Wine to Accompany Your Holiday Dinner –
Why Not Rosé?
by Geoff Kalish
Americans have had something of a love-hate relationship with pink wine. Back in the 1970s so called “blush” wine from California was a big hit. They were generally made from ripe red grapes (predominantly Zinfandel) by allowing the skins to have very brief contact with the juice before fermenting, so as to pick up a bit of color and flavor. The craze for this wine reached its peak in the mid 1990s when sales, along with imported rosés, rivaled those of reds. We couldn’t get enough of the relatively sweet, very fruity stuff – until we collectively grew up and realized that many of them tasted suspiciously similar to the wine coolers peddled in six-packs. And thus began a continuous 10-year decline in U.S. consumption of pink quaffs.
Now rosé wine sales are on the rise, with some producers reporting growth of more than 50 percent in the past year, and an increase in products selling for over $10 a bottle. What's accounted for this surge in sales? It is because the majority of these wines, whether domestic or imported, cater to more grown-up tastes and are now relatively dry, fragrant, fruity and food-friendly. Once considered merely “summer sippers” or an hors d’ouevre wine, rosé has emerged as a year-round product to enjoy with a wide spectrum of appetizers, main courses and desserts.
A series of recent tastings revealed that rosé bested some of the most commonly suggested wines to mate with typical holiday dinner fare. The flavors of many dry zinfandels and other reds based on the cabernet sauvignon varietal often clash with candied vegetables and herb-laced side dishes. Moreover, the many different flavors of the food simultaneously bombarding the palate often overwhelm the subtle taste of most California chardonnays and white burgundies, particularly the better Puligny-Montrachets and Meursaults.
As an alternative, at the top of the list of wines best suited to holiday dinners should be rosé wine that exhibit fragrant, fruity characteristics, yet light enough not to overpower the delicate flavors of glazed ham, poached salmon, poultry and its fixings. No, not the often too sweet, too fruity California white zinfandels or the fizzy, fruit bombs known as “Pink Champagne”, but the dry or semi-dry pink wines of France (especially from the Provence area) and wineries around the world ranging from those in Napa Valley to the Rioja and South Africa.
And, because typical holiday dinners are usually attended by a multitude of family members – with more than a few bottles served – the cost of most of these products won’t break the bank. There's no need to spend more than $30 a bottle and outstanding examples are frequently found in the $10-$20 a bottle range.
As to which vintages to buy, in general “the younger the better,” with most older rosés tending to lose at least a bit of their fresh fruity bouquet and taste. So look for bottles with a vintage date no more than two-to-three years from the current year. And let the “non-vintage” wine remain on the store shelves. As far as brands, since there have not been any recent comparative tastings of bottles suited to mate with holiday dinners, you are best off with the guidance of a good retail shop owner or manager. Certainly consider purchasing a range of products, perhaps a bottle or two of a few wines. Hosting a “mini” tasting of the wines with your guests will add to the merriment of the day, while waiting for the whole group to assemble for dinner.
Two more considerations are the temperature that the wine should be served at and what type of wine glasses to use. To maintain its acidity and freshness, rosé seems to taste best at a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to most white wines. This temperature can usually be achieved by refrigerating the bottles for an hour or two or by placing bottles in the freezer for 30 minutes prior to serving. If multiple bottles are offered, use ice buckets to keep them chilled.
While most typical clear wine glasses will work with rosé, those with a small bowl offer the advantages that a smaller amount of wine is served at a time, and will also maintain its chill. Remember that no matter what glass you use, always hold the wine by the stem to keep your fingers from heating the wine, and to avoid smudging the glass so as not to tarnish the appearance of rosé's beautiful hue.
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