An Insider's Look at Rosé

It’s hard to walk into your local wine shop or supermarket and not notice the stunning rows of jewel-hued rosés.  And considering the boom in popularity that rosé has enjoyed the past several years, there’s a strong chance that these beauties ranging in color from the palest of pinks to outrageous magentas will be featured prominently.  As we explored in a recent blog post, rosé has gone from being just another wine to a cultural phenomenon in a few short years.  However, most people, even the most ardent fans, have little idea of rosé’s fascinating journey from grape to glass.

While researching this article, I was fortunate to speak with two winemakers very knowledgeable about rosé production, Chelsea Franchi of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA and Simon Batarseh of August Kesseler in the Rheingau region of Germany.

It is a common misconception that rosé is made by simply combining red and white wines together.  While this technically can occur, it is quite rare when making quality rosé.  Franchi, who oversees much of the rosé production at Tablas Creek, started our conversation speaking about the two most common methods of producing rosé:  saignée and direct press

The saignée method involves bleeding off juice from red wine tanks before it has had a chance to take on too much color from the red wine skins (this process is called maceration).  This labor-intensive method is interesting and controversial because it is often used as a way to enhance and concentrate the remaining red wine.  Many rosé advocates consider it an affront to rosé because it is the by-product of red wine production.  However, both Franchi and Batarseh praised this method for contributing intensity of flavors and for the amount of input they have while utilizing it.  At Tablas Creek, the juice sits on the skins for approximately 24-72 hours before about 20% is bled off and subjected to a cold fermention.  Most of this wine then becomes their serious, darker colored rosé called Dianthus (named for the flowers commonly known as “pinks”).  Dianthus is generally Mourvèdre-based, a nod to the rosés of Southern France, specifically the Bandol area.  Franchi attributes this wine’s watermelon essence to the Mourvèdre used in the blend.  At Kesseler about 20% of the juice from wonderful up to 80-year-old Pinot Noir vines is bled off then fermented.   Batarseh leans on this wine to contribute color and tannins to the final blend.

The other common method of making rosé involves direct pressing of the grapes.  This method is the most common and generally is considered the benchmark for crafting quality rosé.  Both Franchi and Batarseh praised the fact that crop levels, sugar levels, acidities, and harvest dates can all be controlled in the vineyard and tailored to make the absolute best rosé.  They both also press the juice off the grape skins without any maceration time resulting in a stunning pale pink color.  Often you will see this wine labeled as vin gris.  At Tablas Creek, this limpid direct press juice is destined to become their acclaimed Patelin de Tablas Rosé.  Franchi said that they prefer to co-ferment their Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Syrah juice for this wine.  This wine is definitely styled in the tradition of the great Provençal rosés with its dominant bright strawberry notes coming from the majority Grenache.  At Kesseler the direct press juice is blended with the saignée juice for the final wine.  Batarseh likes the interplay of qualities produced by using both methods, noting that the direct press juice brings a light, bright, acid-driven quality to the final wine. 

via Wine Folly (www.winefolly.com)

via Wine Folly (www.winefolly.com)

I asked Franchi what her favorite grape is to work with in the production of rosé.  After some thought she answered, “Grenache,” and referenced the absolutely heavenly, heady aroma released by the vats of fermenting Grenache in the cellar.  Indeed, when studying many of the great rosé-producing areas of the world, Grenache often seems to pop up.  It makes sense when considering that Grenache is a very thin-skinned grape and overall has less color-lending phenolic compounds than other red grapes.  Franchi also referenced the little-known Rhone Valley grape Counoise as contributing a nice softness and darker red fruit flavors to their rosés as well as those produced in Southern France.  Often Syrah is also added also its wonderful spicy character.

Grenache Grapes

Grenache Grapes

At Kesseler, Batarseh works exclusively with Pinot Noir for rosé production.  Once again we find a grape with thin skin and low levels of phenolic compounds.  It’s no surprise that in most of the world’s great Pinot Noir regions there is also usually concurrent rosé production (think Marsannay in Burgundy, Oregon, Germany, and the Loire Valley).  Producers in these regions get the dual benefits of producing a gorgeous berry-scented rosé and intensifying the often light juice destined for their Pinot Noir bottlings.  At Kesseler, considered one of Germany’s premier Pinot Noir specialists, their rosé shows beautiful berry and cherry notes while maintaining an elegant and exciting tension.  It’s definitely refreshing but has the stuffing for year-round drinking. 

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

Next time you’re buying a bottle of rosé for the lunch table, pool, or just a summer evening with friends, talk with the wine specialist or turn that bottle over and read the back label.  Besides the important visual clues from the color, you’ll gain some great perspective on what’s in a bottle by simply knowing how it’s made.  And don’t be embarrassed for buying it! 

As Franchi told me, “The stigma is over.  Rosé is one of the most delicious, versatile, and food friendly wines out there.”  Think pink!!

President's Day

Today is President’s Day and U.S. Presidents have a long history of supporting the wine industry at home and abroad. 

