An Ode to the Pink (Rose Wines)

Despite New York reverting back to more typical Spring weather these past few days, the recent tantalizing days of summer-like weather were sufficient to galvanize me into my annual ode to Rosé, easily one of the most glorious of all wine genres and unfortunately still snubbed by a large percentage of wine drinkers (although after years of my heavily promoting Rosé, the tide certainly seems to be turning [a little] making Rosé more like Carthage than one would have ever imagined).  The same goes for white wines in general and while I still encounter avowed red wine-only stalwarts from time-to-time, it only takes a few sips of some carefully curated crisp white wines to win them over to the charms of white wines forever.

While Rosé is certainly not the only beverage capable of providing vinotastic relief from sweltering heat (crisp Sauvignon Blanc comes to mind and apparently there is something called Beer that works too), it is and always will be the perennial summer wine (although as Eric Asimov wrote many years ago it is consumed too infrequently and should be enjoyed year-round).  With a beautiful pink color, tons of tart berry fruit, a typically low(er) alcohol content and oodles of refreshing acidity, it’s the perfect summer beverage, best enjoyed out of doors and well chilled.  Rosé gets extra credit for typically having a low price and exhibiting extreme food-pairing versatility.  As you will see from the numerous tasting notes below, Rosé can be and is made from almost any red grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Carignan, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Grenache and Mourvèdre in addition to blends of these and other grapes.

Rosé wines are made using a number of different techniques and its name (French for pink) encompasses all wines falling between red and white on the color spectrum.  One method of producing Rosé is maceration, in which the [white] juice of red grapes is allowed minimal contact with the red grape skins (typically between a few hours and a few days) before the skins are discarded.  Generally speaking, the longer the contact with the skins the darker in color and the more full-bodied and tannic the resulting wine will be.  Given the limited contact with the skins, almost no tannins are imparted into the juice allowing the wine to be enjoyed well chilled (see my wine-serving temperature newsletter).  This is the method by which the highest quality Rosé is produced and many a time is produced from grapes that were specially cultivated for Rosé and harvested a little earlier than usually to allow for higher acidity and less sweet-like fruit.  As Rosé continues to penetrate the echelons of more sophisticated wine consumers, winemakers are spending more time, effort and money in crafting higher quality Rosé wines to service their needs, often with terrific results.  As would be expected, this increase in quality is almost always accompanied by a bump in price with many of the better kosher Rose versions now hovering around the $30 mark, moving them out of the “everyday drinking” wine range for most consumers.

Another common Rosé-making method is the Saignée method; a byproduct of making red wine.  In this method, the wine maker “bleeds” the vats containing the wines for any number of reasons, and then uses the bled-off juice to make Rosé.  A common reason for doing this is when a wine maker wants to increase the intensity of a red wine they are producing they drain some of the pink juice prior to fermentation which results in a higher concentration of red juice and a more intensely flavored wine.  The drained pink juice is fermented separately and results in Rosé.

Another, far less common and barely worth even mentioning, production method is blending red and white wines.  Other than with respect to the cheapest and most commercialized of wines, this methodology is only utilized only in Champagne, where Pinot Noir is added to a Champagne base to create the sexiest of all wines – Rosé Champagne (and in other regions where Rosé sparkling wine is created).  Very rarely, the method of maceration is used to create Rosé Champagne (in which the Pinot Noir grapes are allowed very brief skin contact during fermentation).

In the United States, Rosé is also known as blush wine or “White [X]”, with the [X] substituted with whichever grape the wine in question is produced.  One unfortunate example would be “White Zinfandel” that, for some unfathomable reason, tends to be a pretty popular wine (while being a wine you should never, ever drink).  If there were ever a wine that could compete with the Blue Bottled Abomination for my oenophilic disdain – White Zinfandel would be it.  Besides the general inferior quality, most White Zinfandel has an unpleasant bubble gum flavor and almost every kosher version of this poor excuse for a wine bears at least partial responsibility for the bad association many uninformed people still have about kosher wine.

