Once upon a time it was 1976 and pink wine was a ladies-only kind of drink.
My grandmother was partial to Lancers rosé from Portugal, that lightly effervescent, slightly sweet charmer in the stylish maroon ceramic bottle. She viewed it as an ideal mealtime beverage for all seasons and entertainments— excepting, of course, Sunday brunch, which was the reserve of mimosas and whiskey sours.
My mother’s rosé of choice was Almaden Mountain Grenache, dispensed from the amazing new bag-in-the-box in the refrigerator. For her, it functioned mostly as a soda pop replacement: to sip while watching summertime TV and eating chips and dip.
Either way, the message was clear: Wear a skirt=drink rosé.
Then, in 1989, when I was dating my first wife, I ran into rosé of a different sort through her Italian grandmother, a marvelous cook from whom I had the wonderful chance to learn a bit. In the summer, “Mama” (as I came to call her) and her son, my father-in-law to be, asked me to seek out hard-to-find bottles of Grignolino, a light-hued dry red that essentially functions like rosé, to drink with rabbit with peppers and polenta, or grilled fish with olives and rosemary. Those were two of my favorite dishes that Mama made in those years and the wine made them more themselves, acting as the rhythm section does behind a great piano player, punctuating notes, affirming, adding order and authority.
Now I had some new messages. Rosé could be dry. Rosé could support food beautifully. And one could wear pants and drink it.
But I was one of the few who’d received that information, unfortunately. After its peak in the late 1970s, dry rosé fell out of favor, overshadowed by the hugely popular run of white zinfandel through the ’80s and ’90s. Then, to my great surprise and sincere joy, in the early 2000s, people— even squads of Baltimore men, typically a conservative and self-conscious tribe— began boldly asking for dry rosé, explaining that spring had arrived and they needed the right thing for their (insert social occasion here).
The renewed interest in rosé, I think, speaks to two factors. One, many people are discovering that wine actually has a function with food. And two, as sensible red-blooded Americans, we love value. Tasty and appropriate pink stuff for quaffing with spring/summer food, warm weather and zippy moods is rarely more than 18 bucks.
And yet, when it comes down to it, rosé is still seen as the choice only when a white wouldn’t offer enough flavor and a red would leave you dripping in sweat. Over the years, I’ve attempted to pair rosé with various dishes in all of my restaurants as a first choice— and it hasn’t worked as well as I had wished. The shrimp with banana and garlic with a Garnacha Rosé from Navarra was nice but the White Côtes du Rhone was better. Bandol Rosé was great with the salade nicoise, but the Vermentino di Sardegna was probably better. Even last year, a rabbit terrine with a fresh artichoke salad was working with a Sancerre Rosé, but not as well as with a Soave Classico.
And then, a few weeks ago, I did what everyone does when they’re home, it’s late, they have no food and they’re starving: I picked up the phone and placed my continued existence into the hands of Pizza Boli’s.
While waiting for the delivery guy, I went down to the cellar to make an agonizing choice. Over the years, I’ve wasted too many great wines to count on pizza. Bordeaux, Cabernets and Brunellos can’t handle the acid from the tomato or the salt in the pie. Cheese usually wants white, but whites just don’t have strong enough flavors.
I stood there, thinking about how, after one sip and one bite, I was going to regret the stupid decision I was about to make. Then, suddenly, the last two bottles of Rosé Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from last summer tapped me on the shoulder.
Of course. Perfect. Why did it take me so long?
Three Good Rosé Bets
Look for 2011 vintages from:
> Rioja Rosado, Bodegas Muga
> Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosato, La Valentina
> Tavel Rosé, Domaine de la Mordorée
Tony Foreman is a restaurateur and co-owner of the Foreman-Wolf group.