American Rosé? | In Defense of Drinking our Pink
A recent article published by The Telegraph caught my attention when they bashed California rosé, swiftly and unapologetically admonishing the entire category in one fell swoop. The article advises readers to “steer clear of over-confected Californians”, while recommending examples from nearly every other prominent wine-producing region throughout the world, including France, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Italy to name a handful.
Some might argue that California deserves this reputation, and I’ll concede that there is a valid point to be made there. When winemakers figured out that they could bottle, ferment and sell the juice that they were bleeding from their fermentation tanks (to concentrate their red wines) and sell it as rosé (as opposed to discarding it), this process of rosé production (called the saignée method) quickly became popular because it provided a quick infusion of capital for cash-strapped wineries.
But the problem is that the grapes are being harvested at red wine ripeness and sugar levels, sometimes resulting in the sugary, high-alcohol pink wines that have turned off consumers, and those who believe that saignée rosé is not just a byproduct of red wine production, but that it isn’t even real rosé.
Rosé Becomes Much More Than A Money-Making Afterthought
But winemakers have recently gotten serious about their rosé production. Whether they still make it to concentrate their red wines or better yet, because they are intentionally making rosé, choosing thinner-skinned varieties and harvesting those grapes at lower brix (a measure of sugar levels) to retain acidity, preserve bright fruit character and to reduce alcohol levels, all essential elements in creating a great bottle of rosé.
So while I agree that there is undeniably plenty of rosé being produced in California that might warrant such a dejected description, I disagree with wholeheartedly with how dismissive the author is of the entire category. That’s akin to saying that all California Cabernet is overripe and confected, a stance I know that’s gained traction amongst more than a few old-world wine enthusiasts.
But that perspective is nothing but short-sighted misrepresentation of one of the most diverse wine-growing regions in the world, that manages to discount the efforts of so many artisan producers toiling away year after year to create a truly handcrafted expression of their unique site. But I could go on and on about this, and since we’re, talking rosé, let’s keep things light.
I had originally planned on conducting a more exhaustive evaluation of rosé in general, with the goal of offering readers recommendations on wines to enjoy this rosé season, whether they be from France or Spain or the United States of America. But in light of this recent article, I have decided to highlight a few American-made rosé wines (not just California) that are not overly-confected and I feel are deserving of your attention.
There’s something for everyone here, from lean and Provençal-like, to robust and intensely fruity without becoming a sugary mess. Personally, I much prefer the former, but I know that the lure of seductive California fruit is immensely appealing to so many wine lovers, hence the broad range here.
Wines are listed in order from lightest to fullest in body, and I implore you to remember that light in body does not mean short on interest! This was a fun post, and next Spring I look forward to sharing more great rosé’s with you, whether they be from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, or even the good OL’ USA.
Young Inglewood Vin Clair Rosé Napa Valley 2016: A blend of 76% Malbec and 24% Merlot grown on the Young Inglewood Vineyard in the heart of St. Helena. The grapes were harvested early (August 11) to preserve freshness and acidity, and to capture fruit that is ripe but not ready for red wine according to vintner Jim Young. The fruit was then whole cluster pressed, then aged on the lees for 6 months in stainless steel before racking and bottling. Pours a very pale peach color in the glass. Aromas of peach and nectarine are subtle and restrained, with perfumed white florals provide generous lift. In the mouth, this light to medium-bodied rosé is impressive for its near weightless texture, with the stone fruit aromas giving way to delicate flavors of tart cherry, rose water and lime peel. The acids are lively, providing just enough verve to keep things fresh and energetic. Vintner Jim Young loves dry, Provençal rosé, so Jackie and Scott Young (the mother and son winemaking team behind Young Inglewood) created Vin Clair, and in doing so have succeeded in fashioning a truly Provençal-style rosé. Subtle yet complex, this refreshing effort is not only dangerously quaffable, but also radiates a certain understated elegance that’s sure to leave an impression.
Score: 93 | Price: $36 | ABV: 12.4% | Click Here To Purchase
Illahe Tempranillo Rosé Willamette Valley Oregon 2016: A keen focus on sustainability guides the approach to winemaking at Illahe, located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. According to the winery, “At Illahe, our goal is to make wine as naturally as possible from the soil to the bottle. This requires working by hand on small lots with age-old techniques and materials.” And if you think that’s just lip service, consider not only does Illahe handpick and wood basket press their grapes, but they are also one of the few horse-powered vineyards in Oregon. Amazingly, some lots are actually finished without any electrical use or mechanization whatsoever. The 2016 rosé of Tempranillo is 100% whole cluster pressed Tempranillo grown in marine sedimentary clay soils (with 60% coming from Illahe Vineyards). It sees 45% barrel fermentation and 55% in stainless steel tanks. Pours a wonderfully pale shade of peach. Aromas of citrus blossom and meyer lemon mingle with nectarine and tart currants. In the mouth, it’s refreshingly light in body with a juicy core of tangy, restrained fruit. Slightly herbaceous with lovely purity and plenty of zesty acidity, it finishes clean and bone dry, with lingering herbal undertones and subtle spices. Sadly, all 500 cases of this stunning value are already spoken for. I recommend keeping a watchful eye for the 2017 release!
