Saluti: Rosé all day

Wednesday, June 26, 2019 - 3:53pm

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The temperature in suburban, seaside New Jersey has climbed to exactly rosé degrees Fahrenheit, which is just a few degrees warmer than springtime Chardonnay and a full 360 from musing autumn Cabernet. Summertime near the shore means one thing: Everyone is grabbing for a glass of that chilled, light, millennial pink wine and toasting “cheers” as early as 11 a.m. on a Friday. But what is it, really, about the wine that’s so attractive when mid-June hits and you’re near the ocean? 

Not to make an assumption, but I’ll assume most people don’t really know why rosé is pink, and why other wines are simply red or white. Wine is quite the science, and winemakers are some of the world’s most romantic, tipsy scientists in the world. I normally don’t take much interest in chemistry, but when wine is our final result, I’m listening. For Italy’s sake, and the sake of celebrating wine and heritage, let’s call rosé by its proper name, “rosato.” When winemakers make rosato, as opposed to a red or white wine, they incorporate only some of the color from the grape skins — but not enough to qualify the beverage as red wine.

Interestingly enough, rosato may be the oldest form of wine because it is actually the most straightforward to make, due in part to the light grape skin contact method. When making rosato, the grapes are crushed, and their skins remain in contact with the juice for a very short period of time — normally, no longer than 20 hours. The skins are not in contact throughout fermentation, as they would be with a red wine. The longer the skin is in contact with the juice, the darker the color will be; therefore, making that perfect bottle of rosato is a bit of a slippery slope. A bottle of rosato can come in plethora of colors: from nearly sheer yellow-pink, akin to a sweet onion skin, to a vibrant, near-fuschia. However, true, authentic rosato tends to lean to the lighter side, so, if you’re in a wine shop without a clue, reach for something that resembles the inside of a peach, not the tube of baby-pink lipstick. 

It’s been said that many of the earliest red wines were made similar to modern day rosatos, so, our counterparts in ancient Roma may have been celebrating summer Fridays similarly to how we are today. One thing they didn’t have back then though: the marketing paradise we call Instagram. Today, rosato has become so much about the look of the wine and the appearance of the bottle, and not so much about the taste. These days, on your white-painted picnic table overlooking the sea, even what’s in your ice bucket has to fit the theme, the color scheme and the “brand” of a Hampton’s summertime, no matter where you are. Wölffer Estate seemed to master this when they created Summer in a Bottle Rosé, otherwise known as the most Instagrammable bottle of rosé you’ve ever seen. It costs anywhere between 22 and 25 dollars at most liquor stores, and is decorated with multicolored flowers, accenting its blush, sunset color. The winery has been around for about 30 years and calls Bridgehampton home, using their location to their additional advantage in selling cases of the bright rosé all over the country.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the bottle — the design is beautiful and is the perfect addition or centerpiece to any summer event. But in the taste and flavor department, it isn’t a winner for me. What Summer in a Bottle does, gracefully and successfully, is mask the relatively tough and uncomplex flavor of the rosé with an incredible marketing ploy and a perfect front cover when what’s inside the bottle simply doesn’t match such facial excellence.

In spite of any criticism, Summer in a Bottle flies off the shelves, even when it costs you over 30 dollars, which is an overpriced bill for an almost flavorless bottle. The reason being it looks the part. We’re so geared toward the digital in this technological age. With all the affirmation we gain from Instagram likes, we’re willing to sacrifice flavor for looks almost immediately — forgetting the purpose of rosé in the first place. The wine, like so many Italian food and beverage staples, is about culture.

I was first introduced to rosé the summer of 2010 when I was 12 years old in Sicily, retracing my family’s bloodline down the coastal shore of the country for the first time in my life. I remember the table we sat at, outside, as the sun set but the air remained full with heat and moisture; I recall a promise of a carnival after dark. I brought a china cup of wine to my lips, just a splash — just a taste of the sun-drenched, light orange liquid that quivered in the cup below my nose. I cannot remember the name of this wine, which introduced me to a world where red and white wines have an optimistic middle ground, but that first sip of the summertime beverage, in a way, has lingered on my lips like a memory.

Though I cannot remember that first, perfect rosé, I have discovered something of its long-lost sibling this summer — a rosé that blows Summer in a Bottle, in all its Instagrammable glory, out of the water. My number-one rosé of summer 2019 costs 12 dollars a bottle at most, which is half the price of Summer in a Bottle, with triple the complexity and quadruple the flavor. Each sip of Ippolito Pescanera tastes like biting into the most refreshing, crisp white peach and transports you immediately to a beach somewhere, with your skin warmed from the sun, peach juice dripping down your chin and all.

It is delightfully rejuvenating, yet packs a tangy punch and sips like the sweet summer Saturday afternoon, with the sun hanging low and hot in the sky. It has a slightly floral aroma — evoking something of springtime in an endless field of high, green grass and fresh blooming flowers. The current Pescanera vintage is a 2018 bottle that calls Calabria home and smells intoxicatingly of ripe strawberries. It is full of life yet matched with a perfect, subtle amount of sweetness, almost like the slightest kiss, with just the edge of a mineral finish, which isn’t surprising when drinking wine from vineyards near the sea. For pairing I recommend light fish dishes dressed in a dash of olive oil, summer salads with ripe, green vegetables, a hearty chapter of your current summer read, oversized sunglasses and an afternoon around 83 degrees — no humidity, light breeze.

Sure, perhaps Ippolito’s Pescanera is not ready for her close-up on first glance, the bottle being more subdued, stamped only with a small black inked peach on a clean white label. However, when you strip away Summer in a Bottle’s millennial-oriented presentation, what is it but a slightly overpowering, bitter wine that looks oh-so-good until you taste it? You must ask yourself: Am I drinking this rosato only because of its attractive bottle? For half the price, you can have a wine that sips like heaven, and what’s better, you won’t be paying double just because of how photogenic it is.