To prepare you for next week's 12th annual Rose Fest at The Wine Country, I thought it prudent to brush up on some rose fundamentals. Yes, rose wine is serious business, and we've learned a thing or two about it . The following comes from my article in our June newsletter.
The Wine Country understands rosé wine like no other store we know. Over the years we’ve discovered that certain rosés are crisp and refreshing summer quaffers, ideal accompaniments for southern California outdoor living, even though our customers purchase rosés all year long. We sold over 500 cases of the bright, beautiful stuff last year and we are on a pace to outdo that this year.
How do we do it? I’ll let you in on a little secret.
First, we drink rosés ourselves. A lot of them. They aren’t merely another section of our wine store. We’ve come to know which producers make the best rosés year after year, and we discover new stars each vintage. They are so good because they are wines we want to drink.
Second, most wine outlets simply tell you what a wine is, taping a magazine description and a numbered score over the two or three they carry. To be successful selling rosé, a wine merchant must understand what a rosé does. That’s a very different way to approach wine, and it’s. what sets our staff at The Wine Country apart from others as we make our selections with function in mind.
What makes a rosé successful is its ability to taste light and fresh, even those whose backbones are firmer and steelier. Wine grapes are grown specifically for making rosé and picked at a lower ripeness than grapes destined for red wine. They are not high-alcohol red-wine saignée cast-offs—waste products posing as the real deal.
Not all countries do rosé well because not all grape varieties lend themselves to successful versions of this classic form. Spain is alright in the rosé department, sacrificing a little brightness for a few dollars less a bottle, but they basically get rosé. Italy doesn’t do rosé well, nor do Austria and Germany (with one notable exception).
Too many California wineries simply do not get rosé, even though they sell plenty of it in their tasting rooms because they are a light diversion after tasting a dozen heavy wines. Alcohol over 14% doesn’t cut it in the summer—they are headaches waiting to happen. Many domestic rosés simply taste flabby and worse—hot on the finish. That is because they are essentially very light-colored red wines, not true rosés.
Those California vintners striving to make refreshing rosés by picking earlier have their problems, too. Simply making a low-alcohol rosé isn’t enough if the result is a flat-tasting wine. The wine’s natural acidity must be effortless and our warm climate works against us here. There are some California vintners who have succeeded in spite of their climates and soils. Our pal Eric Mohseni at Zaca Mesa winery is one who gets rosé. Perhaps it is because his apprenticeship in the wine business was spent working at The Wine Country that he acquired the vision for his excellent Grenache rosé! He often sells out before we are able to acquire any. Yes, Eric gets it.
The Best Refreshers
First off, I don’t care if you are a card-carrying Napa-phile, the best rosés are made in France. The word itself is French, and French people drink them almost exclusively during summer months. French vintners understand rosé and what its various culinary functions are.
The best of these have a flavor and liveliness that expresses themselves best in the south of France, specifically Provence. If you want to experience the soul of Provencal rosé, drink a few Cotes de Provence rosés and you will quickly get a sense of what we’re talking about here.
The big daddies of Provence rosés are from the seaport appellation of Bandol, just west of Marseilles. They are expensive, trendy and fuller bodied without sacrificing their freshness. You may prefer the lighter styles of Cotes de Provence, however. Time, place, function and personal preference dictate success.
What we want South of France rosés to do, then, is “Refresh us, let us drink a lot of you without being punished for it and taste good with my lighter summer Mediterranean-influenced fare.”
Other French regions that perform well for this style of rosé are the Languedoc and Rhone. Most use Grenache and Cinsaut primarily, and they are tailor-made for grilled foods using olive oil, garlic and traditional Mediterranean herbs. (Spanish rosés also serve this function well.)
South of France rosés from the Cotes du Rhone and the classic rosé region Tavel are much more muscular wines, suitable for year-round dining, but usually not the summer refreshers we drink over and over.
Northern Climate RosésThere are other rosés we admire, too. They are the rosés that are made from Pinot Noir in minerally soils. They, too, are refreshing with lower alcohols, but they come from more northerly climates and don’t particularly taste good with Mediterranean foods.
I love them for the way they taste with poached salmon, though, and they bring a tangy-tartness to the table, similar to the texture and flavors of bright Loire Sauvignon Blancs, like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. In fact the Loire’s Sancerre rosés are classic examples of this type of rosé. (Interestingly, one estate in Germany—von Buhl of the Pfalz—makes a sensational Pinot Noir rosé and Sauvignon Blanc that captures the soul of northern climate French rosé.)
Another classic region for northern climate rosés are those produced in the Loire region of Anjou. Good versions of these fruity and often demi-sec rosés d’Anjou are hard to come by in the U.S. When we find them, we drink them with buttery fish and chicken.
