If it’s midsummer, it’s time for pink wine, aka blanc de noir, oeil de perdrix, vin gris, blush, rosé and even white, as in “white zinfandel.”
Regardless of what it is called, it’s really unfair to look upon pink wine as a summer-only beverage. Granted, it is most fitting for hot days, warm evenings and the traditionally light, fresh and simple dishes of summer, but well-made pinks also carry enough fruit, structure and acid to be appropriate at the table every other season.
Americans are getting that. Sales of pink wines have accelerated in the United States lately, up 21 percent the past year alone, report Nielsen officials. And not all of the wines are from Provence, the French district where rosé wines pretty much define the wine culture.
Production and sale of pink wine made in the United States also is on the rise, to judge by their numbers in recent wine competitions and by Nielsen tracking of sales. Domestic rosé accounts for little more than a third of the pink market, but sales grew 7 percent the past year.
What’s more, the American thirst for pricier pink wines is increasing. “Just within the last year, rosés (costing more than) $8 per 750-milliliter bottle, which account for just over 80 percent of all rosé, grew by 29 percent, while the remainder (less than $8) actually declined by 3 percent,” said Danny Barger, senior vice president of Nielsen’s Beverage/Alcohol Practice. “Those sorts of trends are in line with the overall premiumization trend, but even more exaggerated.”
That helps explain the slip in sales of what long had been the nation’s most popular pink wine, inexpensive white zinfandel. For years, it’s been castigated by many gatekeepers as too sweet, soft and simple to warrant respect. A few daring winemakers are trying to salvage white zinfandel with releases that are dry, crisp and fruity, often styled in emulation of the model that built the standing of Provence, but they may be too late to rescue white zinfandel from the critical drudging it’s taken over the past decade.
At the outset of the Calaveras County Fair Wine Competition this spring, longtime director Tom Bender noted that in the 1980s the judging typically drew around 15 white zinfandels. This year, just one was entered. It was the Milliaire Winery 2015 California White Zinfandel ($10), which judges liked enough to award a gold medal.
Beyond white zinfandel, the pink field is downright crowded with competitors made from other varieties of grape, our panel discovered at the inaugural Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition at Santa Rosa in May. We tasted 51 of them, several of which were made from grape varieties not often associated with dry pink wine, including tempranillo, lemberger and pinotage.
Indeed, one entry in that group won a rare double-gold medal, meaning the three judges of the panel concurred that it deserved gold. It was the Y. Rousseau 2015 Solano County Rosé of Tannat ($24). In southwest France, tannat customarily yields deeply colored, highly perfumed and rigidly tannic red wines, but from Solano County in this instance the wine was appropriately and invitingly light in color, refreshingly fruity in smell and flavor, and bracingly acidic, the variety’s reputation for richness retained in its luxurious texture.
Given the popularity of pinot noir as a traditional red table wine, I was surprised that we were assigned 13 rosés made from the variety. As a group, they were a letdown, perhaps because many seemed to be made with the saignée technique. That’s a method where some juice is drained from a tank of red wine before it gathers much color through contact with grape skins. That lightly colored juice is then used for a pink wine. The intent of the technique is to enrich the color of the juice remaining in the tank by intensifying its contact with the skins.
That said, two of the rosés in the class were outstanding. One was the exceptionally vivacious Sofia 2015 Monterey County Rosé, loaded with aromatic and assertive strawberry fruit, another double-gold winner ($19). (Though the wine was in the pinot noir class, it actually is a blend of 35 percent pinot noir, 35 percent syrah and 30 percent grenache, according to the winery’s specification sheet for the wine.)
The other especially impressive entry was the Handley Cellars 2015 Anderson Valley Estate Pinot Rosé ($25), a pink wine of uncommon finesse, layering and lift. Our panel, however, could agree only on awarding it a bronze medal, though I lobbied for gold on the basis of its subtle complexity, spritz and crispness.
The group of five rosé wines made from syrah grapes yielded one exceptional release, the Pech Merle Winery 2015 Sonoma County Rosé de Syrah ($23), which won a spontaneous double-gold medal from our panel and was elected the competition’s best pink wine for its seamless and authoritative blend of sunny berry fruit, earthiness and nip.
No white zinfandel won a gold medal, though a rich and assertive cousin, the Pedroncelli 2015 Dry Creek Valley Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel ($12), did.
The biggest surprise in the pink classes was the Wollersheim Winery 2015 Wisconsin Prairie Blush ($10), made from the black grape marechal foch, a French hybrid gaining traction in the cooler climates of the United States and Canada. Here, it yielded a rosé that, while sweet, wasn’t cloying, and refreshing for its layering of grapefruit, strawberry and rhubarb aromas and flavors.
Aside from the competitions, I’ve tasted a few other impressive pinks lately. On a visit to Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma County, for example, I tasted two exceptional blushes – the dry, steely and multifaceted Quivira Vineyards 2015 Dry Creek Valley Rosé ($22), a carefully assembled blend of mostly grenache supplemented with mourvedre, syrah, counoise and petite sirah, and the light-toned but floral and juicy Preston of Dry Creek 2015 Vin Gris ($26), a tightly wound mix of 70 percent cinsault and 30 percent mourvèdre.
Other sound pink wines tasted recently include the Castello di Amorosa 2015 California Rosato di Sangiovese ($26), which could pass for strawberry soda pop if it were sweeter and more effervescent; the Chronic Cellars 2015 Paso Robles Pink Pedals ($15), a highly aromatic and liltingly sweet blend of 89 percent grenache and 11 percent syrah; the coral-hued, racy and echoing Justin Vineyards & Winery 2015 Paso Robles Rosé ($20), made solely from cabernet sauvignon; and the lean and angular Sip 2015 California Rosé ($15), whose suggestions of orange peel and strawberry cream derive from pinot noir.
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at email@example.com.