For rosé enthusiasts, the season for pink wine is in full swing. Wine shop shelves are full of petal-hued bottles hailing from the sunny south of France, nestled beside rosatos from Italy and rosados from Spain. With the Fourth of July around the corner, we wondered what American rosés are worth a taste.
First, a word about the kinds of rosés we have in mind. Pink does not automatically signal sweet. And rosés are not white Zinfandel, the sweet blush wine that surged to popularity in the ’80s. While aromas like red berries, watermelon, or peaches might be in these bottles, leading you to think sweet, the rosés we like are refreshingly crisp and dry. A spine of tart acidity and an undercurrent of minerality make these wines an easy match for grilled fare and picnic favorites. Served chilled, rosés are lovely and uncomplicated, painted in the colors of summer sunsets.
Rosés sport hues ranging from pale salmon pink to light ruby. When they’re made, red or black grapes are gently crushed, and the resulting clear juice is allowed to sit on the grape skins. The longer the contact, the deeper the hue. The juice is then run off and fermented without skins. The best rosés are not an afterthought of red winemaking. To make a full-bodied red, winemakers might bleed off some of the juice to increase the skin-to-juice ratio in the vat of crushed grapes. This technique is called saignée. Winemakers must take care if using bled-off juice to make rosé, since the very ripe grapes used in red winemaking may lack sufficient acidity for a refreshing rosé. In years past, American rosés were criticized for tasting like leftovers. Few of the many we tried fit that description.
Joel Quigley, director of Rosé Avengers and Producers, an organization with an international roster of winemakers promoting dry rosé, agrees that American rosés have improved as producers fine-tune production methods. “They’re getting lighter and more subtle,” he says of these pink wines. “Definitely showing more restraint and balance. We’re seeing more of the paler pink, salmon-pink colors. With that, we’re seeing higher acidity that makes them better food wines.”
We looked for pinks from across the nation, yet most are from California, which produces 90 percent of all US-made wines. We also searched for small-batch artisanal favorites from the Golden State, as well as closer to home. These were not easy to find. So the West Coast pinks here represent a point-in-time reflection of local retail availability, rather than a sampling of all American rosés.
We found a growing number of value-priced bottles of very good quality. While some were a paler hue, most were more exuberantly colored than their delicate French counterparts. But these rosés are not a winemaker’s afterthoughts. Each embodies an independent spirit that is uniquely and distinctly American.
Waterbrook Sangiovese Rosé Columbia Valley 2010 Aromas of plum and cherry, green herbs and chalky earth. Acidity and minerality support cherry fruit on the palate. A well-crafted rosé from Washington State. Around $13. At Marty’s Big Buys, 617-782-3250, Allston; Medfield Wine Shoppe, Medfield, 508-359-4097.
Frisk Prickly Grenache 2011 Sprightly notes of wild strawberry, peach, and apricot done in an off-dry (slightly sweet) style. A charming coquette of a wine made by Australians in Lodi, Calif. Around $13. At The Urban Grape, Chestnut Hill, 617-232-4831; Butcher Boy Market, North Andover, 978-688-1511.
Hendry Napa Valley Rosé 2011 Red berries, citrus, and green herbs supported by cool minerality and bright acidity. Finishes with a touch of pleasant bitterness. A Napa sophisticate. Around $17. At Giles Fine Wine, Arlington, 781-646-3500; Fifth Avenue Liquors, Framingham, 508-872-7777.
Bonny Doon “Vin Gris de Cigare” 2011 Provencal salmon pink with white peach, apricot, and wet stone aromas. Tart but soft palate with a tinge of green herbs on the finish. Gossamer-light, very sure of itself. Around $20. At Cambridge Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-864-7171; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.
Margerum “Riviera” San Luis Obispo County 2011 Rose petals, honeysuckle, and cherry fruit aromas. Citrus, fresh-cut pineapple, and a surprising note of kumquat. Beautiful and nuanced. Around $20. At The Urban Grape; Bauer Wine and Spirits, Back Bay, 617-262-0363.