Bottles of that Rosé

Who wants to drink Bordeaux in the summer? Me, that's who—as long as it's rosé, of course. Not that I wouldn't grill a steak and drink a magnum of St. Julien to my dome (because I did that just a few days ago), but when it's hot and humid outside it's nice to drink something a little more crisp. As our owner and Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa told me the other day, we don't always bring in the finer rosé wines of Bordeaux, France because people don't necessarily associate the Cabernet-dominated region with rosé. On his most recent trip to the region (just a few weeks ago), he took a little grief from Haut-Bailly over this issue. "You haven't been buying my rosé," the chateau owner told him over a long midday lunch, wondering what the issue was. Not only do we not always buy the Rosé de Haut-Bailly, but Haut-Bailly doesn't necessarily always make it. It depends on the quality of the harvest and the capability of the fruit; whether the conditions are right for rosé production. When they do make rosé, however, the Bordelais make some fantastic ones; and of all the rosés from Bordeaux, I'd say the Haut-Bailly is my clear favorite (so I'm glad they busted Clyde's chops about buying some of it!). Who is Haut-Bailly and why do they matter? I'll give you the quick 411.

Haut-Bailly is one of the best producers in Pessac-Leognan—a small commune in the Graves district just south of the Haut-Médoc; a region known for its gravelly and mineral-driven soil (hence, Graves). There's some serious terroir in Pessac-Leognon. Haut-Brion, the famed first growth (and maybe the best of the five top producers) makes its home down there, as do many other classic chateaux like Smith-Haut-Lafite and La Mission Haut-Brion. To see rosé wine being made by one of the best producers in the region isn't necessarily rare, but it's definitely not commonplace. The Graves is a top-quality Cabernet growing locale; not necessarily the type of place that's interested in making simple, everyday table wine since most grapes go into some the finest clarets known to modern man. That's why the rosé of Haut-Bailly is made via the saignée method: a process that takes the cast-off juice from the red wine maceration and recycles it into a rosé. Haut-Bailly's standard offering usually sells for about $70 a bottle, so they're not just going to let that liquid go to waste.

When the grapes have been pressed, and the Cabernet Sauvignon juice is being macerated with the skins, most chateaux will drain out a bit of the liquid in order to help concentrate the must. The greater the skin contact and the lesser the quantity of juice, the higher the concentration of flavor. That bit of liquid that's bled off during this process might normally be discarded, or maybe used to top off fermentation vats later on during the process, but some producers ferment that free-run must into an entirely different wine. Why waste top-quality grape juice? They take the slightly-pink liquid, ferment it on its own, and create a completely different style of wine from the excess drainage. Some people poo-poo saignée rosé because it's more of an after-thought than a carefully-crafted product (like making croutons from extra bread scraps). They think (and rightfully so) that the best rosé wines need higher acidity levels and should be made from fruit picked accordingly. I get where they're coming from. I certainly wouldn't be interested in a flabby, overly-sweet rosé made from the super-ripe excess of some high-alcohol red wine, but the grapes of the Graves are not of this nature. They result in mineral-driven wines with great acidity and character, which is why one can't just lump all saignée rosés into the same category.

I brought a bottle of the 2014 Rosé de Haut-Bailly home for dinner last night and my wife and I were thoroughly enthralled. It might be a bit full-bodied for delicate fish or your standard snack plate, but for roasted meats it's an absolute dream. We did chicken skewers on the grill with rice and vegetables, and the extra weight from the Cabernet really fleshed out the meal. The finish brings out the deep, dense red wine flavor, but the acidity never falters or falls flabby. As our Aussie buyer Ryan Woodhouse told me, "A lot of saignée rosé producers have to artificially acidify their wines because they're making red wine first, and using the leftovers for the rosé. That means they're trying to make crisp, refreshing wine with the same fruit they're using to create rich, robust wine." As I mentioned before, however, I wouldn't put the wines of Haut-Bailly (or the Graves in general) into that category. Grapes grown on gravel soils generally have higher Ph levels as is. If they're adding tartaric acid to the 2014 rosé it certainly went unnoticed by me. 

For those of you who don't drink much rosé, let me get this out there for you right now: no, this wine is not sweet. Rosé isn't necessarily just white zinfandel or blush chablis (that was a favorite of mine growing up). In fact, most rosé wines are light and surprisingly dry. There's a stigma against rosé because many people believe it to be fruity, candied, or full of bubble gum, but that's not the case for about 98% of the rosé wines we carry. Many of the French options currently on our shelf could be mistaken for crisp, clean white wines if tasted blindly. Just because they may look like Kool-Aid doesn't mean they taste like it. Other guys won't drink rosé because it's pink and effeminate, so it often comes down to an issue of manhood and masculine image. But if you think real men don't drink Bordeaux rosé, then you haven't been listening to your Jay-Z lately, have you? 

He's pissing Bordeaux and Burgundy, and flushing out riesling. Riesling, for God's sake! I never thought I'd see the day when mainstream hip-hop would embrace the sweet wines of Germany.

Or maybe you prefer Trey Songz? This is one of my all-time favorite drinking tracks. If I'm going out on the town to get a heat on, this is definitely bumping in my car on the way:


And, of course, our subject de jour is right there in the opening line:

"Pocket full of money, club don't jump til I walk inside the doorway; bottles of that rosé."

There's no stigma against Bordeaux and rosé here. So get yourself a bottle. 

2014 Rosé de Haut-Bailly $14.99

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll