Wine

What Sets Prestige Rosé Apart?

Winemakers discuss the spectrum of grape varieties and vinification techniques that create the category’s pinnacle expressions

“The problem with rosé is you’re asking too many things that are different,” Daniel Ravier, winemaker at Bandol’s esteemed Domaine Tempier, says. The wine must be “fresh, but not too acidic; round, but not too much; [with] structure, but not too much tannin.” For the winemaker, the challenge is being “always on the line,” Ravier explains. Perhaps that’s the problem with rosé for the consumer as well. For many rosé drinkers, there seems to be an invisible line the wine cannot cross, or it may risk losing its rosé-ness.

For several years running, rosé has been the fastest growing wine trend in the United States market. According to a 2018 Nielsen report, the pink category grew an astonishing 64% since early 2017. The spiritual leader of this movement is Provence, whose dry, pale-hued style has infiltrated the global winemaking zeitgeist. Rosés from this southern French region alone have increased tenfold in import volume to the United States between 2010 and 2016.

Many revel in the stuff, but for some, the Provençal obsession has led to a fatiguing homogeneity across the rosé wine landscape. That is, except at the very top. Out of the pink sea, a quorum of producers and appellations are releasing rosé wines that transcend much of the rest of their category, whether it be by price, ageworthiness, or another attribute that heightens the wine’s presumed complexity. Call them “prestige” rosés, if you will—wines like López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado, Château d’Esclans Garrus, and Valentini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, or wines from regions like Bandol, Tavel, and Palette. Many of these wines long predate the contemporary rosé craze, while others have emerged from or alongside it. They share a common thread of pinkness, but beyond that, the results are wildly broad. It is natural for any wine category to seek out its apex of expression, but for rosé, exactly how that prestige is best achieved remains ambiguous.

To understand prestige rosé, it is important to understand what it is not. This is not to disparage the cornucopia of Provençal-style rosés that dominate wine shop shelves each spring and summer. These young wines can offer infinite enjoyment and refreshment. But, if the capacity to age, at least for some time, remains a fundamental tenet of what distinguishes a pleasurable wine from a great wine, then many of these rosés don’t cross that threshold. Neal Rosenthal, importer of iconic rosés such as Château Simone in Palette and Château Pradeaux in Bandol, finds much of the issue in the mad dash to hit the market. “One of the reasons I think a lot of rosés do not stands up is the fact the wines are pushed into bottle so quickly,” he says. “Everything is rushed.”

Paul Chevalier, portfolio director for Château d’Esclans (producer of both the popular Whispering Angel and their flagship Garrus), compares the plight to that of many easy-drinking, crisp whites. The satisfaction in both, in his mind, lies in their fruitiness, but not much else. “Once the fruit starts to go—and remember, we’re in the south of France, so you don’t have as much acidity—you have a rosé with no fruit. What do you have left?” asks Chevalier. To create an ageworthy rosé, or rosé de garde, the wine needs to offer something else.

This article explores four variables that producers of prestige rosés might work with to distinguish their product: the land, the grape variety, extraction, and élevage. Of course, these elements are no different than those constituting nearly every great wine of any color. But, in stepping outside the “line” to tinker with these factors, the full spectrum of possibility and diversity for rosé begins to be illuminated.

The Land

Is there such thing as rosé country? Or does great rosé have to come from land that can also make great red wine? Rosé can come from anywhere red grapes are grown. Yet certain appellations seem to signify higher esteem for rosé wines, whether it be from centuries-old traditions of pink winemaking or land considered particularly well suited to the category.

To some, Bandol represents the crown jewel of Provençal wine. While the region also carries much of its reputation on its red wines, rosé has eclipsed its red counterparts in terms of volume. In 2016, 73% of Bandol’s acreage was dedicated to rosé production, according to the local syndicate.

