Rosé Colored Glasses

#333 – June 22, 2017

With the mercury continuing to climb and New York succumbing to ever-increasing levels of wilting humidity, the search for relief is on.  As any self-respecting oenophile knows, wine is the best way to combat summer’s discomfort with rosé the poster-child for such vinous relief.  While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio share its summer stage; rosé remains first among equals for a multitude of reasons including its lovely pastel coloring, loads of tart berry fruit, typically low alcohol content and the food versatility generated by its abundance of refreshing acidity (among the characteristics behind my oft-repeated mantra that rosé’s versatility should make it an everyday wine all year round; a pearl of wisdom Eric Asimov clearly agrees with).

Before we get into what exactly rosé is all about, there are a few important comments about the general state of rosé in the kosher wine market that should directly influence your buying habits this season.  Maintaining the kosher wine world’s tendency to remain 3-5 years behind current wine market trends, Rose’s ascending popularity has exploded over the last 2-3 years, yielding an ever-increasing number of new rosé wines during that period.  Last year’s record of the 40 wines I assembled for my tasting was blown out of the water but this year’s crop of 83(!) different rosé wines I tracked down and tasted in preparation for this newsletter.  More choice is usually good for the consumer, but the genre is currently wreaking havoc with the consumer’s decision making process, by providing an overly abundant number of choices, far too many of which are of sub-par quality.  The dip in quality unfortunately continues last year’s trend and signals to me that many producers jumped on the rosé bandwagon without putting in the requisite “work” to ensure a quality product; a trend similar to Israel’s historic dessert wine production philosophy – namely that making rosé is an easy way to offload sub par grapes without harming the brand given the inability of most consumers to know (or frankly care about) the difference (obviously excluding the readers of this newsletter).

Consumers’ pain from the qualitative drop is further exacerbated by the ridiculous amount of wine left over from the 2015 vintage.  Notwithstanding the success of Maria Jose Lopez in creating ageable rosé for Lopez de Heredia, the vast majority (and every single kosher option) are meant to be consumed during the year in the wine is released.  As such, any rosé from a vintage other than 2016 should be avoided at all costs and I’d seriously question any retailer attempting to sell you rosé from the 2015 (or earlier) vintage.  As an aside, it pays to remember that wine is a perishable product and those “blowout sales” are usually with respect to degrading quality as opposed to needing the retail space for new product).  Given the time lag created by export logistics, many rosé wines aren’t exported out of their country of origin; which provides each of the three largest kosher wine producing countries (Israel, California and France) with a fair number of options which are only available in their respective countries of origin (noted as applicable for those listed below).

While I typically try to get this newsletter out the door before the “official” start of summer on America’s Memorial Day, given the sheer number of available wines and their geographic distribution, assembling the tasting package took longer than usual (and thank you to all my mules- tremendously appreciated!).  As rosé continues to climb in popularity, it is having increasing success in breaching the previously impenetrable walls surrounding many consumers of higher-end wines, who typically focus solely on red wines (and whom I continuously cajole to increase their intake of white wines); becoming part of their regular summer repertoire.  In order to service this growing market, producers are investing more time, effort and money in crafting higher quality rosé wines (with mixed results).  Some of these efforts include designating specific plots specifically for rosé production (instead of simply using excess or lessor grapes) and earlier harvesting to ensure lower residual sugar and higher acidity.  While the resulting corresponding increase in pricing was to be expected, it’s nonetheless unfortunate that the average price of the ultimate summer quaffer has climbed to a range of $20-$30 for most quality options (with many in that price range lacking the core quality requirement); a price range that, for many consumers, transfers rosé from “everyday drinking” to “special occasion” or Shabbat wine.  As a point of comparison, there are abundant non-kosher rosé options under $10, many of which are the qualitative equals of the higher-end kosher options whose average price is now north of $30.  Among those I’d include the Golan Heights Winery’s sparkling Brut Rose (whose current vintage is 2011 – sparkling wine plays by different rules) and Recanati’s Gris de Marselan and one of my favorite rosé wines – the French Château L’Oasis (sold in France as Château Montaud).

