Though it isn’t marked on any calendar, there’s a day usually "in mid-April, after tax time" says Phyllis Jones, general manager at Lush Wines and Spirits in Chicago, when we feel confident enough to stow winter gear and leave the house without a jacket. This shift in temperature signals the start of al fresco dining, and with it, rosé season. It’s all about the weather. Not so coincidentally, rosé-producing wineries time their new vintages for release, well, right about now.
Fueled both by rosé’s overall trendiness, and enthusiasm for red wines from Washington and Oregon, consumers are beginning to discover pink gems from the Pacific Northwest. At $25 or less, these bottlings are inexpensive introductions to the region’s promising, up-and-coming boutique wineries. In Oregon, most rosés are made from pinot noir, which put the state on the world winemaking map when it was first planted there 50 years ago. Washington rosés are typically composed of the same Bordeaux or Rhône wine grapes that go into the state’s powerful, age-worthy reds. But because some consumers still "associate pink with sweet" wine, says Jones, it takes a little coaxing (and tasting) to educate them about dry rosés before they are sold.
"With Washington rosé, [guests] don’t know what to expect," admits Cara De Lavallade, wine director at The Barking Frog restaurant at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Washington. "If they’re drinking French rosé, they’re drinking grenache-based rosé. That’s a nice transition [to Washington]. They’re going to be the same stylistically as what they’re already drinking, and I’m sure that’s intentional on the winemakers’ part." Seattle is a seafood town, she adds. As in Provençe, pairing these bone-dry wines with the catch of the day is another reason locals have taken to them.
When asked what makes her state’s rosés special, Kris Fade, co-proprietor of Analemma Wines in Oregon's Columbia Gorge AVA, emphasizes the care and effort that goes into crafting them. "The Oregon [wine] industry has been known as a composition of small producers prioritizing quality over quantity," she explains. "To this end, a great number of rosés produced in Oregon are made as rosés by design—meaning grown as rosé in the field, and processed in the cellar as its own distinct wine rather than as a by-product of another." By "by-product," Fade refers to rosés produced by the saignée method, which is when, in the early stages of red wine production, a winemaker "bleeds off" some of the juice to make the red wine richer and more concentrated. The pink-hued juice that is removed can be made into rosé wine.
The downside to falling in love with Pacific Northwest rosé is that most wineries don’t make much of it. Most Oregon wineries, for example, produce 5,000 cases or fewer annually—and only a fraction of what they make is pink. To keep up with summertime demand in Washington wine country, De Lavallade’s rosé list is long and changes frequently. "I’ll buy as much [rosé for the Barking Frog] as [wineries] will let me have," she says, though that could mean that a winery allocates only a single case. Consumers, too, will encounter limited selections of Washington and Oregon rosé in retail shops, but luckily many bottles are available online.
Pacific Northwest Rosés to Try:
Steven Thompson and Kris Fade, the couple behind Columbia Gorge’s Analemma Wines, follow organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard. The cool-climate pinot noir for this wine (and for Analemma’s terrific blanc de noir sparkling wine) comes from the over 40-year-old Atavus Vineyard, which is 1,700 feet above sea level. Out of the gate, this pale pink-peach rosé delivers light grapefruit and tangerine aromas, followed by nectarine and strawberry fruit on the palate, all wound around a central core of minerality. After a few minutes in the glass, a compelling, ethereal custard/pastry dough impression emerges. The wine is barrel fermented and spends some time on lees, a regimen that "facilitates a softening of this high-acid pinot expression," says Fade, and "allows for evolution of the wine, which imparts a sophistication and maturity that stainless steel could not replicate." It’s easy to imagine sommeliers having a field day with tasting-menu pairing possibilities for the Analemma, but just as easy to see it rocking alongside some takeout lo mein.
Winemaker Andrew Beckham is also a ceramics artist and a teacher, and he’s found a way to combine his passions. His art is on display in Beckham’s tasting room and some of his wines, though not this particular one, are aged in 200-gallon terracotta clay amphorae that he makes himself and bottles under the A.D. Beckham Amphora designation. Annedria Beckham says that she and Andrew "wanted to designate a wine for each" of their three children; the rosé is a perfect tribute to their young daughter, Olivia, who dresses "head to toe in various shades of pink" to match her pink cowgirl boots. This Pinot Noir rosé is playful and overt right out of the bottle, showing a quick burst of sweet berry fruit at palate entry (though to be clear, the wine has no residual sugar) and plump black cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate. But like a child who’s minding her manners the wine settles down after a few minutes and citrus and stone fruit notes take over. Medium-weight with a smooth stony/flinty texture and a nice herbal edge, this is the kind of wine you hope that your neighborhood bistro pours by the glass this summer.
Elk Cove is old-school Oregon: Winemaker Adam Campbell’s parents, Joe and Pat Campbell, founded Elk Cove over 40 years ago, and Adam has been in the family business since 1995. This pinot rosé offers watermelon, citrus, and tangy pomegranate aromas, with melon, raspberry, and orange notes on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity carries it nicely through the finish. Crisp and bright, this is a good accompaniment to brunch, or for al fresco parties.
Comprised of 78 percent mourvèdre and 22 percent grenache, winemaker Justin Neufeld’s ballet-pink rosé is a beautifully textured wine. Raspberry, peach fuzz, and pink grapefruit flavors are understated, and cradled in a cloud of minerality and chalk dust. Acidity is lively from the start through the fresh, lime-and-herb finish. The wine is complex and has "drink me with food" written all over it, though the perfect pairing (fresh mozzarella? spring risotto?) may elude you.
Winemaker Trey Busch makes four rosés: The Magician’s Assistant; Sleight of Hand’s wine club-only estate rosé; an affordable, syrah-based rosé from his second label, Renegade Wine Co.; and one under the Underground Wine Project tag, which is a collaborative project between Sleight of Hand and Mark Ryan Winery. All are worth seeking out. The Magician’s Assistant is single-vineyard 100 percent cabernet franc, with strawberry, black raspberry, and dried spice aromas. It’s round and balanced on the palate, where intense black cherry, strawberry and crisp citrus notes carry through to the finish; peppery-herbaceous hints add complexity. This cab franc pink is not demure—it’s an ebullient wine and a terrific transition for red wine drinkers who haven’t caught on to rosé yet.
Vintner Charles Smith produced just 330 cases of wine in 2001, and now makes about 650,000 cases of wine in an ever-expanding lineup of brands that includes K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, Charles & Charles, Vino, and Casa Smith. The 2015 is only the second vintage of the sangiovese-based Vino Rosé and, with 12,000 cases produced, you shouldn’t have to go far to find it. Vino Rosé has a foundation of raspberry and white stone fruit, and finishes with tangy cranberry-pomegranate flavors. It’s a quaffer to drink outside on a hot summer day and, at $14 (less, if you’re buying it by the case), you can afford to invite a few friends over, too.
Sokol Blosser’s rosé is an incredibly pale, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shade of pink, and on the palate it’s similarly subtle. This is a wine that requires close attention to fully appreciate—give this pinot noir rosé more than just a quick drive-by, and it’ll reveal delicate black cherry and peach flavors. Soft in the mouth and nicely balanced, it’s made from 100 percent organic grapes and fermented in stainless steel.
Peach, rose, and a hint of white pineapple show on the nose of Stoller’s 2015 rosé. The palate is layered with a textured rock-and-dust feel, vibrant acidity, plus raspberry and cherry flavors. It finishes with a lingering rush of citrus on the back. If you find some, snatch it up: Winemaker Melissa Burr says that the 2015 vintage is the first time "we made enough to get some out into the market instead of just out of the tasting room." The wine sells out every year.