The [Serious] Pleasures of Pink

Albeit a little later in Rosé’s “traditional” drinking season than usual (last year’s version was released prior to Shavuot), there are more than six weeks of summertime drinking left to enjoy one of the most glorious of all wine genres – Rosé (although as Eric Asimov and I have written, like Champagne, Rosé should be enjoyed year-round).  While Rosé is certainly not the only beverage capable of providing vinotastic relief from “heat domes,” it remains the perennial summer wine.  With a beautiful pink color, tons of tart berry fruit, a typically low(er) alcohol content and oodles of refreshing acidity, it’s the perfect summer beverage, best enjoyed out of doors and well chilled.  Rosé gets extra credit for extreme food-pairing versatility.  As you will see from the numerous tasting notes below, 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.

While my day job is partially accountable for the delay is getting this year’s newsletter out the door, another major factor was Shmitah.  With an increasing number of Israeli wineries not exported their Shmitah-year wines, the dearth of locally available options required a significant amount of “self-importing” from Israel and France to properly survey the field and come up with a sufficient number of decent options for my geographically diversely located readers (and props to my buddy DR for scoping out the French options in advance, making kit way easier (and more economical) for me to pick and choose from among the many options).  As a result, each of the kosher wine world’s largest producing countries (Israel, California and France) have a number of Rosé options which are only available in their respective countries (each indicated in the tasting notes below), making us oenophiles have to work harder than usual to slake our thirst for pink.  The lack of options has also caused many importers and retailers to keep 2014 Rosé on the shelf for far longer than they should and, with very few exceptions, the 2014 available Rosés should be avoided even more than first-cut brisket.

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.
As Rosé continues to penetrate the echelons of more sophisticated wine consumers, winemakers are spending more time, effort and money in crafting higher quality Rosé wines to service their needs, often with terrific results.  One way in which these extra efforts are effectuated is growing grapes specifically designated for Rosé production (historically excess grapes and/or juice was used for this purpose), which are often harvested slightly earlier to lessen the residual sugar and provide for higher acidity.  Along with the increased quality we have also been experiencing price increases, and the price point for most of the quality Rosé wines now hovers around $30 (with some climbing up to $100 for “special” Rosé wines – no of which I found to be particularly “special).  Obviously increased quality is a good thing but the price bump has unfortunately moved these wines outside the realm of “everyday drinking” for most consumers.

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.  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 the Israeli wine-drinking public’s preference for sweet).  Thankfully as the public’s consumption of Rosé has increased, more wineries have started to produce higher-quality and dryer Rosé.  Some of the most impressive (and mostly-well priced) additions include the Brut Rosé sparkling wine from Yarden (not included her given that its sparkling nature puts it first and foremost in that category), the innovative “Gris de Marselan” from Recanati (although the 2015 version falls slightly short of its amazing inaugural 2014 sibling) and a new French import – Château L’Oasis (apparently sold in France under a different label – Château Montaud).  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).

For most of the wine-drinking world affordability is one of the best characteristics of Rosé.  Not surprisingly, us kosher consumers continue to suffer from the Achilles Heel of Israeli wine – pricing.  With the majority of better Rosé options clocking in at $25-30 range (or higher), they represent a larger investment than is practical when looking to consume Rosé on a daily basis, especially throughout the warmer months.

After a 2014 Rosé vintage in which the rising tide of popularity and quality benefited all proverbial boats, the current 2015 has reinforced the fact that making great (or even good) Rosé isn’t a simple matter.  Like all other wines, even if you can get lucky once in a while, quality fruit and talented wine making are a requirement to consistently produce good Rosé.  More surprising to me was the dip in quality from many top-tier and stalwart quality-Rosé producers who seemed to falter with this year’s Rosé production.  Hopefully it’s a blip in the road and 2016 will see a return of tremendous quality across the board.  Another item of note is the rise of the California Rosé (which remain on the pricier side other than Hagafen’s Don Ernesto, but for the most part are of terrific quality, interest and deliciousness) that includes quality offerings from Hagafen, Covenant, Hajdu and Shirah.

