In The Pink

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!

8 thoughts on “In The Pink

  1. Angela T Carlson

    Just got back from the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and had a number of Pinot-based Roses that were just delicious. Brought home these two, both under $20: 2010 Baxter Mendocino Ridge Rose: Crisp, clean, nice nose & fruit, great acidity and finish. 12.5 %
    2011 Navarro Rose of Pinot Noir: Fun, bright, fruity without being annoyingly so and really tasty. 13.7%. Navarro also has a Grenache Rose that I almost got that some nice spicy notes to it.
    The other Rose that I may pick up after my pocketbook recovers from the festival is Balo Vineyards. Brand new on the scene with Jason Drew as their winemaker, yummy!
    I’m also a fan of European Roses and have a special place on my palate for Bandol, which I found is absolutely fabulous with cracked crab. : )
    Hey Bay Area locals, if you’re not busy on the 31st, Karen at the Alameda Wine Bar is having a Rose event: 5:30-7:30 pm: $5-10 (not remembering the correct Tasting fee at the moment)
    Love to see some of you there!

    1. Tom Riley

      Angela, thanks for the great review of local pinks. I do recall having the Navarro and enjoying it. Their low alcohol wines are always so refreshing. And thanks for the tip on the local tasting. Hope the date works out.

  2. schmitztc

    I love this time of year when we are thinking Rose!!! But when you live in Pennsylvania, the ease of finding ANY good Rose is questionable.. The few Roses they carry from the US are just plain bad in my mouth!… Thank goodness a few of the higher level State Stores carry Tavel Rose (so far my favorite rose region) but very few others from ANYWHERE…cant wait to leave the state to try some of these that you have listed!!

    1. Tom Riley

      I’m a big Tavel fan also; lots of great wine coming out of there. The Bay Area shops are awash in pink right now and the variety of styles and regions is overwhelmingly wonderful. Let’s all pray that PA and other similarly backward states change their ways and let the people have what the people want. Damnit!! Thanks for reading!

  3. Tom Riley

    Dan, thanks for the kind words. I am in complete agreement. I think America is on the verge of solving this puzzle and we’ll be slurping down some great local pink in no time. I wonder if some of the problem was a marketplace that either didn’t care or didn’t know (partly the fault of producers). That’s all changing. I’m expecting great things from CA and others in the near future. Thanks for reading.

    1. Dan

      I think that there are two camps in America for pink wine drinkers. Sweet White Zinfandel clearly still dominates the pink market, and Americans do have a sweet tooth, a soda sweet tooth. These folks love it and probably haven’t moved up to dry Rosé. Keep in mind that only about 18% of Americans have passports, that’s likely these folks that have never been to Provence, Mexico maybe. Hey, maybe Corona could make a pink beer? The other camp are the folks who are wine drinkers, and are likely well traveled. They see the light and treat their Rosé as red wine lovers treat their red wines. These imbibers love wine and appreciate the pleasure of a well made Rosé from any country. It may be unfair to place any blame on the domestic producers, they have a hard enough time selling their regular wines let alone having to explain the pink wine. But, let’s not forget that there is nothing wrong with a sweet domestic Rosé, people do love it and that’s the whole idea of wine enjoyment. Long live Mateus Rosé, everybody needs a candle holder sometime!

      1. Tom Riley

        I do agree with so much of what you rightly point out. Can’t deny that there is a market for sweeter wines, and there always will be. And producers are fools if they don’t make some effort to satisfy the desires of the market. You’re a fool of a businessperson if you stubbornly produce what you think people should want, all the while ignoring where the real demand might lie. Still…is it wrong to want folks to drink better wine? Thanks for the insights!

  4. Dan

    Rosé, love it! Tom, Great comments on the stylistic differences between the European and domestic Rosé. I see no reason why America can’t make great Rosé, I think it’s just a matter of time. My favorite California Rosé came from The Scherrer Winery in Sonoma a few years ago, a blend of Pinot Noir & Zinfandel grapes, lighter in color, average alcohol, and a dead ringer for a Rosé from Provence, France. I’m kind of old school and one of the reasons I like drinking European Rosé is to bring back the great memories of having travelled there, sitting outdoors in a cafe somewhere, sipping on pink wine, yum.

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