Come Labor Day, we don’t stop enjoying the outdoors or fresh foods, and the end of summer shouldn’t mean we stop drinking rosé either. Rosé is ready to please any time of the year — as an aperitif with hors d’oeuvres, at fall barbecues with grilled chicken and paired with the first course of holiday dinners.
There is hardly the need to extol the virtues of rosé wine anymore; the style has been accepted into the open arms of wine consumers everywhere. And the number of different rosés available appears to keep growing. Indeed, to taste a representative sample of Napa Valley rosés, those open arms would need a very large wing span — numerous cases were submitted to the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel this past month in its review of the 2012 vintage.
In other parts of the world, particularly Europe, rosé has long been seamlessly integrated into everyday lives. It would be odd to pass a scattering of outdoor cafe tables in France or Italy in the afternoon and not see multiple glasses filled with rosé/rosato.
Rosé is what you leisurely sip following lunch; it’s what you socialize over while people-watching and daydreaming. It’s something to enjoy with simple bites (nuts, pretzel thins, slices of saucisson/salami) before dinner. The style is not lost on emerging wine regions either. When India started to build its wine culture, the initial big four wine companies produced rosé from the outset.
Excitement for the general style remains palatable among Napa Valley’s vintners and trade. Panelist Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards arrived at the tasting with last year’s rosé wine notes in hand, looking to compare them to the new crop. And logistically, panel organizers had to set last-minute place settings as more panelists than expected arrived to taste through the 2012 rosés.
Twenty-four wines (four flights of six) were reviewed by the Tasting Panel, followed by a discussion on the variety of wines tasted. Malaske started the conversation, saying that she immediately felt for consumers: The category is confusing given the wide variety of styles available. “With cab,” she said, “you kind of know what you are going to get.”
Kristin Belair of Honig added that rosé can be confounding from a winemaking standpoint as well. She explained, “There are elements of red and white winemaking. You have to merge the two thought processes together.” Color, which is less of an issue with white wines, must be considered as well as the phenolic character of red varieties, and also acid balance. Rosé, it appears, is not as easy to make as one might guess.
This led panelists to discuss dedicated rosé versus rosé that is taken or bled off of a tank of fermenting red wine (the latter also called saignee). As Chris Phelps of Swanson later explained, dedicated rosé is what the market calls a wine where the grapes are grown and the wine is made specifically as rosé; it is not a product of red winemaking. While the term “dedicated” is sometimes used to imply a better quality wine, the panelists found favorites produced in the different methods.
The colors of the wines ranged from the palest of salmon to dark pink. There were wines bursting with fruit and ones that gave just a hint of strawberry. Napa Valley proved to have a wide variety of rosé styles; choosing one came down to personal preferences.
John Skupny of Lang & Reed said that for him, “less is more.” When picking for red wines, he explained, you pick at higher sugars. This can lead to syrupy wines. Skupny finds the rosés with less (color, tannin, alcohol) to be more in balance. You could search for aromatics or just drink the bottle — and “the latter,” John pointed out, “is what rosé is all about.”
Whether you stretch out that lazy, hazy summer feeling by continuing to open up bottles of rosé, or embrace the style as a year-round wine, the following are those that panelists found to be the standouts of the 2012 vintage:
Ahnfeldt/Carducci Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon ($18). Bruce Ahnfeldt and Celeste Carducci-Ahnfeldt combined their Napa businesses and passions and are turning out wines like this medium salmon-colored rosé with an enticing nose of sweet, ripe strawberries and a touch of minerality or salinity on the finish.
Crosby Roamann Rosé de Saignee ($16). With its name, Juliana and Sean McBride let you know that this rosé was made by bleeding off wine during red wine production. A blend of hillside cabernet sauvignon and valley floor merlot grapes were chosen for this medium salmon-colored wine with red cherry and intriguing herbaceous flavors. A portion of the wine was aged in neutral French oak.
Franciscan Estate Rosé Syrah ($24) is pale pink in color with juicy strawberry and citrus tang flavors. There is plenty of acidity, making this a nice poolside companion. The syrah grapes are picked earlier than for a red wine so that their rosé, as the winery says, can have a “white wine sensibility” — light on its feet with bright fruit and a crisp mouth feel. The grapes are lightly pressed and then fermented into this fine sipper.
Peju Winery Rosé of Syrah ($25). The fruit for Peju’s rosé comes mostly from the winery’s Persephone Vineyard at about 1,000 feet elevation. The winery doesn’t make much of it, but it is worth seeking out. The panel enjoyed this darker pink wine’s rich, round cherry flavors.
Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Grenache rosé ($22). Spanish rosés from Grenache have been popular for eons, and Priest Ranch is using this grape for their pale pink rosé with lighter cherry aromas and a touch of lemon citrus.
Robert Mondavi Winery Rosé ($24). This salmon-colored wine is made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. It is full of strawberry fruit flavors with a touch of orange citrus and something fresh and herbaceous. The white winemaker, Rich Arnold, is in charge of rosé production.
Swanson Vineyards Rosato, Sangiovese ($24). Winemaker Chris Phelps explained that the sangiovese grapes are very gently crushed before going to the press. The wine is pale salmon in color with stone fruit and a touch of tropical flavors. The Italian term rosato is used given the Italian grape that it is made with. The winery suggests these fun pairings: spicy paella and barbecued shrimp.
Tournesol Pinot Noir Rosé, Coombsville ($35). This pale salmon rosé smells like a strawberry patch, with fresh red cherry fruit on the palate. Asked about its choice of pinot noir for the rosé given the winery’s affinity for Bordeaux varieties, Jesse Erickson, director of wine, explained that the winery and owners Anne and Bob Arns are dedicated to the Coombsville appellation. The pinot noir chosen is 40-year-old Martini clone pinot noir cultivated by winemaker Ken Bernards not too far from the winery. The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and fermented as a rosé (not bled/the saignee method).
Trefethen Family SIN Rosé Pinot Noir, Oak Knoll ($24). This 100 percent pinot noir rosé is a crisp, refreshing sip of red cherries. It is produced by immediately pressing the grapes (not saignee). There is an added roundness to the palate from a touch of malolactic fermentation and a short period in oak. SIN means “Summer In Napa” and the label of a woman swinging in a flower-filled garden with a fetching man looking on gives the whole package a romantic, when-times-were-easy feeling.
(Catherine Seda Bugue, the Star’s tasting panel columnist, changed her last name recently, marrying her winemaking beau, but that has not changed her love for writing about — and drinking — wine. You can contact Catherine at her new email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. Not all wines submitted are chosen to be tasted as often there are more wines submitted than tasted. The wines are chosen by random. Many wineries offer local residents discounts on their wines through the Napa Neighbor program, visit napavintners.com/programs and click on Napa Neighbor to learn more.)