Among its many charms is how delightfully refreshing the wine is when served well-chilled and how much simple (or mindless) enjoyment it can provide (as opposed to more sophisticated wines that many a time require your substantial attention in order to be fully appreciated).  While some Rosé wines lose some of their aromatics and complexity when served overly chilled, generally speaking I like to serve Rosé at about 46-50ºF (8-10ºC) – which is slightly colder than its optimum drinking temperature.  As Rosé is very often enjoyed out of doors, this allows the wine to gradually come to the right temperature in your glass so it can be enjoyed properly as opposed to starting out at the right temperature and rapidly becoming warm and insipid before you get past your first sip.  Rosé is the quintessential picnic or brunch (or breakfast!) wine, matching beautifully with omelets, fried and lightly grilled fish and much of the lighter fare we tend to start reaching for as the mercury skyrockets.

The majority of Rosé wines contain a varying touch of residual sugar in their Rosé which is many a time exacerbated by the impression of sweetness driven by the typical abundant rich summer fruit that is typically found in many Rosé wines.  My personal preference is for exceedingly dry and crisp Rosé wines, a genre of Rosé that historically has provided slim pickings for the kosher wine consumer, especially for those who enjoy Israeli wines (likely a historical remnant of the Israeli wine-drinking public’s preference for sweetness).  Thankfully the availability of higher-quality and dryer Rosé options has skyrocketed over the last three years with more and more wineries creating very nice options for those seeking a higher performing wine.  Some of the most impressive recent additions include the amazing Brut Rosé from the Golan Heights Winery (which augments their already impressive portfolio of sparkling wines), the popularly priced offering from Tabor in their Adama series (both previously reviewed) and Blanc de Pinot Noir from Goose Bay (reviewed below).  While many of these new options still contain a bit of residual sugar, there continue to be an increasing number of dryer versions available (and there is nothing wrong with a bit of RS from time to time either, especially in a delicious summer quaffer).

While affordability is typically one of the best characteristics of Rosé, many of the Israeli versions continue to suffer from the Achilles Hell of Israel’s wine industry – pricing.  With the majority of better Rosé options clocking in at $25-30 range (or higher), they represent a larger investment than is practical when looking to consume Rosé on a daily basis, especially throughout the warmer months and, dare I say, an inappropriate price point for what they are.  That said, there are a number of well-priced options including versions from Recanati, Domaine Netofa and Dalton.  Another item of note is the rise of the California Rosé (which remain on the pricier side other than Hagafen’s Don Ernesto, but for the most part are of terrific quality, interest and deliciousness) which includes quality offerings from Hagafen, Covenant, Hajdu and Shirah.

The list below covers 14 (!) different Rosé wines and doesn’t come close to covering all the recommendation-worthy ones I recently tasted (remember – I only write about wines I liked), let alone the more than 40 different available Rosé wines.  In addition to those listed below and the aforementioned Tabor and Yarden versions, check out the alive and kicking 2012 Tavel Rosé from Domaine Lafond, the unique Rosa from Agur, the intriguing Rosé in Trio’s “Secret” label and the offerings from Kishor, Lueria, Psagot, Odem Mountain, Galil Mountain and others.  Also well worthy is the 2014 Gris Rosé from Hajdu (a boutique kosher winery from California that is well-worth getting to know).

There are two final things to keep in mind when plunking down your hard-earned shekels for Rosé.  Similar to white wines, Rosé wines are meant to be drunk as close to release as possible so always look for the most recent vintage year as they lose their bright, fresh flavors quickly.  Unfortunately many of the Israeli offerings currently on the shelves in New York are from the 2013 vintage and while some may be enjoyable, I highly recommend pushing your local retailer for the 2014 versions.  Additionally and as I alluded to earlier, Rosé is not a wine to be taken seriously – they are meant to be fun – so chill, relax and enjoy!

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Bat Shlomo, Rosé, 2014:  Following on their successful 2013 Rosé, Bat Shlomo continues to deliver on its promise to do more than its fair share of helping elevate the quality of Israeli white and Rosé wines producing this delightfully crisp and refreshing wine.  Once again a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc blended in (the wine is Saignée from the winery’s flagship Betty’s Cuvee).  With plenty of ripe, mostly red, summer fruits on both the nose and medium-bodied palate (with some hints of blueberries adding an intriguing freshness), along with some warm herbs and slightly saline minerality and plenty of citrus including rich red grapefruit and lemon curd, the wine is dripping with mouth-watering acidity that wraps the rich fruit in a bracing package and ends with a slightly spicy and bitter finish that pleases immensely.  This isn’t your grandma’s Rosé – simply delicious.

