High noon. A cold winter’s day. I swing open the door and enter the vintage, New York-style saloon of Allen’s on the Danforth in Toronto. We survey the well-worn, solid-wood booths and pressed-tin ceiling, and sidle up to the classic oak bar. I roll up my sleeves. We order thick bone-in ribeye steaks with a side of crunchy ancho chili onion rings. “What’ll it be?” Asks the bartender. I study the vast Canadian whisky, beer and all-VQA wine lists. It’s time to wake up and smell the rosés.
“I have a hard time not pairing rosé with a meal, because it’s the easiest,” enthuses renowned Niagara producer, Charles Baker. What about pairing the steaks with a Cab Sauv or Shiraz? “You want to avoid high alcohol and high spice.” He tells me. “Those two combat each other. The high alcohol emphasizes the heat. Think about all the light reds that Italians drink with pasta with red sauces. It’s because the acids of tomatoes are very prominent. The acids in rosé are very prominent, so it softens out.” The high acidity and vibrant strawberry and cranberry notes of the Stratus Rosé perfectly complement the robustness of this juicy local Canada beef.
Rosé has become a rule-breaker, a game-changer. It’s the go-to summer patio wine because it’s so refreshing, but there’s also that celebratory image, along with its versatility, which enlivens off-season festivities like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s and Easter. Rosé is the richest of white wines, the lightest of red wines; and has the simplest and freshest expressions. “If you close your eyes, I bet you you’ll smell the white wine notes and the red wine notes in there,” says Baker. “What works here with spicy onion rings and steaks is that there’s nothing complicated about it. It’s just delicious. You’ve got red meat on the plate; you have richness from the onions. It’s a pretty easy target, right? Plus the acid just keeps it vibrant.”
Rosé is the prettiest of wines and fast becoming the most attractive. Niagara wineries offer a delicious range of styles from which to choose. Malivoire’s Lady Bug is the number one selling rosé at the LCBO. Its jewel tone of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir flourishes with zippy ripe berries. Foreign Affair Winery’s Amarosé is the only appasimento style rosé. This unique blend of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay has crabapple colour, a wild strawberry nose and a balanced palate of ripe berries and citrus for a lingering finish. Stratus Vineyard’s Wildass Rosé is an assemblage of Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling with notes of summer berries and a refreshing citric spray of grapefruit that pairs well with barbeque ribs. Ravine Vineyard has dedicated an entire Cab Franc vineyard exclusively to their Cabernet Rosé. Harvested late for optimal ripeness, it has an Autumn Blaze Maple colour and pronounced notes of strawberry rhubarb. I’ve enjoyed this with a full board of charcuterie. Another delicious and unique rosé is from Cave Springs. Blended Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay coalesce into an elegant and lively juice of plump summer strawberries that pair beautifully with grilled salmon and even pizza.
Rosé is such a food friendly wine. Michelle Bosc of Château des Charmes advised me that for pairing with a meal, “When in doubt, go for rosé.” Her Rosé Cuvée D’Andrée is 100 per cent Pinot Noir, vibrant, crisp and bursting with strawberries and cranberries. It has the weight to pair with lamb burgers with a hint of mint aioli and the acidity to pair with a salad with raspberry vinaigrette. For Marco Piccoli, winemaker at Jackson Triggs, growing up outside Veneto, Italy, rosé was always part of the meal. His candy-pink rosé is fresh and youthful, with an effervescent character. An elegantly structured blend of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay provide strong aromatics of sweet fruits with a soft acidity. This is simply a fun wine.
At Inniskillin Wines there is always the aim of educating how best to enjoy your wine with food. The Inniskillin Rosé is casual, light and friendly with notes of watermelon wrapped in candied cranberries. It pairs beautifully with fruit salad; watermelon and feta with a rosé, honey and lime vinaigrette; roast turkey with cranberries; and any grilled meat or vegetable with a bit of char or smoke.
Rosé is a quite rebel, challenging conventions. It doesn’t fit into a box. It’s about complementary aromatics. “Don’t be colour blind,” Baker asserts. “Why wouldn’t you want a glass of refreshing wine?”
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.