Winemakers have kept a secret from us—the wine-drinking public—for decades: Rosé is amazing.
OK, it’s not like they were keeping it a secret on purpose. The public is just finicky, prone to whims, and is made up of hopeless gossips. And pink wine had a hard time shaking the whispers that defined it as sickly sweet white zin (cough, cough, Beringer).
PRETTY IN PINK
Rosé is being produced up and down the Central Coast, as evidenced by the selection at Central Coast Wines in SLO—and it’s not just bled off red grapes anymore. Winemakers such as Brian Brown at ONX are growing grapes specifically for the purpose of making a crisp, clean pink with red wine characteristics such as Indie, a rosé of tempranillo.
I’ll admit it. I, too, once judged a wine by its color.
But I’m here to apologize to all the shades out there that shape the spectrum between red and white.
I’ve seen the light, and I’m definitely not the only one.
That pretty pink delicious drink is out in the open now, and the wine that was once kept in the barrel room for winery staff is now in the tasting room and in most portfolios from Paso Robles to Santa Ynez.
The trend, of course, isn’t new. According to Christopher Taranto, communications director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the demand for rosé has been steadily increasing for the last three to five years.
“Purposefully made rosé is definitely something that our wineries are doing more and more,” he said. “And what I mean is specifically growing [grapes] and making wines for rosé.”
Take Indie, ONX Winery’s rosé of tempranillo, as a great example of exactly what Taranto is referring to. The Templeton Gap vineyard grows its tempranillo—which according to winemaker Brian Brown is a grape that makes an extremely tannic red wine—specifically for the crisp, fruit-forward (think strawberries and raspberries not plums and cherries), dry, rosy wine that comes out the other side. It’s perfect to sip on the patio and with dinner.
ONX doesn’t trim the leaf canopy of the tempranillo vines it grows specifically to produce rosé. Those leaves are left to provide shade, so the grapes don’t tan in the hot sun. Brown said the winery also harvests the grapes earlier, so the color and acidity doesn’t concentrate in the fruit. Plus, tempranillo typically produces a larger fruit, so there’s not as much skin encircling the fruit.
“We’re really growing this fruit for what we know we’re making in the long run,” Brown said. “Something that’s delicious but not overly complicated. … We make an uncomplicated wine that has a lot of thought put into it.”
ONX’s first vintage of Indie netted 60 cases. The next year it was 200, and for the 2016 vintage, the winery made about 830 cases—of which only about 200 are left. And they did that, Brown said, because ONX started running out of it before it was even hot (“We missed rosé season!”).
Rather than bleeding some of the juice off a batch of red after the crush (also know as saignée, which literally means “bleed”), the clusters are crushed whole and the juice leaves the skins right away in a process that Brown said is a blanc de noir (“white of black”) style—similar to the way Champagne is made from pinot noir grapes.
Saignée is a method that’s typically used to concentrate the juice (color and flavor) of red wine. If the grape in question is pinot noir, then the juice that’s bled off that batch would become a rosé of pinot noir. And that light-colored end result with red wine characteristics is something winemakers have been drinking for ages. The pinot headed to the “for sale” rack, and the rosé of pinot stayed in the “for employees” stack.
“It’s been sort of funny,” Brown said. “I’ve been a rosé fan for a long time, and it’s sort of taken off.”
Central Coast Wines at 712 Higuera St. is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Thursday, June 15, MCV wines will be the Thursday winemaker during downtown SLO Farmers’ Market—and yes, the Morro Bay winemaker does make a rosé!
Tom Nichols, the wine buyer for Central Coast Wines in downtown SLO, agrees. He used to make wine in Napa, and said the rosé that was bled off the red grapes was often the centerpiece of staff parties.
He chalks up the recent popularity of rosé to the younger generation. It’s a cross between red and white wine that’s easy to drink and everybody likes. When he’s looking for rosés to carry in the shop/tasting room, he wants wines that are crisp and clean. He brought out several bottles when I stopped by. The first was Indie from ONX ($21.95, $19 at the ONX tasting room in Tin City), which he said is a personal favorite.
The second was a 100 percent rosé of grenache bottled in Orcutt, A Tribute to Grace made by Angela Osborne ($32.95) with grapes sourced from Santa Barbara County. Nichols also brought out Levo’s Flying Colors, a rosé of grenache blend made by Levo winemaker Brett Urness ($27.95) with SLO County-sourced grapes. Levo’s tasting room is in Tin City.
But that’s just a sample of what’s coming out of the Central Coast’s wineries in a pleasant rosy hue. Still not convinced? All you have to do is give it a little taste.
“There are still people who refuse to drink it,” Nichols said. “If I pour it for them, people will buy it.”
Editor Camillia Lanham is happy to chug along on the rosé train. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.