A Difficult Pill

This one’s about a sad occasion for a lovely meal, and the Provençal rosé and Justin Cabernet that made it all OK. I’m not talking about my dad’s accident—he’s recovering, broken back and all—this is something else. I don’t want to give too much away—real people are involved, and bad turns of fate—but I’ll offer the contours, so you can reach into your own memories, and conjure meals with a similar provenance, even a similar outcome.

X and Y are friends of mine, and good people, and my kids love their kids. I did a favor for Y’s brother, only to have it go terribly south. He’s a sweet boy, but it looks like he’s also a drug addict, and he now owes me a lot of money, and he’s been lying about why he’s not repaying it. The dinner happened because I care about X and Y regardless of all this, and we needed time to sit together, along with my wife, and talk it all through and make things right.

The menu was meant to reflect this: I roasted a couple of chickens, made a salad of bitter greens and pears, deep-fried some baby parsnips, and made a garlicky Provençal aioli. The moment X and Y arrived, they dealt head-on with the embarrassment we all faced, and they said everything that needed saying, and then I opened a rosé and had my first experience of feeling how profoundly wines grow up to complement their cuisines: Cutting right through the aioli, as if they’d been made for each other, the rosé turned the meal into a kind of cleansing ceremony.

X, in particular, seemed to notice this, and by the time the chicken was all gone, and the parsnips too—I’d served it all family style—he was giving the greatest compliment a guest can give to the cook: He was using a hunk of bread to wipe the very last drops of that rocket-fuel aioli out of the big stone mortar in which I’d served it, and pouring the last drops of that rosé to wash it down. This made me intensely happy, and utterly completed the process of forgiveness, and even of affirmation in our friendship. We’d had something bad happen between us, and we’d all come through just fine; it brings you closer, that sort of experience.

I hadn’t had time to buy cheeses, but I dug out a few nobs from the fridge, including some past-its-prime Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk and some Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor that had melted at room temperature and then firmed up to a strange shape in the fridge. And I opened a bottle of Justin Vineyards Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and we drank all of that, too, so that dinner’s cleansing ceremony was followed by a quiet time of rich cheese and dark reds, with all the tension behind us.

2006 Domaine Le Galantin Bandol Rosé
Grapes: 50 percent Cinsault, 25 percent Mourvèdre, 25 percent Grenache
Wood: None, rosé is a quick-release wine, and this one just gets pressed into stainless steel tanks, fermented, and bottled
Alcohol: 12 percent
Other Nice Information: 10 percent of the wine is saignée, or “bled,” which I understand to mean that it is juice drained off crushed grapes that are on their way to making red wine. Bleeding juice early off red-wine grapes is indeed the traditional way to make a rosé (as opposed to just adding a little red to some white). But I believe that it can connote another practice as well: A winemaker will sometimes decide that his red-wine grapes are carrying too much juice and he’ll bleed some off to allow the remaining stuff to create a stronger concentration of the tannins and flavors that come from the grape skins. The winemaker will then be left with this bled-off juice, which is of course going to be pinkish, from its short association with the skins. So why not turn it into a rosé? Randle Johnson, a winemaker at the Hess Collection and the man behind Hess’s Artezin wines, tells me that much of the rosé suddenly being made in California comes into being that way: as a means of profiting from bled-off juice produced in the attempt to concentrate the juice of red-wine grapes that were overcropped.
Price: I bought this for $16.99 at K&L
My Tasting Notes: This wine had a fresh berry and slightly vegetal quality, and I thought it had a great brightness of flavor, all about young berry and watermelon and just enough structure. I was pretty seriously knocked out, and I’m going to buy a few more bottles to keep around. Honestly. (My understanding, incidentally, is that Bandol rosé can be kept longer than many rosés.)

2005 Justin Vineyards & Winery Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon
Wood: 18 months American oak, 26 percent of the barrels new and the rest used (meaning we’ll expect some notable wood flavors, right?)
Alcohol: 14.5 percent (a lot)
Some Other Winemaking Facts: The wine is racked every three months, which I’m told is a standard Bordeaux practice to aerate the wine a little (but not too much) and help soften the tannins; it is neither filtered nor fined, which Marco DiGiulio suggested is a sign of a certain seriousness and faith in your good fruit.
Price: $17.98 from Wine Library
My Tasting Notes: This wine was so thoroughly consumed at the tail end of a night of drinking that I can say only that I enjoyed it enormously. For what it’s worth, here are the tasting notes from the winery: “Our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is jet black with a light red rim. Aromas of black cherry, plum and an assortment of spice, vanilla and toasty oak are prevalent on the nose. A soft, fruit forward entry evolves into a lush, opulent mouth feel filled with black fruit, earth and spicy characters. Hints of caramel and cedar combine with a soft, velvet texture on the finish.”