During the nail-biting tension of the Toronto Raptors' collapse to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Eastern Conference finals last month, one quirky scene stood out for me. I was watching ESPN's Game 6 feed when the camera briefly cut to Jamie Foxx during a break in play. The Oscar-winning actor was sitting in a private box at the Air Canada Centre doing more or less what I was doing on my couch at home, staring anxiously while keeping his cool behind what appeared to be a glass of rosé wine.More precisely, I concluded that it was pink bubbly (the Champagne flute was a strong clue) and therefore almost certainly pricier than the Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs I was enjoying. If the man who played the tough-guy lead in Django Unchained can chillax with a glass of rosé at a basketball game, you know it's officially cool to drink pink.
Rosé wine consumption continues to show strength after a decade-long boom. Volume sales in Canada almost doubled between 2005 and 2015, from just over 1 million 9-litre cases to 1.87 million, according to the Association of Canadian Distillers, which compiles data on wine and spirits. Last year saw a 6-per-cent gain over 2014, led strongly by imports, which account for about three quarters of the total.
The go-to hue for people seeking lip-smacking refreshment, particularly in spring and summer, rosé offers cheerful flavours that can be reminiscent of tart berries, watermelon, stone fruit and citrus. The most compelling, to my taste, are dry (like all the selections below) and come with added touches of fresh herbs and mineral-like verve. Subtle tannins from brief contact with red-grape skins can also impart a moderately astringent backbone that can satisfy some red-wine die-hards who tend to recoil at the thought of white.
"Everybody is starting to drink rosé," said Sara Corbeil, the general manager at Winebar Kensington in Calgary. "It's a red wine drinker's summer wine." Corbeil carries about 10 selections on her well-chosen list, including the excellent and delicate Whispering Angel, a grenache-vermentino-cinsault blend from esteemed Caves d'Esclans in Provence, the world's dry-rosé capital. "I'm a big fan of rosé," she said. "I'd actually fill a whole wine list with rosé if I could."
Many other sommeliers I've spoken to feel the same way. Bryant Mao, the wine director at Vancouver's upscale Hawksworth Restaurant, enthuses about rosé's versatility at the table. "You have a little bit more richness in texture than the usual white," he said. That tends to be especially true of examples made from sturdier red grapes, such as Lock & Worth Cabernet Franc Rosé from British Columbia, which Mao offers by the glass. "People should drink more rosé," he said.
I suspect Jamie Foxx needs no convincing.
Château des Bertrands Rosé
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $24.95
Marvellous colour – a pale blush that could almost pass for white wine. This is an exemplary dry rosé from the Côtes de Provence, light-bodied and silky, with subtle strawberry, floral and peach notes and well-integrated, elegant acidity. Available in Ontario.
Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé 2015 (Niagara)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Medium salmon pink with orange highlights. Certified organic, it's substantial and flavourful, with rounded texture and tart cherry-cranberry fruit infused with herbs, culminating with impressive acid tension. Available direct through www.southbrook.com, and in small quantities in late June at LCBO Vintages stores.
Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs
2015 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $24.90
Pale strawberry pink, it has a curious name, literally meaning "white from blacks," though white is a relative term here. It's pink, to be sure, just not red like the two grapes it's made from, malbec and syrah, whose skins impart the colour after only brief contact with the juice (the way most rosés are made). Medium-bodied and punchy with strawberry-cherry fruit and a hint a peach, it's tangy, vibrant and oh-so-easy to drink. Available direct through www.poplargrove.ca.
Quails' Gate Rosé
2015 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.49
Light pink in colour, Quails' Gate's 2015 is mostly gamay with 10-per-cent each pinot noir and pinot gris. Light-medium-bodied and suggestively sweet at its core, with notes of strawberry jam and cranberry, it shows well-tuned, vibrant acidity. Available in B.C. liquor stores and direct from the winery through www.quailsgate.com.
Château Val Joanis Tradition Rosé 2015 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
This brand is consistently good from year to year. The 2015 is so light in colour it could almost be safely consumed while wearing a white dress or shirt (assuming you're clumsy like me). Light in body, it comes across with classic southern French subtlety, hinting at strawberry, red apple and mineral, gracefully moving to a mouthwatering finish. Available in Ontario.
Conde Valdemar Rosé
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $13.95
You may know Rioja for its storied reds. Here's a rosé based on garnacha (a.k.a. grenache) and the white grape viura. It's medium-bodied and impressively balanced, with prominent strawberry and floral characters. Structured and harmonious. Available in Ontario.
Gran Feudo Rosado 2015 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $11.95
Value seekers know this brand well – or should get to know it. It's consistent and impressive. The 2015, made from garnacha, delivers a satisfyingly chalky grip for structure, dishing up flavours of strawberry and watermelon in a well-balanced package. Available in Ontario.
JP Azeitão Rosé Syrah (Portugal)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $8.55
Pale in colour, this non-vintage-dated Portuguese blend of mainly syrah with local muscatel roxo shows soft texture and carries flavours redolent of strawberry, green apple and sour cherry, lifted by tangy acidity. A big bargain. Available in Ontario.
Casal de Ventozela Vinho Verde Espadeiro Rosé 2015 (Portugal)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $13.95
There is the faintest hint of froth as you pour, in keeping with many white wines from the Vinho Verde region, though it's barely discernible on the palate. Tart berries and citrus flavours along with just 11.5-per-cent alcohol make this a fine choice for fun in the sun. Available in Ontario.