Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Was In The Bottle: 2009 Rosé

The series that Kelby proposed as an occasional blog topic is titled ‘What’s in the Bottle’. In my case, the opportunity to declare this particular wine as still resident in its glass container came and went so quickly that I’m forced to speak in the past tense.

Ah, Rosé, that underappreciated little gem of a wine style that flies under the radar for so many of us.

It’s very counterintuitive: Rosé by its very nature is a straightforward, uncomplicated wine that declares itself on first sight as something that doesn’t need or expect to be taken seriously. You take a bite of food, then follow it with a great gulp of this beautiful, fresh liquid. Why ponder something that is so full of immediacy?

And why would winemakers, of all people, so predictably and consistently put dry Rosé on their lists of favorite wines? Don’t we, more than anyone else, reward complexity and seriousness in our wines? Well in this case, no. 

Perhaps there’s a Proustian aspect to this. The sight of a cool glass of Rosé seems more powerful than other wines at evoking a flood of memories, memories that almost invariably contain some of the very elements we find central to a happy existence: summer evenings, fresh seasonal foods, people we’re fond of at their most engaging. The complete absence of any pressure to sound erudite about any topic at all, and the attendant freedom to just sit there and soak up the many sensory stimuli that are there for the taking: birds singing, people laughing, cutlery clinking on plates.

Yes, in parts of the world (I’m really thinking France here, especially the south of France), this drink really does have a seasonality. While North Americans slot pumpkin pie and turkey into autumnal rituals, the French consume millions of liters of Rosé seemingly every time they sit down to lunch during the summer. In any café or bistro in July or August, and you will see chilled carafes of Rosé being served up to most of the patrons. Along come some chewy bread and a salade niçoise, and there’s your meal. There’s your quintessential aestival experience. 

Chambourcy, France, July 2009: Wish You Could Have Been There

So why am I writing about this wine in the bleak midwinter?

As my colleague Tricia has already pointed out, I am not particularly good at rituals. She's right: I do indeed go to bed at my usual time every December 31st, way before midnight. I become acutely uncomfortable if people deign to make a big deal of my birthday. I can’t reliably tell you when Valentine’s Day is, nor can I pull something off on that day that doesn’t make me feel like an obsequious idiot.

So it is with my Rosé consumption patterns. Yes, summertime and the light refreshing foods we eat at that time of year are absolutely perfect for Rosé, but if I feel like some Rosé in February, damn it, I’m gonna open a bottle.

And that’s what I did over the weekend. This was from a small bottling of 2009 wine we offered to our Wine Club members – note the minimalist label that would never fly in the retail world. We actually made a great deal more of this wine than we bottled; the excess went into our Ruby Vixen blush wine (lucky Ruby Vixen).

What may not strike the casual drinker of Rosé is how excruciatingly difficult a wine it is to make well. There’s even an institute in France whose sole purpose is Rosé research and experimentation. At Fox Run we have been making small, home-winemaker quantities of Rosé,  using many and various techniques, for some years now, just to learn what it would take to be able to ramp up the volume to a commercial scale.

All that experimentation allowed us to conclude some interesting things about what NOT to do, even though they are accepted Rosé techniques elsewhere. 

  • No Pinot noir or Cabernet franc grapes
  • No bleeding of juice off the skins
  • No bleeding of fermenting wine off the skins
  • No barrel fermentation or maturation
  • No malolactic fermentation
  • No obvious residual sugar

Quite a list of prohibitions! But nothing like the ones you see at park entrances in Paris: 

The graffto translates as "What CAN we do, then?"

The wine in this bottle was made from Merlot and Lemberger grapes. We crushed them in the conventional way for red wines, but instead of adding a yeast culture right away we let the juice macerate with the skins and seeds for the time it took to go home, take a shower and get some sleep, and then we pressed them out. The resulting vibrant pink juice was thence made as a white wine: the juice was racked and fermented in a stainless steel tank at a coolish temperature.

How to describe this wine? The older I get, the more trouble I have spilling out colorful descriptors, so I will retreat to the language I use to talk about all wines that are good to drink: it was delicious, and it was refreshing.

By:  Peter Bell, Winemaker

Music of the Day:
  • John Conlee - Classics; "Rose Colored Glasses":

Support Artists, buy the music you like!


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights on this style of wine and how to make it... just curious, in your rules you mention no RS, but the bottle has it at just under 1%... i'm guessing that was to balance the PH... is your rule more of a "no discernable RS" or "not a sweet wine" rule?


  2. Daniel,

    Good question. I amended my post to reflect the fact that there is a little sugar in this wine. The trick is to use sugar at a level that doesn't make the wine taste sweet but nevertheless adds body and amplifies the fruit flavors a bit.


  3. Thanks for the clarification and for sharing.