Rosé wines are made using a number of different techniques and its name (French for pink) encompasses all wines falling between red and white on the color spectrum.  The method that typically produces the highest quality rosé is maceration, in which the (white) juice of red grapes “sits” on its peel for a short period of time (typically a few hours to a few days) and then the skins are discarded.  Generally speaking, the longer the contact with the skins the darker in color and the more full-bodied and tannic the resulting wine will be.  The limited amount of skin contact ensures that rosé wines are very low in tannins, a crucial factor in their ability to be consumed über-cold.  With respect to grape varietals, rosé can be and is made from almost any red grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Carignan, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Grenache and Mourvèdre in addition to blends of these and other grapes, with a preference to grapes that are naturally higher in acidity.

Another common rosé-making method is the Saignée method (French for “bleed”) in which the rosé is simply a byproduct of red wine production.  Some of the red wine is drained out of the vats prior to fermentation and set aside for rosé production.  A common reason for doing this is when a wine maker wants to increase the intensity of a red wine they are producing.  By draining some of the pink juice prior to fermentation, the resulting wine will be highly concentrated which usually equals a more intensely flavored wine.  The drained pink juice is fermented separately and results in rosé.

Another, far less common and barely worth even mentioning, production method is blending red and white wines.  Other than with respect to the cheapest and most commercialized of wines, this methodology is only utilized only in Champagne, where Pinot Noir is added to a Chardonnay base to create the sexiest of all wines – rosé Champagne (or its non-Champagne equivalent – rosé sparkling wine).  While exceptionally rare, the maceration method is sometimes used to create rosé sparkling wine by allowing Pinot Noir grapes very brief skin contact during fermentation and avoiding the need to blend them with Chardonnay.

In the United States, rosé is also known as blush wine or “White [X]”, with the [X] substituted with whichever grape the wine in question is produced.  One unfortunate example would be “White Zinfandel” that, for some unfathomable reason, tends to be a pretty popular wine (despite it being a beverage you should never, ever drink).  If there were ever a wine that could compete with the Blue Bottled Abomination for my oenophilic disdain – White Zinfandel would be it.  Besides the general inferior quality of nearly every manifestation, almost every kosher version of this poor excuse for a wine bears partial responsibility for kosher wine’s poor reputation among many (albeit ill-informed) individuals.

Among rosé’s many charms is how delightfully refreshing the wine can be when served well chilled.  While there are plenty of serious rosé wines out there with depth and complexity, even those can be simply enjoyed without too much thought in the event the mood strikes you.  As with any other beverage, some of the aromatics are muted when served overly chilled, but I still prefer to serve rosé at about 46-50ºF (8-10ºC) –slightly colder than its optimum drinking temperature.  This allows the wine to gradually come to the right temperature in your glass so it can be enjoyed properly, as opposed to starting out at the right temperature and rapidly becoming warm and insipid before you get past your first sip (especially given the frequency in which rosé is enjoyed outdoors in the summer heat). Rosé is the quintessential picnic or breakfast wine, matching beautifully with omelets, fried and lightly grilled fish and much of the lighter fare we tend to start reaching for as the mercury skyrockets.
The majority of rosé wines contain a varying touch of residual sugar, sometimes exacerbated by the perceived sweetness from their characteristic notes of rich summer fruit.  My personal preference is for exceedingly dry and crisp rosé wines; a genre of rosé that historically has provided slim pickings for the kosher wine consumer, especially for those who enjoy Israeli wines (likely resulting from the Israeli wine-drinking public’s preference for sweet).  Many options continue to include a bit of residual sugar, and there are also many dry versions available as well (and there is nothing wrong with a bit of well-balanced RS, especially in a delicious summer quaffer).

Similar to the mixed bag which was the 2015 vintage, 2016 once again is, once again showcasing wildly disparate quality levels without discriminating between traditionally top tier producers and those whose offerings usually sit lower on the totem pole.  While you all know that winemaking skill is a major factor in separating the men from the proverbial boys (along with quality terroir and skillful vineyard maintenance), I was unpleasantly surprised at the unacceptable offerings from many top tier producers, including those who have had great success with rosé over the last few years (needless to say, none of those wines are included below).  We can all only collectively hope and pray that the 2017 will prove 2015 and 2016 to collectively be an anomaly as we return to consistent quality increases across the board.  The better the genre preforms across the board the more likely it is that rosé will become a permanent fixture in the kosher consumer’s wine portfolio.

