It’s summer and time to lighten your wine, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose flavor. Maybe you need to take a serious look at rosé wines. I can hear you now. “You want me to drink rosé? Seriously?” Well, yes, but I did only say take a serious look, but I’ll almost guarantee you will like what you taste.
For many of us, our first rosé was a White Zinfandel. That sweet, best served overly chilled introduction to blush wines did more to set rosé consumption back than to move it forward. Yes, many consumed it as it was a refreshing, somewhat low alcohol beverage that hit the spot. But there is so much more available. There is a new movement afoot best demonstrated by the “Real Men Drink Pink” campaign that was so popular a couple years ago. So, set your past notions about rosé aside and join me in an adventure.
Practically, any red wine grape could be used to make rosé. Some of the most common grape varieties used in making a dry/European-style rosé are Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir.
One of the methods of making a rosé wine is called saignée (pronounced sen-YAY). Another way is by blending white and red wine (this is the method used for rosé Champagne) or one can simply macerate the wine with the skins for a short period of time (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor). The difference between simply macerating the wine and removing the must and saignée (a method of rosé production that involves bleeding off the juice after limited contact with the skins) is that the wine left after the bleed-off is oftentimes still being made into a more concentrated red wine, and the rosé is a byproduct, often sold cheaply (or was until rosé prices started to rise). It is felt that the best rosé wines are made by using the saignée method. The rest of the winemaking process remains basically unchanged as the juice is settled and racked to a new tank and then cold-fermented just like a white wine, resulting in a full-flavored rosé that is crisp in character.
Some top rosé producers, particularly in the south of France, prefer not to “bleed” their grape juice. Instead, they treat red grapes destined for rosé much as they would grapes for a white wine. After the grapes are harvested, they are crushed and quickly pressed or whole cluster pressed – just as white wine grapes are – directly into a fermenter. In this way, there is little or no skin maceration. Not surprisingly, wines made in this fashion are a lighter shade of pink. Enjoy these rosés in their youth, served chilled to a temperature in the mid-40s.
It is not uncommon to find some rosé wines that are wonderful blends. John Bookwalter’s (www.bookwalterwines.com) Scarlet HexFlame is a full Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. This wine has an incredible bright pink color with aromas of strawberry and watermelon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation. A rosé produced in California by Orin Swift Cellars (www.orinswift.com) is called Fragile. It is made from French grapes and is predominantly Grenache with a small percentage of Syrah and Carignan. The color of this wine is closer to salmon than pink and has a smoother mouthfeel than the Hexflame. This is likely due to the alcohol level of the Fragile, which is 15.3%, as opposed to the 13.5% in the Scarlet Hexflame. Both of these wines will go excellently with food or simply as a pleasant glass to enjoy in the warmth of summer.
I mention those two wines in particular as they represent almost both ends of the color spectrum. Rosés, usually in clear glass bottles, can range from bright pink/fiery red to coral, or salmon/copper to a faint orange hue. The intensity of the color and tint is determined by the grape, how long they allow maceration to occur, and at what point the winemaker bleeds off the juice. However, with this vast palate of color, don’t try to determine quality or flavor based on color, as color makes no difference at all.
Aromas in rosé can be as varied as their color spectrum. There can be candied fruit sometimes reminiscent of Jell-O, or you may find banana, lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, licorice, melon, and practically any berry, such as cranberry, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, or blueberry.
From my experience, rosé wines from Oregon and Washington State will usually be low alcohol, dry with bright, crisp flavors. Those from California will be higher in alcohol with a bit softer mouthfeel and longer finish. Rosés from Italy, often using Sangiovese grapes, will be darker than most and can be very fruity on the palate. Rosés from France will often have overtones of minerality with flavors that won’t quit.
When you set out to buy a rosé, here are some tips that may help you make a decision. Of course, don’t be afraid to ask for help wherever you go, as we are fortunate to have a well informed staff at the stores that serve our region. That is your best bet. But, to go it alone, think about these things.
- Read the labels don’t just look at the picture on the label.
- Check out the alcohol content.
- What kind of grape(s) were used to make the wine – single variety or blend? Blends may be more balanced than a single varietal.
- Look for wineries of which you are already familiar – if you like their red or whites, you will likely enjoy their rosé.
- How will it be used? Is the wine to be consumed with food or simply to be enjoyed on the patio or listening to the music on Sunday night at the Arboretum? If served with food, you might want to consider one with slightly higher alcohol, but, if just sipping, I’d recommend a lower alcohol content selection.
- Don’t be afraid to try one you’ve never heard about. Look to Europe for some wonderful rosé blends; after all, they made them first.
