Rosé on the Table Means Spring is Here

First rosé of the season last night: Deerfield Ranch Winery 2012 Checkerbloom Rosé, Sonoma County, made from their old vine Zinfandel grapes using the Saignée method. Delicious with baked salmon, rice and baby bok choy.

In the U.S., we’ve been brought up thinking that rosés are sweet, second rate wines. Actually that’s been true for the U.S., but not so for the rest of the world where rosés have historically been regarded as mainstream wines, worthy of as much attention and respect as any other serious wine. Recently, many more wineries are making good rosés, and a lot of us are buying and drinking rosés. So what is it about rosés that is so attractive?

For me, a good rosé is an alternative to a white wine. Whenever I think of crisp, fruity white wine to drink, I’ll also check out our stock of rosés. Because that is what a good rosé should be: crisp, fruity, some acid for balance, very similar to a good Sauvignon Blanc but with different fruit flavors.

Rosés are most often made by having the grape juice from red wine grapes stay in contact with the skins for 1-3 days, instead of the usual 1-2 weeks used for red wine production. The longer the juice is in contact with the skins, the deeper pink/red the color. One other technique used is the Saignée method, in which some of the juice is bled off from the tank containing the skins and juice from a red wine. Less juice means a higher ratio of skins to juice, resulting in more intense flavor and color for the red wine. So as not to waste the good juice that has been bled off, it is made into its own rosé wine. A third technique is called Vin Gris. With this method the juice from red grapes is taken when the grapes are being pressed, so there is really no time on the skins, resulting in a very pale rosé.

What to look for in a rosé? Here are my two unofficial rules, plus one question.

1. No rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes. Sorry, I know some people like these rosés, and a number of wineries make rosés from Pinot Noir, but the fruit flavors in Pinot Noir grapes are too subdued to make a good rosé. There are exceptions to this rule, as there are to any rule, however while I have liked a few rosés made from Pinot Noir, I can’t think of any of them right now. Very non-memorable.

2. Make sure the grapes were picked specifically to make the rosé wine. One of the realities of the wine business is that red wines take a year or more from harvest to cash generation. Rosés can be ready for the consumer in 4 months. So wineries are often making rosé just for cash flow reasons, and not because they’re committed to make a good rosé. In which case, they most often will bleed off some juice from their red wine tanks after 1-3 days on the skins, and make rosé from that. The problem is that acid and sugar levels for a good rosé are different than for a good red wine.

3. Another good question to ask is how many years has the winery been producing rosés? While an answer of less than 5 years doesn’t say anything about how serious the winery is about their rosé, an answer of 10+ years says that they’re serious and successful.

One other note is that most of the good rosés in France are made from Rhone grapes, most often Grenache. For Lori and I, our introduction to seriously good rosé was having it with lunch at a sidewalk café in summer in Nice, France. Beautiful warm day, cool-crisp-tasty wine, watching the world go by.

There are two rosés that I’ll always say yes to: Storybook Mountain Vineyards “Zin Gris” rosé of Zinfandel (a nice play on vin gris), and Quivera Vineyards Rosé, usually based on Grenache. These wineries have been doing rosés for 10+ years, and they do a consistently outstanding job of it.

One other memorable rosé I’ve had was the 2013 Derby Wine Estates Rosé, Derby Wine Estates, made from 100% Mouvedre. Almost ruby red in color, nice balance, went great with the hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas and pita bread appetizers that I brought for our picnic before a California Shakespeare Festival performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. (Great performance, the best performance of this play I’ve ever seen.)

Enjoy your Spring!

L’Chaim,

Larry

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