tBoW team taster The Large got inside the ropes at the premiere party for Savages. Being this close to Benicio del Toro [ed. the Hunted, Fear & Loathing], and Salma Hayek [ed. lead vampire From Dusk Till Dawn - see video!] sent Large for a Loop crossing his appetite for blush wines with movie star fever. We all benefit from his pyretic vision shared herein: tasting notes, sexy babes, paired foods. Welcome to the Large location food truck.
Summer is the season of blush. You see it in the cheeks of that beguiling and shapely post-teen prancing the beach!…in her bikini — tiny sparks of sand fly off her electrically as he turns to notice her staring at him; she’s caught with an embarrassed smile, pale perfectly smooth skin scattered with freckles turning deep pink… her deep red hair masking the sun like some flaming halo…. Or is it just the way the late afternoon sun disperses as you twist your glass, its dancing rays sparkling atop a sea of pink. It’s the season of hotter days… our ecosphere is boiling over, starting to fry large swaths of the Eastern seaboard into the midwest.
Hollywood spews out sizzling summer thrillers, with tall blondes in pink dresses sharing bong hits while manacled, held hostage by a ruthless, decapitation-happy enforcer working for a struggling, ruthless Baja cartel (Benicio del Toro, could it be any other, I ask you?). And after cutting a maniacal workday short and putting your feet on the patio furniture, it’s time at last to savor another wine of countless variations: Rosé..
My recent obsession with shades of pink, salmon, and peach-ruby hued wines has kept me relatively safe from unwitting encounters with dangerous women, although I brushed by Salma Hayek and Blake Lively at a recent event at the Hammer museum in Westwood…following the world premiere of Oliver Stone’s Savages. It all started when Bacchus (aka The VineMaster) years ago pulled a cork on a Southern Rhone Tavel blush – probably comprised of 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 15% Clairette, 5% Syrah (dry, smooth, a bit of tart cherry). This one is balanced – packing a subtle punch at 14% alcohol. I suddenly realized I’d been tragically avoiding great summer wine because I’d had a traumatic UCLA college days experience with cheap White Zin. Ever since this revelation, when June comes around, I’m on a mission to find the next revelation in pink.
Meanwhile back at the Hammer soireé, no blush to be found, so I had to settle for a mango Patron margarita. Benicio didn’t look so impressed by his Blueberry margo — but the man wore a sharp, perfectly tailored and pressed Italian tan suit. In the film he donned the garb of the grubby gardener/executioner frazzled apparently by weeks of unrelenting cocaine abuse.
“Rehab has done wonders for you since the shoot, Mr. del Toro,” I tell him. He smiles wanly.
“Although as a critic I have to mention the scene on the balcony with Blake and her two boyfriends – and the dinner scene with Salma, suffered tragic production design, when they both demanded the presence of blush” I opined. del Toro’s expression turned to one of mild puzzlement.
“But I thought the funniest scene was your meeting with Travolta – now he looked like a real freak—whereas you had me totally convinced you were amped out of your mind” I go on. “The hokey dual ending thing didn’t work for me that well either—I was bummed when they shot you like 15 times, and you still wouldn’t die—I mean bummed by you dying…you know what I mean, Mr. del Toro?” He nods slightly, smiling more wanly, then rolls his eyes. He looks at me, glancing slowly over in Oliver the director’s direction…then looks me in the eye again.
I’d best be moving on.
My eyes followed Salma, so graceful and petite, and decked up in an apostolic green dazzling dress, and I recalled the Savages scene with the three Laguna Beach herb-farmer protagonists gaining the attention of the Baja Cartel. They’re sitting on the balcony of their beachfront pad, a reunited love triangle, trading bong hits. I’m wincing, thinking nooooooooo! Where’s the Rosé? A perfect blush moment–or at least blush with puff…
Come mid-Spring in South OC, my astral body starts to glide far above Andorra (enabled by Google Earth)… scanning to the northeast lies the Languedoc, Nimes and Provence. To the south–Catalunya, Rioja, Calatayud and further on. Blush heaven central on this planet. At my favorite stop, the famed Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, in their small lots section, there are 50-60 selections of blush in June and July hailing from at least five continents (the penguins and Chinese will soon catch on). In grand Hollywood tradition, if you don’t have time to drive to Hi Time Wine Cellars, you might look for a Monterey blush from Coppola, 2011 “Sofia” (Loren or his daughter?). You can grab this at wine chains like Bevmo ($14), even Costco.
Typically I find budget California Rosés bland and overpriced especially in comparison to their more interesting Spanish and French cousins. Blush is fundamentally uncomplicated. But, like a red wine it’s subtlety and charm evolves because it is chilled. And as it warms up the flavors shift and evolve. Over the course of 15 minutes the flavors can cycle dramatically and delightfully. Sofia rated 90 from the Wine Enthusiast (12.5%), and this can’t be all attributed to Francis packing big bucks for the right wine publicist—just the classic Grenache/Syrah blend, overtones of fragrant ripe watermelon and fresh strawberries, with a California “kick” and a contrasting crisp, soft finish.
When complexity in blush wine surfaces, your palate will tingle with that seductive surprise that can stimulate a range of senses and internal organs (and in extreme cases external). Sometimes it’s best to avoid sleek modern labels fashioned by frustrated architects – they can be deceitful in this realm. Sometimes you need to go old school — example: 2011 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris (Corbieres) is a soft, light, salmon-pink delight, with overtones of rosewater, blood orange, and stronger notes of white peach, trailed by vanilla revealed at the finish. You’ll find that a sequence of flavor transitions unfolds as it warms up, like with many of the best blushes from the Rhone, Provence, Languedoc. Even though the subtleties are to be celebrated, it’s not all that complicated, really. Just perfect served jaccuzi-side paired with barramundi. Many of the most compelling and interesting Rosés from Southern France are apparently field blends, like the Gris de Gris: 70% Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Carignan & 10% Cinsault. At $12, this ranks with and surpasses other offerings from the same region at double the cost. Perhaps I’m hallucinating (Ok, put that away, Benicio!). Excellent, lighter, and with characteristic Provence simplicity, a fine budget selection is the 2011 Esterelle from Chateau du Rouet, ranges from $9-$12. [ed. see previous tBoW post for for coverage on the 2010 Esterelle]
Top tier Southern California wine merchants offer up a plethora of fabulous selections from Provence. Look also for Cotes du Nimes — the 2011 Chatueau de Campuget ($11) offers value beyond its price point (delicate frutiliciousness with undercurrents of black currants!). Whichever selection you try, most of what reputable wine merchants sell in this vein is something that simply tastes and looks great on a hot summer afternoon. Pair it as an opener with tapenade, stuffed mushrooms, braised ham, lobster stew, grilled trout, grilled salmon, veal sautée, grilled northern pike, honey mustard chicken, salmon with mango salsa, and myriad creations prepared by my Persian wife or her sister.
Much of the best wine the Sud has to offer starts to sell out by mid-July. 2011 La Cengle from Provence ($11) is another delicious bargain (1/3 each: Syrah, Grenache Noir, and Mourvèdre) – another typical pale salmon color—and as the wineseller notes: “exudes the warmth and aromas of the Provence region with spontaneous, crisp, fresh, balanced citrus” with hints of berries and brioche. It purveys the palate with pink, fine and French just reading about it. On a similar note, with the increased complexity of a field blend, try 2011 Domaine Dragon from Provence ($17), worth the bump in price (30% Syrah, 34% Cinsault, 12% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache and 8% Roll). Apparently, as Hi Time reports: “Cinsault as the leading grape gives this wine incredible finesse and poise.” It’s those higher altitude chalky soils in Provence that create the unique condition for the resulting flavors—and every now and then, interesting obscure grapes. Roll? Let’s roll!
Great Spanish Rosé can overwhelm with hearty, in-your-face fruit. In the budget range, compared to a Provence selection, it can knock down your taste buds like Jack Johnson and yet please with crude, tart and tangy flavors — like a Cosmopolitan mixed with white grape juice. Just remove the lion’s share of sweetness without the biting edge of high alcohol. And yet I’ve been most surprised and delighted by the values you occasionally chance upon with Spanish blush—lively and simple between 10.5% and 13%…perhaps mostly in the 12.5% range.
In local wine shops it appears whimsically and sporadically—if you’re in luck you can acquire the serviceable to the wondrous spectrum of blushes—and stumble upon memorable oddities in the $6-$20 range. Example: 2011 Ameztoi Rosé Txakolinais just under $20 from the Atlantic Coast Basque Country in the northwest of Europe’s #3 wine producing country (“fruity minerals, earth, dried berries.” It boasts seriously high acidity at 10.5% alcohol. The grapes are a 50/50 blend of Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza (whadda fu&k?). Totally funky, unique and indigenous to Txakoli – (I know, looks Greek but it’s Basque—a hint of wool perhaps?), and one of those flights into the exotic, earthy, hard to find pale pink nectar with exquisite minerality [ed. sorry Large, Dotoré has banned the "m" word on tBoW] stoniness on the finish (Importer: De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C).
In contrast the 2011 Artazuri Garnacha Navarra Rosado ($9) has a deeper cherry-peach color which leads some critics to suspect it is “clumsy and heavy” – which can be typical of budget-conscious, down country Spanish blushes. This is straight Garnacha and a spectacular bargain, clean, lithe and balanced with strawberry dominating tones of almond and acacia (13%). As many of us know, Trader Joe’s budget wines can be a surprising delight or the meaningless loss of a Lincoln. A worthy, and notable value ($7) is Marqués de Caceres Rioja. Straightforward Tempranillo rosé (13.5%)—simple, focused, crisp, dry and slightly on the bitter side—you warm to it’s flavors as it warms to the sun—like all of its more delicate sisters. Adios y bienvenidos – Le Large.
Epi-note: You can read another master work from the world of the “Salvador Dali of wine criticism” in this previous Large saga from 2010.