulting in more concentrated flavors in the final wine. It’s kind of like adding just two cups of water to your stew, instead of four cups, but still using the same amount of herbs and spices. The flavors in your stew will be much more concentrated.
Of course, this “bled” grape juice still contains sugars that can ferment and usually has a pleasing salmon hue, so why not also make wine from this juice?
For a time, white Zinfandel was one of America’s most popular wines. Why? A major Zinfandel producer concentrated his classic red Zinfandel by bleeding some of the pressed juice and then fermented that juice, leaving just a touch of sweetness and a pleasing salmon-colored wine. Voila! White Zinfandel. It’s the perfect wine for wine drinking novices, with a little sweetness, slightly lower alcohol and a pretty color to boot!
There are wineries in France that specifically bleed this salmon-tinged juice from red grapes, just to make a rosé wine. The starting grape is a red grape, but they don’t make any red wines.
In Tavel, in southern Rhone, they only produce a rosé wine. Since they concentrate on only one type of the wine, the rosé wines are as aromatic and complex as many red wines. In fact, Louis XIV helped keep alive its production because he was such a fan of Tavel rosé.
One personal favorite is the rosé from Clos Sainte Magdeleine, situated on the Mediterranean coast, which is made entirely from red grapes — grenache, cinsault and mourvedre. Once again, they produce no red wines, just a rosé and two spectacular white wines.
There are also wineries that produce a rosé wine very simply by adding some red wine to white wine, giving it a salmon-colored hue. Most of the so-called “reputable” wineries in America still bleed their red juice to produce their rosé, although I’m sure the bulk producers (i.e., box wine) simply mix red wine with white wine to produce rosé wine.
The one exception is sparkling wine production and “true” champagne in France. In the United States, rosé champagne and rosé sparkling wine is produced by simply adding red wine, usually Pinot Noir, to produce a rosé sparkler. This is done in the esteemed houses of Krug and Dom Perignon.
Why Rosé for Hawai‘i’s Climate and Food?
For starters, rosé is always chilled — and chilled is always good when the mercury is pushin’ 90. Secondly, since rose’ wines are produced from red grapes, they pick up some of the complex flavors found in red wines even if their skin contact is limited. And, they are still refreshing to drink. Lastly, because of their limited skin contact, they usually don’t carry the tannins found in red wines, so they usually pair well with all types of foods.
Rosé wines (along with off-dry Riesling) perfectly complements the flavors found in Asian cuisine — from sweet and floral star anise and cinnamon, to herbal lemon grass, cilantro and basil, to the earthy black bean and pepeiao (wood ear) mushroom. Additionally, the lower alcohol levels in rosé wines do not magnify the chili pepper burn in spicier dishes. If the rosé is left with a little residual sugar, the slight sweetness also balances spicier flavors in the dish.
My Essential Rosé: This wine, created by Master Sommelier Richard Betts, retails for about $20 a bottle. It has a nose of dried orange rind, strawberry and mineral and pairs with most local dishes. And, since it has a Stelvin closure, no corkscrew is needed to get to the wine.
Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel
This entry-level Whispering Angel has a nose of dried citrus peel, good minerality and is perfect with any seafood, poultry or white meat dish. Whispering Angel retails for just over $20 a bottle.
This is a joint project of the Perrin clan of France and that celebrity couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It’s a very good rosé with a nose of light red fruit and good acidity to cleanse the palate. It retails for closer to $30 a bottle.
Or, if you prefer a cocktail instead of a glass of rose’, you can try my version of a great marriage of liquor and wine. Read on . . .
Cocktailin’ the Rosé
The inspiration for this cocktail comes from the French 75, which combines two of my favorite libations, champagne and gin. Although this libation contains no gin, I created my Hawai‘i twist to the French 75. At first, I wanted to call it the Hawai‘i 5-0, but I’m pretty sure the name is copyrighted. Since my cocktail has two Hawai‘i-based libations, Kai vodka and Lokelani Rose sparkling wine, and it is garnished with the state flower, I call it the Hawai‘i 2.5 — .5 because the Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup is actually made Down Under.
The Hawai‘i 2.5
1 bottle of chilled Tedeschi Lokelani Rose Ranch sparkling wine
6 Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup hibiscus buds
1 oz. ginger liqueur
2 oz. lychee liqueur
3 oz. Kai lychee vodka
Mix the ginger, lychee liqueurs and vodka; then pour 1 oz. of the mixture into champagne flutes. Place one hibiscus flower in the flute and top off with 4 oz. of Lokelani Rose sparkling wine.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”