I think it was the spring of 2003 when The Chef and I and our friends Harry and Susan were exploring downtown Biarritz one evening, looking for a tapas joint, or in the local jargon a place for "bocas parilles" (little bites). For whatever reason, nothing seemed appealing, and at about 10 pm we gave up and walked into a little brasserie on the Port-Vieux, across the street from the deluxe-looking "Restaurant of the Midnight Swim." (Restaurant de la Baignade de Minuit). We ate piles and piles of tiny moules, and Susan taught us how to use the mussel shell as miniature tongs for extracting morsels. We accompanied this with a bottle of an AOC Irouleguy wine called "Argi of Ansa," the most macho rosé I'd ever tasted. And no wonder--it was 70% tannat, softened with a bit of two cabernets, sauvignon and franc. It smelled of flowers and citrus, and tasted of strawberries, but with the kind of tannic kick usually reserved for a big Madiran.
This episode came to mind as we tasted a rosé of nebbiolo, pressed into our eager hands by Josh on a recent visit to his place. It was made by the Caves Coopératives de Donnas, a co-op in operation since 1971, located in the southeastern corner of the Aosta appellation, just above the border with Piemonte. They produce a mere 12,500 cases a year of reds, whites, and rosés. The town of Donnas was settled by the Romans--it has a stone arch carved out during the First Century--and is known for a climate mild enough to allow the cultivation of lemon trees as well as grapevines. It once had it's own tiny DOC, but has since been absorbed into the larger Valle d'Aosta DOC.
Nebbiolo is famously difficult to grow. It prefers calcerous marl (chalky limestone) to grow in, and because it ripens late, wants a southern exposure. It is also famously tannic, which is what brought the Irouleguy comparison to mind.
2011 Caves de Donnas "Larmes du Paradis" Valle d'Aosta DOC Rosé: On the nose, citrus, strawberry, and a bit of yellow fruit. In the mouth, red fruit, apple, and lots of tannins. If you like your rosé very dry, you'll like this a lot. It's not as aggressive as the Irouleguy, but still a pink wine for manly men. Context, of course, is everything: It seemed quite fruit-forward when served alongside grilled radicchio and endive.
PS: "Larmes du Paradis" translates as "Tears of Paradise," which is a lovely name except that according to various search engines it is also a euphemism for "acid rain." Go figure.