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PHOTO:  Angel Becerril

Article Taken From Spain Gourmetour, January-April 1999 (Pages 57-61)

Despite a long tradition of producing and drinking them, even Spaniards do not know them as well as they might. Here, as in most countries, they are considered a compromise—neither red nor white—and the drinking of them is thought fashionable only on a warm summer’s day.

Few people know how pink wines are really made, or relate them to the wine drinking occasion. Think of them as very light red wines to be drunk chilled, often an alternative to cheaper white wines, and many more opportu­nities to enjoy them become apparent. Watch your party sparkle as the guests mill around with the colorful pink wine shimmering in their glasses.

It will surprise many to learn that the Spanish drink three times more red wine than white, and that they drink al­most as much rosado as they do white wine. Despite the warm climate image, due to the high average altitude, the country experiences low temperatures across a wide area both in winter and summer. The coastal regions are more temperate, of course, especially the Mediterranean, but it is only in the very height of summer that it becomes too warm for red wines in the evenings.

What we know as rosado today, was more likely to have been called clarete—veiy light red wine—until the early 1980s, since when, under the laws of the European Union, the name has been reserved for pink wines made from red and white grapes, while rosados are only made from red grapes. As a result, rosado wines have assumed a much higher profile than before. Claretes evolved from the de­sire to make lighter red wines to con­trast with those around 15 percent al­cohol or more, that were traditional in Spain. However, rosados have become a separate category, which combines the original purpose, and the more modern, leisure driven needs of to­day’s wine drinkers.

Pink wines are more expensive to make because the process requires on­ly the best juice of the grapes. As a pointer, one kilo of grapes makes about seventy centiliters of red or white wine, but far less rosado. As we know, the flesh of red grapes is white and it is the black skins that give the wines their color, but the maceration time—the time the juice remains in contact with the skins—is the key. For rosados maceration time can be as little as a three or four hours, or as many as forty eight, depending on the intensity of the black skins, the mix of the grapes, and the required grade of color for the wine.

  Tête de Cuvée

It is made from the first and free run juice of the grapes, known as mosto de yema, which is bled off as the grapes press themselves under their own weight. This is the cream, and what re­mains is poorer quality suitable only for sale as second class red wine. The problem for the producers is that rosa-do wines, no matter how good, will never achieve the price levels that are attained by reds, yet the demand ex­ists, and is big enough for producers to take it seriously.

Rosados should be drunk young, the younger the better, but it takes any­thing up to four months to bring the new wine to the market. So, it is vital that the previous vintage remains in top condition for as long as possible, ideally not less than two years. Oxi­dization, or the prevention of it, is the secret. The best rosados will be ruined if the production processes do not in­clude maximum controls to eliminate this problem. There have been exam­ples of award winning wines in March being undrinkable by August when demand is at its height. We have all ex­perienced those browning, flabby, even beery pink wines that should nev­er reach the glass, and everybody in the sales and distribution chain has a re­sponsibility in making sure they do not. First, producers must bring the grapes to the bodegas speedily, in cool condi­tions, preferably early morning, and with skins intact. The reception, move­ment, and rest of the production process should ensure as little contact with the air as possible, because the re­tention of fruit and freshness is para­mount. Temperature controlled fer­mentation, which is almost universal now, allows the process to occur at lower temperatures, thus more slowly, and avoiding the high levels of heat, which dried out the wines during the free and tumultuous ways of the past. This should happen no longer, the fresh­ness of the fruit is retained with crisp, clean aromas and flavors, which, while not the beginning and the end of the process, has meant a transformation to winemaking, and not only for rosados.

Wine will oxidize in the bottle more rapidly than if stored in much larger volumes. The bottle is good for reds, but not for young whites and pinks. So, the best producers keep the fin­ished pink wines in large, cool vats in sealed conditions, often under an inert gas blanket, to prevent air reaching the wine. They bottle on a regular (proba­bly monthly) basis throughout the year, so that eighteen months after its vintage, the wine can be almost as fresh as the day it was born.

