By Mac McCarthy
The Rosé support group, RAP -- Rosé Avengers and Producers – presented their 6th Annual "Pink Out!" trade and public tasting in mid-May, at the charming Butterfly Restaurant at San Francisco's Pier 33.
I was happy to be able to attend my sixth Pink Out! tasting in a row – this Rosé tasting is the most enjoyable winetasting events of my year, and there's a good reason for it.
Namely, because you can't sell Rosés in America.
The Crimes of White Zin
It's amazing the trail of destruction caused by the introduction by Beringer of the otherwise harmless, easy-to-drink and inexpensive sweet rosé they made from Zinfandel, and sold by the tankerful starting in the 1970s. Let us count the crimes:
*White Zinfandel made people think they didn't like Zinfandel.
*White Zinfandel made people think they didn't like Rosé.
*White Zinfandel made people think they didn't like sweet, or even off-dry, wines.
We are still recovering from these devastating blows to the national palate.
Starting in the late 1980s, a group of now-famous winemakers began a campaign to make us understand that the Zinfandel grape is capable of producing a great red wine. In addition to experimenting with the grape and its growing and fermentation methods, and funding a research project at the University of California at Davis, they formed ZAP –Zinfandel Appreciators and Producers, an organization to promote Zinfandel to the masses. For a dozen years, the ZAP Festival at Fort Mason in San Francisco has poured hundreds of delicious Zinfandels of every style, converting growing numbers of new wine drinkers to the joy of Zin.
Stealing a really good idea, Rosé-loving vintners a few years ago formed RAP – the Rosé Avengers and Producers society -- to browbeat us into appreciating the wonderful tastes of Rosé wines. Going for a puckish, disarming humor, they named their annual public tasting "Pink Out!," with a mascot originally consisting of a superhero-style cartoon of a black man in pink superhero tights (now they use a PC trio).
The first Pink Out!, at the Butterfly restaurant along the San Francisco Embarcadero, sold out its 200 tickets overnight. The event grew in later years, unfortunately changing venues to a selection of nightclubs where the disco lighting completely destroyed one's ability to see the colors of the wines. Happily, Pink Out! returned to the Butterfly last year and repeated again this year. This does limit the maximum number of attendees, but at least you can appreciate one of the overlooked joys of Rosé, which is seeing the amazing variety of pink colors – wines that are just rosey, darker roses, Barbie Doll pink, coral, a tinge of orange in the pink, and pale to near colorlessness.
This joy is then followed by the other distinctive aspect of Rosé in the United States, which is the astonishing variety of tastes from wine to wine. There are two reasons for this.
First, you can make Rosé wine from any red-skinned grape. So you have more variety in Rosé than in any other style of wine: from Rosés made from the traditional Pinot Noir, to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Merlot, to Sangiovese, to Grenache, Cab Franc, Syrah, Barbera – and back to Zinfandel, though in this case a dry, well-balanced Zin Rosé. And to further stir things up, many Rosés have white wines such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and even Chardonnay, to add breadth, richness, aromatics, and other flavors.
Second, and just as important. since Rosé isn't popular here, there isn't a standard commercial style of Rosé that sells well in the supermarket. So there's no pressure to produce a generic, conforming wine. That means the winemakers can make their Rosé in the style they, personally like best.
Heck, they can't sell the stuff, so they make it to please themselves. One speaks of wine expressing the terroir; in the USA, Rosés are made to express the winemaker!
As a result, every Rosé you taste is different – often wonderful, but almost always different.
How fun is that?
Well, except for the down side: Since they can't sell the stuff, they don't make much. Most of the wines at this event we made in batches of a few hundred cases. Most sales are done in the tasting room; however, thanks in part to Pink Out, an increasing number of restaurants are offering fine Rosés on their wine list, and wine stewards suggest them to clientele they perceive as a bit more adventurous.
Which brings me to My Brillian Suggestion for pushing Rosés on a puzzled American public: Pitch Rosé as the secret wine style nobody but the really, really in-crowd knows about! Only the totally cool people appreciate it. Not much rosé is made because, you see, the uncool people don't 'get' it. But really, Rosé is The Next Big Thing. You know how Pinot Noir came out of nowhere? Remember how Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand suddenly became the white to drink? And now unoaked Chardonnay is the way to show you're not a wine amateur? Well, let me just say one little word – Rosé! Shhh! Don't let everybody hear! No, not White Zin, fercrissakes! That's the fake Rosé they push on the college kids who don't know any better! Real Rosé is totally different – not sweet at all. In fact, you have to be a bit sophisticated to even appreciate it. And a bit adventurous.
Are You Adventurous?
What Mac Liked at the Pink Out!
Enough background. Here are the wines I tasted – about 30 out of the nearly 50 wines offered. (I didn't spit, but I did take small sips and also took my time – and didn't drive home.)
Julien Fayard showed his Azur Wines' (Napa), 2009 Azur Rosé, a delicious beverage wine, pale/almost white Syrah rose with some Sauv. Blanc added, $26.
Blackbird Vineyards 2009 Arriviste Rosé – a very likeable Bordeaux blend of a Rosé, made from Napa Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc. Tasty. $24
Fleur de California 2009 Rosé, a pleasant Pinot-based "brunch wine" at $12. And a $13 Cab Rosé that was also good.
