Summer 2021

Rhône varieties continue their rise among Northwest rosé

jking@tricityherald.com

It’s probably a misnomer to refer to rosé’s recent rise as a renaissance considering there wasn’t huge interest in that style of wine among Americans — unless White Zinfandel counts as something other than “California Kool-Aid.”

However, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2021 report, “The bloom is officially off the rosé this year, with a growth rate slightly below zero.”

How much of that can be chalked up to side effects of the pandemic? After all, rosé consumption grew 2.8% in 2019 to 18.4 million cases, according to research by M. Shanken Communications Inc., but the majority of that growth was driven by folks reaching for wines from Provence. Domestic rosé consumption increased just 0.1% to 15 million cases in 2019.

And yet, Americans continue to seek for lighter-styled beverages, so rosé is another way for vintners to engage consumers.

Rosé producers aren’t targeting the traditional benchmark level of ripeness at 24 percent sugar — or Brix — for most red table wines. Cabernet Sauvignon in Washington state often is cropped at two to three tons per acre to attain 24 Brix. Prized vineyards of Pinot Noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley sometimes are constricted to eke out less than two tons of wine grapes per acre. Those vines require more labor and management, which explains why those Northwest wines routinely are priced at $40 to $80 per bottle. It is easy to see why folks walk out of Barnard Griffin’s tasting rooms in Richland and Vancouver USA with cases of Rob Griffin’s storied Sangiovese rosé.

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“In a good year, we can crop Sangiovese to 10 tons an acre, which is almost embarrassing to admit,” Griffin said. “But that gives the wine the crisp acidity, and it still has the fruit. Of course, that’s dependent upon the year. A more average vintage would be seven to eight tons per acre.”

As a result, the science inside the grapes Griffin hopes to harvest for rosé amounts to a sugar level of 21 Brix, a pH level of no more than 3.4, total acidity of 7 grams per liter, a food-friendly alcohol in the range of 12.5 to 13 percent, and residual sugar less than 0.3 percent — essentially bone-dry.

In the latest Wine Press Northwest look at rosé, of the 23 examples rated as “Outstanding!” and above, only six checked in with a residual sugar level of more than 5 grams per liter (0.5%).

Overall, more than half of the tastiest — 13 — involved Syrah or other Rhône varieties, including Grenache. So yes, rosé is another delicious use of Syrah.

Five of the best were Pinot Noir, which included two sparkling examples. And as Barnard Griffin has shown at national wine competitions, two of the best were made using Italian varieties — either Sangiovese or Barbera.

Remember, rosé should not be forgotten after Labor Day or viewed as a carton of milk that carries an expiration date of Dec. 31. Instead, these bright and fun wines show deliciously at least two years beyond vintage.

Many began their life in the bottle tilting toward a Provence style in their appearance — think of a light salmon or pale pink wardrobe — and they are created in a food-friendly style, meaning they are beautifully fruity yet far from sweet.

Think of enjoying these wines with Indian, Asian stir-fry, seared ahi tuna, salmon, shellfish, Nicoise salad or a board of cured meat, cheese and sliced vegetables.

Panelists for this tasting were Kristine Bono, certified sommelier/general manager, Tertulia Cellars, Walla Walla, Wash.; Kent FitzGerald, KW FitzGerald Consulting, Walla Walla; Richard Larsen, research winemaker/enologist emeritus, Washington State University, Puyallup, Wash.; Ken Robertson, Wine Press Northwest columnist, Kennewick, Wash.; Mike Rader, Great Northwest Wine panelist, Kennewick; Alexis Sells, winemaker, Fortuity Cellars, Wapato, Wash.; and Gordy Venneri, winemaking consultant, Walla Walla.

The socially distanced judging took place in April at the Kennewick home of Jerry Hug, Publisher of Wine Press Northwest.

Here are the results:

Unanimously Outstanding!

Mercer Estates 2020 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills • $15

Best Buy! Among the legacies left by Jeremy Santo before his departure this spring to J. Bookwalter Winery is one of the Pacific Northwest’s best rosés. There’s no replicating the key ingredient in this pink — highly decorated Spice Cabinet Vineyard along the Columbia River near Crow Butte Park. It is Provençal with its makeup of 100% Grenache, and it opens with beautiful florals of peach blossom, raspberry and honeydew melon. Those come through on the palate, which picks up nectarine, and the brightness of the structure, just 0.3% residual sugar, makes for a mouth-filling finish. (350 cases, 12.5% alc.)