This isn’t the first time in Bandol’s history where its rosé and red wines have competed as the region’s most recognizable product. Evidence of viticulture exists here from before the fifth century BCE, and Mourvèdre most likely reached Bandol from its native Spain in the 1500s, securing its place as Bandol’s most prestigious variety over the next several centuries. During much of this time, Provence was a winter destination—a sunny escape during the cold months, which are colder in more inland parts of the continent. As such, red was the wine of the season. But, as travel trends shifted beginning in the early 20th century and Provence became a summer resort, Bandol rosé gained ground in both fashion and production, weaving itself into the fabric of Provence’s cultural identity. (Ironically, it is that same popularity as a tourist destination that threatens Bandol’s viticultural landscape today, with developments encroaching upon vineyard space.)

Whether they become red or rosé, grapes find a dramatic landscape for viticulture in Bandol. The appellation descends as a south-facing amphitheater, with the Mediterranean’s azure waters as its stage. The exposure is critical for cultivating Mourvèdre, an exceedingly late-ripening variety that finds little success in many other pockets of France. Vines are planted on stone terraces called restanques, and behind them a series of hills barricade the region to the north. Beneath the ground, soils are primarily clay-limestone.

At its core, is Bandol better suited to one color over the other? According to Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier, rosé by nature is the more challenging of the two wines. To craft Tempier’s, Ravier harvests the grapes about a week before those destined for the red wines. Nearly all of the fruit from the youngest vines is vinified into rosé, and allotted slightly higher yields. In short, while the rosé is still a serious focus for the winery, the top grapes are reserved for the reds.

Bandol isn’t the only corner of Provence where prestige rosé must share the spotlight with the other colors. Further inland, the micro-appellation of Palette occupies a mere 106 acres on a limestone bed on the banks of the Arc River. Palette has become nearly synonymous with a single producer, Château Simone, who bottles red, white, and rosé wines. Neal Rosenthal, who has imported the wines to the United States for several decades, sees Palette’s unique aspect as the first of many reasons why Simone’s wines are so distinctive. “The vineyards are facing north, northeast—allowing for a longer growing season,” he explains. Like in Bandol, the long ripening period is associated with the complexity of Palette’s rosés, as well as its reds and whites.

Further north, in the Southern Rhône Valley, Tavel celebrates a centuries-long association with darker-hued rosé. How it became a rare appellation dedicated solely to pink wines is a point of debate. While both the Greeks and Romans produced wines in the region, most denote the early 19th century as the origins of its rosé history. At this time, the vineyards of Tavel were in closer proximity to the southern side of the village itself, surrounded by forests. Supposedly, the sandy-alluvial soils in this sector amounted to less pigmented wines, never achieving the concentration of color associated with red wine.

Today, Tavel occupies a much broader swath of land, and its producers could easily succeed in vinifying fully red wines (despite appellation laws). They could also choose to make more lightly colored rosés, in the voguish style of Provence. “We don’t want to do this kind of rosé,” says Richard Maby of Domaine Maby. “When the obsession for clear rosé appeared, some winemakers tried to lighten their color of their rosé—the typicity of Tavel was lost.” While Tavel’s soils may no longer necessitate dark rosé, or even rosé altogether, it remains one of the few wine regions in the world where vignerons believe the land is best suited to a single pink hue.

The Grapes

As the predominant grape of Provence and the Southern Rhône Valley, Grenache has been at the forefront of the 21st century’s rosé craze. Certainly, several of the world’s top rosé wines utilize the variety as their foundation. López de Heredia in Rioja, for example, features the grape as the main ingredient in its Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado—rather than Tempranillo, which serves as the backbone to its reds. But Grenache doesn’t come without challenges, the most notable being its oxidative tendencies, as well as sometimes lackluster acidity. Both those inclinations can run contrary to the creation of a rosé destined for the long haul.

María José López de Heredia admits, “Historically, most of the rosés, especially the famous ones from Navarra, were made 100% with red Garnacha. The originality of our rosé is just the use of Viura and Tempranillo, to give our rosé complexity and capability of aging, something that 100% Garnacha sometimes cannot achieve.”