The last little nugget of rosé wisdom I’ll leave you with is the concept of seasonality. Why is it that we sell three cases of rosé a month in winter and three cases of rosé each day in the spring and summer? It isn’t merely because we want to drink refreshers in warm weather. It’s also warm in October in southern California, yet few purchase rosés then.
The essential element in appreciating rosé on a grand scale is sunlight. Rosés are wines for the sun. When you get home from work and the sun is still shining, rosés taste really good. When it’s dark outside, well, I’m reaching for something else to drink.
One more thing. If you decide to do some grilling this summer, we've included our recipe for Aioli at the end of this post. Aioli sauce is the famous garlic mayonnaise from Provence slathered over everything from lamb to vegetables to fingerling potatoes to chicken and fish. I recommend roses from the south of France and Spain to accompany them. Avoid northern style roses made from Pinot Noir and Gamay with aioli.
The wine notes below by Samantha Dugan and Bennett Traub.
2011 Domaine Dragon Cotes du ProvenceAs good as it has ever been. Don't really need to say more about this long standing customer favorite, but I will. Made from a blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Grenache and Rolle, (also known as Vermentino) and wearing a rather sophisticated new label, this is the kind of Rose you will want, no crave, all summer long. Berries and melon, so delightful raciness and with enough body to pair with everything from a cold seafood platter to grilled steaks. Classic.
$15.99 per bottle
2011 Chateau de Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc RoseMade up of nearly equal parts Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache, this rose is another one that is fiercely mineral driven. You get some wild strawberry both in the aromas and on the palate but this very dry rose is much more stony than fruity and has a vibrancy that goes on forever.
$14.99 per bottle
2011 Trinquevedel TavelWhile I’ve always understood the draw of Tavel; that meaty, dense and full style, I have to confess that it has never been a favorite of mine, especially during the hot summer months but this new Trinquevedell has to be the most restrained and refined Tavel rose I’ve ever had. Deep red fruit with lots and lots of spicy notes but just lighter on its feet and more refreshing than vintages past. Fantastic wine.
$16.99 per bottle
2011 Chateau Pardis Cotes de Provence RoseWe get sampled on roses almost daily this time of year and to be frank, many of them or flat, too fruity or simply boring. Now that every importer on the planet is onboard with what we and our super savvy customers have known for a long, long time, that rose screams summer and we all want to drink them, well now they are rushing out to find a rose to offer and the result of that kind of afterthought shows in the glass. We stock a ton of rose but we pass on even more I assure you. So when a new importer of ours, one we have come to respect rather quickly, asked for an appointment to taste us on her Roses, we gladly accepted, this delicious Rose is a result of that meeting. Mostly Grenache, 70% and Syrah making up the rest this wine is brimming with very pretty and pure fruit. Lots of raspberry on the nose, some more tropical notes on the palate and with a fantastically round mouth feel. Delightful.
$14.99 per bottle
2011 Clos du Caillou Cotes du Rhone RoseThink I’m going to nickname this Rose, “Mr. Big Stuff” for its weight, big juicy flavors and slightly higher alcohol content. Plenty of dense Grenache flavor and Syrah weight and meatiness in this beefy Rose which makes it perfect for, well for beef as a matter of fact. A rose for those red only wine lovers.
$17.99 per bottle
2011 Domaine Dupuy de Lome Bandol RoseThere is just something about Bandol rose isn’t there? Something wild, herby and haunting in the aromatics of the roses from this region that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else, period. My notes on this wine read, “Smells like Bandol, no doubt about it” and those of you that have also been struck by these savory, herby style roses are in for a real treat with this, comparatively affordable offering. Quite expressive on the nose with hints of stones, cut grass and dried herbs that come leaping from the glass. The mouth feel is almost silky but with those balancing bites of freshening acidity that tingle the sides of the tongue. As good as many of the others from Bandol that come in at more than $10 more a bottle. I was only able to get 5 cases so do not delay.
$21.99 per bottle
2011 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre RoséOne of Randy’s favorites every year and this vintage is looking to be another slam-dunk from this wonderful Sancerre producer. Made from 100% Pinot Noir this wine exhibits both regal texture and length as well as those tart, racy flavors that only Sancerre can produce. Plenty of mineral notes along with some tart melon and a blast of racy citrus. Grilling up some salmon or chicken? We’ve got your wine.
$24.99 per bottle
2011 Sylvain Bailly Sancerre RoseOne thing we have come to love about the past few vintages from this long time favorite estate is how forward, or purely fruited the wines have been lately. Just this direct and sumptuous fruit, still tasting of their homeland mind you, but with a pop of lively fruit that make them supremely easy to crave. The 2011 Sancerre Rose, made from 100% Pinot Noir has more depth than I remember from previous years, and this mouthwatering zing of fresh acidity the begs you back for another sip.