Two final things to keep in mind when plunking down your hard-earned shekels for Rosé.  Similar to white wines, Rosé wines are meant to be drunk as close to release as possible so always look for the most recent vintage year as they lose their bright, fresh flavors quickly.  Unfortunately many of the Israeli offerings currently on the shelves in New York are from the 2014 vintage and while some may be enjoyable, I highly recommend avoiding them.  Additionally and as I alluded to earlier, Rosé is not a wine to be taken seriously – they are meant to be fun – so chill, relax and enjoy!

I have included tasting notes for 19(!)Rosé wines I enjoyed and hope you will as well.  The list below doesn’t include every Rosé I liked from among the more than 40 options I tasted in preparation for this newsletter, especially from among the over 20 Israeli options from which I tried to include here only those that were great QPR, interesting or high quality.  Given my rule of only writing about wines I like, none of the wines I didn’t find particularly inspiring are included either.  I hope you find them to enhance your summer and I look forward to hearing from you as to your own personal favorite Rosé wines!

Alexander, Rosé Roget, 2015:  Despite the winemaker’s obvious proclivity to oak, Alexander’s Rosé is a resounding success, albeit at the somewhat excessive price you might expect giver the silver plate label.  Bled from the winery’s GSM blend, the wine is blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre with great acid and decent structure.  Plenty of tart raspberry and cherries along with lovely red grapefruit, rich lemon, ripe nectarine, cloves and saline minerals.  A well built and structure wined that actually shows retrain and complexity while providing summer pleasure – kudos to Yoram [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Bat Shlomo, Rosé, 2015:  Bat Shlomo continues to deliver on its promise to do more than its fair share of helping elevate the quality of Israeli white and Rosé wines producing this delightfully crisp and refreshing wine.  With a subtle nose that rapidly opens up to reveal plenty of ripe, mostly red, summer fruits with blueberry notes adding an intriguing freshness along with some warm herbs and plenty of juicy citrus, most of which continues on the medium-bodied palate along with saline-tinged minerals and gobs of mouth-watering acidity that wraps the rich fruit in a bracing package.  A long finish with more fruit and saline notes ends with some slightly bitter citrus pith injecting a pleasing hint of bitterness.  This isn’t your grandma’s Rosé – simply delicious [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Carmel, 2 Vats, Rosé, 2015:  Building on Carmel’s success with their recently introduced 4 Vats wine, the winery released this blend of 58% Grenache and 35% Carignan which, for sheer accuracy, should have been called 3 Vats to take into account the 7% Mourvèdre that was added to the blend, but who’s counting.  With Rosé definitely suited to the philosophy of the series, the wine provides tremendous QPR and is delightfully refreshing and crisply dry with plenty of acidity keeping the rich red and blue summer fruit lively on the palate including rich notes of ripe pomegranates.  Notes of white peaches, apricots, red grapefruit, pomelo, warm spices round out the flavors, with subtle notes of roasted Mediterranean herbs contributing a hint of complexity and Israeli personality [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Château Le’Oasis, Cotes du Provence, Rosé, 2015:  One of the more classically Provencal wines I had this year.  Along with the Roubine below, it is one of the currently classical available Rosé wines on the market.  With tons of earthy minerals, saline and other savory notes complementing the strawberries and raspberries, the lovely acid and citrus providing a dose of intrigue. I note that I’m pretty sure the same wine is sold in France under a different label – Château Montaud [Only in the US].

Château Roubine, Rosé, Cru Class, 2015:  Like the Hajdu above, this wine leads with mineral and spice over fruit, while still containing sufficient rich red fruits to be intoxicating on the nose and satisfying on the medium bodied palate.  With a restrained elegance throughout, the wine is populated with notes of rosewater, orange blossom and slate will being backed with sufficient acid to keep it fresh, lively and a great match to almost anything.  A lovely wine, if somewhat one-dimensional [Only in the US].

