Rosé and a Garden Bench

You can drink rosé any time of the year, but part of its appeal is an association with the months when warmth and light are abundant, colors more saturated, and oceans become swimmable instead of foreboding. The brevity of the season brings with it an intensity and awareness that it is not to be squandered or missed. This connotes something different to everyone - for me, it's dinners in our city garden.

When our building needed a new roof, we had to pull our garden up. It was a timeworn treasure of sea grass, lavender and roses hauled from the greenmarket, a place where we eked out extra seasons from aging cedar planters with wood planks and metal brackets. The new garden is a different species entirely. It’s up to code, approved by engineers, and it can be dissembled and reassembled at will. It’s exquisite, although we miss the well-worn character of the improvised.

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While we were rebuilding, I read a book by the Belgian designer and antiquarian Axel Vervoordt called Wabi Inspirations, about the influence of Wabi aesthetics on his work. Wabi philosophy comes from Zen monks who sought solace and contentment in simplicity and restraint, monks who valued the beauty of imperfect objects in their most austere and natural state. Moved by the tranquility of Vervoordt’s spare reflective residential spaces, I contacted the gallery about a Wabi garden bench. The images they sent suggested the aesthetic of the humble and decaying was not limited to objects from the East. It could also be found in a Spanish wedding bench, a French pew, or the 18th century Piedmontese farmhouse bench that now resides in our garden. The garden’s porcelain tiles and the  bench are precisely the same color, but that is where their similarities end. One is the result of talented engineers replicating the look of aged cedar; the other exudes the kind of gravitas that comes from centuries of weathering the elements, evidenced in its irregular veins and raw edges. The difference in the materials brought to mind how we measure quality and character in rosé wines, a category where color is often the only common denominator. 

As with Wabi objects, the best rosés convey simplicity and refinement. They are unpretentious, yet have a story to tell, one with a beginning, middle and end. It might open with aromas of citrus and red berries, then offer a whisper of an impression of fruit on the palate, followed by a wave of refreshing acidity, and a long finish that speaks of either sea or stones, depending on where the vineyard is located. The wines will reflect their fruit source. A rosé made from pinot noir grown in Sancerre might be delicate, while one made with mouvèdre from Bandol is likely to be full of interior architecture.  

Daniel Ravier, the winemaker at the iconic Bandol estate Domaine Tempier once told me that making rosé is easy, but making good rosé is very difficult. This is because what distinguishes a rosé is not the region, grape variety, or price, but the scores of small decisions made in the vineyard and the cellar long before the bottle is opened. Even though certain coastal enclaves have burnished the image of rosé as essential to summer idle, there are pockets of excellence the world over: Domaine Bernard Baudry in Chinon, Chateau de Trinqueverde in Tavel, Finca Torremilanos in Ribera del Duero, Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Matthiasson in the Napa Valley, to name a few standouts.

In Provence, exceptional examples abound from jewel box wineries such as Clos Cibonne along the coast, Domaine de l’Ile on the island Porquerolle, Saint Ser at the foot of Mount Sainte Victoire, and Domaine Tempier. Beware of popular brands that have increased production exponentially rendering the wine you fell for a decade ago less than delicious. Exports from the region to the U.S. have experienced annual double-digit growth for more than twelve years. Some producers have cashed in on the strong trend at the expense of quality. Also, if a rosé smells of marshmallow, candy, pineapple or banana, or if after the first sip you perceive a chemical taste or hollowness where the flavor should be, throw it out. It’s either made from inferior fruit or has been manipulated in the cellar. Once you do find a rosé that pleases you, stock up early.  The coveted ones disappear quicker than June roses.

When it's warm outside, I pair rosés with simple no-cook dinners, such as beef carpaccio inspired by the Roman chef Sandro Fioriti. Ask your butcher to slice beef tenderloin into carpaccio. Arrange the carpaccio in a single layer on individual plates or a large platter. Top the beef with generous portions of shaved parmesan, shaved celery, and finely sliced cremini mushrooms. Finish the dish with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil , and serve it with your favorite market salad and crusty bread.  

Wishing you a peaceful summer.


10 Rosés

The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

If wines had seasons, late autumn would be the time for Chinon. Earthy, juicy, tannic, brooding, and elegant with age, these wines taste of the moment following the harvest when the work of producing fruit is done and the vines are soaking in the last of the warm autumn sun before leaves fall, wood hardens, and sap descends to their roots.

The wines are one hundred percent cabernet franc, a thin-skinned, aromatic, black grape best known for its opulent star turn further south in Saint-Émilion, particularly in the hallowed cellars of Chateau Cheval Blanc (ten percent cabernet sauvignon is permitted in Chinon, but rarely included in the blend). Cabernet franc-based wines from Chinon may not be as overtly sumptuous as those from a Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux, but the best examples can be equally noble, if quietly so.   

