If there is a more versatile, summertime wine than a chilled, dry rosé, I haven’t found it.
These wines have become more and more popular in recent years, both as by-the-glass restaurant pours and no-fuss picnic wines suitable for any outdoors occasion.
They come in a rainbow of colors from around the world. But living in the Pacific Northwest, we have the rare luxury of choosing from dozens of Washington and Oregon rosés, made in limited quantities and available for a few weeks in the spring and summer.
You will certainly find good examples in your local wine shop and many more sold exclusively at winery tasting rooms.
Certain grapes grown here in the Northwest do especially well as rosés – notably pinot noir, sangiovese, cabernet franc, and especially Rhône blends with some combination of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre.
Sometimes these wines are made by a process called saignée, French for “bleeding.” The juice of fermenting red wine grapes is quickly drained from the tank before too much color or tannin has been absorbed from contact with the skins. This pale juice is fermented separately, sometimes in stainless steel, sometimes in barrel. The remaining red wine, it is hoped, will be more concentrated as a result.
But most often, the best rosés have been produced from grapes harvested early and earmarked for rosé from the very beginning.
They are not always clearly indicated as dry; you may wish to inquire about a particular bottle before purchasing it. If it lists the alcohol at 13 percent or higher, you can be confident it will be technically dry. If you prefer a rosé with a hint of sweetness, look for alcohol around 12 percent. If the residual sugar is listed on the label, look for wines that are under 1 percent.
Remember that even bone dry rosé can give an impression of sweetness, because the fruit is so young and vibrant.
Locally produced rosés are almost always from the most recent vintage – in fact, you should be suspicious of anything older than vintage 2008. These are rarely wines to cellar.
Flavors are light and fruity, often reminiscent of watermelon or strawberry or cherry candy. But the best of them go beyond simple fruit and offer additional textures and hints of flower and spice and sometimes cracker or grain.
If you are planning a gathering of friends, you might ask each couple to bring a bottle of chilled rosé. A collection of these wines makes a splashy centerpiece for any picnic table. Serve them at the temperature you most prefer for white wines.
Dry rosés are a good match for a wide variety of salads, cheeses, pasta dishes, poultry and luncheon meats.
Recently, I was asked to host a live, online, wine-tasting house party. Featuring eight different Washington rosés, it was podcast and tweeted live from a Seattle houseboat.
Incorporating the best features of live video, online and social media, it was a fully interactive wine tasting. Spokane blogger Josh Wade (at DrinkNectar.com) participated from his home and put up a video of some of the live tasting on his website.
The eight dry Washington rosés we tasted were the Barnard Griffin 2009 Rosé of Sangiovese ($12); Charles & Charles 2009 Rosé of Syrah ($13); Chinook Wines 2009 Rosé of Cabernet Franc ($15); Dusted Valley 2009 Rosé ($18); Lullaby 2008 Rosé of Grenache ($16); Sleight of Hand Cellars 2009 Rosé of Cabernet Franc ($18); Syncline Wine Cellars 2009 Rosé ($16); and Waters 2009 Rosé ($18).
Made in a wide range of styles, they shared one thing in common – they were delightful, fresh and versatile.
Here are a few more favorites:
Abacela 2009 Grenache Rosé ($14). Cherry red, with a tangy mix of cranberry and cherry fruit.
Adelsheim 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($19). A light and elegant rosé, bone dry, tart and citrusy, with wild strawberries and hints of rose petals.
Cowhorn 2009 Grenache Rosé ($18). From a biodynamic producer, this is scented with rose petals and watermelon, adding fresh strawberries in the lingering finish.
Efesté 2009 Babbitt Rosé ($20). This is mostly syrah, blended with cabernet, a touch of merlot and a touch of grenache. Fruit-forward and powerful.
Trio Vintners 2009 Très Rosé ($15). Half grenache and half mourvèdre, this is loaded with ripe strawberry and cherry candy fruit flavors.
Viento 2009 Chukar Ridge Vineyard Sangiovese Rosé ($14). Bone dry, wonderfully fresh and loaded with strawberry and watermelon fruit.
Waterbrook 2009 Sangiovese Rosé ($13). Spicy and bone dry, with pretty flavors of cherry candy, lemon oil and nougat. There’s a nice citrus snap to the finish.