Insist on Young and Fresh

And this is where the rest of the chain comes in. The distributors, retailers, bar and restaurant owners must ensure that they rotate the wines rapidly. When it comes to rosados, older is not better, quite the opposite! Many is the battle I have fought with them on this matter, and, if in doubt, the best advice is to go for a well-known brand of the most recent vintage. Above all the wine must be young, richly pink or very light red, with a brilliance and clarity that is the hallmark of any well-made wine, in good condition.

Rosado wines are made all over Spain, but in some regions more than others. A few are particularly well known for them, and Navarre, which built its ear­ly reputation on these wines, most of all. There the wines are made chiefly from the Garnacha grape variety, which is predominant in the zone, and well known as the Grenache from which rosés are produced in the south of France. Forty percent of the produc­tion in Navarre is pink wines, though there is a trend towards reds as bode-gas try to avoid being too dependant on a one dimensional product. Over the past twenty years they have fo­cused more on single-variety reds and whites, and the technology in develop­ing these wines has helped them pro­duce better rosados at the same time. Companies particularly noted for rosa-dos include VinIcola Navarra, at Las Campanas with a Castillo de Javier, Julián Chivite at Cintruenigo with Gran Feudo (Spain’s top rosado on more than one occasion), and Ochoa at Olite whose Lágrima Rosado is made from Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon. All regularly win top awards. Levante, not least Utiel-Requena, in­land from the city of Valencia, also has a reputation for producing large quan­tities of good pink wines, thanks main­ly to the Bobal and Monastrell (Mourvèdre) grape varieties. The wines have not received the recognition they deserve in their own region, let alone Spain, because in the bars of Valencia you will mainly find pink wines from the ubiquitous Rioja region, and beer drinkers. One senses the producers are discouraged by the fact, because quali­ty, recently, has been less exciting, no­table exceptions being GandIa’s Hoya de Cadenas and Cavas Murviedro’s Las Lomas. However, Spanish consumers are becoming more aware of the other wines of their country, including those in their own provinces, and as the worldwide demand for Rioja grows and its availability is more difficult, so they will turn to their regional wines more and more.

Rioja produces some excellent rosados, but, as the prices of the grapes in­crease, it is difficult to think that the producers will want to go on making them, or, if they do, that their cus­tomers will want to pay such a premi­um for them. Indeed, Rioja bodegas are reporting a decline in sales of rosados and one suspects that most, if not all of them must be exercising their minds as to what to do. It would not be surpris­ing to see rosados of top brands being produced in other denominations in the future. Yvonne Candina at Heren­cia Remondo is not so sure, “It is hard to know what will happen, and our 1998 is still very competitive, but if we were speaking of young white wine, I would agree. Our wine is one hundred percent Garnacha from our own vine­yards in the Rioja Baja, and, following eight hours maceration on the skins, the wine has good color and texture.”

  New Wave Wines

The most exciting developments, late­ly, have been in Catalonia, in the northeast. It has become the place to seek out new rosado wines. Apart from a gloriously rich wine like that of Scala Dei in Priorato, made from old Gar­nacha grapes, or the consistently good De Casta of Torres, made from Cariñe­na and Garnacha, there is a new gener­ation of rosados being produced from two imported varietals—Pinot Noir and Merlot. In Penedés, Chandon with the brand Eclipse, Gramona, Parató and Sumarroca are all producing much ac­claimed rosado wines from the Pinot Noir. Again, in Penedés, Alsina y Sarda, Gran Caus, Lavernoya, and Rimarts, to­gether with Roura, in Alella, are being equally successful with Merlot. Roura’s, in particular, really does have the char­acteristics of a very light red wine.

Catalonia is a large market, having a population of nearly seven million people plus a large share of the annu­al 45 million foreign visitors to Spain. The Balearic Islands just 94 miles away, and very dependant on Catalo­nia for much of its supplies, has over six million foreign visitors annually, and is, per capita, the country’s most wealthy indigenous population. The combined numbers mean a huge de­mand for all wines, not least rosados, and the winemakers in both regions have more reasons than most to ex­plore the potential of pink wines.

The Catalan province of Barcelona, is also the main area of production for Ca-va—the traditional method sparkling wine—and pink cava is a great party wine. Sometimes thought frivolous, and what is wrong with that?, it is colorful to serve, easy to drink and is the type of wine that is overlooked too often. The pink cavas achieving highest marks in­clude Castel de Vilarnau, Codomlu, Fe­rret, Marques de Monistrol, and Castillo de Perelada. All are produced from dif­ferent blends of the indigenous grapes Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Ca­riflena, and the white Parellada.