I have included tasting notes for 15 of the rosé wines I enjoyed from the 2016 vintage – I hope you feel the same way about them as I did (there is also one wine I’d expect to be good based on prior experience but wasn’t able to taste in time – the Hajdu Rosé).  While the list below doesn’t include every good option from the 76 wines I tasted, it represents a wide enough spectrum that you can’t go wrong sticking to those listed below.  As a reminder, given the “Recommendation” aspect of this newsletter, I only mention wines I like so none of the wines I found severely lacking are included either.  As always, please feel free to email with any specific questions about any wine not on the list (or otherwise).

Most importantly, remember that rosé is not a wine to be taken seriously – they are meant to be fun – so chill (pun intended), relax and enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom,

Capcanes, Peraj Petita, Rosat, 2016:  For some reason the 2016 vintage is available in Israel but not yet in the US, where they are still hawking the 2015 version.  Nonetheless, given Capcanes’ historical adherence to excellence, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find this on their lease.  Produced saignée from the red Peraj Petita, the wine provides a subtle but rich nose of strawberries, tart cherries, minerals, citrus pith and a hint of spice that opens up as it warms in the glass.  On the light to medium bodied palate there is more of the same backed up by decent acidity all leading into a nice finish with a tinge of pleasing bitterness.  While not overly complex, this is a well-made (and priced) rosé well-worth making a regular part of your summer repertoire as it will provide plenty of mindless pleasure [Only in Israel (2016 not yet in the US].

Château Bellerives Dubois, Bordeaux, Rosé, 2016:  A very welcome addition to the growing cadre of French options, this one hailing from Bordeaux (as opposed to rosé’s birthplace of Provence).  Elegant and restrained, the wine manages to provide a welcome package of gentle subtlety, layered complexity and delicious fun all in one.  A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the elegant nose takes a little time to reveal itself but provides lovely notes of watermelon, tropical fruits, tart sun-kissed red fruits with pleasing undertones of earthy minerals and warm spices.  With a light to medium palate providing more rich fruit notes along with layers of flinty minerals, saline and a whiff of roasted herbs all backed by crisp acidity, the wine is a great match to most summer foods while also providing boundless pleasure all on its own.  Another very well-priced option that is also mevushal [Only in the US].

Château L’Oasis, Cotes du Provence, Rosé, 2016:  For the second year in a row, this wine stands among my favorite rosé wines.  While not necessarily the “best”, it is among those providing the most pleasure.  More salmon than pink colored, the nose is earthy, spicy, complex and loaded with herbal notes that provide a welcome difference from the oodles of red summer fruit that characterizes most of its ilk.  You’ll still get nuanced aromas of strawberries and cherries but they are well-matched by lavender, lovely citrus notes that provide complexity.  The medium bodied palate continues with notes of spice and herb with rich fruit taking more of a backseat than usual.  Immensely pleasing despite lacking the abundance of crisp acidity that would have made it perfect. 12% AbV and I believe the wine is sold in France as Château Montaud [Only in the US].

Château Roubine, Rosé, Cru Class, 2016:  Another classic Provencial rose with lovely minerals, spice and a touch of herbaceousness complementing the near-sweet strawberries, cherries, watermelon nice and gooseberries with some savory salinity adding an extra bite I loved.  One the medium bodied palate there was plenty of clean and rich fruit tinged with spices and laden with slate minerals along with bitter orange pith and red grapefruit .One dimensional and lacking any real complexity (especially compared to the 2015 vintage of this wine), this is a delightful, refreshing and ultimately rewarding quaffer that makes for perfect mindless beach consumption.  There is another rosé from the same Château that doesn’t justify the fancier looking bottle it is packaged in [Only in the US].

Dalton, Estate, Rose, 2016: Solder in Israel under the Kna’an label, Dalton’s entry-level rosé has long been a standard bearer for well-priced, well-made and pleasure providing rosé (come to think about it – it’s true about most Dalton wines), despite usually being way too sweet for my personal preferences.  This year’s semi-sweet version clocks in at a refreshing 12% AbV and is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Barbera and Carignan.  With the rich fragrant strawberries, creamy raspberry ice cream and tart cherries providing plenty of pleasure along with hints of tropical fruit, fresh-cut roses, warm spices, minerals and lemon pith add some sophisticated nuance while good acidity reigns in the sweetness sufficiently enough to prevent it from overwhelming the nose or medium bodied palate which leads into a lovely and lingering finish.