Carmel, Vineyards, Rosé, 2014:  A blend of Tempranillo and Grenache which spent minimal time on the skins, this richly colored wine is housed within Carmel’s “Vineyards” label, primarily destined for restaurants but also available on the shelves.  An intriguing nose of typical ripe strawberries, crushed rose petals and cherries is enhanced by notes of milk chocolate, black pepper, red grapefruit and a nice herbal bite which leads into a rich and near-sweet medium-bodied palate with enough acidity to keep the fruit and spiciness lively.  Delicious and with sufficient complexity to keep even the snobbier Rosé drinkers engaged.

Covenant, Red C, Rosé, 2014:  After beefing up their second label a few years ago by adding a delightfully crisp and refreshing Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Jeff Morgan returned to his roots last year and introduced a Red C Rosé which was only sold directly from the winery and was gone rather quickly.  Anticipating elevated customer demand, the production was slightly increased for 2014 and produced a very well-made and crisply refreshing wine from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, and a smidgen of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is redolent of sweet strawberries, slightly tart cherries and raspberries and tangerines along with hints of watermelon, rose hip and floral notes together with a subtle hint of minerality and Oriental spices. The medium-bodied palate has plenty of ripe summer fruit along with crisply refreshing acidity, more minerals, some citrus pith, a touch of crème fraîche and a general brightness that pleases.

There is also a perception of sweetness that will be well-received by most but was more than I would have liked to see in a Rosé of this quality.  A welcome addition to the growing world of quality Rosé but one that is accompanied by an elevated price tag that makes it the most expensive kosher Rosé out there (other than the overpriced [and now over the hill] Rosé Champagne from Laurent Perrier and the limited edition kosher Château d’Esclans, Garrus, Rosé, 2013/2014, the regular (i.e. non-kosher) version of which is [in]famous for being the most expensive Rosé in the world)).

Dalton, Rose, 2014:  Along with the second Recanati Rosé reviewed below, Dalton has long been the poster-child for an Israeli well-made and priced Rosé, while usually being on the slightly sweeter (and crowd-pleasing) side.  The 2014 version, a blend of 53% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet, 8% Barbera all harvested early specially for this wine, continues on that trend and represents another hit in Dalton’s already large and continuously growing portfolio of successes.  While a very nice wine, sadly for me, the winery didn’t follow on the 2013 vintage which was more complex and less sweet than prior vintages and much enjoyed by me).  Plenty of freshly picked strawberries on both the nose and light bodied palate, the wine has abundant crisp and refreshing acidity along with tart red raspberries and cranberries keeping things lively despite the ~6% residual sugar.  A very refreshing wine with a welcome 12% AbV that will allow you to enjoy this wine early and often.  A crowd-pleaser and one to stock up on as you will go through your stash at a surprising speed.

Domaine du Castel, Rose, 2014:  As with the Flam and Yatir wines reviewed below, when a top-tier winery delves into the Rosé realm of lighter fare, the expectations are high.  Thankfully, all three wineries have managed to meet or beat expectations.  Starting with its inaugural 2009 surprise, Castel has consistently provided a top notch Rosé (with the exception of the somewhat weaker 2012 vintage) and this year’s release is not exception to that rule.  Similar to the 2013 vintage, the wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, all harvested early and specially for the Rosé in order to avoid any hints of overly ripe or sweet fruit while also maintaining the necessary acidity to provide the type of wine Eli was aiming for.

A lovely nose of near-sweet fruit including strawberries, red cherries, watermelon along with rich citrusy notes of lemon, sweet clementine, guava, crushed rose petals and red grapefruit which are joined on the palate with hints of flowers, lavender and a slightly saline minerality, Judean Hill herbaceousness and terrific acidity.  Supple, elegant and exceptionally well-made, this impressive light to medium-bodied wine is one I wish was a tad cheaper so that I could drink it every day for the next five to six months.