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The Halmarks of a Classic Rosé de Provence

Photo by Magdalena Jankowska/iStock / Getty Images

Rosé de Provence is the kind of wine that fulfills a longing for a particular time and place. Its pale salmon hue, fresh fruit aroma and tumbling minerality evoke seaside lunches and sunset aperitifs. Typically made from grenache, cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, the classic style is light and refreshingly dry. When the weather begins to warm, Americans have an insatiable appetite for Rosé de Provence. For eight consecutive years this bottled essence of Southern France has experienced double-digit sales growth here. As such, today we have access to more rosés from a greater variety of Provençal producers than ever before.

Achieving the elegant simplicity of a well-crafted rosé requires gentle handling of mature fruit. Corners cut in the vineyard lead to thin wines with an aftertaste that can be green or medicinal, wines that are the bad oysters of summer drinks. Good rosés should be light-bodied with mouthwatering acidity and taste of white flowers, seashells and just-picked berries. A few bottles that fulfill this tall order are Château de Pourcieux,  Domaine de Saint-Ser, Château la Calisse, AIX and Domaine de l'’Abbeye Clos Beylesse.   

Rosé de Provence is not a wine to be sipped slowly and pondered. It is meant to disappear quickly, by the magnum if possible, and its charming way of capturing the spirit of Mediterranean idyll should be delivered to the consumer without emptying their wallet.

Rosé Champagne

     

When Belinda Chang, a James Beard Award winning wine director wrote the wine notes for Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game, her biggest takeaway from the many weeks of sampling bottles in Trotter’s enviable cellar was this: the perfect wine for a dish is often completely the opposite of what you think it should be! Rosé Champagne and dry aged steak is a great example of this maxim. 

Traditionally, Champagne is a white sparkling wine made by bottling a base wine made of white grapes (chardonnay) and two red grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) that are pressed gently so that no color is extracted from their skins, then adding a liqueur de tirage, wine mixed with sugar and yeast. The liqueur de tirage initiates a second in-bottle fermentation resulting in Champagne’s distinctive effervescence. 

Of course, there are variations on the theme, a Champagne labeled blanc de blancs will be one hundred percent chardonnay. A Champagne labeled blanc de noirs will be entirely pinot noir and pinot meunier, though it will still be a white sparking wine. Then there are the rosés. 

Rosé Champagnes are generally made by adding a small amount of red wine to the base. Their colors can range from delicate salmon to ballerina slipper to hot pink, depending on how much red wine is present. When a rosé is also a blanc de noirs, its hue is achieved by letting the base wine absorb color from the dark skins until it turns pink. But the wine is drained off the skins or “bled” before the color grows too deep. Both methods yield Champagnes with more structure, intensity and earthy flavors than the traditional blends. These qualities along with Champagne’s naturally high acidity make rosé Champagne a terrific foil for rich meats. 

When pairing a rosé Champagne with a dry aged steak, Belinda recommends looking for houses whose rosés demonstrate development and richness over fresh fruit. Veuve Clicquot was the first house to commercially export rosé Champagne and still makes a very successful style that works with a savory steak cut. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Rosé and Gatinois Brut Rosé are two of her other favorites for a meat centered feast. 

There are certainly several styles that pair beautifully with a dry aged steak! 

A Recipe for Rosè and Autumn Nights

Valérie Rousselle knows a thing or two about entertaining. A Saint-Tropez native and the proprietor of Château Roubine, a Cru Classé winery in the Côtes de Provence, she studied hospitality at the famed Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland before becoming the steward of a historic vineyard that once belonged to the Order of the Knights of the Templar. 

In the autumn, once the grapes have been harvested and the chilling winds of the mistral wind blow down from Rhône River, Valérie invites friends to the winery to welcome the new season with a glass of her Prestige rosé and a dish of eggplant “caviar” served warm. 

We love her eggplant “caviar” for the alluring smoky flavor taken on by the eggplants when roasted directly on the stovetop, and because it can be made in the time it takes to put some olives in a bowl and pull the cork from the bottle. The Château Roubine rosé is a beautifully textured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a pale salmon hue and aromas of flowers and spice. 

Eggplant “Caviar”
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
- 2 Japanese eggplant
- 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper 

Blister the eggplants directly on stovetop flame (as if you are roasting a pepper), turning them regularly until their skins are entirely charred and black. Set the roasted eggplants aside to cool for two minutes, then slice the eggplants in half and scoop the soft flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and puree with an immersion blender. Alternatively, transfer the entire mixture to the jar of a traditional blender and puree for 30-60 seconds, until the mixture is creamy. 

Serve warm with thick slices of toasted baguette and your favorite Provencal rosé.