Rosés for Summer Sipping

These food-friendly wines have become synonymous with the season.




 

We might resist the idea, but wine is as subject to fashion as any other aspect of the crafted arts. And like anyone who has seen tie-widths fluctuate and hemlines rise and fall, we all know that fashion is cyclical. Finally, it seems, the public is putting rosé back on the runway. To keep you in couture, our writers spotlight their favorites of the 300 they tasted in the pages ahead.

But first, a bit of pink 101: Most high-quality rosés are made from dark-skinned grapes. After the grapes are crushed, the winemaker chooses how long the juice will remain in contact with the skins: In general, the longer the period of skin contact, the darker and more tannic the wine. To make rosé, the juice is separated from the skins relatively quickly, resulting in the pale color.

Rosés can range in color from pale copper to pink to verging-on-red. The color depends on length of skin contact, but on other factors, too, including the grape variety used. Regardless of the hue, rosés that are browning have aged past their prime—these are wines meant to be enjoyed young. But otherwise, color can only hint at what lies within: Some rosés are darker or more full-bodied than others, but for the most part they should be light and refreshing, no matter the depth of color. They can be fruity, yes, but also spicy, floral or minerally.

Perhaps most importantly, the wines we consider rosés are dry. Back in the 1970s, California producers coined the term "blush" because they feared that "rosé" had become antiquated. Now, we use blush to denote a certain style of wine: Blush wines are relatively soft and usually rather sweet. The white Zinfandels that introduced millions of Americans to the joys of wine are blush wines, as are the modern spinoffs, such as white Shiraz and white Merlot.

Rosés, on the other hand, exhibit some structure. Even though there is limited skin contact, there is enough tannin and acid to support the fruit, and an absence of sugar, yielding wines of refreshment and sophistication. The fact is, rosés are perfect summer wines—light, refreshing, delicious. And they are great accompaniments to food, most especially when the picnic table is groaning under a multitude of dishes. A more versatile food wine you won't find in any color, at any price point.

Here, we present the top rosés our editors have tasted from around the world. Although some of the wines reviewed are from the 2005 vintage, many of them will have been replaced on store shelves or on restaurant lists by the 2006s this summer. Stick to producers who've done well in the past, but—given a choice—always go for the newer vintage. This is one time when it's safe to resurrect Steve Martin's line from The Jerk: "Bring us some fresh wine!"

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France
Rosé sales have now surpassed those of white wine within France. That's hardly surprising considering the French love for open-air summer dining and the prevailing belief that drinking rosé at lunchtime is a lighter choice than opting for red. As the world's leading producer of rosé wines, French winemakers craft an impressive variety of rosés, from regions as diverse as Alsace, Burgundy and the Languedoc. In the main, the style is dry, emphasizing a link between wine and food. The only exception of importance is Anjou in the Loire Valley where Rosé d'Anjou is a sweet wine.

But the main French center of rosé activity is in Provence, where eight percent of the world's rosé is made. Based around local varieties (Grenache and Cinsault are considered ideal as the base), with the increasing addition of Syrah, these are fresh rosés, showing good acidity to go with the crisp, fruity palate. These same varieties take pride of place in the Rhône Valley, where rosés can range from simple and fruity to something larger scaled and even capable of modest aging, as in Tavel.

Bordeaux is another major production area. Most of the wine here is made as a by-product of red, draining some of the juice off red vats to concentrate the color before fermentation in a process called saignée. The style here is full, with just a touch of sugar, often with vanilla and rosewater flavors, designed to be served as an apéritif rather than partnered with food. —Roger Voss.

91 Château Les Valentines 2006 Côtes de Provence; $20. A new property, Château Les Valentines has only being making wine since 1997, under the direction of owner Gilles Pons. With a 56-acre vineyard in the heart of the rosé belt of Provence, Pons is well placed to capture the sunshine in this blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Tibouren. It's a wonderful fruit salad of grapes, which makes for a deliciously fresh rosé. Red fruits and pink grapefruit burst in the mouth, and the acidity results in a crisp, delicate finish. —R.V.

91 Domaine Sorin 2006 Terra Amata Côtes de Provence; $10. Born in Chablis, Luc Sorin arrived in Provence in 1994, buying a 29-acre parcel of land, partly in the Bandol appellation, partly in Côtes de Provence. His rosé seems to have kept a northern freshness—it's a crisp, pink-grapefruit and cranberry-juice flavored wine, with refreshing acidity. Terra Amata is Sorin's basic rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan. It's fermented in specially designed rotating oak casks, intended, according to Sorin, to give softer, smoother tannins to the wine. —R.V.