Domaine du Castel, Rosé, 2016:  Ever since Castel first dipped its toe in the rosé waters, it has managed to provide an immensely pleasurable offering nearly every year and this year’s option is no exception.  Continuing its tradition of utilizing traditional Bordeaux varietals, the wine is a blend of Merlot (60%), Malbec (20%) and Cabernet Franc (20%), all harvested early to ensure that the wine has sufficient acidity to provide the desired crisp and tart wine we expect from a good rosé.  Given Eli’s Francophilic nature, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the wine leans Provence while retaining a solid dose of its Israeli origins.  Easily among the highest quality options for 2016, the wine is a great mix of layered complexity and sophistication, sheer deliciousness and crisply refreshing pleasure while showcasing the quality fruit and top-notch winemaking skills that have help maintain Castel’s position among Israel’s top wineries for over two decades.  A beautiful and elegant nose front-loaded with sun-kissed ripe red summer fruit, white peaches, grapefruit and lemon is backed up by notes of flinty minerals, a touch of green herbs and undertones of rosewater.  The medium bodied palate packs plenty of acidity in perfect balance with the rich fruit and mouth-watering citrus that lingers long on a pleasing and slightly bitter finish that adds nuanced complexity as you finish up your glass. 13.5% AbV.

Domaine Netofa, Rosé, 2016:  Among the better rosé wines of the season, it was not officially imported into the US, leaving it all for our Israeli readers (or those smart enough to bring back as much as they could carry).  Taking advantage of the winery’s new plots, this year’s wine incorporates Grenache (30%) in the previous mix of Syrah (50%) and Mourvèdre (20%), yielding a lovely GSM rosé with great structure, mouthfeel and a hint of power to go along with its refreshing nature and aromatic nose.  A The delightful nose opens with rich orange citrus, ripe strawberries, tart raspberries, voluptuous peaches and bright apricot which yield to white flowers, violets, rosewater and bright notes of acidity with a pleasing whiff of smoke that give the wine a hint of mystery.  The medium bodied and slightly creamy palate has a bright backbone of bracing acidity supporting rich red fruits including fresh-picked tart cherries and wild strawberries, gooseberries, red citrus, a savory dose of flinty minerals and limestone along with more smoke and culminating in a lovely and refreshing finish.  Get all you can and enjoy all summer long and then some [Only in Israel].

Galil Mountain, Rosé, 2016:  Long before rosé was “popular” Galil Mountain (along with Recanati, Dalton and for the 2007 vintage – Tabor) was making really nice rosé.  Not complex or particularly sophisticated, those wines were well made, a tad sweet and provided simple refreshing pleasure with great QPR.  Looking at my notes from this most recent tasting not a lot has changed with all those players still producing quality wines at good prices without any pretension of sophisticated aspiration.  This year’s wine is no different.  Comprised of 77% Sangiovese, 12% Pinot Noir, 6% Barbera and 5% Grenache it’s made of varietals all loaded with acid and redolent of aromatic red fruit – perfect for rosé.  With loads of juicy strawberries, raspberries, juicy watermelon and a touch of tropical fruits backed by great acidity and some spices that all combine to provide pleasure without the need for too much thinking.  With a price that allows you to enjoy this all day every day, don’t hesitate to load up and enjoy whether the mood hits you.

Hagafen, Don Ernesto, Beret, Rosé, 2016:  While I have enjoyed Hagafen’s rosé in the past, this is easily the best version so and, despite how hard it is to find (other than on the West Coast), I’d recommend snagging a few bottles – you won’t regret it.  With plenty of bright and rich red fruit, lovely citrus notes of Meyer Lemons and red grapefruit along with a touch of roasted herbs and a pleasing bite that provides pleasure and adds some complexity, this is a delightfully fresh and fun wine that has great acidity to ensure its refreshing quality stays intact all summer long.  12% AbV [Only in the US].