Domaine Netofa, Rosé, 2014:  Continuing… Not content to rest on his already considerable laurels, Pierre keeps the hits coming with this delightful and Provencial-styled Rosé with a distinctive Israeli twist.  With a near-ethereal nose of beautiful red fruit, rose water, plenty of flinty minerals and a subtle smokiness that is amazing, the nose on this wine is pretty spectacular (leaving a hard choice between over chilling the wine for refreshingness or enjoying it a little less cold in order to allow the complexity of the bouquet to shine through).  The medium-bodied palate is loaded with tart red fruit, plenty more flinty minerals, near-bitter tantalizing orange citrus notes, red grapefruit and a hint of stone fruits all backed up by gobs of mouth-watering acid that keeps the wine crispy and refreshing and, as we have come to expect from Pierre, provides far more nuance and complexity that we are used to in our Rosé wines (while remaining fun, sexy and wildly unpretentious).

Utilizing the prime Rhone grapes in his possession, the wine is a blend of 50% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre (as opposed to last year’s 55% Syrah / 45% Mourvèdre split); the wine is crisply dry and has a surprisingly long and pleasing finish.  This will likely be one of my go-to wines for the next 4 months (and should be yours too).

Ella Valley, Ever Red, Rosé, 2014:  With the winery floundering a bit to regain its previously prominent footing, I was happy to enjoy this nice little Rosé from Ella Valley.  A blend this year of Merlot (77%) and Cabernet Franc (15%) flushed out with some Syrah (8%$), the nose is redolent of mostly red summer fruit with strawberries and cherries featuring most prominently backed up by tart notes of ripe raspberries, red grapefruit and a hint of dried cranberries, floral undertones and a slight note of minerals that doesn’t make itself felt as much as I would have liked.  Decent acidity on the medium bodied palate is accompanied by more red fruit, nice notes of tangerines, limes and some grapefruit and culminating in a medium finish laced with some citrus pith which lingers nicely.  A refreshing treat that was very much enjoyed.

Flam Rosé, 2014:  As with every other wine they produce, the wine is supremely well made and delicious to boot.  Once again deviating from the prior year’s blend (and further reducing the percentage of Cabernet Franc), the 2014 version is 48% Syrah and 26% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which resulted in a lusher mouthfeel while retaining the [slightly reduced] delightful herbaceousness and plenty of mouth-watering acidity.  The wine presents with abundant warm and freshly picked rich red summer fruit, white peaches, apricot, plenty of lovely floral notes, much of continues on the light to medium-bodied palate were the lovely fruit is joined by crisp acidity, plenty of slate and minerals all resulting in a crisply refreshing wine with sufficient complexity to keep any of us interested and enough mindless fun to get us through those long languid summer evenings.  The wine will go with most foods and can just as easily be enjoyed on its own.  13% AbV.

Goose Bay, Blanc de Pinot Noir, 2014:  This wine was one of the most pleasant “finds” of mine at KFWE earlier this year.  In a big improved from last year’s version, the wine is made of 100% Pinot Noir picked specially for this Rosé.  The wine spent two days on the skins which is relatively long for a Rosé and one of the things making this wine unique.  The extended time on the skins granted the wine extra body and flavor from the tannins along with a delightful spiciness that is uncommon in your quintessential Rosé.  A lovely nose with plenty of red cherries, tart raspberries, cranberries, warm strawberries with slightly subtle hints of blueberries, watermelon and floral notes are joined by a touch of white stone fruit, slate minerals and a touch of smoke.  On the medium to-full bodied palate the fruit is balanced by plenty of balancing acidity and a lovely overall spiciness that intrigues and delights at the same time. While the wine isn’t going to be appreciated by everyone, it should certainly be tried [at least once] by everyone.

Gvaot, Rosé, 2014:  Thankfully abandoning the dark burgundy color of the 2013 vintage, Shivi returns the title of Safe Bet Winery and produces a delightfully delicious Rosé well-worthy of having the Gvaot name on its label and a scrumptious light pink color.  Made entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon this is a good example of a wine that should be enjoyed slightly warmer than usual in order to fully experience all it has to offer (both on nose and palate).  An aromatic nose of strawberries, cherries, a hint of tart raspberries and ripe peaches along with subtle notes of citrus is followed by a light to medium-bodied palate loaded with rich red fruit, tangerines good bracing acidity and a fresh finish.  13% AbV.

Recanati, Gris de Marselan, 2014:  I am going to do my best to give the inaugural release of this supremely elegant and incredible wine the justice it deserves.  Utilizing the saignée method to bleed some of the juice out of Recanati’s 100% varietal Marselan (the latest addition to their phenomenally successful Mediterranean Reserve series) which spent three months Sur lie and didn’t go through malolactic fermentation, resulted in one of the most elegant Rosé wines I have had the pleasure of tasting (besides being simply scrumptious and a real treat).

