New classic dry Rosé is making a big refreshing splash in California

a classic view of a vineyard in Provence

a classic view of a vineyard in Provence

Last year we wrote a post eloquently entitled “California Rosé Doesn’t Suck, Anymore”. The response was quite interesting ranging from disbelief to elation. It seems there are quite a few wine fans out there who’ve been craving a serious Rosé effort from California. Of course there have been a number of California producers who have made great Rosé for quite a long time. Unfortunately, most of the wine buying public have not had the pleasure of tasting these but rather the awful slop passed off as wine that dominated the supermarkets in the 1970’s (Mateus anyone?).

We here at DdV have always loved a good pink wine. We’re not ashamed to admit that in the least. A year or so ago, we decided to scour California in search of reasonably priced, serious wines in the tradition of the great Provence producers such as Domaine Ste. Marie or Château Montaud. Our search has continued in earnest this year so we now present to you a number of fine offerings from California producers that have earned the name Rosé. First, however, let’s take a quick look at where Rosé comes from and how it got such a bad name..

How Rosé Went South

Rosé wines have been around since the dawn of European wine making. In the middle ages the pale Clarets from Bordeaux where highly prized as the darker wines subjected to much more skin contact were considered harsher and unrefined. Champagne as well was made in the Rosé style until the late 17th century when Dom Perignon perfected the technique of separating the skins thus producing the white Champagnes we know today. Although more evolved wine making techniques allowed the production of both red and white wines, Rosé has always had a big place in French viticulture from the cool climate wines from Champagnes and The Loire Valley to the warm mediterranean regions of Provence, Taval, and the Southern Rhone. These wines deservedly enjoyed a fine reputation amongst wine lovers world-wide until things changed at the close of World War II.

In order to tarnish the reputation of Rosé, things really had to go south.. and it did.. to Portugal. In order to capitalize on the new post WW II prosperity in Europe and America, two Portuguese family producers began releasing sweet, semi-sparkling Rosé wines. A large marketing blitz on both continents had these wines setting record sales numbers. The brands were Mateus and Lancers and both became household names in the U.S. Below is a commercial from 1979 for Lancers – “The wine you know because you never know”.

By the 1970’s California producers decided to jump on the band wagon for sweet “Rosé” wine as well. White wine had just hit a huge surge in popularity and demand quickly trumped supply. To bridge the gap, many producers started making “blush” wines. Wines made from red grapes but with less skin contact thus created a sweet wine that had similar properties to white wine. Most were made of hearty red varietals such as Zinfandel and Merlot and were sweet and simply awful. However, the American public loved them and sales went through the roof. 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 wines such as the Vin Gris (Pinot) from Alsace, the Garnache based wines from Provence or the Spanish Rosado (Garnache) which had always been popular in Europe.

The Making of a Rosé

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

Skin Contact (Vin Gris)
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.

This technique, popular in the Tavel region of France, involves the combination of both techniques above.  Both red and white grapes are loaded together, whole clusters, into a tank where under the gravity of their own weight the grapes are gently pressed and the juice trickles down to the bottom. There the juice receives its period of brief skin contact with the crushed red skins on the bottom before the lightly colored free-run juice is then bled off. Normal fermentation is then allowed to occur.

There is another 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 Grenache or 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.

Welcome Back

Here is our list of recent releases that have stood out among the crowd. All are highly recommended. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any supermarket finds but we’re always looking. The good news is that these are all very reasonably priced for the quality they deliver!

Radio-Coteau County Line 2012 Rosé

DdV: 93
Price: $20.00
Blend: 100% Champagne Clone Pinot Noir
Source: Russian River Valley – Sonoma

Pound for pound this has been our favorite Rosé for several years now and was the wine that rejuvenated our interest in California Rosé. Made from 100% Champagne clone Pinot this dry crisp refreshing wine is a pure pleasure to drink and pair with food. On the nose bright floral notes abound leading to rich grapefruit on the draw, lush strawberry on the mid and a crisp mineral finish. Grilled shellfish, rich creamy cheese, and grilled fish will all shine paired with this delicious wine.

