A Rosé By Any Other Name

IMG_4307The New York Wine & Grape Foundation presented the annual NY Drinks NY earlier this month. Held again at The Altman Building on 18th Street in Manhattan, the event featured hundreds of wines from all regions of NY State, as poured by dozens of wineries. The mix included wines from each region showcasing their strengths, such as Riesling from the Finger Lakes, Merlot and Cab Franc from Long Island…even ice wine from Niagara. Among the highlights, however, came the rosés, which were explored in  a panel discussion simply called New York Rosés, hosted by Anna Lee Iijime from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Anna Lee began with a brief introduction, noting that New York State produces a vibrant rosé, helped by a long sunny growing season, allowing for wines with exciting acidity and good minerality. Although commenting that pink wines can be enjoyed any time, they have come to be viewed as a seasonal wine, usually consumed too quickly (as opposed to be allowed to age at all) to develop complexity. Even so, she noted, rosé wines are the “single most explosive category.”

Panelists on hand to discuss (and sample) rosés were Shawn Kime (Thirsty Owl Wine Company, Finger Lakes), Dave Breeden (Sheldrake Point Winery, Finger Lakes), Rich Olsen-Harbich (Bedell Cellars, Long Island), Christopher Tracy (Channing Daughters Winery, Long Island), Gabriella Macari (Macari Vineyards and Winery, Long Island), and Roman Roth (Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Long Island). Of note, all six wines that were discussed were made differently—some with skin contact, some without; some as single grape wines, some blended; and even with totally different grapes from each other—yet all six showed the same color as a beautiful light-pink rosé.

Shawn started the proceedings discussing his 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé. The wine, made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, He said he left the skins in contact with the juice only for a few hours to get some color, adding the would be “more earthiness if left longer.” He said to make the wine he followed a nonwhite wine production model with fermentation in a stainless steel tank.

Dave followed to discuss Sheldrake’s 2016 Dry Rosé. He noted that Sheldrake has been making rosé since around 1997, and that they are the largest rosé producer in the Finger Lakes. Where they were making 400 cases in 2011, they are now up to 4,800 cases. He noted that once they could not give away Cab Franc grapes; however, today there is not nearly enough for the demand. This rosé, he said, was made from 100 percent Cabernet Franc in a cold soak style.

Rich discussed his 2016 Taste Rosé, describing targets as you want some acid, but not alcohol. It should have freshness, crispness, and good aromatics. He said the ideal sweet spot would be 20 Brix. He noted that Bedell was one of the founding wineries on long Island, that they are certified sustainable, and that they have a strong red wine program.  The wine sampled featured a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.

“We love rosé,” proclaimed Christopher as he began his talk on his 2016 Rosato di Merlot, a rosé made from 100 percent Merlot. He noted that long Island is a region where “we can make among the best [rosés] in the world.” At Channing, he said, they made seven rosés in 2016, adding that they “like pushing what’s possible with rosé.” He went on to describe a rosé as a world-class wine no matter what conditions a season might throw at them, whether a dry summer or a hurricane. His grapes are grown to be dedicated to rosé. The wine was done in stainless steel, and all of the grapes were hand-picked.

Gabriella, who filled in for new mom and Macari winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch, concurred with Christopher, stating that “in a year with a lot of rain, yes you can make a great rosé.” She presented Macari’s 2016 Rosé, which had been bottled eight days prior and should have flavors that “explode” when a lot older. She noted that the wine was made with cold fermentation. Gabriella described rosé as a “gateway for people who don’t want to experiment,” adding that “people are comfortable with rosé.”

Roman presented the just-released Summer in a Bottle as he discussed rosé in general, and specifically for Wölffer. He said that they produced 82 cases in 1992, but that the number has grown to 40,000 today for their rosés. He said rosé is an important wine as it really is a lifestyle. “It is an important wine for us and for most wineries,” he added. He said the key to a fine rosé is to find the right timing, explaining that you have to capture it at the right moment and process it. He does not do any skin contact with rosé, saying he feels it makes the wine flabby.  Summer in a Bottle, he said, is 65 percent red wine fruit and 35 percent white. The trick for this wine, he added, is to include 6 percent Gewürztraminer, which “gives it a bit more fruit and playfulness.”

Anna Lee followed the presentations with some Q & A. When she asked about the future of rosé, the answers came flying.  Rich said he feels “rosé will last. It will remain. Trends in wine don’t go away. They build like a brick wall. Dry rosé has been around a very long time, and America’s palette has embraced it.” To that question, Roman added that rosé “brings a lot of young people to try wines.” He noted that California has trouble with attracting young people to the lifestyle, but he sees the opposite on Long Island.   Christopher compared Long Island with France, noting that “qualitatively, we’re right there,” although “quantitatively we can’t compete. He reiterated, though, that “quality…we’re right there.”

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