Every time we do a wine tasting I’m amazed how many people don’t want to try rosés. No one has yet run away screaming, but the wrinkling of noses and furrowing of brows is unmistakable, even when they’re politely saying no, thanks.
We don’t understand it – rosés are dry and delicious. But it seems that many people are still haunted by bad college experiences, elderly relatives who only drank sweet stuff, and wines selected though poverty, inexperience, and lack of choice. We at first vine are here to help you get through those awful pink memories, repressed or not!
Bad experience #1: We’ve all done it at one time or another, mixing red wine and white wine together (usually late at night after too much drinking, usually in college). You mixed them because there wasn’t enough of either one left. It made something pink (and probably vile), that had the worst properties of the wines used to make it, assuming there were any good properties to begin with.
The truth: That something (vile or not) wasn’t rosé. Virtually all rosés are made with red wine grapes only. All of the color in these grapes comes from the skin. So by squeezing the grapes gently and letting the juice stay in contact with the skin for a very short time, winemakers make a wine that’s lightly pink in color. It has a lot of the freshness of a white wine, with some of the red fruit flavors and minerality you get in a red wine.
Bad experience #2: Grandma’s White Zinfandel, sweet enough to make you “blush.” In the 1960s and 1970s, red Zinfandel wasn’t selling very well, but vineyards had planted a lot of the grapes, and not always the highest quality grapes. Enterprising winemakers used them up by producing “White” Zinfandel, a pink wine make from red Zinfandel grapes. So far so good, at least in theory, right?
Except that Zinfandel is just about the sweetest wine grape there is. Fermentation turns sugar into alcohol, so more sugar in the grape means a wine higher in alcohol if the wine’s not sweet. That’s what happens with good red Zinfandel, it’s completely fermented, but the alcohol content can approach 16%. With red Zins, the burn of the high alcohol is offset by the rich flavors from the grape skin. But if you’re not using most of the flavor from the skin, you’ll end up with a fire-breather wine if all the sugar gets fermented (this can cause problems for other grapes, too, as you’ll read below). So instead, the winemakers controlled the fermentation to make a wine with less alcohol and more sugar. That’s what gave us everyone’s grandmother’s favorite sweet alcoholic beverage.
The truth: Good rosés from the Southern Rhône Valley (coincidentally, the ones we sell at first vine!) are made with red wine grapes that don’t have as much sugar as Zinfandel. Cinsault is the primary flavor grape in these rosés, which also contain Grenache, the major red wine grape of the region, and may contain Syrah. All without making your teeth hurt!
Bad experience #3: Mateus. Those of you old enough to remember the time before U.S. wine became really good again will also remember the truly terrible mass-market imported wines that graced our shores during that time. They’re better known now for their advertising than the products themselves. Blue Nun, anyone? Made a lot of money for Ben Stiller’s parents. Bolla Soave? At least the commercial implied that you could meet some hot Italian girl on a train (assuming that’s what you were interested in…) But the best commercials were for Cella, featuring the debonair, mustachioed Aldo. Wine that was perfect for every “Cella”bration, and leaving swaths of swooning, satisfied women in its wake (that Aldo Cella, he knows what women like!)
Then there was Mateus. I don’t remember any commercials, but boy do I remember the bottle. Short and curvaceous, with a label that screamed old-world sophistication. Green glass so you couldn’t see the color of the wine inside: pink. A wine that appealed to everyone because none of us knew anything about picking wines – and if we did, we couldn’t afford the good ones anyway. From what I remember, it was remarkably inoffensive. It didn’t taste like much of anything. A little sweet (though not as sweet as White Zinfandel), a little bit of carbonation (but not like a sparkling wine), and pretty to look at. Not a bad first go for wine, but something we outgrew pretty quickly, especially as better wines became cheaper and easier to find.
The truth: I have no idea what grapes are in Mateus, but good rosés have grapes with great flavor. As I mentioned above, most of them contain Cinsault. You won’t find a red wine made from 100% Cinsault in France, but it’s used a lot as a blending grape because of its unique taste of strawberry, raspberry, and red currant. Red fruit flavors that make for a stunning rose. The Grenache adds an earthy undertone and a little bit of acidity, which when blended with the Cinsault is a great flavor combination. You might miss that Mateus bottle, but you won’t be missing that wine!