- Serve them chilled – especially if outside. To me, rosé is an outside wine as the color is dazzling when in sunlight.
If serving rosé with food, you may wish to find one with slightly higher alcohol (14% or higher) and possibly one that has a more intense color. Tannins in wine come from the grapes, but also from the skins. The more time on the skins, the darker the color and higher tannin level. Tannins help cleanse the palate between bites of food which helps you enjoy that steak or barbequed chicken.
Are you ready for the adventure? Next time you are going out to eat, be it Pepper Sprout, Vinnie’s, L. May, or wherever, ask for a glass of rosé. Or, if you simply want to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a long day, stop by your favorite wine store and see what you can find. Don’t be afraid to try something new… Real Men (and Women) Drink Pink!
Wines I’ve recently tasted
2014 La Vieille Ferme Rosé – Rhone, France
The 2014 vintage in the Rhone region was characterized by a mild, wet winter, hot, dry spring, followed by a temperate and humid summer. For this area, it was an atypical year, but one that worked in the winemaker’s favor. La Vieille Ferme is an excellent example of the saignée method. If you are looking for a rosé to get you started, this is the one – an easy drinking rosé that is perfectly suited for appetizers and simple meals. Grapes used in this wine include Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah. Enjoy this wine at L.May Eatery. 13.5% ABV ($11.00)
2012 Sherwood Estate Pinot Noir – Waipara Valley, New Zealand
The Sherwood Estate Winery is a nearly forty-year old family winery. Waipara is located on the east coast of New Zealand just north of Christchurch. The ocean breezes make for perfect weather for growing Pinot Noir. The wine displays some strawberry, cherry, and dark plum with a hint of earthiness and soft tannins that make this 100% Pinot Noir an absolute delight to drink. Serve with mild meats, cheeses or even salads. I found this bottle at Gateway Market in Des Moines. 13.5% ABV ($14.00)
2014 Hello World Prieto Picudo – Bodegas Finca La Estacada Winery in Islas Canarias, Spain
Despite its funky name, this is a wonderful wine to drink. The wine is quite fruity with a combination of dark red fruit with a bit of strawberry and watermelon. The grape is really Prieto Picudo which is a small, dark, thick-skinned creature that lurks beneath the canopy of old, gnarled vines in Castilla y Leon in the central southeast part of Spain. I found this bottle at Gateway Market in Des Moines, as well. 13.5% ABV ($9.00)
A new, occasional segment of Wine & Spirits is going to be called, Wine Memories. One of the aspects of drinking and sharing wine is that exceptional moments often happen. Personally, I find this to be the case more with wine than with beer or distilled spirits, although it likely happens with these beverages as well. But, since I do not make it a habit to consume hard alcohol, I have no frame of reference there. That said, I’m talking about wine.
Whether it is a recollection about a wine that turns out to be especially luscious or due to the company gathered together, a notable experience happens. So, on occasion, I’m going to share a memory of mine where wine played a part, if not the catalyst. I extend to you, the readers of Julien’s Journal, an invitation to send your memories and I’ll publish them as part of the Wine & Spirits column. It can be about the wine, the people, the location or even how you came to have a particular bottle, but it all comes back to a memory for you. Please write me at JuliensJournalWineGuy@gmail.com and share your memory!
Here is one of my fond memories.
I directed a capital campaign in Newton, KS back in the early ‘90s for a new hospital. The campaign office was in a majestic old building called the Old Mill, as it really was a mill building from back in the early pioneer days, located right along the railroad tracks. It had been saved from the wrecking ball by Lloyd and Jackie Smith, both stalwarts of the Newton community. Lloyd still had an office in the building along with a restaurant and a few other businesses. The campaign office for the hospital was on the third floor, the same floor as Lloyd’s office.
As Lloyd was also a campaign steering committee member, we became close friends. He was a most humble man, but he did enjoy a daily, after work glass of wine. He and I joked that it was our “heart medicine” since a report had recently been published that red wine was good for the circulatory system. Some of my fondest memories of that campaign (other than it was a huge success) were the afternoons with Lloyd, downstairs in the bar, having our “heart medication” and sharing stories.
He had been a pilot in WWII and flew B-24s. Many of his stories centered around the war. One afternoon, we went out to the airport as a couple of restored B-24s were making a stop in Newton. What an absolute joy to have Lloyd show me around the inside of the plane. And yet, as special as that was, when I think of Lloyd, it’s the afternoons, enjoying each other’s company while sipping wine that come to mind. And you know what, it wasn’t even very good wine, but the richness of the memory is better than any wine I’ve had since.
To my friend, Lloyd, now departed, I will lift a glass in his honor! What wine memories do you have?