This is a bright, crisply dry and refreshing wine that is guaranteed to please anyone who tries it, regardless of their personal preferences.  If you are one of those who “isn’t into Rosé” this is guaranteed to change that.  With a beautiful light peach color, the wine open with a nose that is loaded with fresh strawberries and floral notes, tempered by tons of warm spice, flinty minerals and a dry and medium bodied palate with plenty of bracing acidity keeping the near-sweet strawberries, black plum and cherry fruits in great balance with the tremendous and slightly earthy minerality, Oriental spices, crushed and fragrant rose petals along with a subtle hint of juicy watermelon.  While already the second year in which Recanati released a second Rosé (in addition to their stalwart reviewed below), last year’s version was a special limited edition while I am hoping this wine will become a regular member of Recanati’s impressive and continuously growing portfolio).

Recanati, Rosé, 2014:  One of longest standing stalwarts of YH Best Buy Rosé wines, the 2014 release and its sexy new label was simply unfortunately overshadowed by the inaugural release of the outstanding Gris de Marselan reviewed above.  That said, this little number should continue to reign supreme on your shopping lists as it provides more bang for your buck than nearly any other Rosé out there.  A rich and fruity blend of Barbera (80%) and Merlot (20%), the wine opens with a ripe nose of crushed red berries, rich strawberries and juicy red grapefruit and floral notes that you could easily get lost in if you weren’t aware of the deliciousness awaiting you on the light to medium bodied palate loaded with more ripe warm red fruit, a hint of black fruit, a streak of slightly bitter herbaceousness and some citrusy notes.  A little less acidity and a tad of residual sugar than I would have liked might leave a few of you lemon loving crazies slightly disappointed but everyone else will love this wine and rightfully so.

Shirah, Rosé, 2014:  After the phenomenal inaugural success with Rosé enjoyed by the Weiss brothers’ 2012 release, expectations were running [way too] high for its successor.  Despite falling a tad short in that department, the wine is delightful and should not be penalized at all for not living up to the sky-high level of the miraculous 2012 vintage.  Utilizing Barbera instead of the previous Grenache, the wine contains a bit more residual sugar that its predecessor which will be enjoyed by many (including those who prefer dryer versions).  A bountiful nose with plenty of near-sweet strawberries, tons of red grapefruit, candied cherries and raspberries and a bit of blueberries along with flinty minerals, slate and a touch of salinity that is a bit hard to pick up on.  The medium bodied palate has plenty of rich and ripe red sweet fruits, great acidity, more mouth-watering citrus and some warm spices that provides a nice complexity to this refreshing and delicious wine.  Load up and enjoy.

Yatir, Rosé, 2014:  Safely occupying the upper echelon of Israeli wineries since its inception, the winery continues to impress with new releases, this time it’s first Rosé since 2005 (when it released a “Shani” (Hebrew for scarlet) Rosé) when it also released it’s only Port.  In any event, as one would expect from under the expert hands of Eran Goldwasser, the wine is delightful (and as would be expected from Yatir – not cheap) although a bit on the sweeter side for my personal liking.  A blend of Grenache and Tempranillo, the wine exudes Yatir’s characteristic elegance.  Plenty of tart red ripe strawberries and raspberries on the bright nose are joined with warm spices, hint of herbaceous and warm blooming fields of flowers, great minerality and some surprisingly tropical notes of juicy peaches, melon and apricot.  The light to medium-bodied palate has plenty of acidity wrapped around the copious and slightly sweet fruit, floral notes, some mocha, near-sweet mostly red fruit with plenty of lip-smacking citrus providing the needed complexity.  While the wine is obviously not intended for aging and should be enjoyed now, the impeccable structure, complexity, light tannic hand and good acidity led me to stash a bottle in the dark recesses of my cellar to check in with it in five years’ time and see what it looks like.

About the Author
Yossie Horwitz has been tasting, drinking and learning about wine for over 20 years and has been writing a weekly newsletter – Yossie’s Wine Recommendations – on kosher wines, wineries and other wine-related topics for nearly seven years. Yossie practices transactional corporate law in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and four children.
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