Covenant, Red C, Rosé, 2015:  After beefing up their second label a few years ago by adding a delightfully crisp and refreshing Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Jeff Morgan returned to his roots and introduced a Red C Rosé in 2013 which was only sold directly from the winery and was gone rather quickly.  With three vintages making a chazaka, it would appear that the Rosé is here to stay (Jeff made another Rosé in Israel as well, under the “Covenant Israel” label).  Loads of succulent summer strawberries, sour cherries and ripe raspberries combine with orange citrus and floral notes together along with spices, all on a backbone of crisp acidity backing up the medium bodied palate where some perceived, fruit-driven, sweetness shines through [Only in the US].

Dalton, Alma, Vin Gris, 2015:  Similar to Recanati’s introduction of a higher-end Rosé to complement their entry-level option, this blend of 91% Grenache Noir and 9% Barbera represents Dalton’s first foray into more expensive Rose following years of providing the market with a good option at a great price (which they still produce as well).  Housed under the “Alma” label to indicate its higher quality (and price point), 50% of the wine fermented in older oak barrels with the other half only seeing stainless steel tanks.  Much dryer than their “regular” version, the wine showcases plenty of rich tart red fruits, blooming flowers, red grapefruit, limes and orange pith together with lovely minerals and a subtle savory note that tantalizes; all on a background of good acidity which serves to keep everything fresh and lively on the medium bodied palate. Well-made and obviously on a higher level than the entry-level version, I enjoyed the wine and look forward to future vintages.  12.5% AbV [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Domaine du Castel, Rosé, 2015:  Similar to prior years, the wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, all harvested early and specially for the Rosé in order to avoid any hints of overly ripe or sweet fruit while also maintaining sufficient acidity.  Notes of ripe strawberries, grapefruit, warm spices, herbs and some sweet tropical fruit, the wine is well made and has decent acidity with plenty of complexity to keep you interested while also retaining the Provencal characteristics one would expect from one of the most Francophilic Israeli wineries out there [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Domaine Bunan, Bandol, Rosé, 2015:  While somewhat overpriced, this 14% AbV blend of Mourvèdre (30%), Cinsault (35%) and Grenache (35%) sourced from old vines.  Plenty of acid backs up the citrus notes, spices and earthy minerals which, similar to the other Provence Rosé wines reviewed here, take precedent on both the nose and medium bodied palate to the strawberries, watermelon, peach, watermelon.  Nice complexity to the wine makes this a great summer quaffer, although the price tag requires a little more than quaffing to justify it [Only in the US].

Flam, Rosé, 2015: As with every other wine they produce, the wine is supremely well made and delicious to boot, especially since they reverted back to Cabernet Franc as the majority variety (the wine is a blend of 52% Cabernet Franc and 48% Syrah after last year including 26% each Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon).  Delicious and well made, it makes keeping the halachot of Shmitah way more difficult that it needs to be.  The wine is so delicious that it should be drunk all summer long, an easy possibility other than the slightly inflated price tag.  Loads of sun-kissed strawberries, cranberries, white peaches, apricot and a hint of gooseberries and blueberries are apparent on both he nose on medium bodied & elegant palate.  Nice flinty minerals and a hint of saline round out this treat [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Galil Mountain, Rosé, 2015:  While the winery seems to have missed a step or two recently with a number of their offerings, this wine showcases all that is good about Galil Mountain – great QPR, quality winemaking and a pleasing product.  A blend of 65% Sangiovese and 17% Barbera, 9% Mourvèdre and 9% Grenache, the wine is delightfully refreshing with good acidity keeping things from becoming lively on the light to-medium bodied palate where notes of sun-kissed strawberries, Anjou pears, tart apple and crushed rose petals are augmented with a pleasing bitterness on the finish.  A great wine to drink all summer long [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Hajdu, Rose, 2015:  A heady and serious nose is your introduction to Hajdu’s Grenache-based Rose.  One of those few Rosé wines that leads with earth, spice and minerals over red summer fresh fruits which, while still there, play second fiddle in this well balanced and serious Rose that provides nice complexity and plenty of pleasure.  With spices and nice citrusy notes combining with flinty minerals, this is a delicious, round and mouth-filling wine that provides oodles of pleasure without loosing it all [Only in the US].

