oregon, Ribera del Duero, rosé, washington -

when rosé isn’t a rosé

The beginning of the week here in Petaluma, California saw temperatures in the low 30s (that's centigrade, US friends). It's the beginning of May and that heat takes some getting used to. As the heat builds up during the day, a glass of rosé becomes extremely appealing.

some rosé history

Rosé is, to put it as simply as possible, a pink wine, made mostly from black grapes but with minimal skin contact or extremely gentle pressing to reduce the color of the wine.

Various versions of rosé have been made for centuries: the British term for Bordeaux is Claret, which comes from the French name for pale-colored red wines. See below for a Spanish take on this style.

But rosé for a long time had a bad press, as a wine to drink now and to forget about. It was too often cloyingly sweet, whether as Rosé d'Anjou in the Loire Valley, Mateus and Lancer’s in Portugal, or White Zinfandel in California. And if it was dry, it was simple and dilute.

All that has changed. When I moved to California in 2014, producers were beginning to amp up rosé production due to increasing consumer demand; now, everyone makes rosé and sells out too quickly. The refreshing, light, dry style is ideal for summer drinking, and drinkers can't get enough of it.

In France, Provence, with its very pale-colored wines, has driven the fashion for lean, acidic wines. There's also the Loire, which has many varied styles of rosé. In the US, we're not only seeing an explosion in rosé production but imports from Germany, Austria, Italy, and Australia. Rosé has moved from one of the most unfashionable styles of wine to being widely drunk.

but there's an issue

How does a producer go from making a small amount of rosé to satisfying widespread demand? That’s a problem California producers have had, given that previously the only rosé people drank had been White Zinfandel. All of a sudden, they had to placate drinkers' desire for dry, pale-colored rosé.

In California—and elsewhere on the West Coast—producers are much better placed to meet that demand than they were five years ago. Which is a good thing, as European rosé is at sea—literally—and as we enter the summer months California rosé is in great demand.

In late 2019, the Trump administration introduced tariffs on most European wine below 14%. That means that a lot of European wine imported since then is labeled at 14.1% or more, but it's hard to argue to a customs' official that a rosé has that high level of alcohol. Add Covid-19 to the mix, and it's been incredibly hard to export wine to the US.

Which means there's been a lot of wine stuck in containers in recent months. The Biden administration has suspended—but not canceled—tariffs and importers are rushing to take advantage of the temporary reprieve. Meanwhile, the successful roll-out of vaccines in the US means that demand for wine is going to increase but there may not be the supply to meet that demand.

who benefits?

As we move into May and as more bars and restaurants open, the demand for rosé is only going to rise. But European rosé from the 2020 vintage is still on its way.

This creates an opportunity for US producers: their rosé is ready to go. The flipside, though, is that it may sell out even before European rosé hits the States. If all goes well, small producers will sell out of rosé just as European rosé becomes available—and everyone wins.

I hope the big turnaround from these shortages is the understanding that rosé is not simply a seasonal drink, nor should it be solely from the latest vintage. A good rosé has the acidity, the fruit profile, and the structure to last more than a few months in the bottle. It is also a style of wine that can be a refreshing pairing with the rich food drunk during the winter. There's more to rosé than a summer tipple.

when rosé isn't always a rosé

Savage Grace Blanc FrancSavage Grace "Blanc Franc" Yakima Valley 2018

I first met Michael Savage in 2015 and was immediately impressed by his desire to make elegant wines driven more by acidity than fruit. With the “Blanc Franc” he takes that approach to an extreme. It’s Cabernet Franc, but it’s not a red wine as the grapes are gently pressed to extract as little color as possible. The result is a wine that’s weightier than most white wines, with a deeper color. Think of it as a cross between a white and a rosé, with all the goodness of both.

Hope Well Monday's ChildHope Well "Monday's Child" Willamette Valley 2019

With a Master’s degree in Forestry, Mimi Casteel is deeply rooted, as it were, in the vineyard, committed to preserving the land and expressing it in the wines. In 2019, she made three wines from Pinot Noir, all picked on the same day. “Monday’s Child” received the shortest amount of skin contact, for 24 hours. That’s a short period of time for a red wine, but a long time for a rosé; if the “Blanc Franc” is somewhere in between a white wine and a rosé, then “Monday’s Child” is between a rosé and a red. 

Torremilanos Ojo GalloFinca Torremilanos “Ojo Gallo” Ribera del Duero 2019

The old British term for Bordeaux is Claret, which comes from the French term Clairet for a pale-colored red wine. Meanwhile, in Champagne wines that had a little bit of color were termed œil de perdrix or “partridge eye”—because, obviously, when looking at a wine one immediately thinks of the color of a bird’s eyes.

This Spanish wine is a funky take on those traditional French terms. Ojo Gallo means “rooster eye,” and it’s an extremely pale-colored red wine. An eclectic blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Bobal, Albillo, Viura, and Malvasia this is not a rosé but should be drunk like one: chilled on a summer’s afternoon, gone before you know it. 

It’s a sign of the popularity of rosé that producers are experimenting in order to diversify and stand out from the crowd. Here’s to a style of wine that once was very limited in its range but is now broad and varied.