90 Domaine Saint-André de Figuière 2006 Vieilles Vignes Côtes de Provence; $22. Old vines are the secret behind the concentrated fruit at Saint-André de Figuière. The rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre, is a deliciously fresh but ripe wine, intense in red fruit flavors, elegantly brushed with flavors of wild strawberries and a light tannic structure. The aftertaste is full, but packed with vibrant acidity. Owned by Alain Combard (who used to work with Michel Laroche in Chablis), the organically farmed estate is jammed between the Maures mountain and the coast. —R.V.

90 Domaine de Nizas 2006 Coteaux du Languedoc; $16. John Goelet, owner of Clos du Val in Napa Valley, bought Domaine de Nizas in 1998, and launched his first vintage in 2001. The 2006 rosé is his best so far. Blending Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, the pinkish violet-colored wine results from six to 12 hours of skin contact. It's a full-bodied style of rosé, but it works because the fruit is so vibrant and lively. Wild strawberries dominate, with acidity, a touch of caramel and distinct minerality. —R.V.

90 Domaine de Souviou 2006 Bandol; $NA. This rosé is made from pressing rather than maceration, followed by a long fermentation. An enticing floral-scented aroma is a good start. And things get even better with its crisp, red-apple and currant flavors and a touch of vanilla. This is relatively full-bodied—in alcohol at least—but the acidity acts as a great foil. This estate, whose name comes from the Provençal word for sage, soouvi, also produces oil from its 100-year-old olive trees. —R.V.

90 Mas des Bressades 2006 Costières de Nîmes; $12. Within the broad southern reaches of the Rhône Valley, any list of the top value appellations must include Costières de Nîmes, an area of surging quality. Washington, D.C.-based importer Robert Kacher brings in several rosés from the region, including this gem. A 50-50 blend of Grenache and Syrah, this is a gorgeous rosé, loaded with wonderfully intermingled flavors of pears and strawberries and graced by hints of spring flowers and spice. It's lush on the palate, with a long, harmonious finish. Best Buy.  —Joe Czerwinski.

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Italy
It might appear that Italy does not have much of a rosé culture: It's rarely seen on restaurant wine lists and rosato accounts for only five percent of the country's total wine production. But scratch the surface and Italy has an age-old rosato tradition that spans the entire peninsula and relies on as many as 50 indigenous grape varieties. In fact, Italian rosato culture is among the most unique and tradition-driven in the world.

For one thing, the history of Italian wine pretty much starts with rosato because the farmers who produced and consumed wine in olden days didn't have the time or techniques for making distinct red or white wines that require long skin macerations and temperature control. Back then, most wines were some shade of pink and if you consider the etymology of many of the regional names for rosato, they stem from dialectal words for "to crush," "to press" or to "make wine in a hurry."

Thanks to its reputation for freshness, fruitiness, ease and drinkability, rosato is one of the hottest, albeit small, wine categories in Italy. Massimo Di Cintio, author of a popular rosato guide, estimates that rosato has increased by 20 percent over the past three years, resulting in more than 500 distinct labels today.

"The most important production areas include Puglia, Abruzzo, Alto Adige, the Lake Garda areas around Brescia and Bardolino and up-and-coming areas in Tuscany and Campania" he explains. Some 95 percent of rosatos are made with red grapes and these include Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Montepulciano, Lagrein and the Valpolicella varieties. "Although rosato is distinct and different on a national level, it is very homogenous on a local level," says Di Cintio.

Rosato offers excellent value, with many products priced well under $15 and a broad affinity for food. "As Italian cuisine becomes increasingly refined and delicate, our reds wine are moving in the opposite direction by becoming more powerful and alcoholic," says Di Cintio: "Consumers want a wine that meets them in the middle and that wine is rosato."

Increasingly popular in Italy are wines called ramato, which are copperish in color instead of pink. Made from Pinot Grigio in the Trentino and Veneto regions, the must is briefly left in contact with its reddish skins to make a uniquely colored wine that shares many characteristics with traditional rosato. —Monica Larner

88 Aldegheri 2006 Zaleo Rosé Veronese; $NA. Fine and delicate aromas of rose petal, a light touch of raspberry and pretty almond tones make this a generous and feminine wine with high appeal among rosé enthusiasts seeking a wine from the eastern shores of Lake Garda. The wine has crisp acidity and refined nuances in the mouth that are protected and enhanced thanks to the use of a novel glass closure that fits snugly into the lip of the bottle just like a traditional cork. —M.L.

