The regular wine list is put away, and a special one-page sheet lists only 12 pink wines from France and Italy, all imported by Berkeley's own Kermit Lynch. I saw one glass of white wine going out but every other table had pure pinkness.
It's a lovely sight. It's dinner a la carte, not a wine tasting or industry event, yet the house is full and diners reserve tables well in advance.
The main takeaway is that there's a rosé for everything. We had a dozen oysters, and there's a pink wine for that. We also had a dry aged Piedmontese ribeye steak, and there's a pink wine for that.
I should confess that, while I'm glad pink wine is having a cultural moment, I don't think the overall quality justifies the hype. I'm not here to rip California pink wines; I've had good ones and I know they're there if I look for them. But most wineries here make pink wines for all the wrong reasons, often to concentrate their red wines and sometimes to take advantage of consumers they look down on.
Here's a quick, easy guideline to buying California rosé: get the lightest in color. The darker ones are usually made cynically as byproducts by people who don't really care about the bottle in your hand.
Here's an even quicker guide to rosé: buy French or Italian ones. It pains me to write that because there's no international mystery to good pink wine: you just have to farm the grapes specifically for it. But who does that in California, or for that matter anywhere in the US?
They do it in Europe, and that's why the good pink wines are lively, real wines, not laden with sugar or pretending to be reds.
Because they're real wines, it's interesting to learn that just as red Syrah and Pinot Noir go best with different foods, so do pink wines made from them.
The former had the gumption to stand up to a kale Caesar salad, a dish that combines a very vegetal base with anchovies and garlic; it overpowered the Marsannay. That wine was beautiful with a milder dish: chickpea pancakes with olive tapenade.
As a counterpoint to overthinking wine-pairing, let me add that my wife, a lightweight, chose to have a single glass of the Marsannay with everything and was completely happy with that.
With oysters we had crisp, lively Salvard Cheverny Loire Pinot Noir-Gamay 2010 (rating: 91 points), which opens with light cherry and finished with a hint of fresh herb. Its acidity was fine with the brininess of the sea.
The big-boy pink of the night was Ermitage du Pic St. Loup Coteaux du Languedoc 2010, a Syrah-Grenache-Mourvedre blend that was potent, with intense strawberry flavor and only the strong acidity reminding me that it wasn't actually red. Haimes calls this a Man's Pink, and that's fair, because it was also excellent with the steak.
I regret writing about this great dinner last week because I hate reading this kind of story: I had something delicious that you cannot! Fortunately, Café Rouge has been doing this for 10 years. So look at it this way: You have 51 weeks to make your reservation for August 2012.
(All wines described available from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.)