Wines of the month
I own a horse. In fact, in our family, we have 3 horses. And though my riding skills were once (and only) intermediate at best, I confess that I have fantasized often, flying down the stretch, finishing first, and having dozens of roses draped across my champion thoroughbred’s long, sinewy crest. And to celebrate my victory, of course, I’d open a bottle of wine… but that’s me. It’s true, if there’s one thing for which the month of May is known, it is horse racing. From the racetracks to the steeplechase yards, horse lovers and race fans alike gather at this time every year to celebrate the equine, in all its beauty, power and glory. And when they’re not sipping on the obligatory Mint Julep, a chilled bottle of rosé is the choice of the purist, for it also has its own beauty, power and glory. So, this month, we trot around the globe and celebrate the dry rosé.
What the racetrack of Deauville-La-Touques is to thoroughbreds, Provence, France is to dry rosé: the home of the best. And we begin our journey with Domaine Sorin Terra Amata Rosé 2017. Located only a few kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea, Domaine Sorin’s 32-acre vineyard is classified as both Bandol and Cotes de Provence… that’s as South-of-France as it gets. Organically farmed, the soils are nourished with natural compost and worked without any chemical products so as to gain the best expression of what many consider the most famous terroir in the world. The vineyard was acquired in 1994 by Luc Sorin, whom Robert Parker once labeled “the most exciting winegrower in the South of France.” Sadly, Luc recently passed away, but his legacy continues on with his children now at the helm. This year’s Terre Amata Rosé is comprised of the quintessential Provence varietals grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre and carignan, yet also includes the local grape rolle and the main grape of Cognac, ugni blanc. It’s pale pink in color, with just a tinge of orange showing at the bottom of the glass. On the nose, glorious fragrances of strawberry skin, ripe watermelon, and just a hint of the sea will bring a smile to your face. At 13 percent ABV, this is a very dry rosé, but incredibly refreshing and very easy to drink either by itself or with an array of Mediterranean foods. Priced around $18, it’s also a wonderful value.
If sparkling rosé is calling your name, then it doesn’t get any better than champagne, it just doesn’t. And of the dozens to choose from, RH Coutier Brut Rosé Grand Cru NV is amongst the best. A Grower Champagne house, meaning they own and produce wine from their estate only, Coutier is located in the grand cru village of Ambonnay, one of the most prestigious villages in all of Champagne. The Coutier family has a long tradition in winemaking, since they’ve been there since 1619. Today, 11th generation son René Coutier heads the nine hectacre estate. It’s important to note that Ambonnay is generally regarded as pinot noir country. However, in 1946, René’s father became the first vigneron to plant chardonnay in the village; since then, their chardonnay has become as renowned as their pinot noir. Why is this important? While in Champagne rosé is typically 100 percent pinot noir, the Courtiers’ is two- thirds pinot noir and one-third chardonnay. So with their bottling what you get is a deeply colored, extraordinarily rich wine with complex characteristics showcasing both varietals. It is a beautifully made rosé that offers up notes of dark red fruit, brioche, a huge mouthfeel, and the perfect earth of Ambonnay. And priced under $50, it’s impossible to beat.
Staying with pinot noir, we travel to Oregon, to the Campbell family-owned Elk Cove Vineyards, and their 2017 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley. Oregon is the premiere wine-growing region of pinot noir in the country, and the grape makes for some of the finest rosé in the world. Elk Cove Vineyards was founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell and was only the fourth winery established in the Wilamette Valley at the time. Their son Adam joined forces with them in 1995 and today he is the chief winemaker. 2017 marks their first vintage of 100 percent estate-grown and -produced wines, something very rare and special in the WV. Like many of their award-winning pinot noir wines, this year’s rosé is hand-harvested. The very ripe grapes are gently whole-bunch pressed with limited skin crushing, which makes virtually a “white pinot noir.” The wine is cool fermented in stainless steel tanks. From there, carefully selected lots of fermented red pinot noir juice are blended back for both color and texture. It’s a very unique wine, with assorted cherry fruit accents, ripe tannins, and a completely dry finish. Only 4000 cases were made and, at $20, it’s a must-have for the rosé season.
Finally, we journey south to sunny California and to Sidebar Cellars, a boutique companion label to the famed Ramey Wine Cellars’ bottlings. The Sidebar Rosé Russian River Valley 2016 is David Ramey’s first rosé under his new label, and like the spirit of the label itself, it is a casual, but serious wine, dedicated to both quality and enjoyment. What makes this particular rosé distinctly Californian is the fact that it’s 100 percent syrah, the epic Rhone varietal. Syrah has been produced in California for years, making some of the biggest and best red wines around, but to find it in a rosé is truly unique, something only the ambitious Ramey team can achieve. It’s a richly colored wine, with both aromas and palate flavors of raspberry, cranberry, and pepper. The 2016 vintage also received “Top 100 Wines” status in Sonoma Magazine, and because of its sole syrah grape composition, it’s an age-worthy rosé, making it an outstanding, serious food wine. Priced under $25, it’s also a great value.
So yes, May is indeed horse racing season, and the mint julep is certainly a traditional part of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports. But, that’s only two minutes, and after it’s all over, it’s time to kick back, celebrate the race, and enjoy the great pink juice that has become both the spring and summer go-to bottle, known all over the world. Happy rosé-ing!