Drink the Pink
I'd resisted long enough. After visiting several wineries this spring that were proudly showing off their newest bottlings of Rosé, I set aside my preconceived notions of sweet soda-pop wine and said yes.
And yes. And yes, and yes.
My earlier encounters with pink wines happened back in the 1980's. With next to no wine experience, the ubiquitous White Zinfandel of the day was my "entry" wine. Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home can be thanked, I suppose, for marketing his 1970's winemaking "accident" which provided me entree to the wine world. But I didn't love it, and no wonder I haven't given Rosé much due since. It wasn't entirely different from the pop I drank as a teenager.
The wines I braved up for this spring are in a whole realm of wine beauty unto themselves. Here are four recent experiences, all Oregon Rosés; two from the Willamette Valley and two from the Umpqua Valley. I'm placing them here in order of depth of color, which by no coincidence reflects the varietal from which they are produced. The first two deeper pinks are primarily Merlot; the second two lighter colored Rosés are made from Pinot Noir grapes. While they are each beautiful, delicious and have a welcome place at the summer table, I do have clear favorite, to which I will offer my Rosé Pink Ribbon at the end of this post.
Pfeiffer Blushing Bride Rosé
First up: Pfeiffer Vineyards Blushing Bride. The sweetest of the offerings in this post, I find this $16 bottle is best as an aperitif, though Robin Pfeiffer recommends serving it with Thanksgiving Turkey. I can easily imagine it being complimentary to sage, rosemary, thyme and buttery gravy.
As Danuta Pfeiffer explained, sometimes our Willamette Valley fall weather comes early and/or our summers are too cool to produce enough heat units for ripening of their one-acre of Merlot grapes to their prime. It is in those cooler Oregon years when Pfeiffer makes their Rosé. While I will not wish for cooler weather, for my taste, I may possibly prefer the Rosé over Merlot. To make their Rosé, Pfeiffer leaves the stems intact and allows the juice to sit on the skins and stems for 24 hours, which adds a faintly appreciable bonus of tannin.
While I may not be blushing, since wedding bells are in my near future, I also find the name catchy as we make nuptial preparations. It would be a fun wine to serve at a bridal shower!
Palotai Bella Rosa
One of my favorite little boutique wineries is Palotai Vineyard and Winery in the Umpqua Valley, and their Rosé offering, also made from Merlot grapes, is called Bella Rosa. Winemaker John Olson shared this with us just after bottling and pre-labeling, so as you see, my bottles are naked. John describes this wine as having notes of pomegranate, passion fruit and blood orange, but immediately upon pouring I detected a clear strawberries-and-cream nose. The pomegranate came on the palate. The passion fruit, I suspect, is a product of the wee bit of Viognier John added for depth and structure, and the creaminess from a spot of barrel-fermented Reisling that had remained on its lees for four months blended in just before bottling. I never quite found the blood orange, per se.
A lovely aperitif, the Palotai Bella Rosa Rosé is completely dry and has a brisk acidity, and therefore also makes a delightful food-pairing wine. I served it with a tomatillo/avocado salsa and a mango/tomato salsa as part of an appetizer course, but can imagine it with an array of food pairings. Shellfish... Soft summery cheeses... Be still my overactive food imagination.
Next up is the King Estate 2009 Pinot Noir Vin Gris. May I take the opportunity to mention that My Baby and I will be married at King Estate in precisely 73 days? The grounds, buildings and view are beautiful, the food there is phenomenal and King Estate wines are very easy to place.
This I found to be the most tart of these three Rosés, and if I had been blindfolded I would have thought for sure I was drinking a King Estate Pinot Gris. King Estate de-stems and cold-soaks the Pinot Noir grapes for 72 hours on their skins. The juice is then fermented as they do their whites. The resulting soft pink color and crispness make me think of a chicken-strawberry-feta salad. Next time, that will be my pairing for this wine.
Lastly, another long-time favorite winery of mine, Hillcrest Vineyard, produced a 2009 Inside Out Pinot Noir Blanc. Once again, the white flesh of the Pinot Noir grape had minimal contact with the darker skins to make this very pale, almost salmon-colored wine. This Rosé was the most subtle in flavor and most complex in texture of this line-up. I haven't checked with Dyson DeMara, the owner and winemaker at HillCrest, to learn if the stems were left intact during that first brief pre-fermentation soak, but my guess is a solid yes, as the wine offers a soft tannic brush on the tongue.
Nothing about this wine stand up and shouts, "Pick me, pick me!", but that enamors me all the more. This wine's gifts are in its understatement. As is Dyson's way, this wine is terrific with food of all sorts; I can imagine it with any summer meal I can conjure. While its bone-dryness makes it a bit less attractive to me as a stand-alone sipper, I'm a food-and-wine pairing sort of gal, so the HillCrest Inside Out Pinot Noir Blanc takes my early summer "Drink the Pink" Rosé Pink Ribbon.