Score: 91 | Price: $17 | ABV: $12% | Click Here To Purchase
Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hilla 2016: 100% Pinot Noir sourced from two of Sanford’s estate vineyards (La Riconada & Sanford & Benedict) in the heart of California’s Sta. Rita Hilla AVA. The fruit was gently whole cluster pressed and then cold fermented in stainless steel before seeing four months of aging in a combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak. Pours a vibrant shade of light pink. The nose reveals perfumed aromas of strawberry, blood orange and fresh flowers. In the mouth, this light to medium-bodied rosé is crisp, clean and inviting with vibrant acids bringing the core of pretty fruit flavors to life. An underlying steely minerality add to the refreshing appeal of this fine rosé. Finishes nice and dry with solid persistence. The historic Sanford & Benedict vineyard contains Santa Barbara County’s oldest Pinot Noir vines.
Score: 90 | Price: $23 | ABV: 13% | Click Here To Purchase
Kobler Estate Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2016: 100% Russian River Pinot Noir, whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Pours a beautiful shade of peach with flecks of salmon. Fragrant aromas of cherry blossom, white peach and strawberry are underscored by subtle orange zest and pink grapefruit nuances. Medium in body, this lovely rosé offers a delicate, crisp flavor profile that’s equally generous in texture. Rather elegant and complex, it finishes with solid length and hints of lingering white pepper. Kobler Estate Winery is one of Sonoma’s hidden gems, a boutique family-owned operation producing noteworthy Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from cool-climate vineyard sites throughout Sonoma. Their newly renovated tasting room off of Healdsburg’s bustling square affords a more intimate experience with Mike Kobler away from the crowded competition.
Score: 91 | Price: $28 | ABV: 13.7% | Click Here To Purchase
Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley 2016: Produced from 55% Grenache and 45% Counoise grown in the Hayes Vineyard on Murrieta’s Livermore Valley estate. Grapes were hand picked early in the morning and then whole-cluster pressed. Each variety was cold-fermented and then aged for two months in stainless steel tanks. Pours a vibrant peach color. The nose is floral and fragrant displaying strawberry and watermelon aromas laced with cherry blossom, red grapefruit and white pepper. In the mouth there’s a fine balance between depth of delicate yet vivid fruit flavor and crisp, moderating acidity. Finely textured, it finishes dry with hints of subtle spice and a pleasant lingering herbaceousness. Winemaker Robbie Meyer loves the spice from the Grenache combined with the acidity from the Counoise, a blending variety in the Rhone Valley. 1450 cases produced.
Score: 90 | Price: $30 | ABV: 14.1% | Click Here To Purchase
Laurel Glen Rosella Sonoma Mountain Rosé 2016: From the winery: “German settlers planted the first grapevines on Sonoma Mountain at Laurel Glen Vineyard in the 1880’s. A single row of the original planting survives today, gnarly old vines twisting their way up out of the red volcanic rock soil. Starting with vintage 2012, what little fruit these old vines produce is pressed into a field blend Rosé. Half is Cabernet Sauvignon. Half is a mix of crazy old red varietals, most of which we can’t identify with any certainty! Hence this wine’s original name, Crazy Old Vine or verrückter alter Rebstock.” The fruit was then whole cluster pressed and cold fermented in stainless steel tanks. Pours a beautiful shade of pink peach. Aromas of pink grapefruit and candied watermelon mingle with subtle hints of cherry and orange peel. Medium bodied with a juicy, generous core of ripe fruit that’s carried by zesty, moderating acidity. Finely textured with a lush, round mouthfeel, this lovely rosé finishes crisp and dry with solid persistence and hints of lingering spice.
Score: 89 | Price: $30 | ABV: 14.4% | Click Here To Purchase
Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2016: Produced from the free run juice of 100% Zinfandel. Pours a pretty medium-dark shade of pink. Delicate aromas of strawberry and cream rise alongside hints of cherry and rose petal. On the fuller side of medium-bodied in the mouth, the fruity mixed berry core benefits from good intensity, moderate acids and a round, creamy, spicy texture. Finishes clean and mostly dry with moderate length. This lush, fruit-forward style will appeal to those consumers who like a bit more body in their rosé. Pedroncelli was the first to produce a Rosé of Zinfandel in California, and this bottling has now been produced for an impressive 62 consecutive vintages. It continues to be a fine value.
Score: 88 | Price: $15 | 13.9% ABV | Click Here To Purchase
13th and Third Paso Robles Rosé 2016: “New York Roots. California Vines.” is the motto for this new label focusing on Rhone varieties out of Paso Robles (2015 was their first vintage). Named for the intersection where vintners Julie and Gregg Rothberg met in NYC. As their relationship developed, so did an intense passion for wine. While Julie remains in charge of marketing for 20 brands, Gregg has decided to leave corporate life altogether to focus his efforts on 13th and Third. Together, along with winemaker Don Burns (assistant winemaker for Saxum Vineyards), they have fashioned this 100% rosé of Grenache utilizing the aforementioned saignée method with fruit from the James Berry Vineyard in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles. The juice was then fermented in stainless steel tanks. Pours a medium reddish pink hue. Aromas of candied cherry and watermelon mingle with rose petal and hints of menthol. In the mouth, this medium to full-bodied rosé is intensely fruited, with lush flavors of cherry jolly rancher and watermelon seemingly building in waves. Moderate acidity keeps things in balance, but the fruit is definitely front and center here. Finishes mostly dry with hints of lingering spice. If you find Provençal rosé insipid and boring, consider this richly flavored rosé the antidote.
Score: 88 | Price: $28 | ABV: 14% | Click Here To Purchase
*Wines were received submitted as media samples for purposes of review. No other consideration was received for publishing this article.