Saturday, August 15, 2009

M'sieur Rose' Reports: Two Pinks from the Willamette

Leaving my tights and swirling pink cloak behind so as to mingle in anonymity with the commoners, I ventured forth to Dundee in my constant quest to sample good rosé, from wherever it may be.

Colorful, small, rustic---and traffic snarled---Dundee possesses a pleasant little café/restaurant called farm to fork, where I treated my long-suffering wife to lunch. And a very good lunch it

was too: onion rings coated with crisp buttermilk batter with a light horseradish dressing drizzled on the plate; a croque-monsieur for her, with toasted gruyere and ham on thick slabs of grilled bread; and a lovely plate of home-made tagliatelle pasta tossed with smoked trout and dredged in a light sauce of lemon, tarragon, white wine and cream for me.

My eye immediately spied the sign announcing “Rosé Tasting Today!” and I saw on the menu wine list they also featured four rosés. To my delight, a young couple at a nearby table were enjoying flights of rosés!!! I smoothed down both sides of my sleek pencil-thin mustache in satisfaction; my plan must be working since pink wines were making such a comeback!!!

Since we couldn’t decide which wine we were most interested in, we ordered a glass of two Willamette Valley wines listed, so we could taste and share.

The first was the Penner-Ash Roseo 2008, a bright pink and orange Rosé of Pinot Noir with fresh strawberry aromas, tingly acidity, and a crisp, lively, fruity finish. Definitely Pinot Noir in character. We liked it quite a bit.

The second was predictably controversial---predictably, because it announced itself as such through its name, Belle Pente Cuvee Contraire Rosé 2007. And contrary it is, since it is not made in traditional rose style (either vin de presse or saignée) but by the blending of a white wine and a red. In this case the Pinot Noir component was made as a white wine---Pinot Noir Blanc---and then blended with lesser amounts of Gamay Noir which was made as a red wine.

Highly unorthodox for a rosé---the French just fought and won a great battle with the EU about forbidding the name ‘rosé’ on such a blend, so it would not be allowed the designation in the Old World---it has a much bolder bright red color, and shows deep red fruit in the nose as well. The Gamay might be the lesser volume, but it is the more dominant of the two grapes. The Gamay also adds a definite and pronounced spiciness, almost a black pepper quality, to the wine.

So…is it a rosé, or is it a red wine diluted with white? Good question. It’s definitely contrarian, and would be fun to haul to a tasting with wine geeks, who could argue endlessly whether it was proper or not (and I sometimes think wine geeks are more interested in the arguing than the wine).

But is it good? Well, yes. It is good. I’d say very good. Leave orthodoxy out for the moment: this wine was great with our meal. It handled the gruyere and Dijon of the croque-monsieur, the vinaigrette of the mixed salad accompanying it, and the cream and lemon and smoked fish of my tagliatelle. It added an interesting component to the meal, and the wine was quite deliciously bold and spicy---not what I think a rosé is, but in a singular category of itself, quite tasty and drinkable.

But here’s where my wine geekiness comes in and my need for taxonomy asserts itself: it’s good, but it’s not what I call rosé. Rosé is made, from the beginning, to be rosé; it is neither a pink nor a red wine. The Belle Pente is two wines, one made as a red, one as a white, blended together.

Sure, one part of me can say “Hey, it’s good; shut up and drink it.” But then the other part says, “But…but…but…it’s not what it says it is.” So, yeah, I can see the sly contrariness of the Belle Pente winemaker, in effect thumbing his nose at the regularities of the wine world. And this is the New World, where such things are not only allowed but encouraged. In the end, I quelled my objections, bade the angel and demon on opposing shoulders to be still, and enjoyed the wine until the last drop. I’ll let the little fellows argue about it tonight in my sleep.

Verdict: We liked both Rosés, for entirely different reasons. The Penner-Ash is carefully made in a traditional manner, and is a vibrant expression of Pinot Noir; the Belle Pente, with digit proudly raised in defiance, is a contrarian style that nonetheless delivers up a lively and spicy taste experience.

Guess there’s room enough in my life for both the traditionalist and the contrarian. But tonight’s nocturnal debates might be interesting…


  1. Just make sure you've got Alka-Seltzer at the ready...

  2. Hey Hoke, how does one get in touch with you?

    Greg Dal Piaz


    Try that, Greg.