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Recommendations for regional rosés

Despite once-bad reputation, regional rosés have sparkled over the past decade as a seasonal treat

Rosé is generally available in limited quantities, starting around Valentine’s Day and typically sold out by August. (Adriana Janovich)
Rosé is generally available in limited quantities, starting around Valentine’s Day and typically sold out by August. (Adriana Janovich)

This spring and summer, think pink.

Rosé remains on the rise, and with the weather warming up, the time is right to start seeking out dry, bright, fresh, fruity vintages. Best served chilled, rosé is delightfully refreshing and generally affordable.

Plus, it pairs with just about anything.

“It’s made like a white wine so it retains its acidity,” said Josh Wade, owner of Nectar Tasting Room in downtown Spokane. “But there’s enough structure there to pair – maybe not with a hearty steak – but a burger. It will pair well with pork,” too – and, he said, “barbecue, hot days at the lake and fun summer parties. Rosé goes with everything from burgers to sushi to pizza. It’s just a nice wine.”

Rosé began gaining popularity in the U.S. about 10 years ago. Before that, in most – at least American – circles, it was largely thought of as bottom-shelf and sickly sweet.

“It was Californian Kool-Aid,” said Andy Perdue, a Richland, Washington-based wine judge and editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. “People would drop ice cubes in it. It was atrocious.”

Then U.S. winemakers wised up and began producing dry rosés like those made in the south of France. Today, Perdue said, “If you wanted to do a tasting of Northwest rosés, it would be very easy to come up with more than 100 examples.”

In fact, at the Great Northwest Wine Competition at the end of March in Hood River, Oregon, a rosé – Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé from Ancient Lakes – won best of show, beating a record 1,204 entries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Similarly, a brut rosé from Michelle Sparkling Wine won best sparkling wine.

“Rosé has made a comeback as a dry or off-dry wine where the winemaker ferments all or most of the sugar into alcohol, leaving the wine dry and with little sweetness,” Wade said. “Just because a wine is pink doesn’t mean it is white zinfandel or Grandma’s boxed wine.”

Still, he finds himself fighting the old stereotype of cloying pink wine. “You have to do some education,” Wade said. This is one of the things he likes to tell people, especially this time of year: “Quality rosé is often made as a special treat from a winemaker to celebrate spring.”

Part of the appeal might be its seasonality. Rosé is generally available in limited quantities. Many wineries release their vintages in time for Valentine’s Day or a spring release and are sold out by August.

They’re not meant to be aged. If you buy a bottle – or three – “Just drink it. Drink it now and enjoy it,” Perdue said.

Rosés are made from the juice of red wine grapes. Limited contact with grape skins – usually less than 24 hours – gives the wine its pretty pink color and more structure and tannin than a white wine. Many Washington rosés use sangiovese, mourvèdre and syrah grapes.

Wade recommended Skylite Cellars Mourvedre Rosé, which is made in Walla Walla and available at Nectar, Wade’s wine bar. A perennial Washington favorite of his is Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese. It’s also one of Perdue’s go-to rosés.

“Barnard Griffin makes, hands down, the best rosé on the West Coast,” Perdue said. “They’ve won a gold medal or better every year for like 10 years. They can’t keep it on the shelves. If there’s such as thing as a cult rosé it’s this one.” (See sidebar on the cover for more of Perdue’s picks.)

During a recent trip to Spokane, he dined at downtown’s Wild Sage American Bistro. Theirs is the kind of fare, he said, that pairs perfectly with rosé.

“It’s Northwest-style cuisine with a kind of western European twist to it,” Perdue said. “It’s not the big, heavy meals like you might get at a steakhouse or something; it’s much more airy and fresh and wonderful.”

Luna, on Spokane’s South Hill, is known for its extensive wine list, including about two dozen rosés during spring and summer. It’s still a little early in rosé season, said owner Hannah Heber, who expects to order more pink wine this month.

Meantime, the patio’s open and Julia’s Dazzle Pinot Grigio Rosé is a best-seller, Heber said. She’s also excited about Seven Hills Dry Rosé, recently buying seven cases for the restaurant. “It’s really good,” she said. “It’s the French style, not too sweet.”

It isn’t in yet, but Luna also plans to carry Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s rosé, Miraval, made at the celebrity couple’s Chateau Miraval estate in Provence – with the help of a five-generation French winemaking family.

“In the summer, there’s nothing better, I think, than a glass of chilled rosé with a salad or grilled foods or seafood,” Perdue said. “To me, that’s quintessential Pacific Northwest. If I got on a boat, I’d want to have a glass of rosé and some scallops or Dungeness crab.”

Talking about rosé whetted his appetite.

“I’m going to go put a bottle of rosé in the fridge so I can have it for dinner tonight,” Perdue said. “To me, it screams summer.”

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