Summertime is here, and with it backyard barbecues, warm evenings at the beach and plenty of rosé wines.
While most winemakers release their rosés during the winter months, these wines’ claim to fame is warm weather, which in our region begins with spring. By summer, rosés’ popularity is in full swing.
And these “pinks” do pack palate-pleasing power: The demand for rosés continues to soar, and winemakers across the entire Central Coast and state have met the challenge. My best guesstimate is that two-thirds of Santa Barbara County’s producers now craft pink wines. And the buying public snaps up every case, meaning small-case production of good rosés sell out by summertime.
At the recent California State Fair Wine Competition, Gold Hill Vineyard’s 2014 Barbera Rosé, El Dorado, was awarded Double Gold and “Best of Show Pink.”
Producers utilize a wide variety of red wine grapes in their rosés, among them grenache, pinot noir, mourvedre, syrah and tempranillo. Looking over my notes, I see a trend: I favor rosés made at least in part with grenache.
Lompoc winemaker Kyle Knapp has made five vintages for his own Press Gang Cellars. His 2014 rosé is 100 percent grenache sourced from a Ballard Canyon vineyard and named for his wife, Savannah Rhea. Knapp explained why he, too, favors grenache when it comes to making pink wines.
“In my opinion, grenache has all the characteristics I look for in a rosé — texture, aromatics, juiciness, finish and acid,” he said. In general terms, he views grenache as a workhorse of sorts. “It makes a great base to build on with mourvedre, syrah and other Rhone grapes.”
I began sampling rosé wines for this column about two months ago, and have discovered several new treasures — and new vintages of old favorites. As I did in June 2014 with my Noozhawk “Wine Country” column, I’ve compiled a list of my preferences from Santa Barbara County winemakers.
For the record, I tasted 15 rosés. If time weren’t a factor, I’d be sampling still — but deadlines are deadlines. There are at least 10 other rosés I hoped to try, but time ran out.
Remember, gentle reader: My palate differs from your palate. What I prefer, you may not.
With that in mind, here are my picks of the crop of 2014 rosés, in no particular order:
» 2014 Tribute to Grace Rosé of Grenache: I tasted this beauty during the “Under One Roof” event at Andrew Murray Vineyards in May. This wine is the palest pink in tone and pure elegance on the palate. Angela Osborne is turning heads with her grenache-only label, with a fleet of vineyard-designate wines, and this wine will surely fuel her success. From the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, located in the Cuyama Valley at 3,200 feet above sea level.
» 2014 Dreamcote Syr-acha Rosé (Grenache and Syrah): Another pale pink rosé sure to entice your friends to linger poolside. This is a fun wine, with a rush of strawberry banana tones. I had the honor of following this wine from the vineyard to bottle with owners/winemakers Anna Clifford and Brit Zotovich.
» 2014 Press Gang Cellars Savannah Rhea Rosé: This all-grenache beauty has an overtone of peaches.
» 2014 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Rosé: Grapes for this come from 40-year-old Rancho Viñedo (Santa Maria) estate vines that are dedicated to the production of rosé. Of all the rosés I sampled, this one offered the prettiest nose, with what I noted was a “whisper” of grapefruit.
» 2014 Samsara Grenache Rosé: Concentration of blood orange and minerals. Lovely.
» 2014 Longoria “Pink” Cuvee June: Winemaker Rick Longoria names his rosés after his granddaughter, June Olivia. This vintage is 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and grenache. Super balanced with an understated spicy backbone.
» 2014 Verdad Rosé: My introduction to quality rosés came via this wine, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist’s grenache-based beauty, back in 2009 when I worked in the Qupe/Verdad/Ethan tasting room in Los Olivos. This vintage is 29 percent syrah and 71 grenache, and it still sets the standard for what I seek in rosés.
» 2014 Transcendence Rosé: This 100 percent grenache rosé hails from the Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. In two words: Watermelon. Yum.
» 2014 Dragonette Cellars Rosé, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara: Another of my favorites, this wine is mostly grenache and mourvedre with a smidge of syrah, and mostly from vines at Vogelzang Vineyard also groomed specifically for rosés. Heads-up: Almost or completely sold out.
» 2014 Presqu’ile Rosé of Pinot Noir: This bright wine is very pretty, with notes of guava and strawberry, and was ideal with food. The wine is produced from a block that was planted in 2001 and is devoted to rosés.
» 2014 Andrew Murray Esperance Rosé: Another lovely match for food with some spice, in my case, ground turkey sautéed with cumin and on a bed of arugula and broccoli and carrot slaw. This vintage is listed on Murray’s website as nearly 100 percent cinsault.
» 2014 Carhartt “Chase the Blues Away” Rosé: A blend of select red grape varietals, with the result being light in the mouth and full of summer-ripened peach flavors. Hands-down favorite at a recent picnic with my friends.
And: Other perennial pink favorites of mine that I’ve noted in previous years but simply ran out of time to pursue this year, are those by A-non-ah-mus, Buttonwood, Blair Fox Cellars (which makes a still and sparkling rosé), Hitching Post, Kaena and Riverbench.