We've said it before, but we'll say it again (and again): we're pretty excited about the new wave of California wine. We're excited about thoughtful California winemakers who are honoring old (and new) vineyards and reinvigorating nearly-extinct grapes. We're excited about winemakers picking and processing with an eye toward personality and balance; these quirky and lovely wines, carefully farmed and carefully made, speak for California with a deep sense of place.
Perhaps red or white wines might seem more 'serious', but this sense of identity comes through in my favorite California-grown rosés as well. These 7 dry rosés—the best we've tried from the state this year—were made with an eye toward balance and character, and the results are elegant, refreshing, and just darn delicious. They'll make you want to get out an ice bucket and blow off work for the afternoon. (And since they're all pretty low in alcohol, you can pour yourself another glass or two.) But keep in mind: most of these wines were made in very small batches, so if you spot 'em, buy two bottles before they're gone.
Matthiasson 2012 Napa Valley Rosé The scent of this wine, made from whole cluster pressed early-picked Syrah grapes from the Kahn Vineyard in Lovell Valley, is enough to get your mouth watering. The flavor's like licking stones that were sprayed with fresh lime juice. This wine is remarkable in so many ways: tart, fresh, and clear, mineral (really mineral) and focused. It's everything I want a rosé to be, and I'm just sad that so little of it (around 180 cases) was made. Drink wherever you'd drink limeade: with fish tacos, fresh crab, spring salads, hot afternoons. It's 12.3% ABV. ($23)
Turley 2012 White Zinfandel Christina Turley, who was once the wine director at David Chang's Momofuku restaurants in NYC, took on the bad reputation of sticky-sweet Sutter Home or Beringer White Zin when crafting this totally serious rosé. "There's no reason that White Zinfandel can't be a great wine," she says. "I wanted to reclaim the term." It took some effort to convince her father, famed winemaker Larry Turley, that white zin was a good use for estate fruit, but the results—a dry rosé aged in neutral oak—proved Christina right. Now in its second vintage, the wine is mouthfilling, with a lightly spiced, dried cherry backbone, wrapped with a fresh swirl of cherry juice, tart plums, and orange zest. It's the texture of this wine that's arresting: this is elegant stuff, supple, rich, and balanced. Serve with a juicy pork chop. ($20)
Robert Sinskey Vineyards 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Wow—this wine smells about as good as wine can smell, all juicy sliced peaches and exotic orange blossoms. Made from whole cluster pressed Carneros Pinot Noir grapes, the pale pink result is full of personality. The fruit is round and silky, but the finish is tart as green strawberries. It's a thirst-quenching, refreshing wine—but a serious, carefully made one. Serve with seafood or charcuterie. ($28)
Forlorn Hope 2012 Kumo To Ame This pale, pale rosé is a field blend of Portuguese grapes grown in Amador County: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarella. It's lightly floral, more like a mist of orange blossom water than grape juice. The texture is remarkably silky and creamy, even though it had essentially zero time on the skins and didn't go through malolactic. Winemaker Matthew Rorick says the plushness was "a delightful surprise from a debut wine." Serve this delicious, soft rosé with seafood salads or sushi. ($22)
Broc Cellars 2012 Rosé Chris Brockway makes this refreshing rosé from a blend of Counoise and Cinsault grown in the Santa Ynez Valley. His goal was to make it "as racy as possible," he says. "These particular grapes basically fell in my lap: the grower was having a hard time finding a home for them, since they were what many consider un-ripe. That's usually when someone goes, 'call Brockway.'" The result is fresh, tart, and peppery, filled out with apple-and-watermelon fruit. This drink-by-the-pint rosé is just right for serving with salmon, but it's also awesome with a margherita pizza. ($20)
Farmers Jane 2012 Field Rosé Half Grenache and half Cinsault, picked in the Santa Ynez Valley, pressed and fermented together. This is a delicate, easy-drinking wine, fresh and cooling, like putting cucumbers on your eyes or ducking under a waterfall. It has the lightest hint of raspberry flavor and a lemony finish that makes your mouth pucker. Pair it with a tomato salad once the season rolls around, or try it with peas and favas now. ($17)
Ehlers Estate 2012 Sylviane Rose This rosé is made from biodynamic Cabernet Franc grapes grown in St. Helena. It offers a bit more fruit than most of the other wines mentioned here: it's a mouthful of tart cran-raspberry and juicy red cherry flavor, kept fresh in stainless steel and low in alcohol. If you're looking for the leafy qualities of Cab Franc, you won't really find them here, but if you like your rosé a little juicy and tart, this is the wine for you this spring. Serve it with grilled pork chops or shrimp or lobster rolls. ($28)
All wines were provided as samples for review consideration except the Farmers Jane Field Rosé.