Run for the Rosés: Eight lively Derby Day picks

Saturday, May 7, is the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, the 1 1/4-mile race that tests the speed and stamina of the world’s best 3-year-old thoroughbreds.
This weekend, some wine stores will be holding Run for the Rosés events — a takeoff on the blanket of roses presented to the winning horse.
For the past three weeks, in anticipation of Derby Saturday, I’ve been tasting rosés to the point where friends say I’m turning pink. So be it. I love dry rosé. It complements most foods and serves as a wonderful pre-dinner or party aperitif.
Today, most wine regions craft rosé from indigenous grapes, delivering great variety in style and tastes. The colors are beautiful. Light pink. Orangey pink. Salmon. Watermelon. Luminous ruby.
The method used to make rosé — saignée — limits skin contact with the pressed juice, producing the light coloration and smooth texture. More skin contact increases color and taste profiles.
Derby handicappers like to break down the horses as front-runners (wire-to-wire speed), stalkers (pace horses sitting off the leaders), and closers (back-of-the-pack horses waiting patiently to make one big, explosive run.) In a similar vein — and for fun — I’ve broken down my field of eight rosés — all of which I proclaim winners in their own right.

The front-runners
(Nice impressions right out of the bottle)

• 2015 Il Rosé di Casanova La Spinetta Toscana Rosato, $15.99 — Sangiovese, the noble grape of Tuscany, takes a bow in this 50-50 blend with Prugnolo Gentile. Distinct pale salmon color. Citrus nose. Cherry-strawberry tart awakens the tongue on first sip and stays alive with crisp, citrusy acidity to the end. Dry. Sophisticated.
• 2015 Domaine Houchart Cote de Provence Rosé, $10.99 — It’s salmon colored and smells of cherry blossoms. Not a bad start for this typical Provencål blend (Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Cinsault/Mourvedre). The fruit is beautiful from a 200-acre estate at the foot of Mont Sainte Victoire. A bit higher in alcohol (13.5 percent) yet not overheated. A sweet-to-dry fruitiness of tangerine and tart cherry is pleasing. Clean minerality gives it nice lift on the finish.
• 2015 Chateau Beaulieu Coteaux D’Aix-en-Provence Rosé, $12.99 — Bright salmon color packaged in a bottle that’s shaped like Kim Kardashian. There’s pizzazz in rose garden aromas interwoven with raspberry, strawberry and blood-orange flavors. Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Cinsault/Mourvedre blend. Clean, crisp, mineral and balanced to near perfection. Try a glass with a raspberry or cherry tart dessert for a flavorful starburst.

The stalkers
(Balanced, persistently delightful)

• 2015 Honoro Vera Rosé Jumilla, $8.99 — It’s got a unique watermelon color and, believe me, there’s a nice melon taste to go with its ripe strawberry and cherry fruit. Tempranillo and Syrah blend delivers subtle dried herbs and spices on the mid-palate. Mellow. Crisp. A nice change of pace.
• M. Chapoutier Bellaruche Cote-du-Rhone Rosé 2015, $8.99 — Orangey pink color. Bright acidity produces a tongue-tingling sensation in this mouth-watering wine. Tart cherry and citrus flavors. Lively and smooth throughout. Ends with a note of pepper on the finish. Quality for a decent price.
• Puetch-Haut Prestige Saint Derezy 2014, Languedoc, $15 — Light pink color, mild white flower fragrance and misty strawberry, mouth-filling flavors. Refreshing. Strawberry rhubarb and dry finish. A CellarTracker reviewer aptly described it as “cotton candy Grenache.” Comes in an elegant frosted bottle.

The closers
(Steady, electrically charged finish)

• 2014 Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste Rosé, Napa Valley, $17.99 — Winemaker Aaron Pott and Blackbird owner Michael Polenske craft low-production, Bordeaux-style premium-plus wines (Blackbird’s basic Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $125 a bottle). In line with their vision comes this Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mixture with beautiful fruit hand-harvested from four top vineyards. These thicker-skinned grapes produce a nectarine-plum color and concentrated red berry expressions. Very appealing texture of dried bitter cherry. Smooth finish.
• 2015 Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé, Austria, $12.99 — Gobelsburg is an estate castle dating back to the 12th century. Cistercien monks made wine here until the 1780s. Zweigelt and St. Laurent grape clusters are harvested and pressed with stems intact, heightening raspberry and cherry expressions with a slight bitterness. A nougat taste surfaces out of nowhere, adding to a dry, intriguing finish. Light pink color. Good energy.
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