The Tempranillo grape variety reveals a lovely strawberry aroma and flavor, which is often more apparent in the pinks than the reds, and not only in Rioja. It comes through strongly in that of Bodegas Ribas of Binissalem in Mal­lorca, where it is blended with the lo­cal variety Manto Negro, and in Castile­Leon, it is predominant. The winemak­ers of Ribera del Duero have the same problem with prices as Rioja, on an even greater scale, and, with their very limited production, they do not want to

use good juice on the less profitable rosados. But there are some good wines from elsewhere in the region like Cigales D.O. (Frutos Villar’s Viña Calderona) and Medina del Campo (Javier Sanz’s Orden Tercera), while, in Benavente, Otero with Valleoscuro, and Peñascal, at Tudela de Duero, near Va­lladolid, both produce delightful rosa-dos. In Salamanca province, the Coop­erative of San Esteban’s Triñuelo, made from a red grape called Rufete, which is used in port, is also thought of highly. The bonus and direct result of the au­thorities insisting on the correct pro­duction method, is that there are now many quality rosado wines available. With the law has come new technology and winemaking skills leading to the production of rosados like Corcova of J.A. MegIa e Hijos in Valdepenas and Tomillar from the largest cooperative in Spain, Virgen de las Viñas in La Man­cha. Together with the new generation of fruity, crisp, and fresh red wines, this last region should become a more im­portant source of rosados in the future. A number of bodegas are producing rosados with the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, and with some success. Vine-dos y Crianzas de Alto AragOn have won a lot of acclaim for their Enate brand, as have PrIncipe de Viana in Navarre and Puig y Roca with Augus­tus and Covides with Duc de Foix, both in Penedés. The Cabernet Sauvi­gnon takes on distinctly different, and very attractive characteristics in Spain. For many it is best used for blending with Tempranillo, which is undoubted­ly true, but the examples of pure Cabernet Sauvignon reds and rosados show just what a great and adaptable variety it is.

Great Food Wine

There are specific occasions when a rosado wine is the right wine to choose with your meal, and rice dishes, like a paella de la huerta or arroz a banda from Levante, are amongst the first and most obvious. Perhaps it is why so much pink wine is produced in the re­gion, but, the food and wine matching does not stop there. Rosados, often more than white wines, are ideal with a whole assortment of fish, especially the meatier types, either grilled or when in stews. I remember the pleas­ant surprise of Anton Mosiman, one of Britain’s premier chefs, proposing a Navarra rosado with a lightly grilled halibut on a bed of winter vegetables for a banquet in London—it was an enormous success.

The same argument applies to the cooking of other cultures. Recently I found that a soft and light Godello white could not cope with some deli­cate Thai starters, whereas a rosado would have been ideal. Many pasta dishes would welcome a rosado as ac­companiment, while the spicy flavors in white meats often used in Latin Ameri­can kitchens, combine delightfully with a dry, fresh, and crisp pink wine.

We all accept that rosado wines are pre­dominantly seasonal, but not entirely, by any means. Why not drink it with the turkey on Christmas day, and the sever­al days afterwards, for that matter? And I mean in northern climes, not the South­ern Hemisphere! Many people choose a cold white wine for the occasion, and an indifferent one at that, because price is an important factor, when, for the same price, they could buy a young, fresh rosado with its colorful, aromatic, and spicy characteristics.

Vegetarians should rally round, rosado wines are perfect for you. They are suited to an abundance of the dishes you prefer, where reds are overpower­ing, and whites innocuous. With the growing number of people giving up meats, here is a classical opportunity for the trade, shops, and restaurants, to show customers that they are thinking about vegetarians and their needs. Most menus list vegetarian dishes, so let’s have the wines to complement them. This is another good reason for drinkers to bury their prejudices and make rosado wines a regular option.

Jeremy Watson was director of Wines from Spain in London for thirteen years until he came to live in Spain and work as a consultant and writer on Spanish wines.

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