Where in the world is more pink wine consumed than any place but Provence? You guessed it: Long Island’s East End. The love affair with rosé that began with Peter Mayle’s 1989 bestselling novel, “A Year in Provence,” has grown so that now the rosé romance has spread to other summer vacation destinations, especially our own.
Until the ’90s, Provence produced mostly coarse red vins de table, but the increased demand for rosés has changed the balance there so that now, almost 90 percent of the wines produced in Provence are pink. For Long Island’s vintners, it has taken a few years for the trend to catch on, but in the past decade our wineries are producing more rosé, in a wider range of styles, than ever before.
This increase is driven, says Wölffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth, by “improved [fruit] quality, the locavore movement, the big shift that lower alcohol wine is better than the big, heavy fruit bombs — it has become the perfect scenario for our wonderful Long Island wines.”
As Paumanok Vineyards’ Charles Massoud points out, “Rosé is another catchall name that has the only common attribute of some shade of rose to light red color. It is not a varietal-driven wine and there are many methods to produce one.”
This intrinsic flexibility suits our winemakers well, especially as a cost-effective alternative adaptation of red grapes. At Paumanok, Massoud explains, “We make our rosés exclusively from red grapes. We leave the crushed berries in the tank for a few hours to extract the water-soluble color pigments and then press the grapes and go on fermenting them as a white wine.” By altering the length of maceration time and the final sweetness of the resulting wines, Paumanok makes two distinctive versions of rosé, both dry and “blush” (distinctly sweet).
Wölffer Estate in Sagaponak also makes diverse Long Island rosés to suit consumer preferences. Following last year’s sellout success of their signature dry rosé, Wölffer added two: a softer, more overtly aromatic Summer in a Bottle rosé styled from slightly riper fruit, plus an intricately complex, barrel-fermented White Horse Grandioso Rosé.
Unlike the Paumanok rosés, Wölffer’s are made from blends of several grape varieties, including merlot, gewürztraminer, chardonnay and cabernet franc, sourced from seven vineyards.This radically alters the way the wines are made, since Roth ferments the varieties separately, then blends them into batches awaiting a final blend before bottling. Roth wants his wines dry, but not bitter. He says, “The key is to work as gently with the fruit as possible, no skin contact or maceration, great settling of the lees.”
At The Lenz Winery, manager Tom Morgan is leery of how the market for rosés has trended, saying, “The key to success is too often a degree of sweetness combined with elaborate, eye-catching packaging and all-too-cute proprietary names.” Equally averse to trends, Lenz’s quintessentially contrarian winemaker, Eric Fry, makes a bone-dry rosé that drinks like a still champagne because it is made from the pinot noir picked for Lenz’ Cuvée sparkling wine. I guess there are plenty of consumers who agree with Morgan and Fry because the Lenz blanc de noir always sells out by summer’s end.
As readers must know by now, my personal preference is also for wines (including rosés) made without residual sugar. I like them radically dry to reveal the essence of the original fruit. For a recent blind tasting of several Long Island rosés (all of them supplied by the wineries that made them), I shared the samples with a small group of friends to allow for a broader range of preferences. Happily for me, most of the wines we sampled were quite dry. Here are our notes, in alphabetical order:
• Bridge Lane Rosé: austere, refreshing, with lingering black cherry aromas.
• Lieb Sparkling Rosé: wonderfully quaffable, slightly yeasty gushers of bubbles; we drank it before we could elaborate on its virtues.
• Macari Rosé: svelte, harmonious, easy-drinking.
• Paumanok Rosé, two styles: Dry — lovely fruit aroma, gorgeous color; Blush — overtly sweet, like drinking strawberry juice, boldly appealing.
• Pellegrini Rosé: Mouthfuls of luscious fruit, round and full. [Disclosure: My son, Zander, is winemaker.]
• Pindar Dry Rosé: a group pleaser, fresh and vibrant, with delicate aromas.
• Roanoke Rosé, two styles: Dry — beautifully balanced, silky; Unfiltered — with funky aromas, kinda wild and woolly for a pink wine.