Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One night a year, we should all Think Pink

Last week I attended an annual event at the ill-named Café Rouge in Berkeley. Why ill-named? Because for one night a year, the red meat-loving restaurant (it started as an artisan butcher) runs Think Pink, in which diners are strongly encouraged to order nothing but rosé.

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.

The day before, I had a wine-soaked lunch in which I had fish stew, a colleague had piperade, and another had grilled lamb. I tried to order a pink bubbly, but the lamb-eater -- who was paying -- exercised his prerogative, so we had red wine. But the right rosé would have been great, and I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed a pink Bandol and a pink Pic St. Loup with Café Rouge's steak more than I usually enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

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.

My two favorite pink wines of the night were Abbatucci Cuvee Faustine Ajaccio 2010, a pricey Corsican wine from Barbarossa and Sciacarello grapes, and Regis Bouvier Marsannay 2010, a Pinot Noir pink from Burgundy. I would give them both 93 points, which of course means they're exactly the same. Except they're not: the Corsican wine is strongly flavored with dried orange peel and some dried meat and herb notes, whereas the Marsannay tastes so much of Pinot that if I closed my eyes I might think it's a red barrel sample.

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.
Sommelier Barbara Haimes poured samples from the Domaine Terrebrune pink Bandol 2010 from both a magnum and a 750 ml bottle, and it was striking how different they were; the 750 sample was much more expressive, which makes sense because it would have had proportionally more air exposure. I liked both and eventually drained both samples, so I wouldn't sweat the bottle size too much.

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.)


DAH is David Anthony Hance said...

I loved the Faustine Ajaccio 2010 when I opened a bottle last month. Certainly made me wish I had more than one bottle, and that the one bottle I had were a bit less expensive (only so I could afford more). In California, I find the pink wines made in small quantities (whether by large or small wineries) are often the most interesting, because in very small quantities they are usually made because the winemakers want to make them, rather than because the sales managers want to sell them.

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Absolutely! Our annual Vermont neighborhood rosé party is next weekend, and folks are getting fired up for it...cherry stones will be hand delivered from the coast. I've got about a case and a half of different examples, and participants will be bringing more as well.
Thanks for the tip on the Salvard Cheverny...we have some of the Rouge, I'll have to ask if our purveyor has access to the Pink.

GollyGumDrops said...

I love Rose, and tend to make summer Saturday's my 'think pink' day, although I tend to Spanish pinks from Navarra and Rioja.