Of all the varieties and categories of wine I taste, none spans a wider gamut of high-to-low alcohol levels than rosé. I think that would surprise a lot of people, who tend to associate rosé with light summer sipping, thinking of it as a refreshing quaff for the beach, boat or porch.
And that definitely describes a lot of current rosés, which are light and low in alcohol, many of them made from Pinot Noir or Grenache and Syrah.
But others, especially those made from more tannic grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, or heavier, fruitier grapes like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah or Carignane, can at times be pretty powerful on the palate, and relatively high in alcohol. I don’t think these are wines one pounds before dinner anymore than their non-rosé counterparts. Just because they’re cold doesn’t mean they’re light.
Even French rosés have a range, from the light wines from Bandol—high in acidity and extremely drinkable—to slightly heavier Rhône Valley Tavel rosés made from Grenache and Cinsault grapes.
Kale Anderson, the winemaker for Pahlmeyer in the Napa Valley, makes his own wines under the brand Kale. For his 2014 rosé, he sourced Grenache and Syrah grapes from Kick Ranch Vineyard in Sonoma County, harvesting the Grenache at 20 brix, pressing the grapes cold and with as little skin contact as possible. He says the juice he gets is clearer and brighter than Sauvignon Blanc juice. He then puts it in concrete egg to ferment, hoping to preserve freshness.
The Syrah, which makes up 15% of the rosé’s blend, is a saignée, which keeps a lot of its color, Fermented in barrels, the best are chosen for the rosé.
All in all, the wine ends up at 12.5% alcohol, a brisk, fresh concoction that would almost disappear if it weren’t for the boldness of the Syrah, the acidity tiptoeing on the edge of a cliff in order to remain stony rather than tart. It’s a risky wine in some sense, one that in the wrong hands, or with the wrong grapes, might just disappear.
Craig Camp at Cornerstone Cellars, on the other hand, makes his Corallina Syrah rosé in a completely different way, calling it a “real rosé, not an afterthought, not leftovers, not for fashion and most decidedly not a saignée.”
He says Corallina is a “Napa Valley rosé with a purpose… a wine made as mindfully as we make any other wine.”
Sourcing from Crane Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District, a relatively cool within the Napa Valley, Camp harvests the fruit cold and presses whole clusters. The juice goes into stainless steel tanks to ferment until dry and spends five months in mature French oak before bottled for summer. It’s listed at 13.8% alcohol.
“While a saignée may be a wonderful idea in the coolest years in the coolest regions like Burgundy and Oregon, it’s a very strange concept in a warm region like the Napa Valley,” Camp says. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to concentrate Napa Valley wine more than Mother Nature already does? I don’t.”
I get his point but most of Sonoma County is not as hot as the Napa Valley in most cases, and the grapes winemakers are using in Sonoma tend to be Pinot Noir and Grenache. I love rosés of all styles, saignée and non, depending on the situation and my mood, what I’ll be eating, or not eating, etc. , but I do like to know what I’m getting into ahead of time. You may too. Here are some I recommend in a range of styles.
Top Summer Rosés in Every Style
Kale 2014 Sonoma County Rosé; $25, 12.5% abv
Angels & Cowboys 2014 Sonoma County Rosé; $15, 12.8% abv
Blackbird 2014 Arriviste Napa Valley Rosé; $25, 12.7% abv
Cornerstone 2014 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé; $25, 13.8% abv
Quivira 2014 Dry Creek Valley Rosé; $22, 13.3% abv
Uptick 2014 Hilda’s Russian River Valley Rosé; $22, 13.7% abv
Envy 2013 Pink Passion Pinot Napa Valley Rosé; $22, 14% abv
Envy 2013 Pink Passion Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Rosé; $24, 14.1% abv
Sidebar 2014 Russian River Valley Rosé; $25, 14.4% abv
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