Have you ever had that situation where you get together with two of your friends who have never met each other? You figure that because you get along with both of them, then they’ll get along with each other. But when they finally do meet, it’s clear that they just don’t match up.
Last week I grabbed two pink wines from the cellar and thought I’d make some introductions. What a mistake. As a result I like one of my friends more than the other; so much, in fact, that I don’t think I can be friends with one of them. It’s a bit discomfiting. The friend I’m ditching lives nearby. There’s a chance I’ll run into him again. As the kids might say, “Awwwwkward!!”
Several months back I tasted Chimney Rock’s rosé of cabernet franc at their winery on the Silverado Trail just north of Napa. Looking back it must have been one of those context/environment things: nice surroundings, warm sunshine through the tasting room windows, pleasant wine chatter with the host. And the wine was just delicious. Brilliant cherry color, like Kool-Aid with some guts. A muted nose but a mouthful of dried fruit, lush, with a bit of earthiness. A pretty good showing for the kind of wine the vast majority of American producers still can’t seem to get their arms around. So I bought a few bottles. Like I said, the wine was good.
It turns out it wasn’t good enough. At least not in the elements that I think make up a good rosé, and especially not when compared to a wine that has the goods. I like my pink wines to be light, crisp, and refreshing. I want a mouth-watering acidity that begs me to take one amazed sip after another. Bonus points for a bit of a floral nose or brilliant, pretty colors.
The wine I put up against, ahem, introduced to, the Chimney Rock was Gaia Estates’ “14-18h” rosé of Agiorgitiko from the Peloponessus region in southern Greece. Honestly, I thought these two wines would compare nicely. The Gaia is not my favorite sort of rosé, being darker, deeper, and a bit more on the savory side. Not all that different, I guessed, than the Napa pink.
But I was wrong. The Gaia blew the local fellow away because of two things: structure and acid. There is a lean minerality and pronounced acid to the Gaia that the soft, lush wine from Chimney Rock just couldn’t match. I have to admit I was disappointed with the Napa bottle, which, when compared to its Greek counterpart, seemed to be lacking backbone. It was a bit of a Gertrude Stein – Oakland moment: there was no there there.
But all the back and forth on these two wines got me thinking about American rosé in general. Where are those wines that offer the same delightful, crisp, refreshment that can be had with so many European rosés? The good European pinks transport you to within shouting distance of the sun-soaked Mediterranean. Most of the California rosés I’ve had in recent years just don’t pack the same zippy punch. Too often they come out of the bottle too heavy, too sweet, or just too poorly made.
Happily, the tide is beginning to turn. More and more California rosés are starting to resemble, with understandable California markings, those great pink wines of southern Europe. Recent notable encounters include County Line Pinot Noir from the Elke Home Ranch in Anderson Valley, Cep Vineyards (Peay’s 2d label) Pinot Noir from the Russian River, and Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional from the Luchsinger Vineyard in Lake County. Leading the pack right now, at least for me, is the Lasseter Family Winery’s “Enjoué,” a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache inspired by the great pink wines of Provence and Bandol. From grapes grown on the Lasseter estate in Sonoma, this bottle has a depth of flavor and structure that is unmatched by anything coming out of California these days. A serious wine but full of the zing and zest found in the best rosés. With a production of only 463 cases, I need to get back to Sonoma as soon as possible. This is a wine not to be missed.
I’m not ready to turn my back on my European friends just yet. But I can see a point in the future where my rosé selections fall farther and farther away from the sunny shores of the Mediterranean.
If you’ve had your own Eureka! moment with California rosé, I’d love to hear about it. I’m always on the lookout for the next good bottle of pink!