In my freshman year in college, I lived on a hallway with a group of women my roommate and called "The Blenders." The nickname was born of the fact that after victories big and small, these gals liked to celebrate by making blended drinks. "Weee're bleennndinggggg!!!!!!" went the siren call signifying that the celebratory ritual was about to begin. Sure, we felt superior, as we hid in our tiny room reading Beat poetry. But there was certainly no shortage of things to mock about me and my cadre of nonblenders — choking our way through clove cigarettes and our belief that Malibu rum straight from the bottle was somehow more sophisticated than an 80-proof piña colada come to mind.
I was reminded of my juvenile disdain for the blenders in recent weeks, when the European Union submitted a proposal allowing wine producers to blend red and white wines together (a process that's currently banned in Europe, with a few exceptions) and call the resulting wine rosé. The wine now bearing the name rosé in Europe is usually made through a maceration process involving curtailed contact between the crushed skins of red grapes and their juice — limiting the depth of color achieved and the alcohol content. As word of the new labeling proposal spread, you could almost hear the Brits raise their Spice-Girlishly innocent cry of "Weee're bleennndinggggg!!!!!!" France's grumbling response was far more audible, and an EU vote on the measure in June will reveal whether the French government's efforts to block the proposal have been successful. It's all just so ... American, they're probably be thinking — because here the blending of reds and whites to make what we call rosé is commonplace. But let's admit it: The East Bay is not America, and winemakers here tend to fall in line with the French far more than they do with mass-market practices.
Take Berkeley's A Donkey and Goat Winery and its 2008 Isabel's Cuvée Grenache Rosé ($16), which is made through a labor-intensive maceration process from Grenache Gris grapes grown in Mendocino County's McDowell Valley. This crisp, dry, salmon-colored wine has a strong strawberry bouquet, with more berry on the palate along with some citrus and melon. As with last year's vintage, Token Winemaker noted something "animal" in the aroma, along with a little prickly pear. He complained about the heat, and at 14 percent alcohol the Isabel's Cuvée is a bit more alcoholic than most rosés. But to me that just established it more firmly as a cocktail wine. Definitely celebration-worthy, and nary a blender in sight.
If you're aiming for a lower price point, try Abel Clement's Côtes du Rhône Rosé ($8.99) — a dry pink that's earning as many raves as the impressive red-and-white blends made by a French cooperative whose wines have never failed us.
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