When warm weather finally arrives after a wet, chilly winter, I can hardly wait to park myself on the front porch with a glass of wine, especially if it’s a gorgeous pink one. I’m not talking about the sweet swill I drank in college (anyone remember Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink?), but crisp, sophisticated dry rosé wines.
If you’re familiar with the pale pink wines of Southern France, you know about the fresh simplicity of a thirst-quenching rosé. In Northern California, the style is a little more intense in terms of color and flavors. And these days, it’s a bit more serious than in decades past.
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Until recently, nearly all California rosé was made as a sort of byproduct of red wine. Wineries would “bleed off” or siphon some red wine juice from the tank after a short period of contact with the grape skins, which would increase the skin-to-juice ratio of the remaining wine in the tank and give it better color. (Wine gets its color from grape skins, so the more skin contact it gets, the deeper its color will be.) The siphoned pink juice was then used to make rosé. The poetic-sounding name for this process is saignée (pronounced sahn-YAY), the French word for “bleed.”
The challenge with the saignée method is that the grapes used are planted, grown and harvested according to red-wine parameters. Whites are typically harvested earlier in the season than reds, which are left to ripen on the vines for weeks after the whites have been picked and crushed. As the season progresses, the grapes develop a higher sugar content, which can lead to rather intense wines with high levels of alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re setting out to make red Pinot Noir or Syrah, but it’s not ideal if you’re aiming for a refreshing rosé.
Many California wineries (and French ones, too) still use the saignée process, but in the last several years, a growing contingent of vintners has begun making rosé on purpose, rather than as a happy bonus of red wine production.
Saignée wines can be very good in the right hands, but the wines that really wow me are made exclusively with rosé in mind, from start to finish. Because the grapes are farmed for rosé, the wines generally require less tinkering in the cellar to achieve the right balance of sugar/alcohol and acidity. They’re priced a bit higher than the siphoned-juice versions — often $15 or more per bottle — but there’s a wonderful payback in balance, freshness and complexity.
Here are four sophisticated pink wines to savor on the front porch, patio or wherever the season takes you.
- Beckmen Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley (California) Grenache Rosé 2011 ($18): This Santa Barbara County winery makes terrific Rhône-style wines, including this delicious pink Grenache. The wine has a beautiful light salmon color, and a soft aroma of red berries. It also has a refreshing brightness, with strawberry and lime flavors and a tangy finish. Try it with a salad topped with avocado and grilled shrimp.
- Bonny Doon Vineyard Central Coast (California) Vin Gris de Cigare 2012 ($16): This rosé from pink-wine champion Randall Grahm is made with a “less is more” approach. It’s a Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault. Pale salmon pink in color, it has subtle aromas of fresh strawberries and peaches. It’s crisp and elegant, with some unexpected roundness midway through. This would be great with a grilled turkey burger, or seared ahi tuna.
- Clayhouse Wines Paso Robles (California) Adobe Pink 2011 ($14): Middleton Family Wines, a solid Paso Robles player, makes this fresh-and-tasty wine. It has a light pink color tinged with salmon, and aromas of strawberries and vanilla. It’s crisp and tangy, with bright citrus and strawberry flavors, kissed with soft vanilla.
- Korbel Brut Rosé (California) NV ($12.99): Sparklers are fantastic warm-weather wines, and this one, made from Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay and Chenin Blanc, is among my go-to pinks. It has a pale salmon color, lively, small bubbles, and flavors of strawberries and black cherries. It’s more on the medium-dry side, but it’s so fresh-tasting and well balanced that you barely notice the sweetness. I’ve seen this wine at retail for less than $10 per bottle — a crazy-good deal.
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2012 . Credit: Tina Caputo