While López de Heredia relies on Tempranillo and Viura to fill in the gaps, for some producers, a critical first step to making an exceptional rosé is switching up the primary grape entirely. Beyond its geological advantages, many will cite Mourvèdre as the true reason behind Bandol’s success. The land and the variety are, of course, intricately linked, Bandol being one of the few places in France where Mourvèdre could historically achieve full ripeness. Only 20% Mourvèdre is required for Bandol rosé (a minimum of 50% for its reds), but the top wines almost universally allow the variety to constitute at least half of the blend.

“It does a certain balance, and it keeps a little bit of freshness,” says Tempier’s Daniel Ravier of Mourvèdre. In truth, Mourvèdre offers several advantages that Grenache does not. Mourvèdre is thicker skinned and more deeply pigmented than Grenache, lending heightened structure to its resulting rosé wines (perhaps at the sacrifice of accessibility in its youth). Being so late to ripen, Mourvèdre also necessitates conscientious viticulture. “It is not very easy to ripen, so you have to have yields that are not too high,” explains Ravier. Lastly, unlike Grenache, Mourvèdre is prone to reduction. This may require the winemaker to carefully introduce the wine to oxygen during vinification and élevage, but ultimately, Mourvèdre’s reductive predisposition can act as an additional barrier to provide its wines with longevity.

Elsewhere in Provence, the rare Tibouren grape offers an alternative option. No estate is more associated with the variety than Clos Cibonne, located just east of Bandol. “My great-grandfather was one of the first to want to develop the Tibouren grape in Provence, and at the start he wanted to vinify and age the rosé as Burgundy white,” says winemaker Olivier Deforges of his great-grandfather André Roux. But perhaps Pinot Noir would be a more apt comparison, as Tibouren is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Prone to oidium, mildew, and millerandage, the variety was widely abandoned after the phylloxera crisis in favor of less temperamental grapes.

But in the right hands, such as those at Clos Cibonne, the results can be captivating. Tibouren is a pale-skinned red grape, which for the production of rosé can be allowed to achieve greater ripeness without the fear of imparting too much pigment. Further, “Tibouren likes oxidation. He likes it better than Grenache,” says Deforges, which serves the winery well with its peculiar élevage practices. But perhaps the appeal of Tibouren wines is most simply the grape’s flavors—earthy, slightly rustic, and often described as garrigue-like in character.

Extraction

The anthem for the contemporary rosé wave praised pale, dry rosé. Of course, such a notion is inherently biased toward the Provençal style of rosé. It even ignores a handful of acclaimed wines within Provence’s boundaries, such as Château Simone, whose color appears a mere few shades away from a light-bodied red. The implications that a dark rosé is by default sweet or that a light-hued rosé is always dry are equally fallacious. In fact, several producers, as well as regions, extract higher pigment and tannins for purposes of longevity in fashioning a rosé de garde.

Tavel’s darker rosé has only recently appeared the less fashionable style. In a 1992 article for the New York Times, Frank Prial writes, “Tavel roses, like most good roses, are made by the saignee method”—in stark contrast to today’s favor for direct-to-press rosés. The typical Tavel rosé is allotted a maceration period between a handful of hours to two or three days (traditionally falling somewhere in between) before pressing. Subsequently, a portion of the must may be set aside for extended skin contact, later being saignéed and blended back with the rest of the wine to heighten its pigment and tannic structure. This méthode taveloise, as it is sometimes called, is believed critical for the aging capacity of the region’s wines.

But beyond the tannic structure and pigment imparted, Tavel producers also believe their vinification practices can broaden gastronomic possibilities for their wines. “We have a rosé that’s very much appreciated by connoisseurs. This is also a rosé that’s used within restaurants for pairing with food,” says Richard Maby. The notion of Tavel as a rosé for food is not a new one. In 1943, in the Atlas de La France Vinicole – Tome III – Les Vins des Côtes du Rhône, Louis Nardin, President of the Cooperative Cellar of the Great Wine of Tavel, wrote, “It is easy to understand and approve the unanimous concert of praises awarded to it by writers and poets, gastronomes and epicures, associating it to the good genius of French cooking.” He continues, “Tavel wine pours joy into the soul, shines in the hearts by the warmth of its libations which make you sing like the cicadas.” Nardin’s poetic Tavel entry in the Atlas speaks highly to Tavel’s pedigree and gastronomic appeal, but interestingly, it doesn’t once mention its color.