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2020 Whole Cluster Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $18

For years, founding winemaker Jim Bernau and his head winemaker, New York native Joe Ibrahim, have used whole-cluster fermentation to produce a Nouveau Beaujolais-style of Pinot Noir. They recently began to use a similar process for one of their two rosés. Gravity pressing leads to the free-run juice, which spends 24 hours on the skins. After fermentation, a third of the lot remains on the lees, which adds complexity to the mouthfeel and creates a fascinating level of intensity. Remarkable aromatics of bubble gum and guava lead to a nicely balanced drink of strawberry and ripe peach as the fruity, yet bone-dry, finish (0.1% residual sugar) offers hints of seashells and nectarine. (13,800 cases, 13.2% alc.) 

H3 2019 Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills • $14

Best Buy! Don’t think for a moment that there’s a 12-month shelf life on a Northwest rosé as Katie Nelson and her Columbia Crest team prove with this bottling that’s constructed with a string of Rhône varieties — Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Counoise as well as a bit of structure from Cabernet Sauvignon. Beautiful orchard blossom and rose petal aromas are backed up with stone fruit and watermelon flavors. Those are capped by white peach skin and green tea to easily cleanse the residual sugar of 0.6%. (2,000 cases, 12.5% alc.)

College Cellars of Walla Walla 2019 Rosé of Grenache, Walla Walla Valley • $20

Student winemakers, led by now-departing instructor Tim Donahue, drove their pink project with Grenache across the stateline to Blue Mountain Cider Co., in Milton-Freewater, Ore., where a touch of spritz was added to take this to another level. Strawberry-cherry blossom and filbert skin aromas transition to flavors of strawberry-rhubarb preserve atop a scone, backed by melon rind and nectarine, allowing this to exhibit many of the high points of a classic crémant. (150 cases, 13% alc.)

Jones of Washington 2020 Rosé of Syrah, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley • $14

Best Buy! Four times Victor Palencia has earned a Platinum from Wine Press Northwest for the Jones family with his remarkable rosé of Syrah program. He’s now qualified this gorgeously currant-hued rosé from 2 Gun Vineyard for this fall’s 22nd Platinum Judging. Thoughts of Fruit Stripe cherry gum, strawberry pie and peach fill the mind as marvelous acidity does wonders with the 0.8% residual sugar. (1,497 cases, 12.3% alc.)

14 Hands Winery 2019 Rosé, Washington State • $12

Best Buy! Keith Kenison performs magic with this pink wine — the largest production entered into the judging — that’s made using Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. It’s downright charming with its nose of hibiscus, nectarine and rose petal, leading to bright cherry and orange flavors as nectarine is revisited. And there’s ample acidity for the 0.6% residual sugar. (44,000 cases, 13% alc.)

Saviah Cellars 2020 Rosé Wine, Walla Walla Valley • $22

Dugger Creek Vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley is the birthplace of Richard Funk’s Tuscan-inspired blend of Sangiovese (60%) and Barbera (40%). The nose of cherry blossom, watermelon and gummy spice drops leads to an abundance of cherry, nectarine and watermelon with Limeade in the finish. (215 cases, 13.3% alc.)

DAMA Wines 2020 Rosé, Columbia Valley • $19

Chelle den Millie Vineyard in the Yakima Valley north of Prosser has become Mary Derby’s go-to site for Cabernet Franc. Her six hours of cold soaking led her to extract a bit more color — think of light strawberry — than her effort from the 2019 vintage. And this offers an amazing amount of fruit, more than one typically expects from a rosé of Cab Franc. It’s loaded with blue fruit tones while there’s still some varietal typicity with the hint of sweet red bell pepper. Nectarine flesh and lime zest make for a long and rewarding finish. (200 cases, 14% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2019 Leggiero, Walla Walla Valley • $19

Those with an appreciation for Latin can get an advance sense for their experience with Woodinville winemaker Robert Delf’s rosé, which he names for an Italian musical term for “delicate.” And he achieves that by using red Rhône grapes Grenache (53%), Syrah (29%) and Cinsaut. One of the most perfumy rosés in the tasting offers fanciful notes of cherry, strawberry and orange zest that are framed by lemongrass and quince at the close. (224 cases, 13.5% alc.)

TRI WPNW Rose tasting group 2

Outstanding!

