One of my favorite get-togethers with friends is a “small plates” party, with little portions of everything from Spanish potato omelet to spicy shrimp to soy-glazed salmon chunks to my guilty pleasure, the all-American cocktail weenie. Oh, and squid salad, just to see who likes an adventure.
To go with everything, I pour a white wine, a red wine and a rose.
Some people rarely drink rose, and it’s too bad. Roses still bear the onus of the 1970s, when California winemakers flooded the market with cheap, sweet, bland, pink versions.
But times have changed. Today wine fans can find crisp, dry, delicate, intensely fruity roses that are some of the best wines in the market. If nothing else, roses are beautiful. Depending on the grape and how they are made, their color can range from pale salmon to neon pink to almost fully red. Just line up five or six glasses and note the rainbow-like range of colors.
Roses, when well crafted, reflect the flavors of the grapes from which they are made, from pinot noir to merlot to grenache to zinfandel.
A tiny bit of tannin comes through as well. In fact, roses have a special place among wines. Positioned between red and white, they go with a surprising range of dishes.
Roses go well with rich fish such as salmon or tuna, with simple roast chicken, ham or cheeseburgers. They go with picnic fare from egg salad to chicken salad to cold fried chicken to hot dogs. They’re good with barbecue, pork ribs, simple pastas. They’re a top pairing for pizza, particularly the Hawaiian favorite ham pizza.
Rose sparkling wines are great all by themselves as aperitifs. They’re so pretty that they make a great wedding or birthday toast to your significant other.
Roses are made in two ways. The basis of both is that even red grapes have white juice. To make a fully red wine, vintners crush the grapes and leave the juice soaking on the skins for up to several days to pick up color, tannin and flavor. But if they soak them for only a few hours, they have rose wine.
The other way to make rose is to press the red grapes immediately after they’re picked, not even taking the time to crush them. Then part of the juice is “bled” away from the skins very quickly, creating an especially pale and delicate rose. Then, the rest of the juice is left on the skins to ferment, creating an even more concentrated red wine because the juice-to-skin ratio is reduced.
Actually, there’s a third way. St. Francis Winery in Sonoma County makes roses by simply adding 10 percent of viognier, a white grape, to its red zinfandel.
▪ 2013 Bonny Doon “Vin de Cigare” rose wine, Central Coast (35 percent grenache, 18 percent mourvedre, 16 percent grenache blanc, 12.5 percent roussanne, 8 percent carignane, 8 percent cinsault, 1.5 percent marsanne, 1 percent counoise): pale salmon hue, floral aromas, flavors of tart strawberries and mint; $18.
▪ Nonvintage Schramsberg “Mirabelle” Brut Rose sparkling wine, Sonoma, Monterey, Napa and Mendocino counties, (53 percent chardonnay, 47 percent pinot noir): myriad tiny bubbles, full body, aromas and flavors of red raspberries, long finish; $28.
▪ 2012 Sofia Rose, by Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Monterey (65 percent pinot noir, 35 percent syrah): bright rose color, crisp and dry, flavors of strawberries and spice; $19.
▪ 2014 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rose, Loire Valley, France (100 percent pinot noir): pale pink hue, aromas and flavors of fresh cranberries, light, crisp and dry; $23.
▪ 2014 Hecht & Bannier Cotes de Provence Rose, South of France (45 percent cinsault, 30 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah): crisp and dry, aroma and flavors of tart cherries and minerals; $18.
▪ 2014 Michel Torino Malbec Rose, Cafayate Valley, Argentina (100 percent malbec): deep pink hue, light and lively, with intense flavors of strawberries and herbs; $12.
▪ 2014 Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rose, South of France, (40 percent syrah, 35 percent cinsault, 25 percent grenache): pale rose color, aromas and flavors of black cherries and watermelon; $13.
▪ Nonvintage Mumm Napa Brut Reserve Rose sparkling wine (67 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay): pink hue, lots of tiny bubbles, aromas and flavors of red raspberries and spice; $38.
▪ 2014 St. Francis Rose, Sonoma County (90 percent zinfandel, 10 percent viognier): bright rose color, aromas and flavors of tart strawberries and minerals, crisp, long, fruity finish; $18.