Leaving France, the shadow of Provence looms less largely for several other countries’ rosé traditions. Perhaps no nation displays as diverse a pink palette as Italy. From Bardolino Chiaretto to the Negroamaro rosés of Puglia, nearly every shade of rosato is made somewhere on the boot. On the darkest end of that scale lies Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, whose wines made from the Montepulciano grape might readily be mistaken for a light red simply by the visual. Abruzzo’s two most rarefied producers, Valentini and Emidio Pepe, have both amassed a following for their Cerasuolo wines. Notably, Pepe’s reputation as an ageworthy rosé comes from its consumers, not the winery itself. “Cerasuolo is our Sunday lunch wine. It’s a wine you enjoy with incredible pleasure, and without thinking about it too much,” says Chiara De Iulis Pepe. The family does not export their Cerasuolo across the Atlantic, fearing it will lose the freshness they admire in the wine.

Despite her preference for the wine young, Chiara De Iulis Pepe acknowledges that the wine does demonstrate ageability. Much of that derives from its tannic structure, which surprisingly is imparted through very little maceration. In fact, Pepe cites no maceration period for their Cerasuolo. Instead, the wine’s pigment and tannin is extracted as the grapes are crushed by foot for 30 to 40 minutes, after which the juice is transferred to tank for a slow, low-temperature fermentation. While some Abruzzese producers will macerate their Cerasuolo wines on their skins, that time rarely exceeds the period allotted in Tavel, despite Cerasuolo’s richer color.

At Antica Terra in the Willamette Valley, that line between rosé and red wine becomes even more nebulous. “We don’t farm anything to be rosé,” Maggie Harrison explains. Rather, she waits until midway through fermentation to decide which Pinot Noir lots will become Angelicall, her rosé, and which will fully complete vinification as a red. “There’s this moment, it usually ends up being two or three days into active fermentation, where the aromatics just crack open,” she says. “If it speaks of a rosé, then I’ll grab it.” At that point, Harrison will lift the juice from that fermenter and transfer the wine into barrel, where it will complete fermentation and élevage. The source of the grapes varies from year to year, as does the time the wine spends on its skins, which averages out to around seven days.

For Harrison, her Angelicall is definitively a rosé, but that distinction is made by its organoleptic properties other than color. She recalls a tasting she held for New York sommeliers in which she featured a flight of aged or darkly pigmented rosé wines, with a 1996 Bartolo Mascarello as a ringer. “The Barolo was the palest wine on the table by a really wide margin, but you put it in your mouth and it’s still clearly a red wine.” The longevity of Angelicall, according to Harrison, derives from how far along the red wine vinification it had ventured. Nevertheless, for Harrison the line is drawn with the extraction of structural tannins. “For me, that real distinction is that extraction of tannins, and not the amount of tannin. Once you start to extract architectural tannin, then you’ve made red wine.” As such, Harrison waits until the last possible moment where that extraction would be made, and in that instant, removes the rosé from its skins. It may already be dark at that juncture, but she asserts, “I don’t think it’s the pinkness that makes it rosé.”

Élevage

While variety, appellation, and vinification may vary, if there’s one thing many producers of prestige rosé seem to agree upon, it’s the importance of oak. In many respects, the idea of an oak-aged rosé commanding a higher price tag follows many cues from the white wine landscape. Consider California Sauvignon Blanc, for example. While an abundance of young, stainless steel-fermented and aged bottlings of California Sauvignon Blanc hit the market each spring following harvest, the priciest of the variety will often be created in the image of white Bordeaux. This means aging and sometimes fermentation in barrel, and potentially a later release than their stainless counterparts. An unoaked California Chardonnay, on the other hand, will often cost less than an oaked version from the same producer or appellation.

