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For most of my wine drinking life if one mentions a domestic Rosé, I find myself thinking of cheap syrupy swill whose perfect pairing would be a dish prepared by Monsieur Boyardee.

Like myself, the modern American wine enthusiast generally envisions a lovely box adorned with a wine glass, some grapes, and perhaps a celebrity endorser like Emerill or Phill Collins or perhaps even Howard Stern. Actually I would probably buy that because the box would be black with skulls and strippers on it.  Nothing says fine viticulture like skull n’ strippers.

But I digress…

What many wine buyers consider Rosé are actually blush wines made primarily from Zinfandel. The blush Zinfandel or White Zinfandel gained a great deal of popularity in the 1970’s when demand for white wine far exceeded supply. During this time, many US winemakers began creating light wines from red grape varietals such as Zinfandel and Syrah. These sweet easy drinking wines became very popular and introduced a great many new wine drinkers to the market. This trend continued into mid 1980’s with the advent of the wine cooler (Bartles & James anyone?)

As with all trends, there was a backlash from serious wine drinkers. This came to a head around 1983 when the term Rosé or Dry Rosé was introduced. These blush wines were, unlike their White Zin counterparts, serious wines modeled after the European blush wines such as the Vin Gris (Pinot) from Alsace or the Spanish Rosado (Garnache) which had gained popularity in Europe after World War II.

Over the past twenty or so years, more and more quality wineries have been adding Rosé to their offerings. The meteoric rise of Pinot Noir and the proliferation of sparkling wine houses in California’s Anderson Valley has been a boon to quality Rosé. Why? Because one of the better varietals to use for Rosé is the Pinot Noir.  Try a J Vineyards Brut Rosé sparkling wine to see what I mean.  The abundance of Pinot has wine makers looking to expand their offerings and this is great for all of us who enjoy this wine.

The Making of a Rosé
To make a Rosé, wine makers use one of these two techniques:

Skin contact
Red grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, typically one to three days. The must is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation as with a red wine. The skins contain much of the qualities and flavors found in reds, thus the removal of the skin leaves the wine exhibiting the traits of a white wine. The color is determined by the length of time the skins are left in contact with the juice. The longer, the darker.

Rosé wine can be produced as a by-product of red wine fermentation using a technique known as Saignée which is French for bleeding. To impart more tannin and color to a red wine, some of the pink juice from the must can be removed at an early stage. The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding, because the volume of juice in the must is reduced, and the must involved in the maceration is concentrated. The pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce a blush wine.

There is a third method called blending but no winemaker worth a plug nickel would use this. In fact, its illegal in France.

Wineries will choose different varietals to make these fantastic Rosé wines. Some will choose Pinot, some will choose Zinfandel or Syrah. Some will even choose Cabernet or Merlot. One thing they have in common is a serious nature and complexity not found in the early swill years.

Here’s a list of some wineries making amazing Rosé. We’ll be reviewing two new fantastic offerings soon.

Robert Craig
Notre Vin
Tablas Creek

Rosé is Back

So there you have it California! No longer must we envy our French wine loving brethren sitting on a grassy Marseille hillside drinking a refreshing Rosé from a prestigious Coteaux d’Aix en Provence producer while feeling the cool kiss of the mistral wind. No sir. We can now enjoy the same wine experience sitting in our uncle Ted’s sweltering weed laden back yard in Fresno while feeling the satanic kiss of the Santa Ana winds.

The dream is back California!!