Island spirits: If it’s May, let us rosé

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The Reporter’s wine columnist prepares us for warn summer days with rosé.

Just saying the word “rosé” brings a smile to the lips, for it embodies the essence of summertime. These light, fruity but dry wines call to mind fresh, cool meals on a porch or picnic blanket. Although the wine is traditionally imported from the Provence section of France, the East End has come to the fore in producing delicious rosés.

Their popularity began to rise a few years ago, with Wolffer Vineyards dominating the market and selling out each summer. Not to worry, for other vineyards were turning out wines that jostled for popularity among consumers. Rosés like Lieb’s Bridge Lane, Bedell’s Rosé and Macari’s, which is made from a blend of Malbec and Merlot, have subtle differences in flavor and dryness.

Part of the fun on summer evenings is for people to bring different rosés to sample and compare. I can’t honestly say I’ve tasted one that I haven’t liked. But I can also honestly say that I’ve not found one that compares to the rosés from Croteaux.

This North Fork winery is completely dedicated to the production of rosés. Owner Michael Croteau believes the East End has the ideal conditions for making rosé. “We could be like Provence,” he said recently.

He attributes the unique saline quality found in local wines to the fact that the vines are growing just six feet above sea level. “Only six feet below the soil,” he said, “you’ve got sand” drawing in the salt water in the area. He makes his wines with very low amounts of sulfites, the preservatives found in French wines, since they don’t have to withstand the intercontinental shipping conditions. These additives tend to affect people with sensitivities or allergies. Also, he explained, as rosés age and lose some flavor, the sulfur will oxidize and a rusty, burnt finish can come to the fore. 

Mr. Croteau came to the wine business through a side door, as he was designing the labels for many of the North Fork vineyards. Once he committed to having his own winery, he created striking bottles with a vineyard pattern screen-printed on the glass. Using clear glass bottles, he allows the many hues of the wines to shine through, creating a palette of jewel-like tones. One wine had such a lovely color it was named “Jolie” (pretty). Another, named Sauvage (wild) has a lingering finish with a hint of sweetness and tastes good with spicy foods.

The pretty bottles and colors would mean little if the wines weren’t equally impressive, and they exceed expectations. If the rosés are delicious, the sparkling rosés are outstanding. My favorite is the Jolie Sparkle, made from the Cabernet Franc grape. The fragrance of pomegranates and wild berries upon opening the wine, along with its fresh, clean sparkle, makes you feel as though a holiday celebration must be commencing. Its sister, Cuvée Sparkle, is made from the Merlot grape, and has a slightly drier flavor, with hints of honeydew melon and fresh peaches. 

Croteaux wines can be ordered online and are available, along with other East End rosés, at Shelter Island Wines and Spirits. Island restaurants like Isola serve them and you can taste for yourself how they pair with local specialties. 

A few weeks ago, I brought home some Croteaux wines to have a tasting. Entering our kitchen, I found my son Ted, sous chef at SALT, and their Executive Chef, Darren Boyle, rehearsing some of the dishes for the summer menu. To go with fresh, beautifully prepared seafoods like crab and tuna, we opened the Sauvage and a Cuvée Sparkle. With the help of friends and family, the wines and the food disappeared as quickly as you could say “Summer!”

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