By Dan Radil
As little as 20 years ago, rosé wines from Washington wineries were, more often than not, likely to be a novelty instead of a tasting room standard. But since that time, rosés have really caught on, almost to the point that they’ve practically become fashionable among Washington winemakers and consumers alike.
Can rosés continue to grow in popularity and shake off the stigma of their decades-old, cloyingly sweet predecessors? That remains to be seen. But for now, rosé and rosé-style wines are the darlings of the Washington wine scene, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
THE ROSÉ-MAKING PROCESS
Rosé can be made in a number of different ways, but it usually starts with any variety of red wine grape. Once harvest and crushing is complete, traditional rosé-making methods allow for very little contact time between the juice and its red grape skins, seeds, and stems. Anywhere from 12 to 48 hours usually does the trick, and the depth of the color level is strictly up to the winemaker.
Once it’s separated from the skins, the juice can range anywhere from pastel pink to salmon and coral hues to more of a cranberry/red currant shade of pale red. And since the intensity of the color is directly related to the length of contact, time is of the essence, as too long will result in nothing more than red wine.
Another method gaining favor with Washington winemakers is to start with a white wine varietal high in acidity such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. A small amount of any red grape is then co-fermented with the white; just enough to add a bit of pink color.
Still another alternative is to simply blend a bit of finished red wine with an already-finished white wine. The result is more of a “rosé style” wine rather than what many consider to be a true rosé, although the color and flavor profile can be amazingly similar.
THE SWEET PINK WINE CHALLENGE
With no thanks to early domestic pink and blush wines such as Gallo Pink Rosé and Sutter Home White Zinfandel, rosé has faced an uphill climb trying to shake the stereotype of a one-dimensional, sweet pink wine with a cheap price tag.
But today’s Washington rosé has evolved into an impressive array of colors, flavors, and sweetness levels. Many early-on rosé drinkers may be surprised to find the wine is now produced in a dry and off-dry style more often than not.
By dropping the sugar level and maintaining the wine’s signature, brisk acidity, Washington winemakers have opened the door to rosés that are much more food-friendly pairing partners. Creamy risotto, pasta salads, prosciutto-wrapped melon, barbequed shrimp, and even grilled cheese sandwiches are just a few of the possibilities.
And if you still prefer your rosé a bit on the sweet side, Washington wineries have you covered as well. Try a sweeter rosé as a contrast to spicier Indian and Thai cuisine or saltier foods such as baked ham or anchovies on a pizza or in a Caesar salad. You’ll discover just how versatile these wines can be… at any time of year and for any occasion.
Prosser’s Dr. Wade Wolfe has crafted yet another stunning, sensory delight with his Thurston Wolfe Winery 2016 Lemberger Rosé (about $15). The wine’s striking, light ruby color greets the eye, with understated flavors of red currant, rhubarb, and green melon. The dry finish is crisp and clean with an underlying trace of minerality that will allow it to pair nicely with crab, salmon, or halibut.
Also from the Prosser area, and highly recommended, is the Martinez & Martinez 2015 May Mae Rosé (about $20). A gorgeous shade of garnet, this wine features plenty of mouthwatering strawberry, watermelon and red cherry flavors. The faintly sweet finish will make you forget you’re drinking a wine made entirely from the normally bold Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
Bellingham winemaker Peter Osvaldik took a novel approach in creating his Dynasty Cellars 2016 Rosé Style wine (about $20). He co-fermented a 95% base of Walla Walla Riesling with a cheesecloth bag containing 50 pounds of Malbec grapes. The bag was squeezed periodically to release the red juice, and the result – ing pretty-in-pink, full-bodied wine is packed with kiwi, honeydew melon, and ruby-red grapefruit flavors along with an off-dry finish with bracing acidity.
The Walla Walla Valley is also the source of the Forgeron Cellars 2015 Rosé of Sangiovese (about $20). There’s a slightly spicy quality to this wine, both on the nose and on the palate, along with gentle flavors and citrus, peach, and red berries. Winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla briefly aged the wine in neutral oak barrels, and while it carries rosé’s signature acidity; it also finishes with pleasant touch of hazelnut.
Also be sure to try the newly released Two Mountain Winery 2016 Rosé from Zillah brothers, Matt and Patrick Rawn. Beautiful white flower aromas lead into flavors of cranberry and raspberry with a crisp finish balanced by a whisper of slightly sweet strawberry crème. Try it with a variety of quiches, fresh seafood, or simply on its own, well-chilled, as a perfect summertime sipper.