Herzberg, Coteaux de Sitrya, Rosé, 2016:  Following on his initial success with the genre, Max produced a commercial version this year, once again harvesting a portion of his great Malbec two weeks early to ensure higher acidity levels.  Based on the finished product, it was obviously the right move as the wine is backed by great crisp and refreshing acidity that provides contra to the lovely fruit.  Comprised of 100% Malbec, the wine has a delightful nose that requires some foreplay before it opens up to reveal strawberries and cherries with an intriguing hint of smoke along with fresh herbs and a touch of floral notes.  The rich and slightly viscous palate is medium bodied with lovely Oriental spices joining the fresh-picked berries, watermelon and citrus along with a nuanced note of slate mineral.  At a very reasonable 12.5% AbV, well-made and delightful, the wine is worth your shekels [Only in Israel].

Jezreel Valley, Rosé, 2016:  Along with the Castel and Domaine Netofa listed above, this is one of Israel’s best 2016 versions.  A blend of Carignan (38%), Syrah (37%), their famous Argaman (15%) and Sauvignon Blanc (10%) with the latter being an unconventional addition (but who are we to argue with such success), this is a serious wine that doesn’t want to be taken seriously.  Lovely lavender notes dominate the nose along with rich strawberry and tart cherries with hints of brambly minerals adding extra complexity.  The medium bodied palate had great acidity that keeps everything lively and refreshing while the rich fruit is matched perfectly by the slightly bitter notes of Mediterranean herbs and citrus pith.  Really nice – kudos to Ari and Yehuda on their efforts and hopefully it will hit our shores soon [Not yet in the US].

Matar, Rose, 2016:  As would be expected from a winery that maintains such strict quality controls as Matar, their rosé rocks and for those of us who unfortunately do not reside in Israel, it would behoove you to exert some effort in securing a bottle (or six).  Taking a book from Provence’s playbook while retaining a distinctive Israeli personality and Matar touch, the wine showcases the impeccable winemaking with great structure and near-perfect balance between clean lines of 0rich and deep red fruit, slate minerals, lip-smacking citrus, floral notes and a lingering and slightly bitter finish that pleases.  Split your suitcase back from Israel between this and the Domaine Netofa above. You can thank me later [Only in Israel]

Psagot, Rosé, 2016:  Among the better options this vintage, Psagot’s version is a blend of Merlot (49%), Syrah and Petite Sirah, all of which were harvested early by Yaakov specifically for use in this wine to ensure sufficient acidity.  Clocking in at a decent 12.9% AbV, the wine showcases great acidity to backstop the abundant and glorious and near sweet red summer fruit with loads of citrus adding an extra level of pleasure and complex flinty minerals and warm spices combining to provide nuance.  Fresh, lively and bright, this is a gloriously fun wine with sufficient sophistication for the serious oenophile and plenty of mindless pleasure for the rest of us.  I’ve heard reports of serious bottle variation in this wine but haven’t experience it over the ten times I’ve tasted this wine on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramon Cardova, Rosé, 2016:  After years of mediocre wines, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this little gem from the producer that has yielded little more than barely passable expressions of Spanish terroir.  After a few minutes in the glass the slightly erratic nose settles down to reveal lovely candied cherries and strawberries, slate minerals, floral notes and pepper.  The medium bodied palate is restrained and subtle but contains lovely fruit, a hint of smoke, plenty of citrusy notes and a touch of tropical fruits all backed by great acidity and culminating in a lingering finish that makes you want to pour another glass.  Well priced to boot, this wine could get me through the entire humidity-laden season all on its own [Only in the US].

Vitkin, Israeli Journey, Pink (Rosé), 2016:  After a tremendous inaugural kosher launch in 2015, Asaf does justice to his brand by releasing another delicious rose, once again combining the winery’s top tier Carignan with Grenache Noir to achieve a rich and robust beast of a rosé that pleases.  Lovely nose of flinty minerals, ripe strawberries, cherries, blooming white flowers and some stone summer fruits sets the stage for a medium to full bodied palate loaded with more of the same alongside some earthy notes, hint of blue fruit and lovely citrus notes.  Copious acidity and a savory saline streak that adds complexity make the wine stand out, even if it isn’t on the same level as the 2015 version.  Asaf’s meticulous adherence to quality is easily noticeable as he once again produced a unique and elegant wine.  Kudos my friend!