Saturday Night Wine: 2009 Croteaux Merlot 3 Rosé

Saturday Night Wine: 2009 Croteaux Merlot 3 Rosé

This wine and I got off to a rocky start. It came in a goodie bag I got at a Long Island wine tasting a few months ago. This was back when my foot was broken and I was sporting a boot and cane, so any additional item I had to carry — no matter how appealing and generously offered — was a hindrance. It was a blustery night, when drinking rosé was the last thing on my mind, and after I hobbled home, I shoved the bottle into my wine rack and promptly forgot about it.

Until last night. It was a warm and humid, Paul was firing up the grill, and rosé seemed like the perfect choice. It was just what I was in the mood for, something clean, crisp, fruity, and not too complicated. I opened the bottle, poured out a heathy dose of the salmony-pink wine, and stuck my nose in the glass. What I smelled was anything but clean and crisp. There was a little vanilla, a hint of brown sugar, something vegetal, and, if I really searched for it, a layer of ripe red fruit underneath. What, exactly, was going on here?

In a word: oak. Turns out this wine is barrel-fermented and aged for five months in French oak. This adds some heft and richness to the wine, not characteristics normally associated with rosé. It’s a pretty unusual approach, although not entirely unheard of. (López de Heredia, an ultra-traditional producer in Rioja, ages its Viña Tondonia rosado in barrels for four and a half years, for example.)

Located in Southold, on the North Fork of Long Island, Croteaux Vineyards specializes in rosés, offering a number of still and sparkling variations on the theme of pink. In yet another unusual move, they name several of their wines after the variety of clone they’re made from–hence “Merlot 3.” (Clones are basically different “types” of the same grape. Producers choose what kind of clone, or clones, to use depending on a number of factors, including growing conditions and the characteristics they’re looking for in the wine.)

In my heart of hearts, I prefer the crisp, dry and fruity style to this oak-inflected one, but there’s lots to admire here. The toasty notes would make it a happy partner for smoked chicken or pork chops, and $18 is a decent price for a wine with this much personality. I’d be curious to see what happens to this wine with a little age on it. Rosés are usually meant to be drunk young, but the oak treatment here could provide some staying power. Mostly, I like this wine for what it represents: namely, that rosés aren’t monolithic, and there’s tremendous versatility and variety in this category.

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