One of the most legendary oenophile presidents was Thomas Jefferson. The third president of the United States served as ambassador to France where he developed a taste for French wines. As president he shipped 600 bottles of wine per year from France to the United States.

Jefferson also helped stock the wine cellars of the first five U.S. presidents. During his two terms in office it’s estimated he spent $11,000 (that's $175,000 in today’s dollars) on wine.

Two wines stand out as presidential favorites- Champagne and Madeira.

Madeira is a fortified wine produced on the Portuguese island of- you guessed it- Madeira. Its alcohol content hovers around 18-20%. This allowed it to withstand the trip across the ocean to the New World. In colonial days, nearly 25% of Portugal's madeira was shipped to America. 

George Washington was an avid drinker of Madeira. In fact, it was used to toast his inauguration. Washington’s granddaughter reported the first president drank three glasses of Madeira after dinner every night.

The first father-son presidential duo--John Adams and John Quincy Adams --were also partial to Madeira.  It is even rumored that during a blind taste test John Quincy Adams was able to correctly identify 11 out of 14 different kinds of Madeira.

While madeira lost its popularity over the years (but is making a comeback!), to no surprise, champagne has been a constant fixture in the White House. James Madison, John Tyler, James Polk, Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon all had a well-known taste for the sparkling wine. The White House even boasts a champagne room. That's right, a champagne room.

Wine has been present at the most significant events throughout our country's history. Madeira was the founding fathers' drink of choice to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Louisiana Purchase was toasted with madeira and champagne. 

Raise a glass and have a celebration of your own this President's Day!

Interested in trying some of these president-approved wines? We highly recommend Champagne Salon, Champagne Delamotte, and Miles Madeira.

 

Dessert Wine Basics

In light of last weeks post on Port wines (and decadent dessert pairings), this week we wanted to follow up with some dessert wine basics. There are few pleasures in the wine world as hedonistic as a glass of great dessert wine.  Whether it be a honeyed, complex Sauternes or a delicate, frizzante Moscato d’Asti, these wines provide pure guilty pleasure and when considering the work that goes into crafting them, they are some of the most intriguing wines in the world.

Simply put, dessert wines are wines where there is a degree of residual sugar that remains after fermentation.  Generally wines in this category have 40 g/L or more of residual sugar and can soar to above 500 g/L in the most concentrated and rich examples.  In order to halt fermentation and concentrate sugars and flavors either nature or man must introduce some variable into the winemaking process. 

The four most common variables are:

  • Botrytis
  • Fortification by neutral spirits
  • Cold temperatures
  • Rasinating 

If you mention dessert wine to the average wine drinker the first word that will generally come up is Sauternes.  This golden elixir hails from the Sauternes region of Bordeaux and is the result of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea.   

 Normally this would lead to gray rot, which is a major threat to grapes.  However, if the exact right climactic conditions exist Botrytis (or noble rot or pourriture noble in Frenchhas the magical effect of shriveling the grapes and concentrating the sugars to above 100 g/L.  The resulting wines are honeyed and incredibly rich and complex.  Notes of orange marmalade, pineapple, butterscotch, wildflower honey, and white chocolate ooze out of the glass and the best examples are a mélange of exotic, luscious flavors.  These wines are some of the most expensive to produce in the world and in many vintages none are made, so expect to pay a premium for the experience of tasting one.  Sauternes from the famous Château d’Yquem regularly fetch some of the highest prices in wine auctions around the world.  Recently a half bottle of this wine from the 1811 vintage was sold for over $84,000.00! 

Sauternes does not have a monopoly on noble rot though.  There are also more reasonable examples in the style of Sauternes produced in the nearby regions of Barsac, Loupiac, Cerons, and Monbazzilac - if you’re lucky enough to find them, since they are rarely exported.   There are also very similar examples produced in the United States, Australia, and other new world countries on exceptional sites in exceptional vintages.  For other examples in France utilizing different grapes, look to the Loire Valley and Alsace and look for the term  Sélection de Grains Noble. In the Loire Valley regions of Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, and Coteaux du Layon the grape of choice is Chenin Blanc.  Noble rot turns this noble variety into a stunning nectar that is at once both viscous and light on its feet.  Beautiful flavors of apple, stone fruit, and nuts marry with an intense florality to produce an incredibly rare and long-lived wine. 

In Alsace the Sélection de Grains Noble wines lean towards heady and exotic aromas and tropical flavors due to the aromatic varieties grown there:  Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling.  Expect to smell and taste exotic spices such as ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, white pepper, and allspice paired with flavors of mango, guava, lychee, pineapple, apricot, and quince.  Once again expect to pay a premium for the rarity and exceptional experience of these wines.

Moving on to Germany, Austria, and Hungary and the wines that many would argue compete with Sauternes for the title of best dessert wine:  Trockenbeerenauslesen and Tokajis.  The Trockenbeerenauslesen wines of Germany and Austria are once again are the result of noble rot (Edelfäule) and are stunningly sweet and rich…much sweeter than Sauternes even.  The purity and multi-faceted nature of these wines perfectly mirror the fact that they are most commonly made from Riesling. 

