© by Dennis Schaefer
The summer heat wave is definitely upon us, with temps in the triple digits in many parts of the country. I know it's really hot when my wife refuses to go outside, claiming that her body will immediately burst into flames. In a heat spell, you're not going to be tempted to pull out that 16 percent alcohol Zinfandel or even a heavy-duty Cabernet. Under such extreme conditions, I have only two words for you: "Think Pink."
That's right, this century's rosé is not your father's White Zinfandel. The latter, almost always made in a sweet style, with sugar levels way in excess of what is normally found in dry wines, was created by Sutter Home Winery in the middle 1970s and became wildly popular in the '80s. Unfortunately, their success led many wine consumers to assume that all pink wine is alike, says Jeff Morgan in his book, "Rosé: A Guide to the World's Most Versatile Wine," short circuiting their explorations of other pink wines that might expand their palate.
Typically, all good dry California rosé is made in essentially the same manner: red grapes are crushed and pumped into a tank. Usually after a few hours with the grape skins in contact with the juice, the latter is "bled" off (the French call this the "saignée" method) into tanks or barrels to ferment. The color of the rosé is determined by how long the skins have been in contact with the juice. It's interesting to note that rosé can be made from any red grape variety, though locally the most common are Syrah, Grenache and Pinot Noir.
The reason I like drinking rosé is its versatility and ability to refresh the palate. Most are bright and fresh tasting, with crisp acidity. It can hang with a room temperature antipasto platter as well as barbecued short ribs or grilled tri-tip and even the piquant flavors of Thai and Indian cuisine.
Here are some notes on my local faves, recently tasted at the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival and Hospice du Rhone. And yes, I know it'll seem like I never met a rosé I didn't like but clearly 2005 was a great year to be pretty in pink. Just choose your aromatics, flavors, varietal and style; it's hard to go wrong.
Vina Robles Roseum 2005: I've tasted this Paso Robles Syrah based rosé several times now and it never fails to ring my bell. Bottled in clear glass to show off its coral hue, it has aromatics redolent of strawberries and raspberries. The strawberry flavor comes across most prominently, with sour cherry and a little watermelon thrown in for good measure. Very clean and crisp, it has a subtle white pepper zip on the thirst quenching finish.
Verdad Rosé 2005: This one, from the (Spanish) Tempranillo grape, has been consistently refreshing at every tasting. Beautifully vibrant color (clear glass bottle again) that's like vinous eye candy. The flavors, of strawberry and rose petal with a bit of peppery spice, show some fine creaminess on mid palate, giving additional roundness to the wine, as it splashes to a lengthy and refreshing finish.
Robert Hall Rosé de Robles 2005: Another winner from Paso Robles, this rosé is a complex mix of Rhone grapes, though Syrah is main component. Forty-eight hours of skin contact gives this version a deep carmine color, but it also builds in some additional structure and rounded mouth feel. Plenty of red fruits in the flavor mix but cranberry and pomegranate stand out, augmented by spice and a little tug of tannins that really cleanse the palate.
Babcock Big Fat Pink Shiraz 2005: From the "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade playbook," Bryan Babcock made his first pink wine when he found he had excess tons of Syrah from the 2005's near record harvest. Shockingly neon pink in color, it practically bursts with the freshness of strawberry and raspberry fruit. Although it has good supporting acidity, there are no hard edges; it is blissfully mellow and well rounded on mid palate and then the acidity kicks in to hold the whole package together and invite another sip.
Santa Barbara Winery Rose of Syrah 2005: Cherry cider and crunchy cranberry nose on this very dark colored beauty; it's almost like a very light real red wine Syrah! Hearty and bold in the mouth with robust flavors of cherry, cranberry with some strawberry and raspberry too. The boldness is tempered by a smoothness on the palate as well as bright and firm acidity "snap" on the finish.
Curtis Heritage Rosé 2005: Pink grapefruit with a strawberry yogurt creaminess comes into play immediately in this Rhone varietal based rosé, as well as hard candy cranberry. Like all Chuck Carlson's wines, this is no wimp. Big, bold and full bodied, it also has that glycerin feel on mid palate that adds a sweetness and roundness to the mix. Bring on the barbecued ribs!
Mosby Rosato di Sangiovese 2005: Watermelon in color, with strawberry and raspberry on the nose and plenty of berry flavors too. But therés also something a little deeper, found only in a pink Sangiovese: a resounding and deep dark cherry/dried cherry flavor component that makes this pinkie seem more substantial than most. I can see a caprese salad in its future.
Hitching Post "Pink Pinot" Pinot Noir Rosé 2005: Strawberry aromatics give way to subtle strawberries and cream on the palate, with some black cherry flavors lurking around on the perimeter. Designed to have moderate body and therefore be food friendly, it shows a more push and texture on mid palate, due to the barrel fermentation. Zippy and quaffable finish.
Jaffurs Matilija Rosé 2005: Rusty (almost copper) and cloudy in color, "just like it should be," says winemaker Craig Jaffurs, this version is very long and lengthy for a rosé. Perhaps fashioned more after the wines of southern France, it really stretches out and expands on the palate, continuing to echo on the finish. Fresh berry flavors are apparent but also something more weighty that you can't quite put your finger on.
Fiddlehead "Pink Fiddle" Rosé of Pinot Noir 2005: Kathy Joseph's rosé is perhaps the most subtle of all the Pinot based wines I tasted. But it shows good aromatics and then the red fruit flavors slowly bloom in the mouth. Perfectly food friendly, the flavors are cumulative on the palate and, sip by sip, this one grows on you with its understated resilience.
Beckmen Grenache Rosé 2005: Sweet red fruit flavors are the hallmark of this rosé and, though the flavors may seem slight at first, this is just the balance and elegance of this wine showing through. So effective, it actually made me salivate and look around for a bite of food and then sip again.
Foley & Phillips Rosé 2005: Very light blushing pink, this Rhone varietal based rosé shows strawberry, raspberry and brewed tea on the nose, with an intriguing touch of rhubarb and pomegranate. Bright berry flavors are light and refreshing with further hints of lemon zest, lavender and white pepper. Provencal in style, it has classic structure and finish.
Ampelos Rosé of Syrah 2005: This is punchy, crunchy stuff with a red fruit, melt-in-your-mouth center, that will set off your hedonistic brain sensors. A nice sheen of creaminess pours over the strawberry flavors and the finish comes on strong, making an indelible flavor impression.
July 19, 2006