Lagier Meredeth 2012 Rosé

DdV: 93
Price: $20.00
Blend: 70% Syrah, 20% Zinfandel and 10% Mondeuse
Source: Mount Veeder – Napa Valley

This wine and their Syrah were two of the big hits for us at the recent Mount Veeder tasting in San Francisco. This wonderfully refreshing blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Zin, and 10% Mondeuse is the perfect complement to a warm summer evening. Beautiful floral and white pepper notes on the nose give way to delicate strawberry, bright raspberry, and a flash of tangy pomegranate. Finish is crisp and bright.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Fog Dog Rosé

DdV: 92
Price: $22.00
Blend: 100% Grenache
Source: Monterey County

This is a brand new wine for JPV and was an instant hit at the Insignia Release Party. We have been hoping for a Freestone Rosé sourced from the Sonoma Coast but JPV went “Southern Rhone” all the way by sourcing it from a central coast vineyard that formerly produced the popular Le Mistral wines a number of years back. A true Southern Rhone masterpiece. Soft floral and pomegranate notes on the nose lead to lush strawberry on the mid. A dry burst of mineral and cherry on the finish rounds out this wonderful refreshing wine. This wine is versatile enough to work with grill, pasta, fish, and numerous cheeses. Delightful.

Unti – 2012 Rosé

DdV: 92
Price: $22.00
Blend: 83% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre
Source: Dry Creek – Sonoma

This wine is the lightest and brightest of the bunch. A true Provencal style that is quite dry but has the luxurious mouth feel that make this style so enjoyable on a hot day. Delicate floral notes and rich berry abound. Finish is crisp, minerally, and satisfying. A new favorite and very highly recommended.

Robert Craig – La Fleur Rosé 2010

DdV: 92
Price: $21.00
Blend: 100% Zinfandel
Source: Black Sears Vineyard Howell Mountain – Napa Valley

We haven’t had the new release yet but this has been a favorite year after year so we’re including our review of the 2010. Crisp, dry and refreshing, you couldn’t find a more perfect warm weather drinker than this. Wonderful strawberry notes on the nose that gives way to  bright bold raspberry and grapefruit on the mid palate with a very refreshing finish of mineral and a hint of spice. This works fine all by itself but pairs perfectly with light pasta, salad, and grilled seafood dishes.  If you love your grilled oysters, this is the perfect match.

Notre Vin 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé

DdV: 92
Price: $36.00
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Source: Hughes Vineyard – Howell Mountain

You would be hard pressed to find a more distinguished wine pedigree than Notre Vin proprietors and wine makers Dennis and May-Britt Malbec. Hailing as the third generation of their family to produce wines for First Growth Bordeaux giant Chateau Latour, they have brought their considerable talents to Napa and are producing an amazing array of wines.   The 2008 Cabernet Rosé is such an example. This is a true Rosé in the French tradition that has made it so very popular in Europe. Dry but with a very lush mouthfeel. On the nose, bright berry and pomegranate abound. The mid has beautiful and complex raspberry and strawberry with a delicate and satisfying finish with hints of blueberry and minerals. This wine will pair perfectly with grilled chicken (red bbq sauce), pork loin roast, or cornish game hens. Among the best of the best in California Rosé!

Quivira 2012 Rosé

DdV: 92
Price: $19.00
Blend: 51% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 17% Mourvédre
Source: Dry Creek – Sonoma

This is the best deal in the list at only $19. A dark full-bodied wine that despite its heft is still just as refreshing and delightful as the lighter offerings. Flower petals and hints of watermelon on the nose give way to rich strawberry on the mid. More hints of watermelon and minerals on the crisp finish. Very versatile for pairing from grill to pasta but is simply terrific all by itself.

Luna Vineyards 2012 Minuet
DdV: 91
Price: $30.00
Blend: 100% Pinot Grigio
Source: Napa Valley

This is a first for us. 100% Pinot Grigio. This has many of the properties of the Luna Pinot Grigio (white) that we love. On the nose pomegranate and citrus blossom unfold. On the mid very subtle strawberry mixes with some pomegranate to form a nice soft mouth feel with a nice array of fruit. The finish is clean and spritzy with a small hit of cranberry and mineral. A very nice debut!

Sculpterra – 2012 Paso Pink Rosé

DdV: 91
Price: $25.00
Blend: Grenache
Source: Paso Robles

Our good friends brought this over for us to try and we loved it. Spicy floral notes on the nose with a mid of lush tropical fruit. Hints of strawberry and minerals on the crisp dry finish. Another terrific wine from Paso Robles.


We’re constantly amazed at the reaction Rosé wines get at tasting events and tasting rooms. Many simply refuse to even try them assuming they’re a Sutter Home White Zin. Even at the Joseph Phelps Insignia Release Party last weekend there were more than a few members who were taken aback by the pink liquid greeting them at the start. Every last one of them loved the wine after trying it. Indeed, it was the wine that created the biggest buzz undoubtably due to the expectation that it wouldn’t be good.

To our readers we truly wish to emphasize that the wines listed above are fantastic! As Rosé lovers we couldn’t be happier to share these great finds. Rosé is our go to favorite summer wine and it’s ability to pair with summer cuisine is unmatched. The next time you are at a tasting event, give one a try. Chances are you’ll be one of the converted!