Neither white nor red, think pink

Glass Act: September 26, 2014

Autumn is upon us, calling for an extra layer to keep summer-browned shoulders warm while lounging on the deck. I like to defy these ever-shorter evenings by basking in the glow of the prettiest and most pleasing of wine.

Rosé. Blush. Pink.

Wine that is neither white nor red (and also both), wine that is versatile and underrated, wine whose colour and texture accentuate the bounty of this beloved season. I’m not just being poetic: dry rosé is the most technically appropriate style of wine to pair with roast turkey, baked ham, butternut squash, tomato salad, mushroom gravy, stuffing, garlic bread, baked brie, and apple pie.

Pink wine gets a bad rap for being cheap and too sweet. Californian White Zinfandel, an off-dry “white” (actually pink) wine, made from the red Zinfandel grape, flooded the U.S. market in the 1980s. White wine was then more fashionable than red, and winemakers were trying to make a desirable product from unwanted grapes.

The pink stuff is much older; rosé is likely the first style of wine ever made.

When red grapes are crushed, their skin is broken and pigment is absorbed by the grape juice. To make red wine, the juice and skins are left to steep together, sometimes a few days, sometimes a week, or longer.

When the maceration (steeping) time is shorter, less of the pigment — and other compounds found in the skin, like tannin and aromas — is absorbed into the juice. The resulting “light” red wine is fermented and finished like white wine — in stainless steel tanks, at cooler temperatures, using methods that accentuate aromatics and freshness. Rosé is born.

The French have mastered the dry rosé, notably in Provence and the Loire. Rosés from these regions release beautiful fruit aromatics, feel light and refreshing, and the hint of tannin gives them body. They are thirst-quenchers and also food wines.

Rosé comes in a range of colours, from the palest pink to rich ruby. The difference in colour depends in part on maceration time, but also on the type of grape used. Nova Scotian rosé tends to be deep pinky-purple due to the intense pigment of hybrid red skins. In these roses, maceration time is nil; the simple act of crushing grapes bleeds off so much colour that even when pressed at once the wine is already deeply stained.

This style — a rosé made by immediately pressing crushed grapes — makes it a blush, or a vin gris.

Another style, saignée, produces an even lighter rose. Here, the grapes are crushed and never pressed. The free-run juice is collected for rosé. The remaining must (skins, seeds, stems and pulp) is made into a concentrated red wine.

Rosé can also be made by simply blending red and white wine. This is a sanctioned practice in Champagne, and legal practice elsewhere. The drawback to making rose this way (except in Champagne, which is another story) is that the wine will not have the same tannic structure and aromatics as a traditional rosé.

For a wine that offers so much, rosé is delightfully affordable. Take, for example, Vignobles Jeanjean's 2013 Le Pive Gris ($17 at NSLCs).

This organic wine from Sable de Camargue, just south of Arles on the Mediterranean, is light pinky-orange, the colour of brook trout. It is dry, undeniably bright on the mouth, with gentle tannins that nudge the back of the throat. “Sparky,” says my roommate. Strawberry, say I.

Puy de Dome's 2013 Rose ($19 at Bishop's Cellar) is a Pinot Noir from central France is deeper pink, your quota Atlantic salmon, fly-caught and cold-smoked. It’s dry, and there’s strawberry again, but this wine is earthier, with a little more body than the Pive.

Planter's Ridge's 2013 Rose ($18 at the winery and Bishop’s Cellar) is the first bottle I’ve sampled from the new winery in Port Williams. Made mostly from Marquette grapes (a hybrid variety to keep our eye on), this rosé is soft and light, with pleasing meatiness, making it an easy wine with deck-revelling longevity.

These wines transform food. Curried lentils become roasted spice, cheese becomes peat and brine, chocolate becomes shitake.

Autumn is a pause, calling us to revel in the afterglow of summer before getting busy with winter stores. Take these moments. Indulge your senses. Splash some more pink into your glass.

This column was originally published by The Chronicle Herald.

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