Sparkling rosés, perfect for summer
This time of year, a bubbly rosé is the go-to drink for picnic or poolside. These cheery wines are widely available and quite affordable.
Luís Pato's robust Casta Baga accompanies a platter of cheese, salumi and bread. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Sparkling rosés are part of an ever-growing class of wines in pursuit of a cheery disposition, seizing on the built-in appeal of pink and adding the incomparable pleasure of effervescence, which can't help but brighten an already sunny experience. Like still rosés, a sparkling rosé aims to please rather than transport. So leave the cerebral whites in the cellar until Labor Day; put off the more ponderous reds until the next equinox. For a summer afternoon, for any party involving a grill, a picnic basket, a pool or a cabana, pink fizz is the way to go.
For all of rosé's styles and hues, the range of expression in its still form is relatively modest. That isn't true with the sparkling variety. If anything, fizzy rosés have a much broader stylistic bandwidth than their still siblings. Bubbles, of course, are the principle addition to this particular pink experience, providing a textural lift and clarity to most bottlings, an additional structural component upon which winemakers can build more flavor, more body, even more tannin, all in the service of refreshment.
We'll bypass rosé Champagnes for the moment. Not that there's anything wrong with them, but many regions produce pretenders — Champagne wannabes that bear a passing resemblance and use methods similar to those of the original article. Of these, for me the best are the French fizzes, most of which use the term crémant, designating wines made by Champagne methods outside of Champagne.
Many employ Pinot Noir (in the Loire, it's frequently Cabernet Franc) to pinken the cépage and bear a slightly richer texture than Champagne wines, with a bit less finesse — but happily, they come in at a fraction of the price. Crémant de Loire pinks have a pleasingly bitter foundation much like their still rosés, while the crémant wines of Alsace, such as the nonvintage from Lucien Albrecht (about $18), possess a crisp, slightly mineral line adorning a creamy texture.
Crémant rosés of Burgundy, a region that has mastered Pinot Noir perhaps better than any on Earth, are probably closest in character and finesse to Champagne. Crémants des Bourgogne such as the Louis Bouillot Crémant "Perle d'Aurore" can be had for as little as $15, but there's no reason to skimp: For about $22, you can grab the 2007 Parigot & Richard Crémant Brut, a firmly structured, salmon-colored pink with the fortitude for grilled white meats.
One delightful non-crémant, nontraditional French wine worth mentioning is the Cabernet and Petit Manseng Frizzante blend from the famed Languedoc producer Mas de Daumas Gassac, a delicious, finely effervescent wine the color of salmon flesh; it's completely frivolous and irresistible (about $25).
Elsewhere in Europe, regions known for sparkling white wines have strayed into pink territory, with offerings such as the somewhat untraditional Prosecco rosés that have trickled into the market. In these, juice from the Prosecco grape is tinged with a modest addition of a red variety such as Pinonero or Merlot. Sometimes the red component will add a modest Amaro-like bitterness, but mostly the variant amounts to a pleasant diversion.
I recently came across a charming new wine from Castello di Verduna in the Piemonte called "S-ciopet," a metodo classico sparkler made from the indigenous Pelaverga grape (about $45). It is a fine mousse pink smelling of earth and iron, redolent of fresh cherries and with enough structure and body to pair well with grilled meats such as chicken or veal.
In Cava, the principle sparkling wine region of Spain, you can find a modest range of rosé styles such as the suave Avinyó Reserva Brut (about $20), a smooth rosé of Pinot Noir the color of a desert sunset that's fine and well-balanced. But there's something about the traditional Cava blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo that lends itself especially well to a little red juice, such as the marvelous Cava de Nit from Raventós i Blanc (about $20). It adds 15% Monastrell (or Mourvèdre) juice to give the wine a marvelous, silvery pink hue and riveting strawberry flavors; in the crisp, lemon pith finish, the whites reassert themselves nicely.
I'd be remiss not to mention some of my favorite faintly fizzy rosés from the Basque region of Spain, the Txakoli Rosados of Gurrutxaga and Ameztoi (both about $18), derived mostly from an indigenous grape, Hondarribi Belza. Bright, floral, lightly effervescent, these refreshing wines possess a piney bite in their finish that the bubbles subtly lift and accent.
Portugal may not have much of a sparkling rosé tradition, but that hasn't stopped Bairrada enologist Luís Pato from making use of the sturdy indigenous variety Baga to create a robust, powerful bruto espumante. The 2009 Casta Baga (a steal at $13) is a deep pink with a fine mousse and scents of red apples and sea air; its bright mineral finish put me in mind of grilled sardines.
Within the realm of pink, there is a group of French sparkling wines that more or less defies categorization. They bear no resemblance to Champagne or to most rosé still wines, really, having more in common with such thirst-quenching staples as lager and pink lemonade. These are VdTs, or vins de table, mostly, wines that typically skirt the appellation system even as they inhabit regions on the outskirts of cru Beaujolais, say, or the foothills of the Alps, or the pocket folds between Loire appellations.
They're made from peculiar varieties or are combined in even more peculiar blends. They abide by no rules and are derived for their uncanny ability to quench thirst. They're fruit juice-sweet, but the effervescence, combined with modest alcohols and pleasing bitterness of tannin, more than offsets any perception of sweetness. And none of this comes close to describing the sheer, giddy fun of drinking them: They're like adult beverages that belong in sippy cups.
Take the 2009 VdT from Domaine la Grange Tiphaine in the Loire Valley near Saumur, which producer Damien Delecheneau calls "Rosa Rosé Rosam" (about $16). It's a bewildering blend of Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Cot and Gamay, picnic-ready with a bottle-cap finish. This slightly off-dry sparkler has irresistible flavors of red cherry and strawberry, a touch of sweetness offset by an earthy core to the texture.
Jean-Paul Brun, the man behind the remarkable Beaujolais brand Terres Dorées, makes a sparkling Gamay Noir he calls FRV 100 (about $17), a bright, sweet cherry confection with festive bubbles and a fine bitter tang. I puzzled over the name at first, until I pronounced it aloud in French, whereupon the pun — "effervescent" (Eff-err-VAY-cent) — was revealed to me. Clearly, we're a long way from the appellation contrôlée.
Roughly east of Beaujolais in the Alpine foothills lies the appellation Bugey, the source of Patrick Bottex's delightful méthode ancestrale Bugey-Cerdon "La Cueille" (about $20), a traditional sparkling rosé of the region even if that region only achieved a formal AOC status in 2009. Bugey's stony, pink rosés are made from Gamay and Poulsard, with a profile similar to that of FRV 100 — sweet, forward, light and fun — though, if anything, Bugey-Cerdon wines possess a touch more earthy depth for the category.
Possibly the weirdest, and probably the most complex of these was Philippe Bornard's 2009 VdT "Tant Mieux" from the Jura in eastern France (about $25), made with the indigenous grape Poulsard, in a clear bottle finished with a bottle cap. The clear glass allows you to see its rather odd color, a cloudy, orangey pink that looks almost infused with metal or minerals. The wine certainly tastes like it, the sweet orange rind and cherry flavors washing over a firm mineral grip. Skin contact gives the wine almost a Campari zing of bitterness on the finish, which will wake up your palate as you take your next gulp.
For that is what you do with these mood-altering wines, you can't help it — you down them in happy gulps.