88 Cantina Terlan 2005 Lagrein Alto Adige; $15. One of Italy's reliable rosés year after year, the 2005 is getting a bit long in the tooth, but still boasts scents of dried rose petals tinged with leather and earth. There's plenty of richness, weight and complexity, but drink up, or look for the 2006, which should arrive in the U.S. this summer. —J.C.

86 Leone de Castris 2005 Five Roses Salento; $12. Here's a style of rosé that takes you straight to the sunny deep south of Italy, thanks to its bouquet of ripe red fruit and its velvety mouthfeel. The cherry and fruit aromas are penetrating and long lasting. First made in 1943, many consider this Italy's first quality rosato. —M.L.

86 Feudo Maccari 2006 Re Noto Sicilia; $NA. The wine's color is a dark shade of raspberry, and its nose is expansive and intense with raspberry-soda-like aromas, almond paste, mint cream and white stone. The red berry fruit is less vibrant but the wine remains full and tasty thanks to its hot-climate Sicilian roots. Pair this wine with more structured foods like oven roasted chicken, potatoes au gratin or pasta with red sauce. —M.L.

85 Carpineto 2006 Rosato Toscana; $10. A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, this light ruby-colored wine is richly redolent of white cherry, forest berries, white flowers, chalky minerals and herbal tones too. It's floral and fresh in the mouth, clean, informal and easy to drink. —M.L.

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United States
California, New York, Washington and Oregon are turning out pink wines from Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera, Rhône blends, you name it. Some are dark and full-bodied, some pale and light. Some are dry, others sweet. Some are called rosé, others have fanciful names. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, when it comes to rosé, you never know what you're getting.

Why the rosé boom now? In part, it's because of California's record crop levels in 2005, followed by another big harvest in 2006. Vintners couldn't sell all that red, and preferred to at least make some money with rosés. But it's also because consumers are more open to rosé than ever. Rosés go with almost every kind of cuisine, including many ethnic-based fares, and tend to be lower in alcohol than reds, thus easier to drink. Even people who say they don't like reds will happily quaff rosés. —Steve Heimoff

91 Lucy 2006 Rosé of Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands; $18. The wine is from Lucia Vineyards, one of the brands from the Pisonis, who are so closely associated with this hilly Monterey County appellation. The winemaker is Jeff Pisoni, who crafts all his family's wines. He sourced his grapes mainly from the famous Pisoni and Gary's vineyards. Although this rosé is entirely Pinot Noir, the wine itself is Provençal-like, displaying waves of cherry skin, rosehip tea, strawberry, tobacco, vanilla, herb and peppery spice flavors, enhanced to pinpoint purity by the cool, long-hangtime vintage. Malolactic fermentation was allowed, but the wine shows the crispness of all Highlands wines. —S.H.

90 Foley & Phillips 2006 Santa Ynez Valley; $15. From Foley Estates, and for the second vintage in a row, one of the best rosés in California. Made from equal parts of low-yielding Grenache and Cinsault from the eastern Santa Ynez Valley, and Syrah from Foley Estate's Santa Rita Hills estate vineyard, the wine was stainless-steel fermented in separate lots, allowing the fruit components of each variety to shine. Pink in color, it's dry and crisp in balancing acidity, with relatively low alcohol, showing subtle flavors of cherries, herbs and spices. —S.H.

90 Shadow Canyon 2005 Central Coast; $18. Shadow Canyon, located in the mountainous far western extension of Paso Robles, is an undiscovered star for its Rhône varieties. The Syrah (75% of the blend) was bled off from winemaker Gary Gibson's more expensive estate dry wine, while the Grenache is from the Larner Vineyard, in the warmer Santa Ynez Valley. Fermented in stainless-steel tanks, the wine has an elegant mouthfeel, dry and silky. The flavors suggest mashed ripe cherry pulp, sweet vanilla, cinnamon spice and Kir Royale, and while that sounds decadently rich, the wine somehow achieves great finesse and subtlety. —S.H.

90 Tablas Creek 2006 Paso Robles; $25. Just delicious, a wine you can't stop drinking. The cherry-berry and spice flavors are full-bodied and dry, while the mouthfeel is just so pretty, all silk and crisp acidity. Drink this Mourvèdre, Grenache and Counoise blend soon for its youthful beauty. It will pair well with sushi, sausages, tapas, roast chicken and similar savory, straightforward flavors. —S.H.

