Are California roses any good?

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A few posts ago, I stated that I wanted to engage in a mini-research project that would examine the quality of California rosés in the marketplace.  Since I started toying with the idea of someday starting my own wine brand, one of the things that naturally came to mind was – “If I had my own brand, what would I want to make?”

This research project is something that will help kick-start the creative process for me.   Because this business idea is just that, a business idea, I have no clue what I want to make yet.  One thing I can tell you with certainty though, is that whatever type of wines I decide to make, that decision will have been based on a lot of product research and will be a combination of what I enjoy drinking along with what makes good business sense.

Rosés are a category of wine I would consider making.  I used to drink rosés on a purely seasonal basis, but found that I enjoy them as a drink of choice any time of year, rather than only in the spring or summer.  Most of what I reach for on the shelves tends to be from Provence, simply because I think Provence makes some of the worlds most enjoyable rosés.  Seeing how the quality of California rosés stand on their own and how it stacks up against benchmark Provencal rosés becomes my first official business start-up project.  Here is what I found:

  • Most retail shelves are dominated by import rosés or have an import ratio that is skewed towards having more import rosés than domestic.  I’m not sure why, but I have to believe that at least part of it can be attributed to dry rosé production being far more commonplace in other countries than the U.S., thus offering more supply opportunities.
  • Whatever domestic rosés I did see on the shelf, tended to come from small artisan producers.  This may also be due to the local market I live in.  There are many small, neighborhood wine shops in my city that specialize in wines from local producers.  Even the local grocery stores are stocked with wines from the independent, artisan winemaker more often than wines from the “big brands.”
  • The overall quality of what I tasted was very good.  As my individual tasting notes will attest, all the wines I tasted were pretty damn good.  I was really impressed with the overall quality.  All of the wines had character, were well made and most of all, were very tasty and extremely enjoyable to drink.
  • The type of grapes used in each individual bottle varied greatly.  One was made with malbec, another with Portuguese varieties, pinot noir and syrah were used in one and finally, the typical Rhone varieties of grenache, and mourvedre and cinsault were used in another.  One thing they had in common was that they all contributed to making good wines.
  • Quality to price point sweet spot looks to be right at the $15 range.  I rarely saw any roses over $20 from a California producer except for the Arnot-Roberts.  I think few wineries want to invest in grapes with the sole intention of using those grapes to make a rose as a final product.  Doing so would mean having to charge $20+ bottle, which I believe is a tough market for rose regardless of region.

Based on my experiences above, the domestic California rosé category looks promising for an aspiring winemaker like me.  For one, it shows that California producers can make rosés that rival and stand on the same ground as those from Provence.  Second, the retailers from where I bought these wines obviously support the smaller handcrafted wine making operation.  This bodes well for me.  I’ve always known that the consumers in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, have an affinity for exploring and supporting wines made by small operations, so it’s no surprise that retailers make an active effort to stock wines from the small guy.  Lastly, this small exercise in some sense has helped me define my target market.  The kind of wine I would want to make would probably target the demographic (whatever that may be) of people who would shop at the neighborhood wine shop and upscale grocery stores.  I understand that it was a little bit of an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecies going to these places knowing I would probably find what I did find.  What am I supposed to do?   I know what I want and hopefully I can eventually create something that will have the same desired effect on consumers as these roses had on me.

Wines tasted in this project:

2012 Arnot Roberts Rosé

2012 Vaughn Duffy Rosé

2012 Atrea Rosé

2012 Birichino Rosé

Some other California producers making excellent rosés I’ve had in the past:

Luques (Wind Gap)

CEP (Peay Vineyards)

Farmer’s Jane

Lucy

Porter Creek

Wine Review – 2006 Scherrer Winery Syrah Russian River Valley

Yes, I know that this is a horrible picture, but I’m still using the i-Phone 3. You’re welcome for the laugh.

Always one of my favorite producers, Scherrer Winery does everything well in the cellar. Whether its zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay or their superb rose, Scherrer crafts some of the best wines for both near-term drinking and for the long term. This 2006 Syrah Russian River Valley is another standout from Fred Scherrer. The wine has a wonderful perfume of both blue and red fruit as well as a firm structure, flavors of berry and spice and a fair amount of freshness that you don’t often find in syrah.  I tend to think of syrah as more of a roughhouse, hard edged and wild type of wine, but this one definitely veered towards the more feminine and elegant side, which made it all the more interesting.

The best chance you’ll have in obtaining wines from Scherrer is to join his mailing list.  There are no minimum order requirements, prices are very fair and they offer a winery pick up option, which gives you a chance to taste current releases and the occasional back vintage and barrel sample.  The website also allows you to order from a bevy of back vintages of all varietals, which is a great way to back fill your cellar and also taste older wines to help you assess future purchases from this winery.

2009 Regis Bouvier Marsannay Clos du Roy

It may be more of a product of my search and discovery process more than the region’s wines themselves, but I usually have a hard time finding good, affordable Burgundy that tastes downright delicious. Sure, I’ve tasted a few Premier and Grand Crus along the way that were absolutely stunning, but most often wines I’ve tasted in this arena are way out of my price arena and are usually not “ready” to drink anyway. I want something that I can easily swipe off a retail shelf or order by the glass in restaurant, like this glass. 

