Coming Up Rosés

After decades of disdain, rosé is suddenly in fashion. Dozens of inexpensive imports from France and Spain are turning up on supermarket shelves in time for summer, and U.S. winemakers, long afraid of rosé's "blush" and "pop" reputation, are jumping into the pool as well—with a predictable number of cannonballs and belly flops. Rosé is made with red grapes, its juice partially fermented with the red grape skins but drained off the skins before fermentation is complete. Some of the coloring matter remains in the skins, resulting in a paler shade. But those coloring compounds also are responsible for a lot of the characteristic tangy flavor of red wine, so a well-made rosé tastes radically different not just from white wine (which is removed from skins, seeds, etc., before fermentation even begins) but from more fully "extracted" reds as well. Rosés tend to be inexpensive wines, designed to be drunk while young and fruity, but it's at least as hard to make a good one as either reds or whites. The winemaker must keep a sharp eye not just on the progress of fermentation but on variations in temperature during fermentation, which have a lot of impact on which flavor compounds are extracted, which left behind. Rosé can be made from any red grape, but historically rosé is primarily identified with one grape variety, grenache (garnacha in Spain), and above all with one "denomination," Tavel, a village at the very southern tip of the Rhône River quality-wine zone in France. The rosés of Tavel have an agreeable freshly-split-cedar-plank color and a matching faint resiny flavor and bouquet, and when other southern French regions began exporting rosé, it was the Tavel model they (wisely) emulated. A few local winemakers have made fine pure grenache rosés, but others have tried their luck with other grape varieties, with mixed success. But the biggest problem for local rosé makers is cost: Washington rosés average about $15 a bottle, about what Tavel rosé costs, while wines just as good from other French areas come in nearer $7 or $8. But there are a lot of cheap grapes out there these days and a lot of winemakers loath to miss what may be the next big wave. More than usual, you need to trust your wine merchant. Or in other words: Let the buyer beware. Recommended rosés All the wines on this list are currently available in the Seattle marketplace, though not all wines are in all stores. All are ready to drink this summer. Wines are listed in order of retail price. Prices are approximate. 2004 Tavel Domaine J.P. Lafond Roc-Épine Rosé: Even if you think $16 is a lot to spend on a "summer wine," you owe it to yourself to taste this classic example of what started the rosé craze in the first place. "Crisp" is a word casually thrown around by winesters, but this wine defines the term; each sip is like a bite into a juicy, crunchy exotic fruit. 2004 Syncline Grenache Rosé: Don't chill this $16 beauty too much, or you'll miss out on its juicy summer-fruit flavors. This rosé is one of the few New World versions we've tasted to take full advantage of the grenache grape's woody-herbal character. 2004 Bergevin Lane Columbia Valley Rosé: Eight vineyards contributed to this wine, but there's nothing generic about its flavor. Winemaker Virginie Bourgue knew exactly what she wanted when she blended substantial portions of syrah and cabernet sauvignon, a dash of merlot, and a big slug of white viognier. The blend is so agreeable, it almost seems a shame to drink it with anything, but you'd be astonished how well it goes with good barbecue. $16. 2004 Chinook Cabernet Franc Rosé: Purists may quibble, but the proof is in the sipping; Kay Simon's been making this glowing-red beauty for six years now, and every edition's improved upon the last. It's almost misleading to call this year's version rosé, so substantial yet user- and food-friendly is its round, tangy lushness. Not a lot is made, and much of it's bought by the case by Simon's fellow winemakers, so move now. $16. 2004 McCrea Rosé of Mourvèdre: Doug McCrea pioneered both rosé and Rhone grape varieties in Washington, but he's never stopped experimenting. This rosé is more richly flavored than many made with more traditional grenache, but it's still light and refreshing on the palate. $14. 2004 Yellow Hawk Cellar Rosato: Winemaker Tim Sampson specializes in unconventional treatments of unconventional grape varieties, and he scores big with this rosé. It's agreeably dry and daintily flavored by the sometimes-overassertive lemberger grape it's made from. $12. 2004 Chateau du Donjon: This colorfully named rosé comes from the far southwest of France, near the legendary walled city of Carcassonne. Made from roughly equal parts grenache, syrah, and cinsault grapes, it's an agreeably spunky wine (13 percent alcohol, but doesn't taste it) for drinking on its own or with main-dish salads, cold cuts, or (in cooler weather) the regional specialty cassoulet. Only $11. 2003 Marqués de Cáceres From Spain's premium Rioja region, this "rosado" is made from 80 percent tempranillo, a native Spanish grape, with only about 20 percent garnacha, but its pert flavor is as focused as the best French rosés. Lovely on its own as a cooler, it's a killer with the saffron flavors of paella. A scandalous steal at $8. 2004 Torres "De Casta": The Penedes region of Catalonia is best known for its sparkling white wines, but this sour-cherry-red rosado could change that. Made from garnacha and the local cariñera grape, it's a fine substitute for sherry with tapas, and if that doesn't get you the price tag will: $8. 2003 Ste. Chapelle "Premium Blush": The Idaho-based Ste. Chapelle brand has to try harder to convince discriminating drinkers to try its wares, and does so successfully with this off-dry quaffer with pinot noir grapes in its make-up. A real picnic wine, both for its affinity with dishes like cold chicken and seafood salad and also its price: $6.

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