Cascadian Outfitters NV Estate Rosé, Columbia Valley • $5

Best Buy! In the next year or so, it is expected that winemaker Andrew Wilson will be allowed to go with “Goose Gap” as the appellation for this canned project that his team creates for the Monson family near the Tri-Cities. Their use of Syrah off one of the largest contiguous plantings in the Northwest is filled with notes of strawberry-rhubarb compote and lavender, backed by nectarine and jasmine tea. It’s a great example of the quality of winemaking that’s going into canned wines. Presented as essentially bone-dry at 0.4% residual sugar, the highly floral aspects of orange blossom will be most appreciated if poured from the can and into a glass. And the price listed here is for a 375-milliliter can, so this is the equivalent to a $10 bottle of rosé. (500 cases, 13% alc.)

Côte Bonneville 2020 DuBrul Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc Rosé, Yakima Valley • $30

For nearly three decades, the Shiels family counts some of the state’s most famous winemakers as buyers of its prized fruit in the Rattlesnake Hills — hand-harvested by their all-female vineyard crew. Meanwhile, the elegant, age-worthy wines Kerry Shiels crafts for her parents continue to serve as delicious advertising and stack up alongside the best in the Northwest, too. Her brilliantly dry rosé carries a theme of strawberry, currant and blueberry with a refreshing squirt of pink grapefruit zest in the finish. She suggests serving it with Peach Melba. (160 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Björnson Vineyard 2020 Rosé Bubbles, Eola-Amity Hills • $29

Pattie and Mark Björnson brought on Scott Sabbadini as winemaker in 2019, with a résumé that includes famed Domaine Roy Et Fils in Oregon and heavily decorated Maryhill Winery in Washington. Sabbadini’s talent shows in this project from the Minnesota couple’s 28-acre vineyard near Bethel Heights. The attractive example is filled with cherry and nectarine notes, barely perceptible sweetness (0.5% residual sugar) and a nice nibble of Pink Lady apple skin in the back.(250 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Clubhouse Cellars NV Tickle Me Pink Rosé, Columbia Valley • $20

At the moment, Clubhouse Cellars is a rather obscure second label for Page Cellars. That won’t last long with fun offerings such as this. Woodinville winemaker/pilot Jim Page uses Syrah (90%) and Pinot Gris for this round and tasty pink that’s light and refreshing with a stream of fruit flavors ranging from tropical (guava) and stone (peach, apricot) to citrus and strawberry. (224 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2019 Familigia Vineyard Rosé of Malbec, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley • $14

Best Buy! Mike Conway and his daughter, Natalie Conway-Barnes, continue their deep relationship with the Bryan family at Cave B with this Malbec from their historic planting near the Gorge Amphitheater. Plum, violet and leather aromas lead to ripe plum, Hermiston watermelon and dark strawberry on the palate. Serve with barbecue chicken sandwiches with coleslaw, and the recipe by Elena Conway is published on her family’s website. (112 cases, 12.5% alc.)

Lost River Winery 2020 Rosé, Columbia Valley • $18

Methow Valley winemaker John Morgan pulls this Grenache-focused rosé from Inland Desert Vineyard near Red Mountain. Raspberry, strawberry and white peach only begin to describe this floral and fruity wine that’s filled with finesse. There’s remarkable brightness to the finish of Montmorency cherry and Craisin that’s fresh and clean. (200 cases, 11.5% alc.)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2020 Rosé, Columbia Valley • $15

Best Buy! Butch Milbrandt and Kendall Mix continue to team up for some of the Northwest’s top wines, and this nicely priced rosé that’s a blend of six varieties — including Syrah, Tempranillo and Albariño — engages the consumer immediately with its gorgeous color. Blueberry compote, pomegranate, starfruit and lavender aromas lead to flavors of pie cherry, cassis and an apricot right off the tree. Milbrandt, whose culinary talents can be seen on YouTube, suggests serving this with seared ahi. (4,000 cases, 12.% alc.)

TRI WPNW Rose tasting group 3

Seven of Hearts 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $21

Here’s a veritable bargain of Pinot Noir rosé from Dundee, Ore., winemaker Byron Dooley, who has the advantage of working with his sustainably farmed Luminous Hills Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills to control both his fruit and his costs. There’s a real wow factor to its delicate and enticing strawberry notes, joined by Rainier cherry and raspberry. The fascinating midpalate of honeycomb with apricot leads out with a return of strawberries and a refreshing burst of lime juice. (111 cases, 13.27% alc.)

