A Lovely Liquid Jewel
Category: Eat + Drink Articles
In summer, a girl’s thoughts turn to Washington’s pink (and orange and light red) wine.
Every spring, sure as the cherry blossoms bloom in the University of Washington’s Quad, wine writers crack open their “pink-wine-isn’t-sweet-anymore” articles. For years, dry rosé was relegated to this fate—to be described in terms of what it is not–sweet like White Zinfandel, that is. But with each passing year, dry rosé is becoming more and more respected—and trendy. And when larger producers such as Chateau Ste. Michelle risk diving into that market—as they have recently done with their new 2006 Nellie’s Garden Dry Rosé—you know lovers of this style of wine can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Dry rosé is here to stay.
With luscious colors from oeil de perdrix (a pale apricot, or brownish pink color similar to the color of a partridge’s eye) to deep orangey salmon to bright raspberry, there is no one rosé. In Italy, for instance, rosato is pink, whereas a darker version—somewhere between pink and red—is called chiaretto. In Spain, where enough of the stuff is consumed to cool a whole nation during brutally hot summers, rosado is pink, whereas clarete is the darker, but not quite red, version.
The best rosé, to my mind, should be high enough in acidity to accompany a range of foods such as grilled seafood, chicken, cured meats, cheeses and fruits, and low enough in alcohol to quench your thirst without making you fade in the heat.
Traditionally, rosé was a by-product of the saignée (or bleeding) process, a method used to make red wine more intense. The first juice is drained off before it has a chance to gain a dark color from the skins, making the remaining red wine more concentrated. Another method—blending—mixes white with a bit of red wine for color and is usually done with less expensive wines. With either technique, the resulting wine can have a range of colors, depending on how long the wine spends on the skins, or how much red wine is blended with white.
Roving vintner Kevin Cedergreen of Cedergreen Cellars—who makes his wine at various wineries around the state—says the focus for his Viola rosé, as with any wine, is to “capture the essence of the field and get the clean flavors to the consumer without any degradation.” To that end, he babies his rosé—a combination of Merlot and Zinfandel—by keeping air away from it so it “holds onto its aromatics” and retains the fresh, juicy characteristics of grapes straight from the vine.
His first shot at rosé was a bit of a lark, just to see what would come of it. “It was so successful,” he says, “I thought, how can I do this better?” He decided to make the rosé using Merlot because he saw a niche in the market that wasn’t being filled.
“In Washington, we get great extraction (color and fruit flavors that comes from the ripeness of the grape skins), so [the bleeding off] is a relatively quick process when compared to making a red wine.” He only leaves the juice on their skins for a few hours. “And the flavors last,” he says. “I put an open bottle in the fridge for a week, and came back and it was still just as fresh.”
If there is a problem with some of the Washington rosés I’ve tasted lately, it is this: Because many winemakers want to leave grapes on the vine until the fruit is very ripe (which they believe benefits some types of wine), some rosés have alcohol levels up to 14.5 percent—much too high, in my opinion, to enjoy on a hot day. Ideally, these wines should come in at about 13 percent or under, but that is not so simple if you start out with fruit so ripe especially if you are