Such a model does not hold true across a great deal of the white wine world (of course, several top wines from Germany, Austria, Chablis, and many other regions never see an inch of wood), but many of the most expensive rosés find their way into oak at some point. Of equal import, aging in oak by default raises production costs, by way of both the price of the vessels as well as the additional storage space required, often for an extended period. Even if the price jump from a producer’s stainless rosé to the oaked version doesn’t necessarily correlate to an equal jump in quality, it may well be costlier to create.

But what does it mean to create an oaked rosé? In Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution, MW Elizabeth Gabay writes that “there is no single oaked-rosé style.” Producers seem to be in consensus that oak plays an important role in elevating their rosés, but how exactly that oak should be implemented yields a wide spectrum of answers. The size of the vessel, the age of the wood, and the length of time before bottling are decisions each winery must make depending on the rosé they’re trying to produce.

No winery better emblematizes the importance of élevage in the identity of its rosé than López de Heredia. The estate’s 2008 is the most recent to hit the market, the first rosado released since the 2000 vintage. “The Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva spends four years aging in barrels of American oak and this, together with its unusual fermentation process, give very singular characteristics,” says María José López de Heredia. After the co-fermentation of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Viura, during which the skins are removed partway through, the wine is transferred into López de Heredia’s old stock of American oak barrels. The slow introduction to oxygen over that time likely serves the Garnacha well, and adheres to the house style, delivering a wine that is oxidative rather than oxidated. Subsequently, the wines are stored in bottle for several years before release—more than five years in the case of the 2008. At a decade of age, that can already be considered a feat of longevity for a rosé wine, but the López de Heredia Rosado famously holds the capacity to be cellared much longer. The wine bears little semblance to modern perceptions of rosé. Instead, it tastes like López de Heredia above all else.

Château d’Esclans, the winery behind the popular Whispering Angel Rosé, takes an entirely different approach to oak with their icon wine Garrus. Selected from a plot of 80-year-old Grenache vines, complemented by equally old Rolle, Garrus is allotted no maceration time. The juice is transferred to new and once-used demi-muids, where it proceeds for 10 months through fermentation and élevage. A cooling coil is inserted into the bung of each barrel to control temperature. Of equal importance to the barrels themselves, the wine is aged on its lees, with bâtonnage performed twice weekly. “Like in a bottle of Champagne, the yeast lees suck out a bit of the color,” says Paul Chevalier, portfolio director for Château d’Esclans. And like Champagne, that extended lees contact creates a reductive environment, which can also be beneficial to Grenache. The result has little in common with López de Heredia’s oaked rosé, but like that wine, its taste implies little of its color. Instead, critics most commonly compare Garrus to white Burgundy, especially in its tactility and rounded weight.

Lees aren’t the only substance a rosé wine might come into contact with in oak vessels. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic is Clos Cibonne, which ages its top rosés under fleurette—or flor as it’s better known in Sherry. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wines are moved to 500-liter century-old foudres. The biological aging isn’t as extreme as it is with Sherry, nor is it forced. Olivier Deforges explains that they are not quick to top off the barrels, and in certain warmer conditions, a film of yeast blankets the wine. Deforges allows the wine to age as such for 30 to 45 days before refilling the angel’s share. While Tibouren already exhibits a savory palate, the biological aging imparts a distinctive brininess to these wines that recalls Fino.

Closing Thoughts

A Provençal rosé that tastes like Fino. A Willamette rosé that looks like red. While huddling beneath the pink umbrella, do wines like these share anything in common, beyond name, with the rosés that have propelled the category to the height of fashion? Perhaps they don’t, and maybe rosé isn’t really a category any more than red or white wine. We would never demand that all red wines or all white wines adhere to a single style, nor assume that they all share the same consumer. With a world’s worth of varieties and places to cultivate them, it would be impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all approach and expect universally great results. The same is true for rosé. What these prestige rosés demonstrate is that rosé is just a color—or, rather, a spectrum of colors. Each of these wines appears singular because no single correct path exists to reach rosé’s pinnacle. And once we stop fantasizing over an individual hue, perhaps that diversity will trickle down into every tier of the rosé market—and then, we can stop calling rosé a trend, and instead enjoy its strengthened longevity in the wine landscape.

