I kicked-off this Drinking With Doug adventure nearly a year ago with a piece about rosé. Perceptions about the style of wine in the United States had evolved dramatically since the 1970s, when it was associated with the boozy equivalent of cherry cola. But beginning somewhere in the 2000s, Americans began finding rosé cool. I wanted to explore the style for my first piece, and found treasure.
For the most part, rosé’s reputational transformation revolved around European rosé (particularly in France), where the wine isn’t so much cool as just part of culture. It also can be quite good. As U.S. sommeliers and wine fans began exploring Euro rosé and championing its virtues, consumer interest spiked.
With U.S. celebrities launching their own rosé brands (Drew Barrymore, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, John Legend), we may be hitting peak rosé this year, although last May I also believed we had reached a summit.
Either way, my old pal Will Frischkorn, the owner of Cured, persuaded me to explore domestic rosé this year. We know it can be wonderful in Mediterranean countries (and the Austrians make some killer rosé as well), but how are us Yanks doing?
We’re doing just dandy.
“Each year, domestic rosé games up,” said Frischkorn, who carries a big selection of rosé in Cured’s petite wine shop. He said that as rosé demand began surging, serious American winemakers finally started experimenting with the style. And just as they cared deeply about their pinot noirs and chardonnays, they paid close attention to their rosés.
Consider the rosé from Lorenza Wine Company in Napa Valley. Mother-daughter winemakers Melinda Kearney and Michelle Ouellet are so serious about the style they don’t make any other wines — just rosé.
“We are making rosé with intention,” said Kearney, who grew up at 55th and Baseline in Boulder, graduated from Fairview High School and the University of Colorado, and owned two restaurants in Boulder — Morgul Bismark and The Blue In — before moving to California in 1990. “Our goal was working with old vines. We wanted to do something special, and we feel there is a lot more complexity as well as ageability with rosé made from old-vine grapes.”
Lorenza’s approach to making rosé illustrates key differences between middling rosé, and wine that can silver a gray day (you know, the kind of rosé we all needed during Boulder’s month-long impersonation of the Olympic Peninsula). A principal rosé-making advantage? Lorenza picks grapes early, before winemakers would normally harvest to make reds.
Relatively high acidity and low alcohol are rosé hallmarks. But fully ripened fruit often leads to the opposite. Some rosé (see: middling) is made as a byproduct of red wine production: the grapes fully ripen, the grapes are pressed and the juice macerates with the skins, but some of the juice is bled away from the tanks shortly after maceration begins; this pale juice gets turned into rosé. But it’s often flabby and higher in alcohol than it should be for proper rosé.
In addition, Lorenza uses four grapes that are the heart of most classic Provence rosés: Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault.
“When people think of Lorenza, when they think about why it’s good, ideally they would know it’s because we pay attention to the details at all levels of winemaking,” said Kearney. “But one thing I love about rosé, too, is it can just be a nice glass of pink wine. You don’t have to know anything about wine to appreciate it.”
The wife-husband team at Settembre Cellars winery in Boulder, Tracy and Blake Eliasson, devote the same level of care towards their rosés as they do towards their Syrahs and Sangioveses. Like Kearney at Lorenza, they make rosé with intention with grapes from the Western Slope.
“We really loved Chinon (a region of France’s Loire Valley known for rosé and red wine made from the Cabernet Franc grape ), and we wanted to use single vineyard, single varietal Cab Franc to make our rosé, and we wanted to make it the way it’s supposed to be made,” said Blake Eliasson. “Fortunately, Cabernet Franc grows wonderfully in Colorado.”
“It turns into such pretty rosé,” said Tracy Eliasson. “It’s dry, it’s crisp, and you want it no matter what you are eating. And if you are outdoors, you want to drink this rosé.”
Settembre also make a rosé from a French-American hybrid grape that they grow in Boulder; while most wine grapes will not survive Front Range winters, hybrids do. I’m eager to give Settembre’s hybrid a shot, with thoughts of planting some of my own wine grapes in the back yard.
Let’s visit one more rosé, from another winemaker with a Boulder connection. Nate Ready moved from the Napa Valley to Boulder in 2003 to help launch Frasca Food & Wine; he was the restaurant’s first wine director, and like Frasca’s founders worked at The French Laundry prior to Frasca. He left Frasca in 2008 for Oregon, where he started the winery Hiyu.
Ready was in town recently, and held a wine tasting that featured, among other things, a rosé called Spring Ephemeral that he makes from Zinfandel.
Spring Ephemeral did not look like a variation on a theme of a cherry blossom; it looked more like a glass of pinot noir. But it smelled like those tiny strawberries for sale at Boulder farmers’ markets in June — lovely. And it tasted like a blend of cassis, blackberry and smoke, but all in a minor key; the rosé version of those bold flavors.
“I think rosé sits at an amazing place between white and red,” said Ready. “It’s often what I want to drink. In terms of the pleasures of wine with food, rosé is the answer more times than not.”
Good answer, Nate. We’ll be sipping rosé across the summer, and maybe this year we’ll keep at into the winter.