Sips: the wines of summer – getting through a long, brutal winter with a good bottle of rosé

The thought of rosé in February makes many people wince.  Aren’t blush wines the easygoing liquid of summer, to be enjoyed, chilled as they are, on beach or patio as a refreshing cross between red Cape Bleuand white? Of course they are. But once you get past the psychological barrier of drinking rosé in cold weather, I think  you’ll find them (the good ones, at least) as delightful in mid-winter as in the dog days of summer. Good luck to me in persuading many of you that that’s the case.

But let’s examine the proposition a little more closely. A bottle of salmon-colored wine arrives at your doorstep, say Jean-Luc Colombo’s 2010 Cape Bleu Rosé, a $12 vin de pays from the Côte Bleu district outside Marseille with a watercolor representation of sea and sky and vineyard on the label. At first, you dismiss the notion as hopelessly off base when piles of dirty snow and subfreezing temperatures have become what seem like permanent features of the East Coast landscape and climate. But then you think of the months ahead, the inevitable thaw, spring, summer. Go ahead, try it. Well, I did the other night, tentatively at first, but quickly realizing that this was very good wine and a wine for all seasons.

That judgment gets to one of the fundamentals of rosé. Depending on the bottle, it can be a remarkably versatile food wine, as I have described it many times in the past. In this case, we enjoyed it with very fresh fluke (summer flounder) fillets roasted with Dijon mustard and tarragon. It will also match nicely with herbed chicken and pork dishes, salads and all kinds of appetizers. Its light style, with ripe strawberry and cherry tastes and a bit of citrus and cream on the finish, also make it a winning apéritif. The blend is 40 percent syrah, 40 percent mourvèdre and 20 percent counoise and alcohol is listed at a modest 12 percent. Rosé in winter? You bet.

Imported by Palm By International, Boca Raton, Florida. Received as a press sample.


Sips: Cheap red wine – discovering an excellent $10 Chianti

For better or worse, we eat a lot of pasta in our house, despite often-expressed waistline concerns based on the narcotic-like effects of good pasta sauces. (How many of us can really resist the temptation to go back for second helpings?) And because we enjoy pasta so much, I often find myself in short supply of good, inexpensive Italian wines, especially reds, which for me are de rigueur for toCesani_Chianti_Colli_Senesimato-based sauces.

Budget Italian reds are a hit-or-miss affair, especially in the $10- and-under category. Yes, there are lots of cheap nero d’avolas from Sicily and primativos from Puglia around, not to mention the familiar big-brand Chiantis from Tuscany and Valpolicellas from the Veneto, most of them ordinary. One that rises above that  status is a $10 wine I brought home the other night from my local wine store, Vincenzo Cesani’s 2008 Chianti Colli Senesi “Pancole.”

This estate-bottled wine from a respected grower in San Gimignano also known for its white vernaccia is one of the better budget Chiantis I’ve tasted in recent years. It’s high in acidity (a requirement for good food wines) with spicy cherry and raspberry tastes, a leather note and a  tannic structure often lacking in wines at this price. Slightly chilled, it was a satisfying match for our tomato and meat sauce. Colli Senesi is perhaps the best known of the “other” Chianti appellations and is generally less expensive than Chianti Classico.  Alcohol in this sangiovese-based wine is 12.5 percent. Imported by Montecastelli Selections, New York.


Sips: For Super Bowl Sunday and beyond, bring out the Prosecco

At last week’s Vino 2011 trade event here in New York, during a review of Italian wine in this country, the subject of sparkling wine was put into blunt context by Leonardo LoCascio, president of Winebow, a leading importer. “I don’t think we have a sparkling wine story,” he declared at a press conference. “We have a Prosecco story.” He was referring, of course, to the highly popular sparkling wine from the Veneto region, which has enjoyed enviable and singular success among non-Champagne contenders for a major piece of the budget bubbly market in recent years. I, for one, intend to have a few bottles on hand as I watch the Super Bowl with friends on Sunday night.

But a typical bottle of Prosecco, unpretentious and affordable, doesn’t need an excuse to be opened, as I reminded myself the canela other night when I felt like something light and refreshing before dinner. So I pulled out a bottle of  Canella’s Prosecco Brut from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, where it was sitting among several other sparklers of various pedigrees. Very dry with fine bubbles, it had apple and muted herb and citrus notes and was all but effortless to drink, even more so given a price tag of $15 or so. And with half a bottle left that evening, it also held up just fine in the fridge with a miscellaneous cork stuck back in the bottle until the next night, when I brought it out for an encore. Think of Prosecco as a go-to sparkler for just about any occasion, including  Valentine’s Day.

There are, of course, many other Italian sparkling wines at various price points, including sparkling Gavi, Moscato d’Asti, sweet and dry red Lambruscos, the higher-end Franciacorta and others. Unfortunately, they are minor players in the American market. Leonardo LoCasio said that higher-priced bubbly doesn’t do very because “on a special occasion people want to go safe.” In other words, he said, they want Champagne. Fortunately, for most other occasions, there is Prosecco. Canella’s Prosecco Brut imported by Empson (U.S.A.), Alexandria, Virginia. Received as a press sample.