Tasting Notes

Château d’Esclans Garrus Rosé, Côtes de Provence 2016

With its Whispering Angel bottling, Château d’Esclans has become one of the most recognizable brands in the rosé game. The flagship wine Garrus, however, has been around just as long, its first vintage being 2006 when proprietor Sacha Lichine purchased the estate. The wine is harvested from 80-year-old Grenache vines from a hilltop vineyard, as well as an adjacent parcel of Rolle. While its onion skin-hue resembles that of Whispering Angel, the sensorial experience of Garrus is entirely different. The comparison to white Burgundy is apt, especially in its texture. The wine shows its muscle on the palate, a pillar of structured stone fruit flavor, with perceptible but well-integrated oak tannin. White cherry and peach tones are nuanced by notes of sandalwood and crushed stones. The wine demonstrates extraordinary polish and length, gaining further precision with exposure to air.

Domaine Tempier Rosé, Bandol 2016

Domaine Tempier has been instrumental in establishing Bandol as one of the world’s finest terroirs for both red and rosé wine. The estate had been in the Tempier family since 1834, but the marriage of Lucie Tempier to Lucien Peyraud and their inheritance of the property in 1936 marks its modern history. Lucien championed the revival of Mourvèdre, which had widely been replanted with higher yielding varieties after the phylloxera crisis, and petitioned the INAO for the creation of the Bandol AOC. Today, Domaine Tempier remains the master of the Mourvèdre grape. The iconic rosé, a longtime staple for Alice Waters and her circle at Chez Panisse, is crafted from roughly 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, and 20% Cinsault. At once juicy and boisterous, yet concentrated and tautly structured, the rosé sings of its maritime home: notes of sea spray with strawberries, macerated orange peels, and herbs.

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Tibouren Rosé, Côtes de Provence 2016

Clos Cibonne was my “a-ha” moment for ageable rosé, when a trip to the domaine presented me with a vertical back to the 1990s. I didn’t fully understand the wine until recently, however, when I learned of its biological aging under fleurette, a detail that escaped me during my visit to the property. Now, it’s hard to taste it without also tasting the almond-dustiness of a great Manzanilla. But, that’s only a part of the equation. Clos Cibonne is one of the most storied estates in Provence, with the Roux family first taking ownership of the property in 1797. Listed as one of 18 cru classé estates in a 1955 classification of the Côtes de Provence, Clos Cibonne is indelibly linked to the Tibouren grape, so much so that the estate has been granted special permission to name the variety on its labels. André Roux recognized its potential and pulled out his Mourvèdre in favor of Tibouren (ironically around the same time Lucien Peyraud was replanting with Mourvèdre just east in Bandol). Clos Cibonne’s top rosés are about the interplay between Tibouren, blended with 10% Grenache, and its biological aging. The Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes, harvested from 60-year-old vines, balances Tibouren’s herbaceous, earthy varietal character with the brininess derived from its élevage. The result is a wine that achieves umami character without losing a more gratifying, juicy breadth.

Château Simone Rosé, Palette 2016

Palette remains on the map largely thanks to Château Simone. The Rougier family has made wine here since 1830, and today, their production accounts for 80% of the appellation’s output. The land itself is distinctive, a north-facing slope on the Massif du Montaiguet. Château Simone has amassed a following for each of its flagship wines: red, white, and rosé. The rosé—a blend of 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault, supplemented with Syrah, Castet, Manosquin, Carignan, and black and white Muscat—is partially destemmed and vinified using indigenous yeasts. A portion of saignéed juice is blended back into the wine, which is matured in small oak casks. Upon first opening, the rosé presents itself as unyieldingly reductive, but after a quick decant it slowly reveals its enigmatic allure. There’s a primal quality to the wine’s aroma, an amalgam of cherry liqueur, medicinal herbs, and stale sweat. The palate finds flavors of five spice, pressed flowers, tarragon, and garrigue. It’s a wine that challenges its drinker, but one that also rewards with a strange hedonism.

