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 leftover red and white wine and marketed it as such.
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.
For decades, seasoned U.S. palates have 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.
One such import, from high altitude vines in Côtes de Provence, the pale-pink La Bernarde Cotes de Provence Rose Les Hauts du Luc 2019 ($18) comes from limestone soils that deposit large stones on the surface. Predominantly cinsault, with grenache, mourvedre, rolle and syrah, the aromas were fruity and flinty while the soft, integrated flavors added 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. I recently tasted a rosé from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County that answered the 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 Rose’($22). A classic Rhone-style blend of grenache (80 percent), mourvedre (10 percent), syrah (6 percent) and cinsault (4 percent), 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.
The Limerick Lane Winery, in the 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 percent), Syrah (39 percent)and Mourvedre (12 percent), the Limerick Lane 2020 Rosé ($28) exudes soft mineral notes with aromas of orange blossoms and fresh citrus and berries on the palate.
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 strawberries flavors and rich texture. Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded this release 92 points.
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.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of Lyle W. Norton.