The Italians have pinzimonio, raw vegetables — baby artichokes, peppers, fennel, radishes — to dip in peppery extra-virgin olive oil with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. But the French go one better with summer's aioli. That's the name for both the garlicky, egg-rich mayonnaise and an entire feast — le grand aioli — of raw and cooked vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and cod or other seafood dipped in that glorious deep gold mayonnaise. The way the French do it, the aioli is slightly runny, the egg yolks and crushed garlic barely held together with the olive oil. Russ Parsons knows exactly how to make a proper one.
On a summer night, everything is served at room temperature, savored slowly over a couple of hours, and, of course, washed down with plenty of rosé. Ideally, it should be French. Rosé and aioli is just one of those pairings that makes perfect sense, so much so that it's hard to even consider serving a white or a rouge. Rosés from the South of France are dry and aromatic, with the structure and fruit to stand up to the garlic, cutting through the egg yolk and olive oil-based sauce to clear the palate for the next heady bite.
It wasn't that long ago that drinking rosé was something of a secret pleasure, a rebellion against the wine world's stuffy tastemakers. But now wander into any wine shop and the rosés will be front and center — and not just a handful, but dozens. Prices range from under $10 to over $40 for Domaine Tempier's Bandol rosé — a favorite of Alice Waters and a regular on Chez Panisse's wine list for 44 years now.
When planning an aioli feast, don't stop at one rosé: Lay in several, the better to taste and compare. The 2014 crop of French rosés is just coming into wine shops now, so now is the time to pick up a summer's supply before your favorites are gone from the shelves. Here are a few French rosés that are terrific with the first aioli of the season:
2014 Château Puech-Haut "Cuvée Prestige" Côteaux de Languedoc Rosé (Languedoc-Roussillon, France)
Palest pink, this Côteaux de Languedoc rosé is crisp and zingy, tasting of plums and stone fruit, refreshing on a summer afternoon. A blend of 70% Grenache with 30% Cinsault, Château Puech-Haut's "Cuvée Prestige," tastes much more expensive than it is. With a perfume of white peaches and wild strawberries, it's gorgeous just on its own, as an apéritif, but save a bottle for the aioli too.
K&L in Hollywood, Wine Exchange in Santa Ana and Woodland Hills Wine Co. in Woodland Hills. About $20.
2014 Château de Pampelonne Côtes de Provence Rosé (Provence, France)
A light salmon pink, the 2014 Côtes de Provence rosé is dry and subtly fruity. The cépage blends Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah and a touch of Tibouren, an ancient Greek varietal that's used for its perfume. With its bright, clean finish and supple structure, Château de Pampelonne's full-bodied rosé is more serious than a Saturday afternoon rosé. It pairs beautifully with food — grilled salmon or roast chicken, and, of course, the whole spectrum of flavors in a grand aioli.
Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, Manhattan Fine Wines in Manhattan Beach, the Wine Club and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana, the Wine House in Los Angeles and Woodland Hills Wine Co. in Woodland Hills. From $17 to $19.
2014 Domaine de la Modorée Tavel "La Dame Rousse" (Rhone Valley, France)
Domaine de la Modorée is giving Tavel back its good name with this gorgeous, nuanced rosé. A blend of 60% Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah Clairette — and Bourboulenc, "La Dame Rousse" is every bit as good as the domaine's more expensive cuvée, "La Reine des Bois." Dry and full bodied, with aromas of cherries and heirloom roses, the 2014 "La Dame Rousse" is a class act, much more than a simple rosé for everyday drinking. With its long finish and excellent balance, this rosé easily holds its own against the aioli.
D-Cantor Enterprises in Sherman Oaks, John & Pete's in West Hollywood, some Total Wine & More locations and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. About $27.