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Credit: Lenn Thompson
Credit: Lenn Thompson

Do you hear that? People are still talking about the “rebirth of rosé” in this country and how under-appreciated the style is. But whether you call it blush, vin gris or just plain pink, rosé isn’t coming back. It’s here already. In full force.

There has never been more rosé available locally, in terms of both styles and volume.

Wineries that didn’t make it several years ago are now producing rosé. Wineries that made one version now make two, three, up to nine different rosé wines every year. The North Fork even has a rosé-only winery, Croteaux Vineyards.

Some of these wines are very good — even great — but many are also mediocre afterthoughts in a winery’s portfolio, perhaps made only to capitalize on the style’s current popularity. That popularity grew as American wineries moved beyond our country’s most popular rosé — white zinfandel — and began making drier, more interesting wines from myriad grapes, both red and white.

More Americans than ever have moved on from drinking wine coolers and cloyingly sweet white zinfandel in favor of better-made, better-tasting wines and rosé’s popularity has soared right along with it.

To many, rosé is a seasonal libation, reserved for spring and summer sipping, but I drink it year round. Well-made rosé combines the complexity and structure of red wine with the refreshing, thirst-quenching qualities of white wine. And, it is incredibly versatile on the lunch or dinner table.
Serving fresh fish from our local waters? Rosé will work. Serving smoky-sweet barbecued chicken and burgers? It works there, too. You can even serve some rosés with a steak. No other wine style offers so many options. Dry rosé is as at home on a checkered picnic blanket as it is on a white linen tablecloth. It can be casual and serious at the same time. More than anything, it’s fun and just plain delicious.

There are two principal ways to make rosé. The first is the saignée method. Saignée means “to bleed” and it involves draining off some of the red wine juice to increase the skin-to-juice ratio during the winemaking process — making the red wines more concentrated and flavorful. The juice that is “bled” off is used to make rosé. This used to be the de facto style on Long Island.

The second method is used when rosé wine is the primary goal. Red wine grapes are picked just a bit earlier, when the natural acidities are higher, then crushed, and the juice is left on the skins for a short time to pick up some color and perhaps tannins. The grapes are then pressed and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation, as with red winemaking. Because the skins contain much of the flavor and color compounds, this leaves the wine tasting more like a white wine and looking pink rather than red.

Regardless of method, some white grape juice may be added before fermentation — or white wine after — usually to brighten up the finished wine.
To get a sense of which sort of rosés local winemakers made in 2014, I gathered as many as I could get my hands on. Some were finished wines; others were tank samples in various stages of completion. Many favorites weren’t available at presstime, but here are the standouts of 2014 so far.

Wölffer Estate 2014 Rosé ($18)
You really can’t talk about Long Island rosé without mentioning this classic. Fresh and lively, it starts with juicy apple and peach flavors before notes of lemon-lime citrus, hay and saline minerality emerge. It’s fruity but not over the top, with all that fruit flavor sliced through by juicy, citrusy acidity. The classics are classics for a reason — and you’ll find it all over. All 20,200 cases of it.

Wölffer Estate 2014 “Summer in a Bottle” Rosé ($24)
The newest member of winemaker Roman Roth’s rosé family is a completely different animal. Strawberries and mixed melons — orange and green dominate the nose followed by a burst of strawberry and watermelon on the rich-but-balanced palate, along with a bit of peach and rose petal. Sur lie aging gives this round and mouth-filling rosé a beautiful texture and a bit of extra complexity — all balanced nicely by citrusy acidity.

Harbes Vineyard 2014 Dry Rosé (tank sample)
Merlot-based, this clean, high-toned rosé was the surprise of the tasting, with bright strawberry and red raspberry fruit flavors, a squeeze of ruby red grapefruit and a sprinkling of summer sage — a vivacious package with tongue-tingling acidity.

Kontokosta Winery 2014 Rosé (tank sample)
The only wine I tasted to include a large syrah component, this has a savory herbal-white pepper edge to a core of slightly jammy wild strawberries. Mouth-watering and delicious, this was the first wine I went back to after the tasting was done.

Lieb Cellars 2014 Bridge Lane Rosé ($18/bottle; $40/3L box)
My wife and I — with help from friends along the way — have gotten through three boxes of this light-bodied strawberries-and-peach rosé, which features crackling acidity and lightly floral notes on the finish.

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Anthony Nappa Wines 2014 Anomaly ($20)
Made with pinot noir, there is an earthy, dried autumn leaves vein here that brings complexity to bright red cherry and strawberry flavors. A round, mouth-filling fruitiness is cut nicely by a beam of acidity. It’s easy to see why this wine has a bit of a cult following.

Bouké Wines 2014 Rosé ($16)
A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, this rosé straddles the line between rich and crisp with juicy, fruity strawberry and red raspberry flavors mingling with a distinct herbal quality that turns it a bit savory. It’s at once mouth-filling and appetite-whetting.

Palmer Vineyards 2014 Rosé of Merlot ($22)
Made entirely from merlot, this pretty pink wine tastes like cherries and cranberries drizzled with sweet lime juice as you walk through a flower garden. It shows nice weight and while pretty straightforward, it’s delicious.

This story originally appeared in the summer 2015 edition of the Long Island Wine Press

Lenn Thompson