90 Unti 2006 Dry Creek Valley; $18. Family-owned Unti Vineyards specializes in Zin, Barbera and Rhône-style wines from their Dry Creek vineyard. The wines are made by French-trained winemaker Sébastien Pochan, who brings a controlled elegance to the lustiness Dry Creek wines naturally possess. This Provence-inspired rosé, made from Grenache and Mourvèdre, is completely dry, and despite a delicate mouthfeel, delivers plenty of berry, cherry and herbal-spice flavors. For such a light-bodied wine, it has surprising complexity. —S.H.

89 Ponzi 2006 Pinot Noir Rosato Oregon; $17. The grapes come from the winery's 35-year-old estate vines. Late ripening, high-acid vines plus a record yield contributed to this wine, a mix of saignée juice and grapes specifically sourced for rosé. The color is a pretty, pale coppery salmon, the nose laden with fresh strawberries. Persistent on the palate, the wine displays pleasing details of peach, red apple and grapefruit, good length and an extremely clean, fresh finish. —P.G.

87 Isenhower Cellars 2006 Horse Heaven Hills; $17. Isenhower's rosé is a result of the increasing presence of Rhône Valley grapes in Washington. The blend is 42% Counoise, 41% Mourvèdre and 17% Grenache—only the Grenache would have existed a few years ago, and then it was a vanishing breed. Now, Rhône Rangers are planting these grapes and more, along with the almost-ubiquitous Syrah, throughout the state. The Horse Heaven Hills are a hotbed for new varieties, but with young vines and experimental plantings, rosés may be the best option for most of them. This is round, soft, fleshy and forward, an interesting blend to be sure. —P.G.

87 Ste. Michelle Wine Estates 2006 Nellie's Garden Dry Rosé Columbia Valley; $13. Dry rosé was first offered exclusively to Ste. Michelle's Vintage Reserve Club; now it has gone mainstream. It's almost entirely Syrah, with very small amounts of Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre also included. Intended from start to finish to be made into a dry rosé, it is sourced at the Canoe Ridge Estate in the Horse Heaven Hills, though it carries a Columbia Valley designation. Roughly 18% is barrel fermented and aged sur lie in neutral oak, adding richness to the mouthfeel. A pale cranberry color, this is bright and tart, with crisp acids and a finish that shows some of the white pepper of Syrah. The name honors Nellie Stimson, whose family estate is now the winery's Woodinville headquarters. —P.G.

86 Wölffer 2006 The Hamptons, Long Island; $14. This poised salmon-amber rosé blend from Long Island contender Wölffer Estate is a refreshing alternative to the old-school sweet rosés of the past. The nose exudes peaches, apricots and cherries while on the palate, the wine is largely dry and balanced with a minerally, lime finish. That's not to say the wine lacks complexity; it's weightier on the tongue (Chardonnay is part of the blend) than many of the flirtier roses and may be a touch heavy for fans of zippier styles. A balance between crispness and complexity means it will pair well with diverse dishes and make a wonderful bridge wine from flavor to flavor. Think salmon, summer salads and grilled herb chicken. —Susan Kostrzewa

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Australia & New Zealand
Although many of the big commercial producers have recently hopped on the rosé bandwagon, other wineries have been turning out small quantities of quality rosés for years. Turkey Flat may be known for its bruising Barossa Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, but its rosé has been imported to the U.S. since at least the 1998 vintage, while Charles Melton's Rosé is another top example that's no Johnny-come-lately. From New Zealand, saignées of Pinot Noir are becoming popular, but have yet to grab serious attention. —J.C.

88 S.C. Pannell 2006 McLaren Vale; $17. This is a vibrant wine in every way, from its bright pink color to its bold stone fruit aromas and its tart, mouthwatering finish. Sourced from bushvine Grenache more than 30 years old, there's a touch of minerality to help balance the berry and peach flavors. Drink now as an apéritif or with lighter fare—even fish dishes. —J.C.

88 Turkey Flat 2006 Barossa Valley; $19. This is a bright red rosé—more like a tranlucent red than a pink wine—and it even acts a little like a red wine, offering ample palate weight and grip to go with its summery flavors of fresh berries. So ripely fruity that it almost tastes a bit sweet on the finish, but it stays this side of balanced. Try this blend of 64% Grenache, 19% Shiraz, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Dolcetto at your next barbecue. —J.C.

