We are a few hours from Valentine’s Day. The marketing stooges have been hard at work for weeks plugging pink bubbly. “Nothing says love like…” The sneaky fact behind all the PR nonsense is that traditionally made sparkling wine where some grapes’ red skins have been permitted to rest in contact with the crushed flesh and juice they protect and contain is categorically the most complex, capable wine on Earth.
What draws me immediately to good pink sparkling wine is a mix of earthiness and cleanliness. It’s at this threshold that a liquid appearing to our colorist prejudices so fruity, unserious and artificial presents the building blocks of what wine lovers most cherish: Length, layers, earth, fruit, energy.
The great sparkling wines from white-wine grapes — blancs de blancs, Champagnes bruts, cremants, cavas reservas — are the undisputed apogees of elegance. Notable sparkling wines that include red-wine grapes might give up refinement and sheer stylishness for something a little closer to Planet Earth: bumps and scrapes, a rumpled quality, hints of fallibility and disorder.
When we’re honest, such traits are better “pairings” to our real emotional and psychological states, not to mention to the food we’re eating and company we’re enjoying.
This isn’t a slumming call for flaws, murk or ugliness. Rather, it’s an entreaty to look beyond assumptions, and to approach wine as an osmotic process where the drink and the drinker affect each other.
One wine in particular got me thinking along these lines: the Ferrari Brut Rose ($36, SoPo). Ferrari used to cost less, but it’s still worth it. The wines are made at the foot of the Dolomite mountains in Trentino. This was the second appellation in the world for “traditional method” sparkling wines, after Champagne, and indeed its requirements are more rigorous than its more famous French cousin.
The wine itself offers flavors unanticipated layers of savoriness — from fungi and humus to cinnamon, incense and walnuts. With a rusty, burnt-sienna color in the glass and an explosive, assertive mousse, it pulsates. It does not walk quietly. If pinpoint bubbles are all that get you going in a sparkling wine, look elsewhere. It’s a masculine, confident wine, offering surprise after surprise.
For something completely different, all freshness and light, look to the Gruet Brut Rose ($15, Central), New Mexico’s pride and joy, or Hillinger Secco ($19, Crush) from Austria’s Burgenland. They both depart the soil and head for the heavens: exceedingly clear, open and dry, decorous and charming.
A bittersweet finish makes the Secco ideal for all sorts of light dishes, especially ones with clean flavors such as sushi and vegetable soups. Prime, fresh fruit — raspberry and pink watermelon — is prominent in the Gruet. They’re dry enough to be great food wines, but with enough energy to carry your lovey-dovey Valentine meal way past dessert (wink-wink).
A wine that lives for food, on the other hand, is a very cool Brut Rose from the Touraine region of France’s Loire Valley. The Alexandre Monmousseau ‘Gaudrelle’ ($19, Devenish) is made with a blend of the white Chenin Blanc and red Grolleau, a frankly lesser Loire red than Cabernet Franc and Gamay but one which here balances the earth and nut tones of the Chenin marvelously.
The Gaudrelle is sleek and stylish. Each taste has three distinct components: a wild strawberry attack out of the gate, a toasty hazelnut mid-palate, and a fabulously bracing lemon finish.
Back down to earth with two pioneering Cavas of long, esteemed pedigrees: Segura Viudas Aria ($10, Nappi) and Castellroig Brut Rosat ($19, Wicked). Both are crisp but nutty and exquisitely balanced. The Aria, from Pinot Noir, finishes significantly shorter than I want, but at 10 bucks that’s to be expected; it still tastes great. The Castellroig, from the Trepat grape indigenous to the Penedes where it’s made, commands more attention but is just so deeply satisfying it has become one of my favorite regular-occasion sparklers.
Peter and Norbert Szigeti make sparkling wine only, in Austria’s Burgenland. They are fastidious and exacting, using only handpicked grapes and a Champagne yeast from Epernay. Their Rose Sekt ($26, National) is full-bodied and voluptuous, in line with the big-boned, forthright reds their region is known for. Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch here make a clean but hearty, gutsy sparkler that reminds me of a garden: soil, tomato water, strong green stems.
I mention Szigeti’s wine last for a reason. There are many ways to begin an exploration of pink sparkling wines, but fewer ways to end, and eventually you’ll want to see how big and lusty they can get. Despite my knee-jerk recalcitrance where commercialized holidays are concerned, there’s no better time than Feb. 14 for that.