A Red, White and Rose Summer

A Red, White and Rose Summer

Hotter weather means lighter reds means its time to rediscover Beaujolais.


If it’s been a while since you had a glass of Beaujolais, now is the time to rediscover this refreshing red.

Beaujolais comes from the so-named French region just north of the city of Lyon. Technically part of the Burgundy region, it actually is made from a different grape and using different vinification techniques. Beaujolias typically is made using a distinctive whole bunch fermentation process solely with the gamay grape. Gamay is known for a distinctive flavor profile of mostly bright red fruits, floral, herbal and mineral notes, and lively acidity. As a bonus, most are low alcohol (12.5% to 13%) by today’s standards and are best served slightly chilled.

At the top of the quality range are the ten “crus” associated with ten designated villages.  My recent tasting included wines from seven of the crus  (no Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent or Regnie). The three clear favorites have a fairly full body, good depth and complexity):

Fleurie: 2007 Pierre-Marie Chermette “Domaine du Vissoux” Les Garants ($24)

Morgon: 2007 Georges Dubeouf “Jean Descombes” ($15)

Cote-de-Brouilly: Nicole Chanrion “Domaine de la Voute des Crozes” ($19)

Just below these in preference, showing lots of fruit and good structure, were four 2007 Dubeouf “Flower Label” wines  – Chiroubles ($13), Julienas ($13), Fleurie ($16), Saint-Amour  ($16). The 2006 Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly ($12) was identified as a solid value.

At the entry level, are the lighter, fruiter wines labeled simply “Beaujolais.”  These are the wines that emulate the simple,  exuberant style most often associated with Beaujolais. In between in quality and character is “Beaujolais- Villages.”  Whichever level you choose, Beaujolais represents one of the best values around.

Pinot Gris

In the heat of the summer, a light, refreshing aromatic white hits the spot much better than a big, buttery Chardonnay. There are many good candidates—Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc. Right now I’m drinking a lot of Pinot Gris (and Pinot Grigio).

Pinot Grigio (the Italian style) tends to fresh citrus and melon carried in a brisk, yet easygoing frame. Pinot Gris (the French style) offers a similar flavor profile but tends to be fuller bodied. Same grape. Two styles. Both good.

Pinot Gris, the so-called “grey pinot,” reaches its epitome in Alsace but the Pinot Grigio of northeastern Italy may be the version best known to Americans. Pinot Gris also is considered to be Oregon’s best white wine and is gaining a growing list of converts in California and such far flung places as New Zealand and Australia.

Most of these wines never see a minute of wood. The resulting wines generally are crisp, fairly high acid, and aromatic, with bright fruit flavors (melon, lemon-lime, pear, peach and apricot). Occasionally, one can discern nut or mineral.

Here is a reliable shopping list from my recent tastings:

Pinot Gris

2007 Milbrandt Traditions Columbia Valley ($13)
2007 Helfrich Alsace ($15)
2007 Oak Knoll Willamette Valley ($16)
2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley ($16)
2007 Sven Hills Oregon ($16)
2007 King Estate “Signature Collection” Oregon ($17)
2008 Etude Carneros ($24)
2007 King Estate “Domaine” Oregon ($25)

Pinot Grigio

2008 Fish Eye delle Venezie ($7)
2007 Twisted Wines California ($8)
2007 Stellina di Notte delle Venezie ($10)
2008 Castello di Gabbiano delle Venezie ($10)
2008 Gnarly Head California ($11)
2008 Robert Oatley South Australia ($18)

Pinot Gris

In the heat of the summer, a light, refreshing aromatic white hits the spot much better than a big, buttery Chardonnay. There are many good candidates—Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc. Right now I’m drinking a lot of Pinot Gris (and Pinot Grigio).

Ironically pink wines are under appreciated in this country while the popularity of blush wines has reinforced the perception that these aren’t real wines.  Europeans, on the other hand, have known for a long time the joy of drinking a good pink wine.

I’m talking about wines that are dry or occasionally only slightly sweet. Expect bright, fresh fruit aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. Some even exhibit a red-like level of intensity, body and complexity. Expect fresh fruit flavors that approximate the flavor profile of its red siblings but drinks more like a white wine. Because of their freshness and lively fruit, pinks are always best drunk young, so look for the most recent vintages available.

There are essentially three ways to make a pink wine. The most common method is to crush red grapes and leave the juice in contact with the grape skins (the source of a wine’s color) only briefly. The second technique is a process called “saignée” in which a certain amount of juice is “bled off” shortly after red grapes are crushed. The third approach involves blending white and red wines to the desired effect.

France is the prime source. There is a dizzying array of French Rosés from all over the country but most notably the south – places like Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bandol, Cotes-du-Rhone, and Tavel (which sources the grenache-dominated 2008 Chateau d’Aqueria, $19). Also look for Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire Valley and Beaujolais Rosé (try the 2008 Louis Jadot, $11).

In the U.S., West Coast producers finally have gotten on the quality bandwagon. Here are four favorites I’ve tasted recently.

2007 Red Côte Rosé Suisun Valley (cabernet sauvignon/petite sirah, $13)

2008 Pali Sunset Rose (pinot noir/grenache, $15)

2008 Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley ($16)

2008 Etude Rosé of Pinot Noir Carneros ($20)

Finally, let’s head down below to New Zealand and Australia. Try the 2008 Wild Rock Vin Gris Rosé Hawkes Bay ($17). The term Vin Gris” or “grey wine” is a tribute to the French, which often used the term to denote a rosé. From Australia, a surprisingly good choice is the 2008 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese ($18).

I look forward to tasting more throughout the summer and urge you to investigate this underappreciated category. For further research, check out Rosé Avengers and Producers at www.rapwine.org.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.