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South Africa
87 Mulderbosch 2006 Rosé (Stellenbosch); $12. With its elegant pale pink color, light but layered nose of strawberries, grapefruit and guava and its reasonable price, this rosé from consistently solid Stellenbosch producer Mulderbosch is an accessible and affordable food wine that will please multiple palates. There's enough weight and complexity to ensure this is more than a patio-sipping wine; it should hold its own against heavier dishes while at the same time complementing typical rosé dishes like seafood, chicken salad and ethnic cuisine. Flavors of cherry, herbs and strawberry on the palate coat the tongue with the slightly viscous mouthfeel, but it's not overwhelming. Drink now. —S.K.

 

Greece
88 Kir-Yianni Akakies 2006 (Macedonia); $12. This delightful, medium-bodied rosé made from the typically tannic Xinomavro grape of northern Greece is a pleasant surprise, though Kir-Yianni has a solid reputation for making good wine. This is an exotic alternative for both casual wine lovers and serious vinophiles looking for something out of the ordinary. The wine is fresh, fruity and lively, with a tart strawberry nose and a combination of juicy fruit and clean, minerally acidity on the palate. Its body and acidity ensures that it will match bolder foods like roast lamb and beef, but will also be delicious with lighter fare like seafood and poultry. Its beautiful dark pink color is a selling point as well. —S.K.

 

Austria
90 Tegernseerhof 2006 Dürnsteiner Zweigelt Rosé Wachau $12. This is a lovely pale pink rosé with aromas of strawberries and rose petals. Despite being labeled at a modest 12% alcohol, there's plenty of weight, and the flavors are bold: strawberries balanced by citrus and a touch of mineral. Finishes dry, with a rich texture. Delicious on its own, but should be versatile at the table as well. —J.C.

Spain, Chile and Argentina
On those warm Spanish summer nights when the saffron in the paella mixes with the breeze blowing through the plaza or off the Mediterranean, it is rosado that almost everyone is drinking. Chilled to the bone, with the bottle gleaming in water droplets, Spanish rosé should be a simple, affordable pleasure. Generally it is Garnacha (Grenache) that yields Spain's more elegant and balanced rosados, and it's the cooler northern part of the country—Catalonia, Navarra and Rioja—that is the heartland for the best in Spanish rosado.

In South America, rosé wines are just starting to appear in the marketplace, and many are heat-affected and heavy. That said, winemakers who harvest at precisely the right time and carefully manage the maceration and fermentation processes can make rewarding fuller-bodied rosados from Syrah and Malbec. —Michael Schachner

91 Espelt 2006 Coralí Empordà; $10. This is the type of rosé that once you get started on it you can't put it down. Ethereal smelling, pretty to look at and gracefully balanced: when Spain gets it right with its Garnacha, a case in point being the '06 Coralí, the pleasure quotient is high. The bouquet here is wet and inviting, the palate lusty and elegant. Beyond that there's a full mouthfeel, juicy acidity and length. It's all here. —M.S.

90 Montes 2006 Cherub Rosé of Syrah Colchagua Valley; $17. Out of the ordinary projects such as Cherub are what we've come to expect from Montes, but how quickly winemaker Aurelio Montes has figured out the nuances of rosé from Syrah. In just its second year, this wine has found its groove. More elegant than the inaugural 2005, this vintage is quite Mediterranean in style, with a vivid pink-red color and the freshest, purest fruit flavors. Who would have thought that a Chilean rosé could be this nicely put together. —M.S.

88 Muga 2006 Rosado Rioja; $11. Despite some tempered oak aging, this one will whet your whistle and then some. Talk about cutting acidity and being fit and trim; it's like a hard-bodied personal trainer. It doesn't have an ounce of fat on it, so the aromas are tight and minerally and the flavors lean and crisp. Will plow through grilled vegetables and chicken or tuna salad with ease. Made primarily from Garnacha. —M.S.

88 Susana Balbo 2006 Crios Rosé of Malbec Mendoza; $11. Love the big handprint on the label as well as the burgundy color of this Malbec rosé, which ranks as one of the most consistent pink wines from a country (Argentina) that doesn't do rosé all that well. Winemaker Susana Balbo gets the size and tint from her Malbec fruit but manages to corral the bubble-gum sweetness and cloying weight that can afflict Argentine rosados. Crios is the right call for an Argentinean-style barbecue featuring empanadas, lots of salads and plenty of meat. —M.S.

87 Torres 2006 DeCasta Rosado Catalunya; $10. Clean, dry and ripe she goes, and that's just the way we like it. The nose on this Garnacha-Carignan blend is precise and easygoing, and the raspberry flavors are pure. It finishes dry and peppery, but there's always some fruit to assure its friendliness. Representative of the Mediterranean in all its glory. —M.S.

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