In the Pink
Choosing an ideal summer wine for cheese lovers makes me think about Mr. Caputo, who sells the best mozzarella in New York City, if not the entire country. That’s a grand brag, I admit, but it’s true. Mr. Caputo, a little man of few words, refuses to let his hand-pulled mozzarella ever feel the chill of a refrigerator. And, since the health department doesn’t approve of this, he simply makes it about every hour and a half (at Caputo’s Fine Foods, 460 Court St., Brooklyn). Within minutes, each newly formed ball, held in milky water, fills the shape of the container, begging to be let out of its plastic prison. Whisk it home, slice, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, and all you need to complete this fabulous meal is a tomato, crusty bread, and a bottle of wine.
And therein lies the problem. What goes with such a simple milky-sweet, lactic cheese? Most whites tend to be fine—neither remarkable nor bad, just nonproblematic. Reds are more challenging, putting up gritty tannins against the soft curd, and overwhelming the delicate dairy flavor with red fruit flavor.
Which is why I’ve decided, after extensive informal testing, that rosé is the way to go for fresh, milky cheese like this. Most rosé is made by soaking the pulp of red wine grapes with their skins just long enough for the wine to take on some color; it also takes on some red fruit flavor without the tannic roughness. The best rosés for mozzarella are dry as a stone. But beyond dryness, nearly anything goes.
Strangely, given the origin of mozzarella, I’ve had the least luck with Italian rosatos, save for a random Cerasuolo (Nicodemi) or rare, earthy Nebbiolo (Cantalupo); pink wine just doesn’t seem to run in Italian blood. The best pairings generally happen over French rosés, particularly those from the south, where the sun and the smell of the herb-covered hillsides tend to infiltrate the bottles.
To choose the best from the huge number of Provençal rosés, search out bottles from small appellations within Provence, such as Les Baux de Provence, where Mas de Gourgonnier turns out a richly colored, cherry-intense version from its organic vineyards. Or go straight to Bandol, Provence’s most prized appellation, where reliance on the meaty, animale flavors of the local Mourvèdre grape give extra backbone and elegance to wines like Domaine de l’Hermitage l’Oratoire or Domaines Ott Cuvée Marine.
You’ll note that these wines don’t tend to list any grape names on their labels; most are blends, largely relying on local grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvèdre. Follow these grapes around the world, and you’ll find plenty of similar rosés, from blends such as Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare (vin gris is a French term for a pale rosé) in California to single-variety rosés like S.C. Pannell’s juicy Grenache Rosé from the sunny climes of Australia’s McLaren Vale.
But it also pays to stray from the Provençal mode. Big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon makes up a surprisingly large chunk of Bieler Père et Fils delicate Cuvée Sabine from the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, adding color and oomph (although not enough to send the mozzarella flavors fleeing).
Even the Greeks have gotten in on the game, producing lushly fruited almost-reds from Agiorgitiko in the Peloponnese to rose-scented pinks from Xinomavro in Amyndeon far to the north. And Greek rosés (and all rosés, for that matter) have another major strength: they are some of the few wines that can deal with feta, having just the right amount of red fruit flavor without any of the tannin that salty cheese exaggerates.
So find a good source of fresh mozzarella, stock the fridge with feta, and put in a store of rosé—you’ll be set with staples for a stove-free summer of great meals.
Written by Tara Q. Thomas
Photographed by Greg Nesbit