Life & Style: Perpetual Blush

Washington’s excellent rosés: They’re not just for summer sipping.

In the summer of 2013, dry, new-school Washington rosé was in the early, buzzy stages of its emergence.In the subsequent four years, that buzz has turned into a roar, as Seattleites have been treated to a flood of crisp, dry, delicious pink wines.

“Rosé is here to stay,” declares Trey Busch of Walla Walla-based Sleight of Hand Cellars, whose side label Renegade produces one of the finest and best-priced rosés in Washington each summer. “Consumers are realizing what a versatile wine rosé can be. It’s an incredible food wine, as well as the perfect wine for the deck or boat or pool in the summer. It’s also proven to be a year-round wine now.”

Rosés used to be mayflies that would appear in spring and blink out of existence a few short months later. Now, with winemakers increasing production and with rosé lovers guzzling bottles well beyond Labor Day, there’s barely a page on the calendar that can’t be partially colored pink.In fact, rosé is an underappreciated pairing with Thanksgiving turkey and is also known for taking the edge off awkward extended-family conversations anytime.

These wines offer versatile food-pairing choices, matching up well with difficult-to-complement items like vinaigrette-soaked salads, and providing a seriously guilty pleasure when paired with an egg-centric brunch. A simple roasted chicken becomes elevated by a glass of pink wine, and more robust rosés can stand up to darker cuts of pork. (Even bacon. Seriously, drink rosé with brunch! You can thank me later.)Rosés can be made from any red grape (and even a few whites). This diversity is a strength.

Rosés can be made from any red grape (and even a few whites). This diversity is a strength.

“Because rosés are made from a variety of different grapes,” notes Busch, “you have a wide range of flavors, so consumers can experiment and find the grapes that agree with them.”

The buzziest rosé of last summer was Mr. Pink (the name is a callout to the film Reservoir Dogs), developed by Busch and by Mark McNeilly of Walla Walla’s Mark Ryan Winery for their Underground Wine Project label. They chose to use sangiovese, which Busch praises for its “underlying earthiness and terrific natural acidity — the key to a successful dry rosé.”

Enough of a track record now exists that we know which grape varieties work particularly well for Washington rosé.

  > Sangiovese does, for certain, and it has long been championed by Barnard Griffin’s neon-pink version. 

  > Traditional Rhône and Provençal grapes — grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre — are lovely, too. 

  > Rosés of cabernet franc offer a subtle version of that grape’s green complexity (cucumber, watercress), which pairs beautifully with berry and melon fruit.

Consider it a shade of pink for every palate.


    Tasting Notes

    1. 2016 Isenhower Rosé, $14
    Walla Walla-based winemaker Brett Isenhower shows why cabernet franc is such a lovely choice for dry rosé. In addition to watermelon and strawberry fruit, franc’s compelling green notes assert themselves beautifully: cucumber, sweet pea and watermelon rind. A real minerality emerges in the mouth; it drinks like rosé filtered through crushed rocks. Pair with: a fava bean and pecorino salad.

    2. 2016 Mr. Pink Rosé, $13
    The most exciting debutante rosé from last summer returns for its sophomore vintage. Part of Trey Busch and Mark McNeilly’s Underground Wine Project, it is made from 100 percent sangiovese, a grape with loads of natural acidity. That bright acid serves this wine well, complementing a core of plump cherry and citrus fruit. Mouthwatering, refreshing, bone dry: This is midsummer rosé through and through. Pair with: grilled salmon dusted with salt, pepper and green tea powder.

    3. 2016 Seven Hills Rosé, $17
    This rosé, from Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, is also dominated by cabernet franc, although it blends small amounts of petit verdot and malbec as well. Pouring pale pink, it kicks off with a nose of watermelon, cherry fruit and watercress. A dry, balanced delight, the wine possesses plenty of complexity for those inclined to pay attention, and plenty of patio-pounding pleasure for those inclined to guzzle. Pair with: scrambled eggs, served with a salad of fresh little lettuces with a simple Dijon vinaigrette.

    4. 2016 Renegade Rosé, $12
    Renegade is a side label for Trey Busch and his rosé blends Rhône varieties syrah, grenache and cinsault. Year in and year out, it is the finest $12 rosé produced in Washington, offering a dry, crisp, eminently drinkable style of pink. The mix of citrus, berry and melon fruit drinks best with a nice hard chill. Pair with: a BLAT sandwich (the “A” is for avocado).

    5. 2016 Tranche Pink Pape, $20
    A total ringer for a dry Provençal rosé, this has become one of the most consistently successful pink wines released each year in Washington. Walla Walla-based winemaker Andrew Trio blends 47 percent grenache, 27 percent counoise and 26 percent cinsault, all from Tranche’s estate Blackrock Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. A core of green strawberry and melon fruit is complicated by aromatic notes grassy and mineral in turn. That complex nose gives way to a palate full of verve and character. Pair with: cast-iron-seared pork chops with a side of sautéed pea vines over polenta.

    > A version of this story originally appeared in the June issue of Seattle magazine.


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