The Noble Writ: Few Rosé Above Their Peers

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

I love rosés -- perfect for picnics or just for sipping to keep cool on warm summer nights. I always end up going through a case or so each year. The 2008 vintage has begun to arrive on the market, but quantities seem to be quite small, with some wines having already come and gone.

I wanted get on top of what was available to secure my stash, so I invited a group of five friends for a rosé tasting. The wine experience of the panel varied, but all are rosé fans. Thanks to Zac, Carl, Mark, (another) Mark and Jennie for the help.

The plan was simple: Each person brought a 2008 rosé, telling us what it was to avoid duplicates. I then filled out the field with other interesting samples, including one 2007 rosé and a supermarket white zinfandel. Apart from a handful (less than, perhaps), rosés are best enjoyed fresh, and I wanted to see if a 2007 tasted noticeably old. I included the white zinfandel because we tasted the wines blind. What better way to remove any bias against white zin than tasting without seeing the label?

click to enlarge The Noble Writ: Few Rosé Above Their Peers
Wikimedia Commons
I tasted all of the wines single-blind, meaning that I knew what wines were to be tasted, but I didn't know the order in which they were presented. My friends tasted five of the wines (the ones they brought) single-blind and four double-blind, meaning they didn't know either the identity of these wines, or the order in which they were tasted. I accomplished this by opening all of the wines, wrapping them in paper bags and placing them in the fridge myself. Another person at the tasting then pulled wines randomly from the fridge and assigned them numbers. We only revealed the identity of the wines once we had completed the tasting.

In total, we sampled nine rosés. Unfortunately, the one I was most looking forward to ended up having a significant flaw.

(My friend Mark had purchased it from Bon Vivant Wines, and Andrew stepped up immediately to replace it with a new bottle. However, we weren't able to retaste it in time for this post, so I'll add a comment when that happens.)

We initially tasted the wines on their own, and then with a variety of rosé-friendly foods. I served some charcuterie, a nice roasted red pepper chevre spread on crostini, a basic bruschetta and falafel sandwiches.

Below are my tasting notes, with additional comments from the rest of the panel. The wines are listed from the group's favorite to its least favorite, and the first four wines are recommended.

click to enlarge The top four wines, as rated by the author and his friends - Dave Nelson
Dave Nelson
The top four wines, as rated by the author and his friends
1) 2008 Château Mourgues de Grès Les Galets Rosés Costiere de Nimes ($14 at 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar; also seen at the Wine Merchant)

Pale salmon, with a slight orange tinge. Nice nose of ripe strawberry, and a touch of melon. Slight creaminess to the palate, but not overdone. There's decent acidity and nice fruit intensity. It was a touch hot without food, but snapped into place when consumed with food. This wine received first or second place votes from all tasters.

2) 2008 La Playa Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé Colchagua Valley Chile ($9 at Whole Foods; also seen at Schnuck's)

Very pale pink. Slightly spicy rhubarb and raspberry nose. It's pretty big on the palate, with a touch of residual sweetness. Richer in the mouth than the nose led me to believe. Without food, the acidity seems a bit out of synch, but this improved with food. This was the only other wine to get first place votes from the panel. Good value. Screwcap.

3) (tie) 2008 Muga Rioja rosé ($12 at Bon Vivant Wines)

Very pale pink. Not much nose initially, with only some underripe strawberry flavors. It's quite firm on the palate with substantial acidity. Not intense in flavor, but good length. This blossomed with food, where it combined smoothly with a variety of dishes, and really shone with the selection of charcuterie. Everyone else found this very acidic too, but they also agreed that food improved it.

3) (tie) 2008 Vida Orgánica Malbec Rosé Mendoza Argentina ($9 at Whole Foods)

Full pink. Fruit is relatively ripe cherry. Just a touch sweet on the palate, but there is good acidity and length. This wine's performance with food bumped it up several notches. Zac, one Mark and I all thought it went from somewhat anonymous to pretty good once food was introduced. Screwcap.

click to enlarge The entire field of wines tasted - Dave Nelson
Dave Nelson
The entire field of wines tasted
5) 2008 Domaine Charvin Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé ($17 at the Wine Merchant).

Light salmon. Tart strawberry dominates the nose, with a nice citric note. Loads of acidity on the palate, but not much fruit at all. With time, the nose opened up a bit, but this was a very mild-mannered rosé overall. Good with food, but didn't spring to life like some of the others. Four of the other tasters picked up cheese rind/ammonia flavor on the finish that I did not find. While Zac felt this added some complexity, Jennie and the Marks found it very off-putting. Screwcap.

6) 2007 Simi Roseto Sonoma County ($10 at Costco).

One of the darker wines of the day -- just a shade above purple. Lots of fruit on the nose, but it is well into red wine aromas of cherry and blackberry. Quite atypical for a rosé. Initially flat and flabby in the mouth, and then completely disappears after a second or so. No finish, no length. While one data point does not prove a theory, I wonder if the extra year didn't really hurt this wine. Food was no help.

7) 2008 Bell Rosé Wine Sierra Foothills ($15 at the Wine Merchant)

Raspberry in color. Nose is mixed berry jam, with the aromas straying over into candied fruit. Flabby, creamy and lacking in cut in the mouth with a touch of vegetal flavor and a bit of tannin too. Food did not help. One Mark was very surprised when this was revealed as he's had positive experiences with the winery's reds. No obvious faults, so we went ahead and ranked it.

8) 2008 Beringer White Zinfandel California ($6 at Schnuck's)

Extremely pale - almost white. Very light nose of sweet, candied fruit, and very sweet on the palate. The sugar just overwhelms everything. Not good with food either. When I had the brainstorm to include this wine, I had hoped its quality would surprise us, and maybe it would finish respectably. But even among this less-than-stellar line-up, this was horrifically bad wine "product." For those who have not ventured beyond this wine, I'd recommend picking up a bottle of the La Playa, which has just a touch of residual sugar. You'll get a lot more flavor, and much more pleasant wine experience for an extra dollar or two of cost.

Not ranked: 2008 Littorai Vin Gris ($24 at Bon Vivant Wines) Bad bottle. As noted above, Bon Vivant is replacing it.

Overall, the wines tasted were pretty disappointing. I would recommend each of the top four listed above, but none with real enthusiasm. Please do take the notes regarding acidity and residual sweetness into account if you are not a fan of one or the other. Despite the wines, the tasting was an absolute blast. Not much beats a Sunday afternoon of drinking, laughing and eating with five good friends. That is highly recommended.
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