In Hungary the historic Tokaji wine producers utilize native grape varieties such as Furmint and Hárslevelű to produce regal wines of astounding sweetness and concentration.  The highest classification, Eszencia, can have sugar levels up to 900 g/L!  King Louis XV famously referred to this wine as “the Wine of Kings, the King of Wines.”

Another method of production for dessert wine involves stopping fermentation by the addition of strong neutral spirits.  This process allows for a high alcohol level unlike many other sweet wines and thus is referred to as “fortifying” the wine.  Port, Madeira, and Marsala are probably the most famous wines in this category, and due to the complexities and culture of these wines, I’ll save them for their own discussions. 

There are several wines produced in the south of France that fall into this category as well.  These vins doux naturels are generally lightly fortified and the most famous examples include Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Banyuls, Rasteau, Maury, and Rivesaltes.  Grenache and Muscat are the key players with regards to grape varieties in these categories.  The Grenache wines are quite varied and can be made in an oxidized style (rancio) and any range of colors from amber to ruby to almost black.  The Muscats retain the aromatic character of the grape and are quite intense in flavor and aroma.

 

Icewine (Eiswein in German) is one of the rarest dessert wines.  Grapes must be exposed to a hard freeze in order to freeze the water in the grapes.  This process greatly concentrates the juice and reduces the amount of juice in each grape to mere drops.  This stingy return paired with the fact that the grapes must be precariously left on the vines until sometimes after the new year often results in outrageous prices, but with sugar levels usually over 200 g/L one doesn’t need much of this treasure! 

Germany is the spiritual home of icewine but Canada and increasingly New York also claim some exemplary examples.  And while Riesling is the still the king of icewine, other traditional grapes such as Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay and hybrid grapes such as Vidal and Sevyal Blanc make convincing examples as well.  Icewines can be surprising refreshing due to the exceptionally high level of acid that deftly balances the high sugar levels.

Finally, dessert wines can be produced by the process of drying and rasinating grapes either on the vine or after harvest.  Perhaps the most famous example of this style is the straw wine (passito in Italian) Vin Santo from Tuscany.  Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes are laid out on straw mats or hung in the rafters of the attics of wineries in Tuscany to produce a wine that is redolent of hazelnuts, toffee, nuts, and dried apricots.  A similar method is employed in the Veneto to produce Recioto della Valpolicella, a velvety red dessert wine.  

In Alsace the best plots are allowed to hang on the vine as long as nature allows to produce the exceptional vendanges tardives (late harvest) wines.  These wines are concentrated and rich but are not cloyingly sweet.  In the Loire Valley, this method is practiced as well with Chenin Blanc.  One sees this method also used in the new world.  Vin de Constance from South Africa is a notable historical example that has recently been revived.


Food Pairing

The general rule to follow when pairing sweet wines with desserts is that the wine must be sweeter than the accompanying dessert.  The red dessert wines are great partners for berry desserts or chocolate desserts (they pair similarly to ruby or vintage ports).  Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Alsace varieties often pair well with apple and stone fruit desserts, while the more aromatic varieties (Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris) are beautiful partners to tropical fruit or exotically spiced desserts.  For caramel, butterscotch, or nut-based desserts turn to Vin Santo or an amber Rivesaltes.  Sauternes can often be challenging to pair with desserts but is a classic partner for foie gras

 Indeed many of these wines make beautiful pairings for rich savory foods with sweet elements or for ethnic cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, or Middle Eastern.  Don’t miss trying a classic duck l’orange with a smoky, sweet Pinot Gris vendanges tardives from Alsace!  However, these gorgeous wines can stand on their own and be enjoyed as dessert in a glass.

Decanter World Wine Awards 2016

The Decanter World Wine Awards is an exciting time for any and every wine producer. Thousands of wines are submitted for judging and must withstand a tough preliminary assessment before they can move onto the official stages. Each wine is tasted blind by a panel of specialists including 69 Masters of Wine and 26 Master Sommeliers.  

Out of the 16,000 wines submitted, our wineries were honored with over 50 medals. We are especially proud of Cono Sur for taking home Best In Show along with 19 other awards. The following wineries recieved awards/medals at the DWWA: 

The process is a difficult and selective one, so taking home any awards or medals is a high honor. Gold medal winners go forward to compete against others in their region for a platinum medal, but gold winners are also re-tasted and have the chance of being downgraded. 

If a wine is selected as platinum, it then goes through a special blind tasting and has the potential to be chosen as platinum - best in show. This final blind tasting involves both Steven Spurrier, the chair of DWWA, and guest vice chair Gerard Basset OBE MW MS.

Each wine is a year of someone’s hard work and so it is very important to allow time to appreciate and discuss the wine for an award.
— Sarah Kemp, Decanter’s managing director.

We are honored and excited to see so many of our wonderful wineries medaled on this coveted list.