$22.99 per bottle
2011 Pierre Guindon
Coteaux D’Ancenis Gamay Rose, Loire Valley
One of the driest Roses we have in stock, from the cool region near Muscadet. Faint and delicate fruit is perceptible but this wine is all about cold, wet stones and minerals, I'd love to be sipping on this with an icy plate of oysters!
$10.99 per bottle
2011 Pierre Boniface Vin de Savoie Rose
I will forever find it ironic that some of the driest, most flint laden Roses we have in the store are made from the super fruity and often very gentle Gamay grape. This Vin de Savoie Rose is no different. You get some soft, melon like fruit on the nose but minerals are the star here. Ever taken a deep whiff of granite when it has been hit with some cold water? That's what the minerals in this wine remind me of. On the palate there is more feisty fruit, more citrus and a bit of strawberry, nice and lean in the mouth with a very crisp and bright finish.
$15.99 per bottle
2011 Edmunds St. John Rose "Bone Jolly"
El Dorado CountySteve Edmunds is a winemaking hero to fans of European-styled wines that combine exquisite balance with perfectly ripe American wine flavor. The name is a play on words for Beaujolais, the French region where the Gamay Noir grape creates one of France's most delicious and drinkable wines.
For this rosé version of Gamay, Steve uses perfectly ripe grapes from one of the few genuine Gamay Noir vineyards in California, located in El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills. Gently pressed on its skins to give the wine a beautiful salmon color, this is a wonderfully pure, bone-dry rosé full of zesty fruit, crisp acidity and surprising complexity. With most rosés made either from Pinot Noir or Rhone varieties like Grenache, this is a delightfully different version of a classic Provençal-style rosé that always sells out quickly. Don't miss it!
$16.99 per bottle
2011 Maison Bleue Rosé of Mourvedre "La Famille"
Yakima Valley, WashingtonMore and more we're convinced that the small Maison Bleue winery is the single most exciting winery in Washington State. We've loved everything they've made, and now we have their fantastic Rosé of Mourvedre. Using the same grape used in the great rosé wines from Bandol, this salmon-colored wine is a textbook dry rosé with great crisp fruit and zesty energy from its bright acidity and perfect balance. There's notes of stony minerality and pit fruits in this bone-dry wine, with just a bit of spice and an exotic note that is a hallmark of the mourvedre variety at its best. Very limited, unfortunately, but this one of our favorite domestic rosés of the year!
$19.99 per bottle
2011 Heitz Grignolino Rosé
One of the most famous Cabernet producers in Napa has, every year, made a highly distinctive rosé made from their unique planting of a rare Italian red variety called Grignolino. What a lovely and slightly wild aroma this darkly colored Rose has! Upfront you get this herbaceous blast reminiscent of Thai Basil that really gets your mouth watering. Then there is some deep spiciness that gives way to this luscious stone fruit, almost peachy like flavor. Nice weight in the mouth with a pretty little floral thing on the finish. Like no other Rose we have in stock.
$19.99 per bottle
2011 Arnot-Roberts Rosé Luchsinger Vineyard
Clear Lake, Lake County, California
One of our favorite small wineries, Arnot-Roberts, has made a tiny amount of an excellent rosé, just in time for summer And it's made from Touriga Nacional, the great Portuguese grape used to make Port! Probably the only one in America. One taste, and I knew that the same quality and style that makes the Arnot-Roberts wines so good was fully expressed in this delicious rosé--beautiful balance, moderate alcohol (only 12.4% here), minerality, and clean fresh fruit is not too ripe and that never veers into tutti-fruiti territory. This is an ultra-traditional rosé that anyone who loves the Provençal style will appreciate. Only a tiny quantity of this wine was made, so it's very limited.
$19.99 per bottle
2011 Cardwell Hill Rosé
Every year this small Oregon winery (owned by a couple from Orange County) is one of the first to offer its new rosé, and every year it’s a winner! Made from the finest Oregon Pinot Noir that is grown specifically for rosé wine, and not just siphoned off from their regular Pinot Noir wine, this is delightfully crisp and full of fruit, strawberry and citrus notes, a trace of minerality, and terrific energy and zest.
$9.99 per bottle
2011 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose
Stellenbosch, South AfricaThis is one of our most easy-drinking, juicy dry rosés in the store. From the region of Stellenbosch, this rosé will impress you with its berry flavors and aromas. One of the few excellent rosé wines made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, this is a full-bodied rosé with rich fruit and hints of savory herbs, but it retains the crispness and racy freshness we want in a rosé. Sip anytime!
$9.99 per bottle