Category Archives: Bargain wine

A Passion for Pink

What’s a rosé, anyway? Generally, it’s a category of wine – just like white, red, sparkling and dessert. It takes its name from the French word for pink and because the “e” has that little swoosh over it, it rhymes with Jose.

Most rosés are made from red grapes. The aroma, color and tannic structure of a wine is in the grape skins. As a result, the color, flavor, and style of the rosé depends on three winemaking practices: the temperature throughout the winemaking process,  the length of time the grape juice is in contact with the skins and how much residual sugar is in the finished wine.

Rosé can be any shade of pink from barely perceptible to pale red. When using just red grapes, how long the grape juice macerates with the skins determines what shade of pink the finished wine will be.

It’s similar to making a cup of tea, do you take the tea bag out after a brief dunk or do you dunk the tea bag, over and over and over? That continual dunking, whether tea bag or grape skins, extracts darker colors, more aromas, darker fruit flavor profiles and more acidity.

Like Riesling, rosé wines can be made anywhere on the residual sugar spectrum. Fermentation happens when the yeast gorges itself on the grape sugars and burps up alcohol. Residual sugar is what the little yeasties haven’t eaten because, in the case of rosé, the winemaker stops the fermentation anywhere between 9% (sweet) and 13% (definitely drier) alcohol.

Winemaking styles and consumer palates have changed since the heyday of Lancers and Mateus. Not all rosés are sweet. Just look to the center of the world’s rosé production, Provence, where they’ve been making dry rosés since Hector was a pup.

Dry rosé is a staple in France. It’s consumed with lunch, brunch and dinner, on the patio, and decks, at the seaside, in the gardens, and practically every other occasion. As a matter of fact, French rosé outsells white wine in France.

Long before most Americans became acquainted with rosés, there was white Zinfandel and pink Chablis.  In the seventies, sweet fruity whites were the wine of choice. And then it happened, a tank of Zinfandel at Sutter Home got mixed up with a tank of white. White Zinfandel was a sweet pink mistake.

In the USA, however, some still equate pink with sweet, possibly based on past encounters with blush wines from a jug with a handle on it. But those wines are behind us, dry rosé production is on the rise in France, Italy, USA and Spain.  American wine drinkers are dumping the misconception that crisp, bright, and dry rosés are the same as sweet blush wines.

There’s several ways to achieve that pretty pink color.  Everyday patio pinks are typically a blend of white wine with enough red wine in it to make it “blush.” Per bottle, this style of wine would contain five times as much residual sugar as a Provençal rosé.

Another pink winemaking process is called, saingnée (sahng nee), another French term that translates to bleed. With this winemaking technique, the winemaker “bleeds” off the free-run juice from just barely crushed red grapes after momentary maceration.  (No continual dunking!) The goal of saingnée is to produce a light pink wine with aromas and flavors similar to a red wine.

A few of my favorites include:

Barnard Griffin’s Rosé of Sangiovese. Not too sweet, not too dry. A deeper colored wine with a lot of aroma, juicy acidity and flavors. A perfect patio wine.  Others agree with me. Barnard Griffin Rosés have won eleven Best of Class and gold at prestigious wine competitions since its debut in 2002.

Maryhill’s Columbia Valley Rosé Zinfandel is sourced from the award-winning Tudor Hills Vineyards.  Grapes were hand-harvested during the cool hours of the morning to preserve the bright fruit notes and left on the skins overnight to extract color and then gently pressed. The free run juice was slowly fermented at 50ºF for a month. This wine is a crowd-pleaser and gold medal winner.

Gerard Bertrand’s Rosé from the Languedoc DOC is a traditional Mediterranean blend of red grapes, Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. It’s a beautiful pale pink and perfectly balanced with a dry, medium-bodied and yet fruity freshness. Its beauty extends to the bottle, designed by an art student. The old fashioned bottle shape has an artfully embossed rose where the punt is usually found and a glass stopper in place of the traditional cork.

One winemaker I’ve been following for some time is Victor Palencia. His Vino la Monarcha Pinot Noir Rosé from the Ancient Lakes AVA is delicious. Yep, Pinot Noir from Quincy, Washington. Its floral aromas and flavors of citrus and minerality makes this one a refreshing patio pink.

Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir Rosé is another winner. This wine is whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel all at cool temperatures to preserve the aromatics and fresh red fruit flavors and mouthwatering acidity. The LEED gold certified winery has catacombs that draw in nighttime air, a natural cooling system!

A favorite Spanish rosé from 40 year old vines in Campo de Borja is ZaZa made from Garnacha by Norrel Robertson, a Master of Wine.  The must remained in contact with the skins for 24 to 48 hours, then free-run juice was bled, barrel fermented and aged sur lie for a month to integrate flavors, build mouthfeel, length and complexity. And it worked! The bright raspberry color and aroma give way to crisp raspberry and vanilla flavors and well-balanced acidity. It’s made for tapas, barbeque, salads, seafood and the patio.

Dry, pale pink to a ravishing raspberry, they all have one thing in common. They are enormously refreshing, very hip and on the rise.

Easter Ham with Pinot Noir

There was always a big ham on the Easter dinner table.  And for the longest time, I thought all hams came smoked, on the bone with cloves stuck into the scored top and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Until many years later, after reading a recipe somewhere, I ordered a fresh ham from the butcher without knowing what I was getting myself into. When I unwrapped it, I had serious misgivings. It had the bone, it was the right shape but it just didn’t look like ham to me.

I faithfully followed the recipe and served it with a creamed horseradish sauce and a big jug of Navalle Burgundy. Forks were flying and before long there was just a soup bone left.

Fresh ham, it turns out, is a pork roast with a big bone in it. Never brined, cured, or smoked. It’s fresh.

Today, this baked fresh ham will be served3girls with a dried cherry and leek sauce and a Pinot Noir. And I have just the wine for the match! Having recently tried a couple of wines from a winery I was not familiar with – Oak Ridge Winery  –  I can highly recommend this Lodi winery.

Lodi lies between the Sierra Nevada foothills and the San Francisco Bay where the days are quite warm and the nights are cool. The Lodi AVA was established in 1986 but grape growing in this prolific farming region has been going on since the 1850s. Many German farming families formed cooperatives and sold their grapes to outfits like Sebastiani and Bronco.

The winery, opened in 1934, was originally a cooperative for the local growers. In 2001, winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, bought the winery. They produce small lots of hand-crafted wines, and like many Lodi wineries, they’re known for Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel.

While over 50 grape varietals thrive in Lodi, Zinfandel shines. Old gnarly vines, some over 100 years old, sculpted by time, yield small amounts of fruit to create a fabulous wine.

While Zinfandel would be great with this dinner, the wine that I had in mind was their Pinot Noir. Pretty unusual climate for Pinot Noir but there it is. The 3 Girls Vineyard California Pinot Noir is not produced from 80% Lodi grapes to get Lodi on the label.  And it actually has 13% Zinfandel in it!

I’m happy I didn’t know that while I was enjoying this delicious bottle of wine. The latent wine snob in me might have emerged.

Oak Ridge is one of the fastest growing wineries in the U.S. and easily the one with most extraordinary tasting room. It’s made from a 75 year old redwood holding tank. The tank had a capacity of 49,429 gallons of wine or 20,610 cases of wine.

Their very affordable wines can be found at these local markets:

CostPlus World Market – Silverdale

Fred Meyer – Port Orchard

Central Market – Poulsbo

Savage Vine – Kingston

What we’re drinking: Contempo Petite Sirah

Mary writes:

Pettite sirah is unique to California. And although the names sound the same, Sirah is not related to Syrah — note the different spelling.

While they might not be related, Sirah did get its name from Syrah because of the similarities in aroma and flavor.

The Contempo brand is from O’Neil Vintners and Distillers in Parlier, Calif. They supply grapes and do custom crush at their facilities for a number of producers such as Back Story, Camelot, Cloud Break, Pepi, Tin Roof and Wink.

They operate in the style of an old world négociant.

The Petite Sirah is dark red with a lovely purple robe, smooth with plum and tart cherry aromas and flavors with a hint of mocha on the finish. It would make a great barbecue accompaniment.

Grocery Outlet has this screw capped bottle for $4.

What we’re drinking: Pump House Pinot Noir

Mary writes:

Reading the label on this bargain bottle of wine gives a little information about what’s inside.

It was cellared and bottled by Our Cellars out of Healdsburg, Calif. and is a product of France with  12.5 percent alcohol.

So what does that mean? I’ll translate: The pinot noir grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in France. The juice was shipped to California, where it was cellared and bottled.

Further investigation leads me to the conclusion it’s a private label for TJ’s (aka Trader Joe’s). Seems we just can’t stay away from this grocer when it comes to looking for bargain wines (although I bought this at Grocery Outlet).

About the wine. It’s French in style, meaning the fruit is understated and the mineral flavors more prominent. Because of this, it did not show well when first opened. But when aired, it showed tangy red cherry, some raspberry, a hint of orange peel, a nice mineral note, and a slightly tannic finish.

It’s nicely structured and a great everyday red. Another bargain find from Grocery Outlet that will only set you back $6. Grill up some salmon and enjoy with friends. It’s a great match.