It was a warm summer day in Grasse, France. I had celebrated a significant birthday the evening before at La Bastide Saint-Antoine, a Michelin-starred restaurant attached to the Relais & Chateaux hotel by the same name.
Lunch was being served on the lawn behind the restaurant, the Mediterranean Sea barely visible in the distance. Every table was occupied. A bottle of rose was chilling in a bucket of ice at every table, or so it seemed.
At the time my impression of most rose wines was anything but favorable — too fruity or too watery, but always too sweet. Nevertheless, I decided to do what the French do when the temperature rises. I ordered a bottle of rose recommended by the waiter.
The wine selected was Domaines Ott, perhaps the most famous and respected rose in the world. It was dry, crisp, complex and delicious. This was the turning point in my appreciation of rose, a wine usually made from red grapes with little or no skin contact during fermentation, which typically results in a pale pink or onion-skin color.
Rose is splendid as a summer refreshment, but dry rose wines also pair well with seafood, salads, grilled chicken and an assortment of savory tapas and cheeses.
My current favorites include three from France, one from Spain (where rose is called "rosado") and one from California. The prices listed are the average retail price on WineSearcher.com.
Chateau d'Esclans 2015 Whispering Angel, Cotes de Provence, France ($21) — This wine is pale in color, but robust in flavor with crisp, refreshing acidity.
Domaines Ott 2015 "By Ott," Cotes de Provence, France ($21) — This is a second wine for Domaines Ott, and it is considerably less expensive than its top wine. That said, this creamy rose is a beautiful match for smoked salmon or savory tapas.
Eberle Winery 2015 Syrah Rose, Paso Robles ($19) — This wine, the first made by the new winemaker, Chris Eberle (no relation to winery owner Gary Eberle), is balanced, delicate and dry and is sweeping top awards at major California wine competitions.
Gerard Bertrand 2015 "Cote de Roses," Languedoc, France ($15) — From one of the Languedoc's top wine producers, the Cotes de Roses is beautifully structured; it shows crisp acidity and enticing notes of strawberry, and it is pale pink in color.
Muga 2015 Rioja Rosado, Spain ($13) — This wine is the bargain of the bunch. Muga is produced from grapes harvested in the Rioja Alta — at some elevation on the Atlantic side of the Rioja region — which gives the wine freshness and balance. Unlike the other four, which are made exclusively from Rhone grapes, such as grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault, Muga is a blend of tempranillo, the white grape viura and garnacha (aka grenache.)
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Ramon Bilbao 2010 "Mirto," Rioja DOC, Spain ($70) — Some might call Ramon Bilbao's 2010 Mirto a modern Rioja — richly layered, lush and generously oaked. I see it another way given that Haro, the home of Ramon Bilbao, was long ago strongly influenced by the winemakers of Bordeaux, France. The use of French oak is not traditional for Rioja, so its use in the production of Mirto is something of a novelty, and it works. The French oak delivers a gentle wood spice that exquisitely complements the ripe black fruit aromas. This is a wine for the ages. At six years old it remains fresh and nervy, brimming with primary fruit. It is of the finest Rioja wines I have experienced in quite some time. Rating: 97.
Chappellet 2014 Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley ($32) — Chenin Blanc is the Rodney Dangerfield of domestic white wines. While chenin produces brilliant wines in France's Loire Valley, it has been used more or less as a blending grape for forgettable white wines here in the U.S., most of them made in a sweet or off-dry style. The handful of producers who make a stand-alone chenin do a reasonably decent job, but only a few domestic chenins truly soar. Chappellet's dry chenin is one of those. The 2014 is a gorgeous wine that shows exceptional balance and fruit purity, as well as nuances of stone fruits and citrus. Rating: 93.
Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion, France ($35) — Les Cadrans, the second label of Chateau Lassegue, must qualify as the steal of the vintage — or close to it. Showing richly layered blackberry and cassis fruit, a hint of woodsmoke and long, firm tannins, it's a superb candidate for the cellar. It needs another three to five years to approach its peak, which it should easily hold for another dozen years or so. Rating: 91.
Piccini 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($21) — Piccini's Chianti Classico Riserva gets kudos for its fruit purity: a big dollop of black cherry that lingers on the palate. This is a beautifully made wine that balances acidity, fruit and tannin. It's a lovely food wine that will pair nicely with tomato sauces, grilled sausages and savory cheeses. Rating: 89.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.