Fresh, balanced, lush, perfumed and spicy are just a few of the words to describe this awesome glass of 2009 Regis Bouvier Marsannay Clos du Roy.  I had this past Saturday evening at Spruce restaurant in San Francisco. This was the kind of Burgundy that makes me ecstatic when I find it.  Because I tend to come across more insipid, drying and frankly, unexciting Burgundies on restaurant BTG lists and retail shelves, stumbling upon this one made me, hmmmm….smile?

I know, not the best picture, but just wanted to make sure that you saw that this review was legit.

The importer of this wine is Kermit Lynch, so I’m not surprised at the quality and individuality of this wine.  Any retailer carrying a handful of Kermit’s wines will be a good bet and good starting point in tracking this wine down.  Of course, if you live in San Francisco or the East Bay, you can easily pop your head in Kermit’s shop in Berkeley.

Wine Review – 2006 Domaine de Montrieux Pineau D’Aunis “Le Verre des Poetes”, Loire Valley, France

VerresDesPoettesFrontWinery: Domaine de Montrieux, Emile Heredia

Bottling: 2006 Pineau d’Aunis “Le Verre des Poetes”

Importer: Metropolis Wine Merchants

Region: France

Sub-Region: Loire Valley

Estimated Retail Price: $20

Purchase Details: Purchased for around $20 from Arlequin Wine Merchant in Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, crimson and violet hues.  Not too much of a perceptible aroma or nose.  I get a little bit of plum, blueberry and an aroma that’s almost synthetic in nature.  In the mouth, the wine is not very expressive as far as fruit flavors go.  It’s a little more mineral and dirt driven.

The intriguing thing about this wine are the flavors I’m getting on the very impressionable finish.  Its a very floral, and again, very synthetic in nature flavor that reminds me of some sort of chemical.  Some minty, herbal flavors are also present.  The wine is very dry and has a very firm and austere mouth-feel.

The wine was a lot more drinkable on the second day and still had a very fresh flavor to it as if it had only been opened a few hours before.

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Wine Review – 2007 Palmina Barbera, Santa Barbara, California

Winery: Palmina WinesPalminaBarberaLabel

Bottling: 2007 Barbera Santa Barbara County

Region: California

Sub-Region: Santa Barbara

Estimated Retail Price: $22

Purchase Details: Purchased for $20 plus tax from Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits in the Richmond District neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, I’m staring at a pretty dark and opaque ruby red hue.  On the nose, the wine smells fresh and alive.  Aromatic scents of lavender, dried thyme, red fruits and raspberries.  In the mouth, wow!  Again the wine just feels alive.  Flavors of red and blue fruits like pomegranate, raspberries and blueberries tango in my mouth. (geez that was cheesy).  A tart, but fleshy finish ends the ride.

A well-balanced wine that really drinks well now, but could definitely cellar for a few years.  Absolutely delicious!  That’s the best way to sum up the flavor experience with the 2007 Palmina Barbera.

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Wine Review – 2008 Chateau Trinquevedel Rose, Tavel, France

Poor and unfortunate zuchinni in the background, awaiting their fate.

Unfortunate zuchinni in the background, awaiting their fate.

Winery: Chateau Trinquevedel

Bottling: 2008 Tavel Rose

Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants

Region: France

Sub-Region:  Tavel, Southern Rhone Valley

Estimated Retail Price: $17

Purchase Details: Purchased directly from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants in Berekeley, California for around $17.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, a saturated and intense, dark pink hue.  On the nose, ripe red stone fruits and ripe strawberries.  In the mouth, flavors of ripe strawberry and spice.  The wine is firm, rich and juicy and has a dry tea like, but surprisingly refreshing finish.  Although the fruit takes center stage here, the wine never seems heavy or cloying and retains a nice fresh quality.

I’m not sure what the grape make up is on this particular Tavel, but the grapes that are typically used include grenache, syrah, cinsault, mouvedre and carignan (not to exceed more than 10%).  Also, not one grape can exceed more than 60% of the blend.

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Wine Review – 2007 Charles Joguet “Cuvee Terroir” Chinon, Loire Valley, France

Winery: Charles JoguetJoguetChinon

Bottling: 2007 Cuvee Terroir

Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants

Region: France

Sub-Region: Loire Valley, Chinon

Estimated Retail Price: $18

Purchase Details: Purchased from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants in Berkeley, California for approximately $17.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, such a beautiful pure color of red and blue hues.  On the nose, wonderful perfumed and sweet aromas of berries, lavendar and spice.  In the mouth, you immediately sense how lively and refreshing the acidity of the wine is, as the fruit flavors seem to come alive.  I taste red and blue fruits like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cherries.  The wine is medium-bodied and has just enough tannins to keep the stuffing in place, and they’re also soft enough so one can enjoy this bottling early in its life.

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