It’s warming up. My peach tree is breaking out in salmon-colored blossoms. It reminds me of enjoying a glass of rosé with friends, something I hope to do soon. Rosé has come a long way since the days that some California wineries combined left over red and white wine and marketed it as such.
In the early sixties, Julia Child declared, “Rosé can be served with anything,” which boosted the popularity of brands like Lancers and Mateus. Later, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home started the white zinfandel craze in the mid-1970s.
Whether the grapes are grown exclusively or some red wine juice is bled off early, a process known as the “saignee method,” the core of rosé production is minimal maceration, or limited contact with skins resulting in lighter color and softer flavors.
As palates became more sophisticated, U.S. consumers turned to Provencal rosé from southern France. Appellations like Côtes de Provence and Bandol farm the vineyards exclusively for the production of artisanal rosé. They predominantly use Rhone varietals like grenache, syrah, cinsault and mourvedre that produce fresh, fruit-forward rosé wines with an elegant mouthfeel.
Provencal rosé has been imported since the late-1930s, but an explosion that started in the early 21st century is infusing nearly 5 million cases annually into our markets.
One such import, from high altitude vines in Côtes de Provence, the pale-pink La Bernarde Cotes de Provence Rosé Les Hauts du Luc 2019 ($18) comes from limestone 1j soils that deposit large stones on the surface. Predominantly cinsault, with grenache, mourvedre, rolle and syrah, the wine’s aromas were fruity and flinty while the soft, integrated flavors added some spice on the finish. This good value rosé is available online.
Provencal rosé has both inspired and challenged California winemakers throughout the state to produce exclusively grown, high-quality “pink wine” releases of high standard. A rosé I recently tasted from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County answered this call.
A New Zealand native, winemaker Fin du Fresne has brought his knowledge and experience working in Provence and Bandol to create the 2020 Malene Rosé ($22). A classic Rhone-style blend of grenache (80%), mourvedre (10%), syrah (6%) and cinsault (4%), it is sourced from sustainable vineyards and produced at a SIP (sustainability in practice)-certified winery.
A distinct minerality is woven through the aromas and flavors of melon and strawberry. The salinity in the local sandy loam soils adds to the flinty elements, but Fin credits his rare inert gas press with preserving the freshness of its aromas and flavors. Malene also produces single varietal rosé from grenache and mourvedre.
Equally distinctive, the Malene tasting room is a custom Airstream trailor parked in the Edna Valley outside of San Luis Obispo.
The Limerick Lane Winery, in east Russian River Valley, is known for developing fine California zinfandel and Rhone varietals. However, a trip to Provence and days of drinking rosé and eating mussels inspired owner Jake Bilbro to plant new grapes for exclusive use in his “non-saignee” release.
A blend of grenache (49%), syrah (39%) and mourvedre (12%), the Limerick Lane 2020 Rosé ($28) exudes soft mineral notes with aromas of orange blossoms and fresh citrus and berries on the palate. Vintage to vintage, it adds a bit of savoir faire to California rose’ wines.
Estate-grown in the Santa Ynez Valley, the single varietal Brickbarn 2019 Grenache Rosé ($32) offers a bouquet of stone fruits, melon and mineral notes, fresh strawberry flavors and rich texture. Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded this release 92 points. The pinot noir grape is used abundantly in single varietal California rosé.
Two low-production releases from Sonoma County are among the fine examples recently tasted. Sourced from an estate vineyard that strides both Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill appellations, the Balverne Rosé of Pinot Noir (RRV) ($24) is a soft and balanced fruit-forward wine with expressions of tropical and stone fruits.
Owner-winemaker Kerith Overstreet started Bruliam to create Burgundian-style wines with grapes sourced from vineyards in Sonoma County and other regions. Using sourced saignee juice from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, her aromatic 2019 Bruliam Rosé of Pinot Noir bursts on the palate with myriad flavors and balanced acidity.
Julia Child was right. Rosé can be served with just about everything from soft cheeses and shellfish to fresh salmon and Thai food. However, it is best paired with good friends on a warm afternoon.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email mourvedre email@example.com.