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Originally published Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Wine Adviser

The new crop of Northwest rosés is a favorite rite of spring

Most domestic rosés are best enjoyed fresh, so you should seek out those from the 2010 vintage. That said, there are a few wineries in Washington that hold their rosés back an extra year.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the Week

Columbia Crest 2010 Grand Estates Moscato; $12

THE NEWEST ADDITION to the CC lineup is this fresh, spritzy, off-dry Moscato, perfect for spring. Bright flavors of grapefruit, peaches and tangerine make for a lively sipper balanced with bracing acidity. Note: these wines often sell for less than full retail. (Young's-Columbia)

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ONE OF MY favorite wine rites of spring is the release of the new rosé wines. Most are from the 2010 vintage, made from interesting, non-mainstream grapes and blends, built for drinking now, drinking chilled, drinking outdoors and with picnic food. They are often relatively low in alcohol and sold out of tasting rooms as a special, springtime treat.

Line up a few different rosés on your dining table and you will find that they come in a rainbow of colors, from vibrant violet to ruby red to cherry pink to a range of russet sunset hues. There is no right or wrong here; just as there is no right or wrong about dry versus sweet styles. But if you want more serious wines (not too serious, but with more substance and depth than just sugar and fruit), look for dry rosés from local wineries.

Some things to know. Most domestic rosés are best enjoyed fresh, so you should be seeking out those from the 2010 vintage. That said, there are a few wineries here in Washington that hold their rosés back an extra year. The 2009s from Hard Row To Hoe/Shameless Hussy, Doyenne and Lullaby are all recommended.

There are different ways to make rosé, and if you visit a tasting room or wine shop, it's worth asking about. Is this just a white wine with a little red blended in? That makes an OK beverage, but don't look for finesse or complexity. Is it made by the saignée process? This means that the fermenting juice from a red wine was bled off quickly and finished separately, in order to give the red wine more concentration. Saignée wines can be good, but are rarely great, because the harvest and fermentation decisions were done for the big red, not the rosé.

The best rosés were designed from the start. The decision to go pink may have been made in the vineyard rather late in the season, when it became clear that the grapes were not going to get ripe enough to do anything else with them. But that is not necessarily a drawback. A rosé is a rosé is a rosé.

Tasting through a flight of Washington and Oregon rosés, I found them all quite different and distinctive. One was 14.5 percent alcohol, tawny in color and quite potent; another was a pretty violet shade, round and intensely fruity, with a hint of sweetness. Some were blends of grapes, some were single-grape/single-vineyard wines.

My favorite was a 2009 Cowhorn Grenache Rosé from southern Oregon. It was biodynamically-farmed, harvested at 18.5 degrees Brix (a very low number indicating marginal ripeness), vinified with native (eg. wild) yeasts, and finished dry at just 11.4 percent alcohol. Those are numbers I have never seen on a domestic rosé. I expected a watery wine with no fruit, possibly a bad case of the veggies and quite possibly already over the hill.

Au contraire! This was the bottle I nursed through the evening, drank rather than tasted and, happily, did not spit. The wine was fresh, tart and intense, with racy fruit flavors of cranberry and wild cherry, hints of orange liqueur, and a dusting of cinnamon spice. It developed intriguing grace notes while holding up beautifully over the course of a long evening.

I most enjoy rosés made with single or blended Rhône grapes such as grenache, cinsault and mourvèdre; or varietal rosés made from pinot noir, sangiovese or cabernet franc. Serve them chilled and you will find them most versatile with a wide range of picnic and grilled foods.

Spring is springing. It's time to enjoy la vie en rosé.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is E-mail:

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.



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