The Simple Pleasures of Pink Wine
BY ASHLEY GARTLAND
PHOTOS BY JILL LIGHTNER
[twocolumns]Seattle wine drinkers have long cast a wary eye toward charming, versatile rosé. They doubt the merit of a wine with a watery pink hue, considering it too girly or too weak for their refined taste. Or they place rosé in the category of too-pricey-for-me wines. But mostly, they avoid rosés because they think they taste like the syrupy white zinfandels of decade’s past—and certainly, the modern wine lover does not want to sip a sickly sweet wine with their supper.But rosés—and particularly Northwest rosés—deserve a second look; they aren’t your mom’s white zinfandel. In the past few years, Washington winemakers have started making dry, European-style rosés worthy of our attention. “What I appreciate more than anything is that Washington winemakers are taking risks with their rosés …Three years ago, I couldn’t recommend a Northwest rosé but now we are tasting several great rosés every year,” says Ryan Allison, who owns Mercer Island’s Cellar 46° wine bar and retail shop.
Local winemakers can choose to make their rosés in one of three ways. They can make them as afterthoughts, combining excess red and white wines to create a pink blend. More often, they make rosés by leaving the skins of the grapes in contact—briefly—with the grape juice to give it a pink tinge. Or, they can use a process called saignée, in which they “bleed” bits of juice from the tank at planned intervals and produce a rosé as a by-product of a red wine.
Just as the styles of making rosé differ, so too do the grapes local winemakers use to craft their wines. Northwest rosés made from Syrah grapes crop up on retail shelves and restaurant menus, as do rosés made from Sangiovese and Pinot Noir grapes. Each grape creates a distinctive wine, but what rosés typically share are fresh strawberry, raspberry, melon and cherry flavor profiles and aromas. More complex rosés, says Allison, can also carry a bit of spice or plum flavor.
These bright flavors make rosé a welcome aperitif as well as an excellent pairing for everything from weekend brunch fare to a Friday night barbecue spread. “It’s very versatile because it is so food friendly. You can just have appetizers with it such as almonds and cold cuts or you can have it with more elaborate dishes like crab casserole or seafood linguine,” says Walla Walla winemaker Virginie Bourgue, whose Lullaby Rosé hit shelves in March. Other choice pairings: lamb kabobs straight from the barbecue, lightly seasoned chicken breast, and grilled vegetables.
Though rosé is a multi-seasonal wine, rosé sales spike in spring and summer months when Seattle craves a refreshing wine for warm-weather drinking. But rosés extend beyond the picnic season; remember that in November, and you’ll be the star of the Thanksgiving table—rosé pairs perfectly with roast turkey.
“I drink it year round. I use it as an aperitif wine, and then it’s fun to pull out a rosé in the winter when you are having, say, a butter leaf salad topped with Dungeness crab meat,” says Allison. “Any time you pull out a rosé with a light acidity people, get a smile on their face and think it will be a fun event.”
Line up a selection of these blushing beauties using our tasting notes as a guide and you’ll start to understand not only the appeal of rosé but also its differing styles. Of course not all rosés—local or otherwise—will be showstoppers. But you’ll never know unless you stop judging them and start sipping.[/twocolumns]
Sidebar– Five under $20: Washington Rosés
A former Seattleite, Ashley Gartland now lives in Portland where she works as a freelancer writer. She writes about food, drinks and lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest and has previously been published.