Now that we're fully into summer, it's time to consider shifting from red wine to whites and rosés. White is a no brainer; picking a good rosé may be more of a challenge.
Rosés have been experiencing renewed popularity. Many of Chicago's most noteworthy, Michelin-starred restaurants, like Sixteen and Alinea, now carry extensive offerings in the rosé category. And why not?! Light and sweet, rosé responds well to a chill, which is welcome on a summer night; and it's frequently the product of Pinot noir grapes, which are rightly renowned for their versatility. It's not hard to enjoy both the Pinot noir grape in either in red or a rosé wine with fish, meat or vegetables.
When I was a kid, much rosé wine was considered the fancy stuff. Many Baby Boomers will remember Mateus and Lancers, both rosé wines sold in fancy bottles.
As American wine tastes became more sophisticated, rosé seemed suddenly puerile. Those rosé wines we'd innocently thought were fancy turned out, as we grew more mature in our tastes, to be at best mediocre if not downright undrinkable.
But rosé can be fine wine, as was proven to us again – if any proof was necessary – when my wife and I were traveling in Sonoma earlier this year.
In the Russian River Valley, we stopped at the vineyard of Inman Family Wines where Kathleen Inman is proprietor and primary winemaker. What makes Inman's rosé wine different is that it's "intentional." Much rosé on the market is made from the run-off juice created during the process of making red wines, many times a red pinot noir.
Inman grows 100% organic pinot noir grapes in her Russian River Valley farm, and she makes red pinot noir wine, but she also grows and presses some pinot noir grapes specifically for rosé wine. This is a common practice in Provence, France, but it's much less common in the United States.
I asked Inman to explain the quality difference between her intentional rosés and rosés that are made from run-off.
According to Inman, "the fruit for an intentional rosé is picked when the fruit is ideal for a rosé; the sugar levels are lower so that the resultant alcohol will be naturally lower, and the natural acid will be higher than if the fruit is left longer on the vine to ripen further for red wine production. Both of these factors help to create crisp and refreshing food-friendly wine."
When a rosé is created using juice that's bled from a grape during red wine production, Inman explained, "acidity in the red wine grapes will tend to be lower and the sugar will tend to be higher. To adjust for this, the winery will add many gallons of water to the juice along with tartaric acid. Adding water to the juice can dilute the intensity of the fruit, affecting the aromatics, flavor and the wine's ability to age."
The intentional method of producing rosé is more expensive, but it yields a better, more interesting bottle because the whole grape is used, not just the run-off, so the resulting juice can develop more complexity.
We bought a bottle of Inman's Endless Crush (so named, romantically, in reference to Inman's husband). We were very happy with this rosé. Although Inman assured us it would age well (which is not true of all rosés), we couldn't wait. We found it to have slight notes of citrus, melon and berry, with a great nose: it was excellent with crab, and it would definitely be versatile enough for many summer dishes.
You can try Inman's wine at several Chicago restaurants, including Sixteen and Alinea, or you can buy a bottle of Inman Pinot noir at Famous Liquors; and if you do, ask if you can order some of Inman's rosés – they're unusually good.