From the Vineyard: The parent of white Zin embraces rosé

For years, I shouted my love for rosé wines, as Americans thought white Zinfandel was rosé and most wine connoisseurs spurned it as sweet plonk. Of course, my opinion might have been fueled by many trips to Europe, notably to Ste. Tropez in Provenc for a number of summertime visits, plus excellent rosés in Italy and Spain as well.

It’s hardly news that rosé has taken hold in America, however. It’s the fastest-growing category of wine in the market and a local restaurant even offers “Frosé” like a Slurpee on tap.
Still, I don’t believe anything prepared me to receive seven rosé samples from Trinchero Family Estates, the parent of Sutter Home, inventor of white Zinfandel and still one of its largest suppliers.
Trinchero encompassed far more than Sutter Home, however, with many popular brands including Ménage à Trois and the upscale Trinchero Napa Valley, which is comparable to other top Napa wines. The list of the rosés shows Trinchero’s breadth, with wines from all over California, Washington and France.

Almost all are dry (residual sugar under 0.5 percent is generally considered undetectable by most tasters) though not surprisingly, the Ménage à Trois is a tad over that limit at 0.8 percent. That’s not really sweet, however. There are Chardonnays on the market with more than two percent sugar, and even many red wines aren’t really dry. Not that this matters if you like them, it should be noted.

The traditional way to make rosé is to ferment red grapes on their red skins (the juice is clear or white) for a short time, but some blend in some white grape juice.

Most of the wines feature Grenache, the most popular variety for rosés in southern France, as well as Syrah and other traditional Rhône Valley grapes like Mourvedre, Cinsault and Counoise. A few stray far afield:

  • Charles & Charles Rosé is from Columbia Valley in Washington. It’s Syrah (67 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (14 percent), Grenache (nine percent), Mourvedre (seven percent), Cinsault (two percent), Counoise (one percent). The residual sugar is 0.2 percent and alcohol 12.3 percent. The suggested price is $15.
  • Bieler Père et Fils Rosé is from Coteaux d’Aix en Provence. It contains Grenache (41 percent), Syrah (20 percent), Cinsault (19 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent), unusual for that area and Rolle (Vermentino, which is white; five percent). The alcohol is 13 percent and sugar 0.1 percent. The price is $14.
  • Joel Gott is from California’s Central Coast of Monterey, San Louis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. It’s primarily Grenache (86 percent) but also includes some white Grenache Blanc (10 percent) and two percent each of Cinsault and Counoise. It’s the hottest by a smidgen with 13.6 alcohol and the cost is $17.
  • Terra d’Oro comes from the Sierra Foothills and is a blend of Grenache (58 percent) and Nebbiolo (42 percent). Nebbiolo is the grape famed for Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, but doesn’t seem to ripen well in much of California. It makes a good rosé, if untraditional. This wine is a restrained 12.5 percent alcohol and costs $16.
  • Seaglass comes from Monterey County and blends Grenache (45 percent), Syrah (40 percent) and an unusual addition of Pinot Noir (five percent). Alcohol is 12.8 percent and the cost is $12.
  • Ménage à Trois is a bit of an outlier with its 0.8 percent sugar, still moderate. It’s a blend of California Merlot (42 percent), Syrah (34 percent) and Gewürztraminer (24 percent). The alcohol is 13.5 percent and price $12.

Which is best? I didn’t try them all blind and I fear the origin of Provence influenced my favorite. Don’t hesitate to try any, however. They’re good wines, and reasonable and perfect for summertime.

Paul Franson lives in Napa Valley, CA.

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