by Michael Limbo
It was more than just a pleasure trip. The Provence (as in France) Wine Council, came to Los Angeles and set up shop at Comme Ça Thursday for their first ever official tasting on the west coast. Thirteen wine producers from the Côte de Provence AOC arrived with something to prove—that their lauded vin rosé was more than just an escalating snowball of hype from overseas. With American sales up 28% from the year before, rosé wines are looking to be the legitimate new thing, worthy of finding ubiquity on the wine lists of L.A. hot spots, in household collections, and—as they do in France—on the swankiest yachts.
That still might be a tall order, though. There are more than a few misconceptions in need of correcting. Take me, for instance: Before yesterday, I’ve never been much of a rosé drinker. As I found out, I’m just like the majority of Americans who haven’t given the wines a shot at home or when out to eat. With their pale reddish almost pinkish tones, they can be easily mistaken for those cloyingly sweet liquor-store decoys. But they’re not blushes or white zinfandel. They’re dry and retain the distinct complexity of its varietals. Nor are rosés the intuitive blends of white and red wines we expect them to be. They’re actually the product of a mix of solely red wine grapes (often Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah) that have curtailed exposures to skin and stems that result in lighter hues.
But American sentiments aren’t the only problems rosé producers have had to face. In 2009, the nomenclature of rosé wines was a point of major contention in Europe. This is wine, not war mind you, so despite the drama back in Europe, it was smiles across the board as I traveled from table to table swirling, tasting, and yes, spitting. But of all the presentations, I found the spiel by wine director Paul Chevailer of Château d’Esclans the most intriguing. With his four offerings (and his trusted laptop), he took me on a self-appointed “journey up a hill,” where as the grapes aged on this mound, so did the rarity of wine. All the rosés at his table were winners, but two stood out specifically. The first was the Garrus, touted as the most expensive rose in the room, priced at $105. Only three barrels are produced in a year. The second won for most memorable name, Whispering Angel. And at a reasonable $21, it mostly likely reflects the impact on our bank accounts when we go out and get a bottle.
Also provided at the event was a buffet menu from the Comme Ça kitchen. Most of the dishes—including olive oil poached tuna, Australian barramundi escabeche, and ratatouille of shredded lamb—are not on the restaurant’s regular menu. These mainly Mediterranean delights were meant to enhance the wine rather than overshadow them. The quiche Lorraine and pâté de campagne on crostini plus accoutrements were appropriately rich and decadent. Better yet, they were easy to consume with a wine glass in hand. Another standout was a spoon sized beet salad with goat cheese and frisée that was bright, and elegantly direct. One thing I missed on the menu was heat. Many of the wine producers recommended the pairing of vin rosé with spicy food, but I’ll have to take their word for it. (Might I radically suggest a rosé tasting at a Mexican restaurant next year?)
An interesting note: One thing I noticed about the Comme Ça’s dining room was the relative quietness. For a restaurant notorious for its rumble, I was amazed by the number of audible (and surprisingly coherent) conversations during the tasting. I would later learn from sous chef Eric Samniego that the entire dining room had recently been sound-proofed. The upside: healthy exchanges at the table. The downside: no excuse for not paying attention. (My words. Not his.)
Copyright 2012, Los Angeles magazine