Recanati, Rosé, 2015:  Together with the Vitkin version reviewed below, this is one of the few 2015 Israeli wines available in the US.  A blend of Barbera and Merlot, both sourced from the winery’s highly acclaimed Manara vineyards; the wine continues to represent good value and quality winemaking every year, without trying to posture as a complex or sophisticated grown-up (that’s what the Gris de Marselan is for).  With good acidity providing the backdrop for red summer fruit, nice herbaceousness, notes of lemons and a tinge of spiciness, mostly on the finish – this is a good wine to stock up on and quaff all summer long [Shmitah].

Shirah, Rosé, 2015:  After a slightly sweet 2014 vintage, the wine reverts back to merely being perceptually sweet from the rich and ripe red summer fruit that abound in this wine made from a blend of Grenache (75%) and Tannat (25%).  A bountiful nose with plenty of near-sweet strawberries, tons of red grapefruit, candied cherries and raspberries and a bit of blueberries along with flinty minerals, slate and a touch of salinity that is a bit hard to pick up on.  The medium bodied palate has plenty of rich and ripe red sweet fruits, great acidity, more mouth-watering citrus and some warm spices which provides a nice complexity to this refreshing and delicious wine.  Load up and enjoy [Only in the US].

Tabor, Adama, Rosé, 2015:  A delightful Rosé that is unfortunately not imported into the US (even in non-Shmitah years).  Made from 100% Barbera harvested from a single vineyard located on the outskirts of Mount Tavor, the wine benefits from Barbera’s natural acidity with plenty of raspberries, cranberries and cherries accompanied by notes of gooseberry, rich and aromatic citrus and hints of ripe stone fruits.  Rich with saline minerals and hints of spices, the wine is refreshing and delicious with sufficient complexity to keep the more sophisticated wine lover’s engaged while providing great QPR and mindless pleasure as well.  13.6 AbV [Only in Israel / Shmitah].

Vitkin, Israeli Journey, Pink (Rosé), 2015:  While I question the business decision to convert to kosher wine production during a Shmitah vintage, I have no questions about the terrific winemaking ability of Vitkin’s owner – Asaf Paz who harvested the grapes early especially for the production of this robust and delightful Rosé.  A blend of 85% Grenache Noir and 15% old vine Carignan yielded an intriguingly delicious wine I really enjoyed with cutting acidity, boldness and exuberant minerality.  Notes of tart cherry and raspberry along with grapefruit, floral notes and flinty minerals combine for a serious wine that can also provide mindless pleasure should you choose to enjoy it that way.  12% AbV, well made and balanced, the wine is crisp refreshing and immensely enjoyable [Shmitah].

Yatir, Rosé, 2015:  Despite my tendency to avoid objective descriptors such as “best” or “favorite,” this was the most serious Rosé of the bunch and likely my personal favorite as well (price excepting).  In addition to the quality wine making and beautiful elegance we have come to expect from, Eran Goldwasser, this wine was so sublimely enjoyable with an incredible nose I kept smelling even after the bottle had been consumed.  Similar to the 2014, the wine is a blend of Grenache (93%) and Tempranillo (7%), the wine showcases cherries, white stone fruit, red grapefruit and a lovely minerality that keeps things interesting, providing welcome complexity on the bone-dry (in a change from the 2014) and crisply refreshing medium bodied palate, where plenty of bracing acidity ensures the liveliness of the wine will endure any summer heat that gets thrown at it.  Delightful well chilled, I actually enjoyed much of its subtle nuances once it had warmed up in my glass.  Well worth seeking out [Only in Israel / Shmitah].