I live far north in the United States and am accustomed to late springs and early winters. Bud break arrived three days ago with inquiry from Gabriella regarding my memories of Mateus Rosé. I, being of near ancient age, was a pup when Mateus was the rage and she knew I would remember this gooey, bubbly fizz. Responding to her questions set my mind off a wandering to memories of pink wines past and pink wines future. Near future. The next sixteen or so weeks in fact.
Green buds and pink wine bring lovely feelings to my senses. Most of all it means four to five months of warm sun, soft rain, and wines that run from the palest green to the translucent pinks. Light and color are always spoken of as significant to the wine experience but the notion seems to stop in the wooded halls of the British tasting rooms or the damp cellars of the crusty French. Either setting makes me feel cold. I prefer what spring and summer sunlight does to a chilled glass of wine. It brings out every memory of the perfect Great Gatsby garden party. The afternoons with flirty college girls on warm carpets of grass. And perhaps the most perfect glass of rosé to cross my lips. It was a Mayacamus Rosé shared with the winemaker and his wife on a August afternoon.
Mayacamas Vineyards is located in the Mayacamas Mountains which divide the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The formality of wine tourism didn’t exist in the California of the early sixties and my wife and I along with another couple simply were passing time on a weekend afternoon taking a long drive into this curious thing called wine country. We followed the signs which were few and small toward the turnoff leading up the steep two track road of sorts ascending to the top of Mount Veeder. My junker car was not happy with the task and I would have turned back if I could but there was no way. Half way up we encountered a pickup truck coming down. Graciously the driver waved to us and stopped his descent and begin to back up the road. He couldn’t turn around any more than I could and we drove bumper to bumper, nose to nose, to the top of the mountain. The road widened where the old stone winery was alighted on the fringe of the dormant volcano crater that marks the top of Mount Veeder. Fifty two acres of vineyards are now planted on mountain sides ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 feet above sea level. I am not sure how much of this land was developed back then. We piled out of the hot cars and introduced ourselves all around including the three infants in tow; one for each couple.
We went into the antique building and three bottles were opened; a red, a white and a pink. These were simpler days and the obsession with varietal identity was not as strident as today. If they were blends or not was not the issue. These were their wines. Small pours were enjoyed all around and then we took our favorite choice in hand and went outside the building to sit under a large shade tree in the adjoining yard. It could have been a farm or orchard anywhere in the world. It was a postcard. All but for the wine. That was unique!
The color was a true pink with an inviting transparency that promised it would not be too heavy in the mouth. Pink wines of that time were still influenced by poodle skirts and fifties relics which included a fashion fad matching charcoal gray with a bubble gum hue. Others were a vaguely lighter off red. The flavors were near always nearly artificial in their forced fruitiness. And then their was a sparkling rose called Eye of the Partridge that echoed the orange hues of Lirac. Neither food wines nor refreshments they nonetheless enjoyed a wide market acceptance.
This glass was different. It was scented of cold stones mixed with cut weeds and had no pretense to being a berry loaded soft drink. It brought a special moment to the day and encouraged thought and talk. This was before deconstruction assailed the wine experience and the parlor game created at University of California in the early eighties, and its attendant wine wheel monopolized conversation. We talked of….what else? Life. The wine makers were hired to care for the tiny estate by owners from the East. They were from UC Berkely where they had met and married as science undergraduates; one chemistry and the other biology. They shared a similar academic foundation. Why wine? They shrugged. Why not? It allowed them to leave the city and work with their hands.
We bought two bottles of the wonderful pink wine which were certainly beyond what we were accustomed to paying for wine in our young lives. But courtesy is courtesy and wine hospitality requires a courtesy buy. We drove the two vehicles back down the minuscule excuse for a road; this time both facing the same direction. They drove North on their way to wherever they were going a few hours ago and we returned South arriving at dusk at our home in Oakland on the low rent side of the Berkeley line. By November the two bottles of the rosé had been consumed.
Then on a Friday, the manager of insurance company where I was uncomfortably employed came out of his corner office and announced that we should all go home. It was only eleven in the morning but all work would come to a halt. The offices of Montgomery Street and all the side streets of the financial district of San Francisco crowded with insurance, investment and banking drones going home midday to watch television. We stared at the black and white screen for three days. I don’t remember what I drank but I am sure I did. When Jack died the country changed.
New owners acquired Mayacamus and their product mix though still elegant no longer includes a rosé. It is a classic Napa estate of Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot and Pinot Noir. The California essentials of today. Pink wine was pushed aside by the big foot of White Zinfandel and to find the magic mineral quality of that long ago experience I look to Spain, Portugal, and the Languedoc of France. Despite an open mind and continuous effort I failed to recover the excitement of that first special rose and came to write it off as youth and the first love effect of the wines that lure us into the life long affection for the grape.
Then I discovered Marsannay. What a thrill. It is light, nearly ethereal in the glass with the faintest of pale pink hue. But in the mouth it is full and complex. It is a wine of minerals and not of fruits and it takes little imagination to think of this as a Chablis as the village of Marsannay is located at the northern gateway to the Cote d’Or in the suburbs of Dijon. It is subtle in the mouth and complex. This is not a thirst quenching pink but a thoughtful one. It has a deceptively rich mouth feel and near endless finish.
Well, wouldn’t you know. In the world of wine you seem to be always raising the bar. Is there such a thing as a still rose that would qualify as exceptional enough to be considered a special occasion bottle?
There is. In Spain.
Vina Tondonia Crianza rose is certainly not an everyday bottle. It is a bottle from the past. The near past of creation and the far past of tradition. I have just enjoyed it’s most recent vintage:1995. Being 2007 as I write this, it is twelve years of barrel and bottle age. It was just released to my wine seller where they have just sold out of the last of their 1993. So much for drinking rosé young. The estate follows the old Spanish tradition of releasing their wines when the producer believes they are ready to drink.
It is pale copper in hue rather than the expected pink. The wet stone nose is the invitation I can’t resist. I know I sound like a man says any woman as long as she is a redhead. But it is the scent of wet stones that brings back the sense memory of the first and the best and it is immediately there to be inhaled. Others have found lemon, clove, cinnamon and tobacco but to me only the tobacco resonates along with the wet stone. It is no where near as austere as the Marsannay It is elegant in its own way. A Spanish way. This is Penelope Cruz of Pedro Almodavor to the Marsannay Catherine Deneuve of Buneuel a half century ago. Are these feminine wines? You bet! The fruit is not the heavy breath of cherry but more citric blood orange. And with an hour of air a fruit of unexpected character comes forward. Rather than stewed as you would expect of a wine with this age it is at the other end of the spectrum being reminiscent of early wild strawberries where there is just of hint of the promise to come. To me these are not food wines. They live on their own in their elegance and whatever I taste with them never improves the experience. Like the Marsannay the Vina Tondinia is best alone.
These are wines to experience. I don’t analyze the spring and summer breezes, nor deconstruct the rains of the two seasons. There are as many shades of sun as there are flavors of wine, and for the next sixteen weeks I intend to indulge myself in the opulence of the pink season.
As April gently fell into May, calling for the close of our Rosé Virtual Wine Tasting, I couldn’t have been more pleased to end it with such a wonderful take on the significance of rosé to someone who has a deep-seeded passion for it. It’s a romantic take at that with both comforting and wild references of feminity within a glass of rosé. I love the article, reminding me of how the simplist sensations can spark memories that we thought were long forgotten. Thank you Burt for your take on both the Vina Tondinia and the Mayacamus Rosé. Although I haven’t tried either, I will most definitely seek them out in the near future.