Gloria Ferrer brought a 2006 Brut Rosé bubbly that tasted of strawberries and cherries; very nice. $42.
Elyssia by Friexenet, NV Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, at $18; had a nice finish.
Tapena, imported from Spain by Friexenet, made from Garnacha (Grenache) plus a Spanish grape called Monastrell "and a splash of Shiraz" for a rosé with a nice finish. I didn't get a price, sorry.
Segura Viudas, is a Cava brut Rosé sparkling wine from Spanish grapes not specified; not bad and only $10, if you can imagine.
Aria is another Segura Viudas, in this case a Cava sparkling Pinot Noir, that was really excellent and priced at $14.
Hendry Winery offered a 2009 Rosé made of 70% Zin, 20% Cab, and, for some reason, 5% Primitivo. At $13 I gave this a "Yes!" in my tasting notes.
I'M Wines, a Napa label from Isabel Mondavi (get it?), offered a 2009 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé that split the difference between being a food wine and a richer cocktail wine. $15.
Intersection Wine Company of St. Helena, makes one wine and one wine only: Lorenza Rosé, a dry rosé made with Rhone grapes. Is that nuts? A labor of love, evidently, from fashion model and Napa native Michele Lorenza Oullett and marketer Melinda Kearney. Their 2009 Lorenza Rosé was a very nice beverage wine, blended from Mourvedre, Carignane, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah, and selling for $20.
The Loire Valley winegrower's association again appeared, which was nice. Last year they showed a cross-section of French Rosés, from dry to sweet – a wonderful education in the range of possibilities offered by fine Rosé. This year they focused on Rosé d'Anjou, which are made primarily from Cab Franc grapes. I tried each. They were of course similar—and all, being French, were what I call 'beverage' wines,' but there were distinct differences in density, crispness, and sweetness. The Barton & Gustier 2008 Rosé d'Anjou, $10, was slightly sweet and tasty. The Remey Pannier, also $10, was crisp and light. The Sauvion 2008 ($11) was similar to the Remy, and almost as good. The Domaine de la Fouquette 2009 was softer and dryer and seemed lighter; $12.
Old World Winery, of Fulton, CA, makes its 2007 White Night Rosé, from the Trowbridge Vineyard, from a sort of field blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Despite the white in there, the wine was very dark. The winemaker and proprietor, Darek Trowbridge, used natural yeasts, and only made 200 cases, which he sells for $14 a bottle, another bargain for a delicious Rosé. I gave it an extra star.
Pedroncelli Winery has been pushing its Dry Rosé of Zinfandel in the teeth of the reputation of White Zin, and with some success, apparently; I see it in stores, which isn't that common for good rosés. And even at $10, this Dry Creek wine is a good Rosé. I'm glad I have an extra bottle at my house.
Quivira Vineyards & Winery (Dry Creek, CA) sells out its 500 cases every year of Grenache Rosé, made from sun-bleached (!) Dry Creek Grenache plus some Mourvedre and Viognier. It sells for $15 when you can find it. It was excellent. The winemaker, as indicated, picks the outer grapes that have been bleached by the sun. Interesting!
Robert Oatley Vineyards of Mudgee, Australia, showed a 2009 Rosé of Sangiovese made from vines grown at 1200 feet on quartz soil, I was told, developing deep roots. It was $15 and very tasty.
Rock Wall Wine Company (Alameda, CA), represented by founder Shauna Rosenblum (that's her smiling with my friend John Engstrom), brought her 2009 Sparkling Grenache Rosé, which lists for $25. They also showed their Mixto, which adds Chardonnay, and which I liked too.
Six Sigma Ranch (L:ake County, CA) poured a 2007 Rosé, $18, which I thought had a tiny bit of a bitter finish. Their 2009 Tempranillo and Cab blend, made in the saignee way, that at $14 I liked better. They also had a Marian's Rosé 09, whole-cluster Syrah, $24, that had very nice fruit—naturally, they only made 17 cases of this tasty item.
Ty Caton Vineyards (Sonoma) offered their 2009 Estate Syrah Rosé; I liked it, and as I sipped it while talking to various people, it grew on me more and more as it opened up. $18.
Urban Legend Cellars' (Oakland CA) 2009 Rosato di Barbera, at $16, was absolutely excellent. Only a year old, this winery's founders, Marilee and Steve Schaeffer, know Barbera – I tasted their first-release Barbera red at the Urban Wineries Day in Jack London Square, Oakland, loast year and it was so amazingly good I was walking around like a circus barker, telling passersby they had to try it. This rosé is every bit as tasty.
Urbano Cellars (Berkeley CA), another East Bay urban winery, has been around a few years longer than Urban Legend and makes a wide range of interestingly different wines. However, I didn't care for their 2007 Vin Rosé when I tasted it last year. At RAP this year, they poured the 2008, and it is much improved – it's actually really good. Better still, the 2009 preview is excellent, with good finish. And like so many of these fine wines tasted this day, a bargain at $15.
(I'd like to congratulate the folks at Creative Furnace, the Santa Rosa marketing company that again put on a fine tasting, again at the Butterfly, a great venue with delicious food. Nice job, folks.)