Why you want to drink a Carignan-Grenache Noir-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend in summer

Char-grilled meat, anyone? Steak, of course, chicken too. Heck, meaty eggplant or portobellos also work. As long as there’s that crusty char—and bonus points for a sharp, spicy sauce or marinade—then you have what, in my opinion, makes a great summer-time pairing with a rustic red from southern France.

“Received wisdom” designates whites and rosés as the default warm-weather wines. But, with some foods, only earthy reds will do.

Furthermore, if you’re like me, and savoring memories and/or wishes of a past or future trip to Languedoc-Roussillon, then you’re looking to discover good values from this region in any season.

I was sharing some experiences from a recent trip to the area when I last posted here. (An unexpected death in my family followed by a period of general discombobulation knocked me off my blog-writing routine in recent months.) Since then, I continued exploring the region, viticulturally, so it’s worth giving a shout-out to a few wines I’ve especially liked.

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Here is one: Domaine Grand Guilhem Fitou. I tried the 2008 vintage ($18 from Sherry-Lehmann), a 47% Grenache Noir-40% Carignan-10% Syrah-3% Mourvèdre blend. Its intensity could be fading, so I’d look for a later vintage next time for comparison. The wine has a sharp nose, stony and mossy, giving an impression of entering an underground cellar.

But don’t let the nose deter you. While the finish wasn’t long, on the palate the wine is at once smoky, pruney and vegetal, depending on whether and how long it is decanted.

For me, knowing something about the winemakers enhances my  appreciation of the product. Domain owners and winemakers Severine and Gilles Contrepois secured organic designation in 2004 for their 25 acres of vineyards. The property sits in Fitou, an oddly bifurcated (into two non-continuguous areas) appellation of Languedoc between Perpignan and Narbonne, near the village of Cascatel.

39 - Domaine Grand Guilhem Fitou 1

I’d love to try Grand Guilhem’s other wines (Corbières white and rosé, and three vins doux), but they’re hard to find in the U.S.

There is a solution, however: pay a visit and stay a night or two. (The Contrepois double as innkeepers, with two guesthouses and four guest rooms in the vintage-19th century main house.)

In defense of rosé

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Eric Asimov’s “Wines of the Times” column yesterday relayed the apparently pervasive disdain wine professionals have for rosé wines. Asimov does not count himself in this contingent, and expressed appreciation for this wine type in general and for specific bottles he and his sommelier tasting team sampled for the column.

But if the dismissive attitudes of Asimov’s tasters represent the consensus view in the industry, I’d like to offer a counter opinion.

First, there is a reason many wine drinkers enjoy – and some even adore – rosé. Rosés in the bottle are beautiful to look at, so it follows that sipping them is an aesthetically pleasurable experience for many people. (Studies have demonstrated that the color of substances we consume affects how they taste to us.)

Second, the variety of rosés being produced has exploded over the past few years, offering casual drinkers as well as serious connoisseurs a range of wines never available before. Many adventurous drinkers are delighted to explore these new choices, a number of which are priced below $15.

Provence used to hold a near-monopoly on rosé production, and its standard grape blend usually included some mix of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. This southern region of France continues to turn out what are arguably the world’s highest quality rosés but its monopoly has certainly evaporated. This summer’s Sherry-Lehmann catalogue, besides its Provençal selections, lists rosés from the Rhône, Vaucluse and Bordeaux regions of France, along with Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Sicily, Lebanon, Long Island, Napa and Sonoma – and this roster is far from exhaustive.

These new production areas mean that rosé is now being made with red varietals never before associated with this wine type – Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and more.

Is all of this wine great or even good? No, but the same is true for reds and whites.

Do all of the rosés now on offer adhere to a “standard” style? Not at all, given the numerous regional and grape varieties involved. Some wine experts may insist that rosé should fit an aperitif profile, that is, light, with mineral tones. But why must there be orthodoxy? Why can’t a diversity of rosé styles evolve?

Wine makers are responding to consumer demand by producing more of it. A story published last year in Yahoo News stated that Nielsen Company reported a 14% year-over-year increase in 2011 in the U.S. sales, by volume, of rosé, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth.

Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad.