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American Rosé: The Wine to Watch This Summer

American Rosé: The Wine to Watch This Summer
June 05
16:26 2020

By Lettie Teague

AMERICANS ARE fiercely patriotic in many ways, though not, it seems, when it comes to rosé. When I checked with a local wine retailer recently to ask about the 2019 rosé wines he had in stock, he sent me an entirely Gallic selection. What about pink wines from America? He had none. It was a scenario that played out over and over again.

Though Nielsen statistics show increased year-over-year dollar sales in both categories for the week ending May 2—a jump of 36% for domestic rosés and 35.5% for French—that doesn’t mean quality rosés from the U.S. are easy to find. In my search for well-made dry rosés from established American wine regions, I had to try several stores to come up with the 14 bottles I purchased for my tasting. Every merchant offered beaucoup pinks from Provence, but none stocked more than a couple quality American rosés.

Many wine lovers have yet to get to know the more distinguished rosés produced stateside.

The archetypal pale-salmon-pink Provençal rosé pretty much sells itself, as does the sort of sweet American-made pink wine of the white Zinfandel kind, beloved more for its cheap price than its nuance. But many wine lovers have yet to get to know the more distinguished rosés produced stateside. This latter group might require a salesperson to explain their appeal, speculated Andrew Tow, a founding partner of the Withers Winery of Healdsburg, Calif., which makes a very good rosé with grapes from El Dorado in California’s Sierra Foothills. Now, with shoppers buying online or keeping trips to wine stores as brief and infrequent as possible, producers of good American rosés might find it even harder to attract new fans.

Most high-quality American rosés are made in fairly small quantities. Mr. Tow even cut his 3,000-case rosé production to around 2,400 cases in 2018 and 2019, diverting fruit that would have gone into rosé to his higher priced red wines.

In a similarly conservative move, California winemaker Steve Edmunds cut production of his Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé with the 2018 and 2019 vintages in response to a perceived excess of rosé. “I was seeing the glut of wines in the market so I took my foot off the pedal,” he explained in a phone call. Not that he was making so very much rosé in the first place: Mr. Edmunds estimated he produced 800 cases of his 2017 rosé and just under 500 cases of his 2019 one.

It seemed like a shame: This juicy, vibrant wine from El Dorado is one of my favorite rosés year in and year out, and the 2019 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé ($22) is no exception. Mr. Edwards chose the Bone-Jolly name as “an English-language way to connect with Beaujolais.” (Beaujolais, France, is the home of Gamay.) He also hoped to give people an idea of what they’d find in the bottle. “It suggests being jolly all the way down to your bones. That’s the way I feel when I drink Beaujolais,” Mr. Edwards said.

Master sommelier and vintner Sara Floyd said it was hard to know how much rosé to make because the market for quality American rosé isn’t so firmly established. “You either produce too much or too little,” she said. Ms. Floyd produces rosé under the Luli Wines label, in partnership with the famed Pisoni wine-growing family of Santa Lucia Highlands in California. The 2019 Luli Grenache Arroyo Seco Rosé ($17), of which just 300 cases were produced, was a beguiling, floral drink. In a similar vein, the 2019 Murrieta’s Well Livermore Valley Dry Rosé ($15), a Grenache-dominant blend made entirely from estate fruit, proved to be a very pretty wine. Winemaker Robbie Meyer added this rosé to the Murrieta portfolio in 2015 and has gradually expanded production from 400 to 1,500 cases.

There’s evidence that taking the time to build a market for quality domestic rosé can pay off. When Roman Roth, winemaker at Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack, N.Y., began making dry rosé in 1992, he produced 82 cases with virtually no competition in New York. Today he produces around 78,000 cases of three rosés on Long Island: a “regular” Estate Rosé; Summer in a Bottle, a slightly more concentrated wine; and Grandioso, a limited edition barrel-aged rosé. He also makes around 20,000 cases of rosé in Argentina under the Finca Wölffer label. The wines range from $15 to $30 a bottle.

Mr. Roth estimated that some 77% of his winery’s production is currently dedicated to rosé. The rosé’s success, thanks to a huge Hamptons fan base and clever marketing to an affluent clientele, allows him to put money into his red wines—which, he noted, are more expensive to produce and harder to sell. Distributed in 25 states, Wölffer rosés have established such a high profile that Mr. Roth was the lone American rosé producer invited to a gathering of French rosé producers hosted by the Vins de Provence promotional organization last year in New York City. Mr. Roth noted that the other guests were very collegial if a bit curious about his inclusion.

Down the road from Wölffer Estate at Channing Daughters Winery, winemaker Christopher Tracy produces a greater variety of rosés than his neighbor but in much smaller quantities. The dry, savory 2019 Channing Daughters Cabernet Franc Rosato ($22) I tasted and admired is one of seven rosés produced by the creatively restless Mr. Tracy.

Finding rosés from the Pacific Northwest in the East Coast stores near me wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I found just three from Oregon and one from Washington State. I don’t know if it’s a matter of actual scarcity or because distribution is hampered due to the pandemic.

Two of the Oregon wines were pleasingly dry and quite distinct in style. From French-born winemaker Laurent Montalieu, the 2019 Domaine Loubejac Willamette Valley Rosé ($15) was a soft and agreeable wine. The 2019 Big Table Farm Laughing Pig Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé ($33) proved more challenging and serious. Not filtered or fined—a process in which particulates are removed from a wine, sometimes to soften its tannins or acidity—it’s a very dark, very vinous and complex rosé with a toothsome acidity that smoothed out over time. It tasted even better to me on the second day. “I drink this every evening in the garden at the end of work,” said winemaker Brian Marcy.

While it might be easier to pick up a pink wine from Provence, and some of these American rosés might be harder to find than others, they’re all worth a search.

1. 2019 The Withers El Dorado Rosé, $20

This crisp and elegant take on a pale Provençal rosé hails from California’s Sierra foothills. Winery proprietor Andrew Tow calls it his “homage to Bandol,” the appellation within Provence often regarded as home to the best French rosés.

2. 2019 Big Table Farm Laughing Pig Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé, $33

This crisp, almost tart, rather full-bodied and dark rosé drinks more like a red. The wine is unfiltered, so it’s a tad cloudy—a complex and savory wine best paired with food.

3. 2019 Murrieta’s Well Livermore Valley Dry Rosé, $15

This Grenache-dominant blend was produced from estate fruit in northern California’s Livermore Valley, at the eastern end of the San Francisco Bay AVA. Lovely and dry, it has a pleasing floral nose and a crisp finish.

4. 2019 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé, $22

Compulsively drinkable is the best way to describe this wine, a wildly pleasurable, juicy, strawberry-inflected rosé from winemaker Steve Edmunds, a California Gamay genius.

5. 2019 Wölffer Estate Long Island New York Rosé, $15

This estate bottling, a blend of red and white grapes, mostly Merlot and Chardonnay, is light and lively with a pleasing mineral note. Winemaker Roman Roth noted that it may be his best estate rosé to date.

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