Don Rockwell is the host and moderator of Donrockwell.com, an online forum for food lovers in the Washington area.
This area has a wonderful bounty in the summer months—crabs in the bay, cornfields in the plains, family-owned farms and orchards dotting the hillsides, tomatoes in garden plots, and watermelons available almost everywhere. And to wash it all down? Nothing goes better with our summer delights than a good bottle of rose.
But not all roses are equal. Picking the right ones will turn an ordinary cookout into a special occasion. Here are some classic summer specialties, each paired with a rose available at local wine retailers. Enjoy your meal—I’ll be toasting you with a hot dog and a rose of my own.
Chilled watermelon: 2005 Tegernseerhof Rose-Zweigelt (Kremstal, Austria). Watermelon and rose are both succulent fruits of the vine and almost identical in color. This very pale, bone-dry Zweigelt, a grape indigenous to Austria, has the acidity to balance the sugar in the watermelon; a fruitier wine would seem as intrusive as a trombone in a Brandenburg concerto. Adding a sprinkle of Maldon salt to the watermelon will amplify the minerality of the Kremstal soil and make you reach for a second glass. $13.99 at Daily Planet in Alexandria; imported by Select Wines (703-631-8100).
Chilled cucumber salad with yogurt and dill: 2004 Akakies, Ktima Kir-Yianni (Macedonia, Greece). This wine, whose name means “acacias from Sir John’s Estate,” is made from the red-wine grape Xinomavro and comes from the only appellation-controlled rose region in Greece. Vinified like a white wine, this rose is delicate enough to pick up the nuances of summer cucumber but has the body not to be flattened by the challenges of yogurt and dill. $9.99 at MacArthur Beverages in DC; $9.99 at Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington; imported by Sotiris Bafitis Selections (202-483-5436).
Slices of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil: 2005 Domaine Bellevue Touraine. Made with 100-percent Cabernet Franc, this Loire Valley wine is a varietal that some wine lovers bypass because of its green-pepper aromas. Alongside the fresh basil in this classic Caprese salad, these aromas are elevated to full advantage. You’ll be going back and forth between salad and wine, wondering if you’re imagining what you’re smelling: This is the definition of synergy. $8.99 at Whole Foods in Vienna, $8.99 at Rodman’s in DC; imported by Elite Wines (703-339-8150).
Cold fried chicken: 2005 Chateau de Segries Tavel (Provence, France). Because chicken has a different texture cold than it does hot out of the frying pan, this dish presents a challenge. The fatty skin will reject a wine that’s too light, but the relatively mild chicken meat will be dominated by something too powerful. Balance is the order of the day, and this wine delivers. “Useful with food” is not just a catch phrase here—if more wines were this food-friendly, more people would drink wine. $11.99 at Calvert-Woodley in DC; imported by Kysela Pere et Fils (540-722-9228).
Grilled hot dogs with mustard: 2005 Rose de Calon. Hot dogs might seem unlikely companions to a wine from a fabled Bordeaux estate (Chateau Calon Segur), so just call them saucisses en croute a la moutarde and enjoy the fireworks on your palate. This Bordeaux rose is a separate Appellation Controlee in France, but the juice in this wine was bled off the vats of the Grand Vin itself and heralds from the commune of Saint-Estephe. $14.99 at Calvert-Woodley (202-966-4400).
Grilled hamburgers with ketchup: 2005 1+1=3 Cabernet Sauvignon (Penedes, Spain). If you like a Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak, just wait till you try this rose with a hamburger. Red-hot importer Aurelio Cabestrero, who used to be sommelier at Marcel’s and Taberna del Alabardero, brings in this wine made from grapes hand-harvested from 25-year-old vines. $15.99 at Arrowine in Arlington, $15.99 at Silesia Liquors; imported by Grapes of Spain (571-642 0343).
Peach cobbler: 2004 Domaine Tempier (Bandol, France). If Muhammad Ali were a rose, he’d be the Domaine de Tempier. Fermented until dry and weighing in at 14-percent alcohol, this wine is agile, lithe, and a perfect match for this classic summer dessert. Strong enough to withstand the buttery cobbler, this rose is taken to another level by the sugars in the peaches—an excellent example of how sweet food is often best enhanced by dry wine and vice versa. $29.99 at the Vineyard in McLean; imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant (510-524-1524).
Steamed crabs with Old Bay seasoning: 2005 Domaine Aubert la Chapelle Coteaux du Loir. The most interesting rose I’ve had in months seems on the surface to be an odd choice with this beloved regional specialty. Try the wine on its own and you’ll discover honey and black pepper in the nose. These two scents highlight and complement the sweetness of the crab and the spiciness of the seasoning. A magical combination that must be tried to be believed. $13.99 at Arrowine, Rick’s Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, and Ace Beverage in DC; imported by Potomac Selections (301-583-8844).
If you decide to pile the whole picnic onto a single plate, any of these wines will work just fine, as will most Rieslings, Gruner Veltliners, Beaujolais Villages, Pinot Noirs, beer, and soft drinks. But after that last bite of cobbler, you’ll need something refreshing, and the Veuve Fourny & Fils Premier Cru Rose Champagne (Vertus, France) fits the bill. Nothing is more restorative after a multihour feast than a flute of not-too-serious Champagne, and the Veuve Fourny Rose not only has the fizz to cut through all those calories but also 40-percent Pinot Noir and a touch of oak making it full-bodied enough to work as a digestif. $39.99 at the Vineyard; imported by Simon ‘N’ Cellars (434-997-4476).