Sunday, October 26, 2008

A SavvyTaste Guide to Rose Wines and Dessert Wines ('Stickies') [Mac McCarthy]

There's more to the world of wines than just whites and reds! Let's take a brief look ROSE'S

If you want to impress -- or baffle -- your friends, start experimenting with Rose (pronounced "rose-aye' with an accent over the 'e' that I can't reproduce on my computer; it's French, what can I say?).

Rose's are made by crushing a red-skinned grape and leaving the skin in contact with the juice for just a little while; a few hours to a day or two, depending on how rosie you want it, and also depending on the grape -- some stain more than others. (There are also some red-fleshed grapes but I don't know much about them, yet.)

Red wines, you see, are made by leaving the skin with the juice for longer, so that it gets redder, and also the tannins and other flavors get into the juices even more.

White wines are made from red-skinned grapes by crushing the grapes and removing the skins from contact with the juice immediately, so none of the skin stuff gets to it.

That's why white wines are simple and elegant (if well made); reds are deeper and more intense -- and Roses are in between: The elegance of whites, with a touch of the body and tannin of the reds.

We're not about the notorious White Zinfandel here. White Zin is made the same way all Rose's are made, but the style is simple, sweet, and bland. Which is why beginners like it -- it's easy to drink, no harsh notes, and a little sweet. And it's why beginning wine drinkers find they often get tired of White Zin after a few years, as their tastes become more sophisticated the White Zins seem too simple, too sweet for no reason, too bland.

Well, move on up to other Roses, baby! One of its many charms is that there are more types of Rose than any other kind of wine, because you can make Rose out of *any red-skinned grape!* Styles range from taut, dry, French Rose made from Pinot Noir, to wild salmon- and coral-colored Roses in California from everything under the sun: Grenache, Cab, Merlot, even Zin. The tastes vary all over the map, from sophisticated and dry, to light, breezy, sweet, but with enough acid to balance the sweetness and make you realize that you really didn't mean it when you said you didn't like sweet wines -- you just hadn't had any *good* ones!

Many wineries make Rose, but they hardly sell any because of the destructive reputation of White Zinfandel that has fooled inexperienced wine drinkers into thinking Rose is some cheap junk wine. But the winemakers love to make it, for themselves! They can't sell much of it, so they make it to their own individual tastes, which is why Roses vary in style and flavor more than anything you'll ever try -- which makes it the *most fun wine* to experiment with tasting!
Prices vary -- they're not as cheap as you'd expect given that nobody but the winemakers drink the stuff - but they are well worth trying out. And keep tasting--you won't really know Roses until you've tasted several dozen brands and flavors! (They make a great wine-tasting party theme--if you can browbeat your friends into realizing that Roses are only drunk by two groups: The ignorant beginner winedrinkers with their White Zin; and the most advanced, sophisticated, worldly-wise wine aficionados who truly know their wines!

Dessert wines are another of those wine types that everybody thinks they don't like. "Oh, I don't like sweet wines," they say -- because they either started with White Zin, or with Mogan David (like my Mom did).

Darling! That's not what dessert wines taste like! That's like saying you don't like red wine because you once tried Thunderbird! Give yourself a break!

Ports and sherries I don't like as much because they are made with added brandy, which I don't care much for. But a lot of people do; a port or sherry tasting is worth taking time out for, see if it's your thing.

Me, I like so-called "late-harvest" wines -- which are left on the vines until the last possible moment, usually November in California, and February in the case of Canada's (absolutely dee-licious but expensive) 'Ice Wines'.

For me, Late-Harvest Zinfandel is God's gift to the sweet tooth -- ahhhh! There are also late-harvest Cabs and Merlots and, for real intensity, Syrahs!

Or you can try white dessert wines: Besides Canadian Ice Wine, France makes some breathtakingly expensive white stickies from the Sauterne grape -- Chateau d'Yquem is the queen of this world, with little thin half-sized bottles costing hundreds and hundreds of dollars each! But there are plenty of relatively inexpensive ($20 for a half) Sauterne dessert wines that aren't bad at all! Hungary has its own white grape that it turns into stunning Tokay stickies -- yum! Pricey!

Keep your eyes open for dessert wines; you're bound to find one, among their widely varying flavors, that knocks your taste buds out of the park!

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