Domaine Maby La Forcadière Rosé, Tavel 2017

The Maby family enjoys a history of grapegrowing in Tavel since the early 19th century, at which time they earned their principal living as shoemakers. Auguste Maby transitioned the family business to wine roughly a century later, and today his great-grandson Richard is at the helm. Richard considers La Forcadière his most traditional expression of Tavel, a cuvée of nine varieties harvested from the sandy soils in the historic center of the appellation. The blend is driven by 60% Grenache Noir, followed by 30% Cinsault and rounded out by Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Clairette, among other grapes. Destemmed and allotted a 24-hour cold maceration, the wine is matured in stainless steel vats with malolactic conversion blocked. The resulting wine finds a juxtaposition between cherry candy flavors and a more biting bitter sesame and orange peel character, further augmented by the rosé’s tannic grip.

López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva, Rioja 2008

María José López de Heredia claims her family’s rosado is in the tradition of the clarete wines of Rioja, made in the image of 19th-century claret from Bordeaux. She explains, “The founder of the bodega, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, acquired his vinicultural knowledge in France. On arriving in La Rioja in 1877, he adapted the Rioja method of making clarete, but he literally translated the French word rosé when it came to naming the wine.” The rosado is only made in vintages where enough Garnacha and Viura can be spared from the red and white cuvées. While the current release is 2008, the previous vintage for the wine was 2000 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and possibly 2018 will also be produced). A blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo, and 10% Viura, the rosado show more kinship to the Viña Tondonia Tinto and Blanco wines than it does to any other rosé. Flavors of tart cherry and brine bring laser-sharp precision to the palate, complemented by a rusty patina that speaks to the oxidative house style.

Emidio Pepe Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2017

Emidio Pepe began making wine in 1964, the year he took over his family estate. Along with Valentini, his contributions to Abruzzese wine are largely responsible for the region’s renaissance. Pepe’s Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo has become a “unicorn wine” of sorts, as it is not exported. (Please note that the example I tasted was purchased from a third party, as this wine is not intended for the US market.) “He’s always been making it, because it’s a big tradition here in Abruzzo,” says Chiara De Iulis Pepe, “[but] it’s mainly for family consumption.” After 30 to 40 minutes of crushing by foot, the Cerasuolo ferments absent its skins and ages for several months in concrete tanks. Unlike the rest of Pepe’s portfolio, which typically sees several years of maturation, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is bottled in the spring following its harvest, and its limited quantities are released a month later. There’s a joyfulness to this wine, its boisterous aromas bursting with the fragrance of red licorice and strawberry candies. The palate finds a chalky tactility and more savory tones of thyme and salt, lending a pleasant bitterness to its cherry cordial-like exuberance.

Antica Terra Angelicall Rosé, Willamette Valley 2016

Maggie Harrison worked for nine years at the famed Sine Qua Non in California before moving to Oregon to become the winemaker at Antica Terra. “Everything that I know came directly from that place,” she says of Sine Qua Non. (Sine Qua Non earns its own place in the history of prestige rosé. Its 1995 Queen of Hearts Rosé holds the record for most expensive rosé sold at auction, for $37,200 in May 2014.) It took Harrison several years at Antica Terra to perfect her vision for the estate’s rosé. “I started to realize that all of my rosé heroes are working with thick-skin varieties in a warm climate.” Replicating those practices with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley wasn’t offering the results she’d desired, and so she switched paths to her current formula, one that leads Pinot Noir as closely down the path to red wine as possible until it is removed from its skins roughly a week after crush. Angelicall walks a very narrow line between rosé and red, but the result speaks fully to its variety and place. Vinous and generous, flavors of black cherry and cranberry meet savory tones of basil and mint.

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