Serious Grape: Grenache Rosé

"Don't be put off by the pinkness: these are serious wines, full of flavor and regional character."


[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Just because it's summertime doesn't mean our obsession with Grenache grapes has to end. Winemakers all over the world include grenache in delicious dry and tangy rosé blends, and we tasted seven of them to pass along our recommendations.

A quick refresher on rosé: wine gets its color from the grapes' skins, not the juice. To make rosé, red grapes (like Grenache!) are crushed and the juice macerates with the grape skins in order to extract their pigment. Sometimes the maceration lasts a few hours, though contact could last a few days. If the winemaker primarily wants to make rosé, she'll then remove the skins and continue making the wine.

If the primary goal is to make red wine, the pink juice can be bled from the vats (which is why this is called the saignée method) and fermented separately into rosé, leaving behind more concentrated red wine. Exceptionally pale rosé, called vin gris, is usually made without any maceration with the skins at all. Several of the wines we tried were blends; generally each type of grape is macerated, pressed, and vinified separately, then combined after fermentation. Another method of rosé-making is to skip maceration and bleeding the vats, and just blend finished white wine with a bit of red wine. Some rosé Champagne is made by this method.

The rosés we tried had varying amounts of grenache adding berry and cherry flavors, herbal accents and richness. Don't be put off by the pinkness: these are serious wines, full of flavor and regional character.

Starting off in Spain

We began our grenache rosé trials with an affordable offering from the Navarra region of Spain, made by the saignée method from 100% Grenache grapes. The Ochoa Rosado Garnacha 2009 is juicy and floral, with notes of raspberry and cream. It's not quite as well integrated, complex, or elegant as some of the others we tried, but it's a decent weeknight choice to pair with green curry or shrimp pad thai. (Around $11, Imported by Frontier Wine Imports, find this wine here.)

Fantastic French Options

Some of the most famous rosé in the world comes from the Tavel appellation in France, an area in the Southern Rhône not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel 2008 is concentrated and rich, with strawberries on the nose and with true Grenache fruit and spice flavors. It's silky and floral, well integrated and lush. Mineral notes balance the tangy berry flavors. This wine is no pushover. ($16-18, imported by Kobrand, find this wine here)

Since one Tavel rosé is never enough, we also snagged a sample of the 2009 Domaine de la Mordorée Dame Rousse, and our efforts were rewarded. The aroma of ripe peaches and strawberries is seductive. It has notes of maraschino cherries, apricots, eucalyptus, and raspberry brambles, with a mineral, chalky backbone. This is a big, dry, berried wine that pairs beautifully with a plate of prosciutto and ripe summer tomatoes. It's rich enough to balance a quiche with gruyere and bacon or a pork tenderloin with mushrooms. It's serious, delicious stuff, and definitely one of our favorites. ($24, imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, find this wine here)

Moving southeast toward the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, we also sampled a rosé from Provence. The biodynamic Chateau de Roquefort Cotes de Provence 2009 poured coral-pink and impressed us with its balance of bright, tart pomelo fruit flavors and dry minerals. It's fresh-tasting and tangy; we'd pair it with spicy Mexican or Chinese food. ($13-17, imported by VOS Selections, find this wine here)

The Charming Rosés of California

Several members of our panel chose Bonny Doon's 2009 Vin Gris de Cigare as their favorite. This bone dry and mineral-rich wine (made from 83% Grenache, 10% Grenache blanc, 5% Roussanne, and 2% Cinsault) calls out for oysters at a beach bar, crabcakes, and sushi with avocados. It's gulpable with hints of lime zest and herbs. If someone you know thinks they don't like rosé, get them a bottle of this, pronto. (About $15, find this wine here and or previous vintages here)

The 2009 Grenache Rosé from Holly's Hill in Pleasant Valley, California is closer to the Tavel style: rich and intense, bright and fresh, with green apple tartness and tangy grapefruit pith notes. We tasted sour cherries and cranberry cocktail, with a depth (and high level of alcohol) that may surprise those new to rosé. ($18, find this wine here.)

The coral-pink 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Grenache Rosé was another resounding hit among our tasters. It's refreshing and full of characteristic Grenache flavors, a little more delicate than the Tavel wines but with a bit more punch than the Bonny Doon. This biodynamic wine is harmonious, with notes of tart juicy plums, sour cherries, green apple, strawberry, and cream, pearly minerals, and floral perfume. It's amazing with charcuterie: the fat/salt of the meats tastes even richer and more decadent with the wine. It's heaven with a tomato sprinkled with sea salt, too. Highly recommended. ($15-20, find this wine here or here)

Not all wine stores put their inventory online; bring this list to your local merchant and they may be able to find these wines or recommend similar options.

Disclosure: All wines listed here were provided as review samples.

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