School is out and summer is officially under way. It’s the time of year when families go outdoors to enjoy the sunny Napa Valley weather and turn to fruity beverages to stay cool. When it comes to choice of wine, it’s hard to beat a good rosé during the summer.
Although many would agree that the best and truest rosés come from Provence in France, more and more rosés are being made around the world. Made from a wide variety of grapes, rosés incorporate some color from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify as red wine. When it comes to the color of a rosé, winemakers are the ultimate decision-makers. For example, if a winemaker prefers a pale, pink color rosé, he discards the skins rather than leave them in contact throughout fermentation. If a deeper color is preferred, he allows the skins to remain in contact with the juice for a longer period of time.
The St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel conducted a recent tasting of four flights of Napa Valley rosés priced between $16 to $35. Selected at random, each flight ranged in color from pale pink to a deeper, darker purple. The range in color was so interesting that Michael Cooperman with Napa Valley Vintners questioned whether the group would know if they were doing a rosé tasting based on color alone.
Kristin Belair with Honig Winery accepted the challenge. She tasted one flight of rosés using the dark, blue water glasses rather than using the standard Riedel glassware and found the results quite fascinating. “Glasses that have a different shape really do influence the taste of the wine,” Belair said. “It comes down to one’s perception. The wine’s color and what the taster expects that color to mean go hand in hand. When you can’t see the color, your overall perception of the wine is different.”
Overall, the feedback from the group was diverse. Some agreed that the wines were very well-balanced, crisp and refreshing. A few others, like Bill Dyer from Dyer Vineyards, were turned off by the darker-colored rosés. “I find those wines to be too heavily impacted by the skins,” he said.
The group also differed on their feelings when it came to the spritz or fizzy taste that they found in some of the wines. This occurs when winemakers add residual carbon dioxide gas (CO2) before bottling. The addition of CO2 creates a sense of freshness, or lift, in the mouth. Some tasters liked that effect as they found it creates a livelier, fresher wine, while others thought it diminished the quality of the wine.
While there may have been a difference of opinion among the panelists on the various flights of wines, all could agree that rosé is a perfect sipping wine for the summer.
Among the wines tasted, the following wines were the stand-outs from each flight:
Canard Vineyard, Coucher de Soleil ($30) – Made entirely from estate vines, this very special field blend of whole cluster pressed merlot, cabernet franc and zinfandel is an elegant expression of springtime in a glass. It has a perfume of fresh wild strawberries, peaches and notes of ruby red grapefruit on the nose. A luscious mouth feel with bright acidity and a beautiful long finish complements a wide variety of foods. It pairs brilliantly with lobster, shrimp, spicy barbecue and rich, soft cheeses. This dry rosé is styled after the incredible wines of Provence. Its soft hue is reminiscent of a pink sky at dusk, which gives it the name Coucher de Soleil, or “Sunset” in French.
Fortunati Vineyards, PRANZO ($20) – The excellent vintage of 2012 was followed by yet another in 2013. This dry rosé made from the estate syrah is one of Napa Valley’s earliest indicators of a near-perfect growing season. With a lovely salmon-pink hue in the glass, the 2013 rosé displays a classically Provencal color. It appears delicate, though it packs an aromatic punch and shows nice complexity. The fruit-forward nose suggests fresh strawberries, wild berries, and a touch of the earthiness inherent to syrah rosé. As it opens up, stone fruit aromas emerge, framed by an edgy minerality and charming floral notes of cut flowers. It’s fruit-forward on the palate, a juicy combination of white cherries, fresh strawberries, and hints of peach. Balanced by a subtle minerality and a layer of firm acidity, this is a substantial, earthy, complex rosé meant for some serious warm weather grilling.
Jericho Canyon Vineyard ($40) – Sourced from a proprietary blend of the estate grown Bordeaux varietals, this inaugural four-barrel production rosé is an achievement embodying the essence of summers in the canyon. Its radiant pale pink color is reminiscent of August’s soft morning light, while alluring aromas of juicy watermelon, fresh peaches, and strawberries mirror the bounty of the estate gardens. The wine is luscious and full-bodied, pairing seamlessly with caprese salad, paella and salade nicoise.
Round Pond Estate, Rosao Di Nebbiolo ($24) – Although this is a grape native to Italy, it is made in a provincial style with a distinct titian pink “blush” to the wine. The aromatics are full of intense sweet fruit and red apple, followed by grapefruit and a floral note of rosewater. The taster is greeted with a lovely fruit sweetness of ripe berries, strawberries and bright red raspberries that give way to spring fruits and Crane melon, finishing with the lively kiss of acid, making this wine the perfect summer sipper.
St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery Napa Valley Estate Rosé ($16) – This wine presents with sparkling shades of red. Strawberry, red cherry, raspberry and watermelon dominate the aromatics with a subtle hint of briar in the background. Raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate laced with an underlying note of blueberry are the core of this flavorful, youthful rosé, finishing bright, lively and slightly crisp. This is an elegant rosé that is light, yet bursting with vibrant young berry flavors.
(Tiffany van Gorder loves writing about — and drinking – wine and shares the Star/NVV writing duties with Catherine Bugue. Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. 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.)