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Laurie Jervis: Rosé Wines Continue to Soar in Popularity with Consumers

Rosé wines continue to gain acceptance and adoration from consumers across the board, from sippers at Sunday picnics to critics who taste endless wines for a living.

That’s because as pink wines have evolved — in less than 10 years’ time — from sweet fruit bombs to light, acid-driven and balanced wines that pair with a variety of foods, the public has taken notice. As have winemakers.

Consumers have pink wines on their radar and are sharing them with friends, stocking up at their favorite wineries, and pairing them with cheeses, grilled meats and spicier dishes.

While most rosés are still bottled in clear glass, some winemakers are employing cans to market their products to the masses, capitalizing on pink wines’ generally limited age-ability, which can translate into a “drink now” mentality for consumers.

Typical rosés are produced one of two ways. “Direct press” means red grapes picked specifically for a pink wine soak on their skins for anywhere from four to 24 hours, giving the juice just a hint of color.

The second method is the French term “saigneé” — using red grapes that were harvested for a red wine but bleeding off some juice either during a free run or normal press.

In both cases, the grape juice then is pressed into tank or barrel to age for an average of six months, occasionally longer.

When they’ve launched a rosé vintage with fewer cases, or cut back on production for any reason, be it grape scarcity or budgetary restrictions, many winemakers have sold out entire vintages of rosé — often hundreds of cases worth — within a few months of release.

wine bottles on shelves Click to view larger
At the Santa Maria Trader Joe’s last spring, a display unit offers a wide selection of local and imported rosé wines. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Tymari LoRe, general manager of Folded Hills Winery in Gaviota, said the winery sold through its entire 2016 vintage — 600 cases — of estate “Lilly” Grenache rosé in just three months last year.

With the 2017 vintage of rosé, the winery boosted production to 1,300 cases, LoRe said.

Mark Horvath of Crawford Family Wines released his 2017 rosé in April this year after selling out of his 2016 in February, he said.

He made 165 cases of the 2017 vintage, which is 100 percent grenache from Mesa Verde Vineyard, located in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.

“Used to be, we just made a barrel or two of rosé,” he laughed. No more.

Horvath said he believes “everyone makes rosé now because they go so well with so many things, and they are good all year long.”

While he certainly advocates year-round consumption of rosé, Horvath also favors it as a holiday wine, “because it pairs so well with (traditional) foods and looks pretty.”

Like many of his colleagues, Horvath picks grapes for his rosé early, targeting optimal acidity and the “heightened aromas” he finds in the skins of grapes when sugars are lower and acidity higher, he said.

In an effort to boost color and texture of his rosé while it’s still in tank, Horvath “tweaks” it with a minuscule amount (a few gallons’ worth) of finished syrah or grenache.

wine bottle and glasses Click to view larger
Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines produces rosés sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard’s mourvèdre. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

“It only changes the color and adds a tiny bit of texture on the palate,” he explained.

Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines has included a rosé in his stable of wines since his 2006 vintage. His recent vintages have been 100 percent mourvèdre, sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard.

He produced 350 cases of rosé for both the 2016 and 2017 vintages, he noted.

If he were to stray from using mourvèdre, he would consider making rosé from another Rhone grape, cinsaut, Schaffer said.

Like Horvath, Schaffer believes rosés’ skyrocketing sales can be traced to the fact that they are year-round consumer friendly, and no longer just during summer or the holidays.

“Rosés have now become ‘lifestyle’ wines — they’ve finally moved beyond the ‘white zinfandel stigma’ that had held them back for so long in this country,” he said.

“Lots of pictures and videos of ‘beautiful people’ quaffing down rosés on big ships, on nice beaches and at upscale parties has done the trick. That ‘tipping point’ has certainly led to an increased demand in the category, as well as an uptick in the number or (grape varietal) selections available.”

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Ethan Lindquist and Cliff Korn produce a Rhone blend rosé under the Buellton- based No Limits label. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

I asked Schaffer if he still encounters consumers who hesitate to try pink wines, and if so, why?

“There are still many people who look at the color of any rosé and have an immediate negative reaction. When I ask why, they ask if the rosé is sweet,” he explained, likening that to concern expressed by consumers who also suspect every gewürztraminer or riesling will be sweet.

Will those same consumers also accept rosé wines sold in cans? Some winemakers believe cans to be the ideal packaging for pink wines, both those produced in small lots or by thousands of cases, because rosés are not built to age for years.

Michael Zinke, owner and winemaker of Zinke Wine Co., has partnered with Andrew Jones and Curt Schalchlin of Paso Robles’ Tin City Cider to produce “Anyday Rosé” — only sold in cans.

The team saw an untapped market for rosés sold by the can, he said. 

Addressing the growing glass versus cans debate, Zinke said: “Cans are here and are here to stay ... wine snobs be damned. (Cans) combine convenience with preservability without sacrificing the integrity of the product.”

Here, in no particular order, are most of the rosé wines I tasted during more than two months of research.

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James Sparks proffers a bottle of his 2017 Kings Carey grenache rosé during a tasting in May at Pico at the Los Alamos General Store. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

» 2016 and 2017 Tercero Wines Mourvèdre Rosés: The 2016 is velvety with a strawberry undertone, while the 2017 balances pronounced acidity with fruit upfront.

» 2017 No Limits Royal Blush Rosé: Blend of 44 percent syrah (Arroyo Grande Valley), 28 percent grenache and 28 percent mourvedre (both Westside Paso Robles). Understated creamy strawberry and raspberry.

» 2017 Longoria Wines Pink Wine, Cuvee June & Vivian: Named after the Longoria’s two granddaughters, this blend comprises 52 percent tempranillo and 48 percent syrah, both from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Full bodied fresh berries, balanced with a strong finish.

» 2017 Storm Wines Grenache Rosé: Exquisitely made in the style of Provence.

» 2017 Kings Carey Wines Grenache Rosé: Bright, balanced and always quaffable.

» 2017 Lou Bud Wines Rosé: A refined example of 100 percent pinot noir from the Sta. Rita Hills.

2017 Folded Hills Winery “Lilly” Rosé: Cultured, light in color and 100 percent estate grenache.

» 2017 Hitching Post Wines “Pinks”: Blend of pinot noir and Valdiguié that starts subtle but offers a spritz of fruit mid-palate.

» 2017 Dragonette Cellars Rosé: Blend of 95 percent grenache and 5 percent syrah. Great balance between fruit and acid with a finish that lingers.

» 2017 Lo-Fi Cellars Rosé of Cabernet Franc: Bright and balanced; a classic rosé.

» 2017 Curran Grenache Gris: Refined with a core of dried, crushed strawberries and raspberries.

» 2017 Crawford Family Wines Grenache Rosé: Crushed candied berries with an elegant nose.

» 2017 Lumen Wines Starry Rosé: Eclectic blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent pinot noir that showcases watermelon and cranberry.

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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