It’s Time to Get Serious About Rosé

 


This is the time of the year that you see a slew of rosé wine reviews, as the summer is known as pink wine season. This is underscored by the fact that most wineries release their rosés in the spring no doubt in an effort to latch on to the popular sentiment. For years, I refused to buy into to the “summer means rosé” mindset as I firmly believe that rosés should be consumed all year, not just strictly paired with charcoal-cooked burgers, sundresses, and dining al fresco. Even though dry rosé keeps rising in popularity, relatively few people see it as a serious wine and try and keep it pigeon-holed into its summer-only status. For me, rosé is more than a refreshing heat-beater—just as I don’t stop enjoying white wine when the thermometer starts to plummet, I keep plenty of the pink stuff around in the cooler months, too.
While far too much emphasis has been placed on the effects of White Zinfandel on the public perception of rosé (some claim that the popularity of White Zin has led many to believe that all pink wines are sweet and cheap), many serious wine drinkers still refuse to pay much more than $10 for a bottle of rosé. The fact is, however, that many wineries are now approaching rosé with the same level of seriousness and import that they show with all their wines.
 
There are two main ways to make a rosé, and although similar, they result in a rather key difference.
 
The first is the saignée method, which is a bit of a happy accident. As the name suggests, the process originated in France where makers of red wine would bleed off (saignée means “bled” in French) some of the juice of a newly pressed red wine. Since a red wine gets its color and much of its character from the skins, this process was developed to improve the red wine since the juice that remained would have more concentrated contact with those skins, resulting in more intense flavors in the red wine.
 
Winemakers would discard the juice that they had bled off—either selling it as bulk wine or simply letting in run down the drain. Eventually, however, they realized that they could vinify this saignée, bottle it, and sell it as a rosé (since the juice had taken on a slight coloration from the brief contact with the skins).
 
The second way to produce a rosé is often called the maceration or pressed method (and is perhaps the more traditional approach) where the grapes are grown with the intention of making a rosé. The fruit is picked and crushed and the resulting juice remains in contact with the skins for a short period of time. Since color is derived from this contact with the skins, the longer the contact, the darker the hue. Many of the rosés produced in the South of France use this more “traditional” method in which from the start the grapes are grown destined to become rosé.
 
The difference between the two? For the most part, dedicated rosés tend to have sharper acidity since the fruit has been farmed to make a rosé, while saignée rosés tend to be a little rounder and softer since the fruit was picked at a much higher sugar level. Thus, it comes down to a question of preference: if you are looking for a racy, crisp wine, look for a dedicated rosé, and if you prefer a softer, perhaps fruitier style, reach for a saignée.
 
Here are some rosés that will go a long way to convince you that rosé wines are not just for summer and you should be drinking them year-round. First, a few saignées:
 
2014 Miner Mendocino Rosato of Sangiovese: Retail $20. Saignée of Sangiovese. The Miner shows considerable fruit--strawberry, raspberry, and just a hint of banana. On the palate, the fruit persists, and the acidity comes in. This is a solid effort. Very Good 87-89 Points.
 
2014 Ghost Hill Cellars the Spirit of Pinot Noir Rosé Bayliss-Bower Vineyard: Retail $20. Dark in the glass, a delicate Crimson, almost red wine dark. Watermelon and cherry on the nose and round on the palate. Still great balance and verve with body and fruit. Very Good. 88-90 Points. 
 
2013 Waterstone Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Retail $15. Fairly dark for a rosé. Great fruity nose of watermelon, strawberry, and cantaloupe. On the palate? Juicy and rich but balanced. Tart and vibrant on the finish. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
 
And a few dedicated, or pressed rosés:
 
2014 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé Lodi Mokelumne River: Retail $22. It is impossible to say which variety makes the best rosé—there are so many variables involved that making such a statement would be pure folly. Here is what I do know: many of the better rosés that I have tried were made from Grenache. And this is one of them. Rarely have I had a rosé that combines intense fruit flavor with near impeccable balance as this wine from Sue Tipton. Strawberry, cherry, and a splash of lime, with a flinty mid-palate and a lengthy finish, this is one of the best rosés I have had in a while. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
 
2014 Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé: Retail $25. More floral on the nose than Corallina’s of the past with red rose petals predominate. On the palate, some red berry fruit comes through with a bubblegum note on the finish. Very Good. 88-90 Points. 
 
2014 Gary Farrell RRV Rosé of Pinot Noir: Retail$28. Faint nose of strawberry and just a hint of mint. Tart grapefruit balanced with the strawberry on the palate but restrained. It is rare to see a dedicated Pinot Noir rosé, but if this is what can be done, there should be a whole lot more. Outstanding. 90-92 Points. 
 
2014 Quivira Vineyard Rosé: Retail $22. 62% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 8% Counoise. I have been to Dry Creek many times but never to Quivira. Based on this wine, it needs to be a priority. Strawberry and melon on the nose with some citrus added in on the palate. Good balance with a zingy acidity and a lingering, flinty finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points. 
 
There is technically a third way to make a rosé wine, but it is almost strictly reserved for sparkling wines. A small amount of still red wine is blended in with the pressed white juice before the second fermentation in the bottle. And this is one of my favorites:
 
Mumm Rosé. Retail $24. Mumm is one of the larger sparkling wine producers in the US, but also one of the most consistent. Despite being sold several times, they have retained the same winemaker, Ludovic Dervin, since 2002. A brilliant salmon with fine bubbles and faint strawberry/cherry on the nose. Great acidity and balance with a lingering finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points. 
 
The third way, blending some red wine into a white wine is rarely practiced (with the notable exception of champagne). For a while now, I have wondered why that is: blending is widespread around the wine world, there are even some red wines that have some white wine blended into them (usually to add an aromatic component). I have seen just about every variety blended with others, as long as they were the same color. How's that for discrimination? After some digging, I came away with no real good reason why reds are not blended into whites to make a rosé. Makers of rosé have fought to discourage blending in an apparent attempt to preserve the quality and image of rosés. They claim that if red/white blending were allowed, a ton of inferior rosé would be produced with leftover plonk and this would damage the "brand".
 
Whether it is summer, fall, winter or spring: Happy Rosé Drinking! 

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