As it turns out, 2009 was an odd year for rosés from the Southern Rhône Valley. The weather was hot and dry, which produced grapes with more sugar than usual. Much of the Cinsault in the region was just too sweet for making rosé and keeping the alcohol around 13%. Both Cécile Dusserre from Domaine de Montvac and Valerie Chaume-Arnaud from Domaine Chaume-Arnaud told me that they decided not to make any rosé in 2009, but instead, blend their Cinsualt into their Côtes du Rhône reds, making an unusual and very good vintage.
The winemakers who did make rosé from Cinsault in 2009 were those who had Cinsault grown where the air was a little cooler – just enough to keep the sugar level down. We’re lucky to have two of them fresh off the boat. Cave la Romaine Sensation Rosé ($10) is 85% Grenache, 15% Cinsault. With vineyards at the base of Mont Ventoux, there are enough microclimates to ensure a good crop of Cinsault even in very hot weather. And Cave la Vinsobraise Rosé ($12) is 50% Cinsault and 50% Grenache. Vinsobres has vineyards at some of the highest elevations in the Southern Rhône Valley – those elevations that produce elegantly earthy red wines also produce a dynamite rosé.
Both rosés go perfectly with this week’s recipe, which is sort of a warm-weather Thanksgiving preview. Interestingly, rosés pair very well with most Thanksgiving foods – combinations of savory and sweet that you don’t find at other meals. Turkey Tenderloin over Herb Salad with Crispy Sage gives you a lot of Thanksgiving flavor in a summery dish – and one without tomatoes in the ingredient list! 😉 The turkey isn’t breaded, just coated with flour and sautéed to cook through, giving a little color to it but keeping it light. Put any of your favorite salad vegetables in. I’m recommending corn, because it adds a little sweetness that gives a nice contrast to the bite of the herbs.
It’s Labor Day weekend – a time to relax. So unfurrow your brow. And don’t wrinkle your nose, unless you’re smelling your rosé!
1 pound turkey breast cutlets (see directions for more information)
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves garlic, mashed in a garlic press
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
About 10 ounces salad greens, definitely containing arugula but also radicchio and other herbal salad greens
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, grated using a large-hole grater, or make strips with a vegetable peeler
1 bunch of fresh sage
3 ears of fresh corn, kernels cut off the cob
You’ll want a pound of turkey breast cutlets. If they’re already pounded thin, ¼-inch or less, then eight pieces should be about a pound. If they’re thicker, you may get four pieces. Cut each one in half and pound them one at a time until they’ve thinned out. I put each piece inside a gallon-sized freezer bag and pound it using a heavy frying pan.
Mix the lemon zest and juice, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a half-teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Using your fingers, rub both sides of each piece of pounded cutlet with the mixture. Set the cutlets on a plate, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for half an hour.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Lightly spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and set it aside. Mix the flour with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, then spread the mixture on a plate. Pick the sage leaves from the bunch, make sure they’re nice and dry, then heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Fry the sage leaves for about 30 to 45 seconds. They won’t brown, and they won’t necessarily look crisp, but take them out with a slotted spoon and let them drain on paper towels. They’ll crisp up as they cool.
Using paper towels, wipe the garlic and herb mixture off the cutlets. Then heat a little more oil in the skillet if you need it. Dredge each cutlet in the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Saute in the oil for about two minutes on each side. They will be very lightly colored. Cut one open to see that they’re cooked through. Put the cooked cutlets on the prepared baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven.
Add the corn kernels to the skillet and cook for about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and let them sit until you’re ready to serve.
Mix the salad greens and basil leaves in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl or in a glass jar, mix the mustard, vinegar, and 1/3 cup olive oil with a little salt and pepper. Dress the salad.
Divide the salad among four plates. Sprinkle the cooked corn kernels on top, then put two pieces of tenderloin on top of the salad and corn. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and the crispy sage leaves.