Sparkman Cellars 2020 This Old Porch Rosé, Columbia Valley • $25

This vintage marked the 10th anniversary for Linn Scott at Sparkman Cellars, and his melange of eight grape varieties — led by Cabernet Sauvignon — came from an all-star lineup of vineyards that include Discovery, Kiona, Klipsun, Olsen, Red Willow and five of the Sagemoor sites. The fun profile takes a tropical angle along with blueberry and strawberry-rhubarb compote, making for a scintillating finish. (721 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Spoiled Dog Winery 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $28

One of the sharpest minds in the Northwest wine industry, chemist/attorney/winemaker Karen Krug earned a Platinum last year with her 2019 rosé, and she’s qualified for the 2021 Platinum via this work from two plantings on Whidbey Island — her estate and nearby Hezel Family Vineyard. The blend of Dijon clones 667, 777 and Pinot Précose (also known as Frühburgunder) produces a rosé of pure strawberry that’s joined by touches of rose petal and pink grapefruit. (76 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2020 Expedition Rosé, Columbia Valley • $15

Best Buy! Former ski instructor Haydn Mouat goes on a slalom run through the Rhône Valley with this blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsaut and Counoise. Tropical notes are joined by strawberry, rose hips and honey-coated almonds in a stellar structure that’s refreshing and tantalizing. (1,500 cases, 13.3% alc.)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2020 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Life is Rosé Barbera, Horse Heaven Hills • $19

Mike Andrews grows the fruit for his winemaker, Justin Michaud, and they’ve made this juicy grape from Piedmont the staple of their rosé program. It’s become an annual crowdpleaser and wowed judges, too, having earned Platinum awards from Wine Press Northwest for the 2016 and 2018 vintages. Like clockwork, this 2020 seems poised for another Platinum. If you don’t enjoy strawberries, there’s no reason to try this because it’s garden-ripened strawberry on the nose and strawberry lemonade on the palate with a scrape of lime zest in the finish to check off of 0.8% residual sugar. (200 cases, 12.8% alc.)

ROCO Winery 2018 RMS Brut Rosé, Willamette Valley • $65

There were a handful of sparkling wines submitted for this rosé tasting, and it was no surprise that Argyle founding winemaker Rollin Soles and his wife, Corby Stonebraker-Soles, combined for one of the judging’s most remarkable wines. This bottling brings markers of Dundee Hills fruit as it’s a wine featuring high-toned red fruit akin to red plum and cranberry. Its hallmark might be the astounding job with the mousse, which makes for pleasing bubbles. A lick of cherry pit rounds off the residual sugar (0.8%), a barely perceptible level. (160 cases, 12.5% alc.)

Eleven Winery 2020 La Primavera, Washington • $25

Bainbridge Island wine lovers increased their embrace of local winemaker Matt Albee during the pandemic, and his success during the past two decades has him growing and expanding his presence beyond the Puget Sound. Mourvèdre is a particular passion of his, and he uses that grape and Syrah to form the core of this elegant rosé that’s fresh, floral and filled with delicate citrus notes. (466 cases, 13.7% alc.)

ERIC DEGERMAN operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.

Rosé by the numbers

Here’s a look at the numbers behind the wines tasted for this article.

Total wines judged: 99

Percentage of “Unanimously Outstanding!” wines: 9

Percentage of “Outstanding!” wines: 23

Percentage of “Excellent” wines: 46

Percentage of “Recommended” wines: 24

Average price: $19

Average price of “Outstanding!” wine: $18

Average alcohol: 12.9%

Average residual sugar: 5.25 grams per liter (0.52%)

Total cases represented: 101,693

Median case production: 200

Average case production: 1,016

American Viticultural Areas represented: 23

Entries by AVA: Columbia Valley (34), Walla Walla Valley (9), Yakima Valley (7), Horse Heaven Hills (6), Willamette Valley (6), Snake River Valley (5), Lake Chelan (4), Washington State (4), Eola-Amity Hills (3), Royal Slope (3), Umpqua Valley (3), Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley (2), Columbia Gorge (2), Idaho (2), Puget Sound (2), Rattlesnake Hills (2), Lewis-Clark Valley (1), McMinnville (1), Oregon (1), Red Mountain (1), Southern Oregon (1), Wahluke Slope (1) and Yamhill-Carlton (1).

Explore Northwest rosé

The creation of National Rosé Day, the second Saturday of June, has been credited to Bodvár, a French producer based in Provence.

Prior to the pandemic, there were a number of Northwest celebrations surrounding rosé, including the Drink Pink Rosé Festival at Patton Valley Vineyard in the Willamette Valley, Exposé on Rosé by the Seattle Urban Wineries, and Drink Pink by Woodinville Wine Country. Go to WillametteWines.com, SeattleUrbanWineries.com and WoodinvilleWineCountry.com for event information.

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