No Bartles & James, but still refreshing

Last week at a tasting, I discovered a wine that really speaks to me. I purchased a few bottles on the spot and returned home anxious to share it with my wife.

I poured her a glass without any editorial commentary. Of Vanessa’s many wonderful qualities, the most entertaining combination is her pure palate and unfailing candor. 

“Hmm, interesting,” she observed dispassionately. “It tastes like a wine cooler.”

My inner wine snob was appalled. I took an aggressive swig, swish and swallow. Before I could set my glass on the kitchen counter and begin my defense, I was magically transported back to a distinct time and place in a way only the sense of smell can do.

It was the summer of 1988, and I was 16 years old, proudly swaying around a beach party, clutching two half-empty four-packs of Bartles & James wine coolers. Yes, that was a happy memory. Refocusing on my empty glass in my kitchen, I acknowledged to my wife that she was onto something.

Those of you older than 35 will remember a time when wine coolers were a respectable alternative to beer and wine. Wine coolers arrived on the market in 1981, before the domestic wine industry (then largely limited to California) came of age and anyone had heard the word microbrew.

Wine coolers were made by mixing poor-quality wine, carbonated soda and fruit juice. They weren’t complex and certainly didn’t make for compelling wine-and-food pairings. They were just an honest, refreshing, clean-tasting buzz. Think Orangina for adults only.

I leave my praise in the past tense because the wine coolers of today are a far cry from their cousins from the 1980s. Once the California wine boom dramatically increased the cost of grapes and wines, producers of wine coolers began to substitute less expensive malt for wine. Through the years these “malternatives” have devolved into hideous flavors like Fuzzy Navel, Body Shot Lime, Strawberry Cosmopolitan and Salty Persimmon. Salty Persimmon?

The producers of Chateau La Moutete Grand Reserve Rosé 2010 ($15) in Cotes de Provence, France, would be horrified to know their beautifully crafted wine inspired my wine-cooler flashback.

It’s made from four Rhone varietals: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre. The color is a unique combination of steel pink, peach and gray. Subtle aromas of watermelon, rosé water and hard pears are all laced with smokiness and transition in to flavors of light red apple, fresh peach and wet stone. The wine is dry and perfectly balanced with no apparent tannins except a bracing, mineral-like finish.

Delicious on its own, this rosé would marry well with fresh fruit and grilled chicken and fish.

Although this wine is particularly stunning, there are many high-quality rosés on the market this summer. I also recommend La Ferme Saint Pierre Rosé 2010 ($14) and Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé 2010 ($19).

What I love about these wines is they are made to be quaffed. They serve to quench, refresh and relax. Celebrate the summer of 2011 and the 30th anniversary of the wine cooler with these lively rosés.

Derek M. LaVallee, director or public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners and certified wine buff, can be reached at