Many wine drinkers will tell you that white wines are too mild for steak and bold reds overwhelm a green salad. But when faced with selecting a bottle to pair with more complicated dishes, hand-wringing ensues. That's where a dry rosé fits in, in this case two French pinks that will make even the trickiest end-of-summer dishes shine. The key to their versatility is how they're made.
In the sunny southern Rhone, Tavel has long set the benchmark for quality rosé. On the mountainous Mediterranean island of Corsica, Domaine de Vaccelli makes wine from organically grown grapes from 50-year-old vines.
The goal of winemakers in Tavel is to make purposeful pink, meaning that these bottles are not afterthoughts of red winemaking. Grapes are allowed to ripen so skins lend flavor and interest to the finished product, but they're picked early enough to preserve food-friendly acidity.
Prieuré de Montézargues housed in a 12th century abbey, makes a rosé from grenache noir, grenache blanc and cinsault grapes. It's a rosy salmon pink; aromas are generous, offering ripe peaches, raspberries, green herbs and a touch of mineral stoniness. This is an elegant, lush style of rosé -- higher in alcohol (13.5 percent) than apéritif-weight pinks. It gains color and appetizing bitterness from the grape skins, which soak with the gently pressed juice for 12 hours before the liquid is drained away for fermentation. This wine made us nostalgic about a trip to the south of France where we encountered a robust, garlicky salad full of fresh herbs and bitter greens. Nestled alongside was a hearty pâté dusted with dried thyme and lavender. This dish called for a sturdy, thirst-quenching pink. Fortunately, there were plenty on hand. Back home, we understand why these wines continue to be favorites of wine professionals. Recently, we experienced how another well-made rosé bridged the ingredients of a unique dish.
On the menu of Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square, we spied an appetizer of crispy pig tails served on watermelon salad. Chunks of the red-fleshed fruit were infused with agave syrup and hibiscus, and crowned with mint, cilantro, and chili peppers.
This cut of pork offers unctuous meat on the bone. But what wine would pair with both fatty meat and melon? Wine director Colleen Hein suggested the Domaine de Vaccelli rosé, which is named "Juste Ciel!" (translation: "Good Heavens!") made from cinsault and grenache grapes, grown on granitic soil for which the Corsican region of Ajaccio is well known. This chilled, coppery pink quaff offers aromas of peach and a minerally palate tinged with grapefruit peel and saline. It cut through the richness of the pork, elevated the sweetness of the melon, and cooled the chili heat. We envision pairing this wine with Cambodian beef, red onion, and toasted lemongrass salad; or marinated hearts of palm, whose artichoke-like flavors would trump other wines.
Fill your salad bowl with summer's bounty, uncork a distinctive rosé and entertain with confidence.
Prieuré de Montézargues Tavel 2012 (around $23), at Winestone, Chestnut Hill, 617-264-0393.
Domaine de Vaccelli "Juste Ciel!" Rosé 2012 (around $18), at Vintages, Belmont, 617-484-4560.