Modern American rosé is not your parents white zinfandel (2022)

Harvest arrived early to Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley in 2004, so Kathleen Inman rose at 2 a.m. on Sept. 1 to do the first picking run through her pinot noir vineyard. As she was about to leave the house, her husband, Simon, surprised her with a gift for their 20th wedding anniversary.

Caught off guard, having forgotten the occasion, Inman ad-libbed. “I’m making you a special wine,” she said. “A rosé!”

Inman harvests her pinot noir in multiple stages of ripeness over a period of weeks to blend the juice into a harmonious wine. That first pass captures grapes in the earliest stage of ripeness, when acidity and floral aromas remain prominent. It’s also when the grapes are ideal for rosé.

The result a few months later was Endless Crush, a wine that over its 18 vintages is consistently among the best rosés made in the United States. But it hasn’t always been an easy sell.

“I couldn’t get people to taste it at first,” Inman told me in an interview. “Everyone thought it would be white zinfandel.”

That started to change around 2012, when U.S. wine drinkers discovered the joy of dry rosé. Wineries in Provence, rosé’s spiritual homeland, began promoting heavily in this market. “Rosé All Day’’ became a catchphrase, and “Brosé” reassured us that real men do indeed drink pink.

Winemakers responded, and today Inman’s Endless Crush leads a crowded field of high-quality rosé made in the United States. Some resemble the pale dry pinks of Provence, others the more robustly colored rosados of Spain or rosatos of Italy. But they are best enjoyed on their own terms as uniquely American. Like other American wines, they tend to be riper and fuller-bodied than their European counterparts. They’re also usually more expensive.

They come from national brands that can be found in supermarkets, such as organic pioneer Bonterra, and boutique wineries like Inman Family that rely on direct-to-consumer sales. And they come from everywhere. Some of my favorite rosés each year hail from Virginia, where Stinson, Early Mountain and Boxwood shine. Maryland answers with fine pinks from Old Westminster and Port of Leonardtown. Whenever you visit a winery, don’t overlook the rosé.

Here’s a pro tip: Ask whether it’s an “intentional” rosé or a “saignée” (pronounced san-YAY). These describe the two basic ways of making rosé. For an intentional rosé (this is not an official term, but people will know what you mean), the grapes are picked early in the ripeness window, when the acidity is still high, with the intent to make rosé. The red grapes are pressed and drained quickly from the skins; the wine is then fermented much like a white wine. Saignée (a French word, therefore official) means “to bleed.” With this technique, grapes are picked riper with the intent of making red wine and some juice is drained off shortly after pressing to concentrate the color, extract and tannins in the remaining wine. The saignée could be discarded, but hey – it’s free wine! Why not add some acid and bottle it as rosé?

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Saignée rosés can be quite tasty, and there’s no shame in enjoying them. But intentional rosés tend to be more vibrant and expressive. They also last longer, so if you like rosé at Thanksgiving or throughout the winter, look for these. Some creative winemakers have combined the techniques, blending early-picked juice with saignée to combine that natural acidity with the body and sweetness of the riper grapes.

The rosé revolution not only prompted more wineries to up their pink wine game, but it also led to the founding of at least one winery devoted exclusively to wines modeled on Provence. The Crimson Wine Group had produced a saignée rosé at Chamisal Vineyards in Central California’s Edna Valley since 2006, and founded Malene winery nearby in 2015 to go all-in on the rosé trend.

“We saw the trend in rosé and wanted to be part of that,” winemaker Fintan du Fresne told me. “But it was important from the get-go to do it with intention and have a brand focused on rosé, not an offshoot of something else.”

Malene now makes five rosés based on different grapes or blends typical of Provence, using fruit primarily from Santa Barbara County. The main cuvée blends cinsaut, mourvèdre, grenache and a little vermentino (called rolle in Provence). This wine gets into wholesale distribution and is sold primarily to restaurants. (Sales have taken a hit because of the pandemic.) They also make single-vineyard wines from grenache and mourvèdre that are available from the winery.

One consistent theme is minimal skin contact, du Fresne said. “We experimented with a darker-colored rosé, but consumers didn’t like that. They’ve been trained by Provence to want it as pale as possible.”

Randall Grahm was an early proponent of rosé with his Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, which he tweaked to a drier style over the years as pink wine became more popular. Grahm sold Bonny Doon in 2020, and last year launched a new partnership with E&J Gallo called the Language of Yes. The name is a play on “langue d’Oc,” the ancient language of Occitania in southern France and the name of the Languedoc region. He made 75 cases of 2020 rosé that sold out within 90 minutes of going on sale last September. The 2021 rosé will be released this coming September, once temperatures cool enough for reliable shipping.

Grahm is banking on an obscure grape called tibouren, which figures prominently in rosés grown around Saint-Tropez on the Côte d’Azur. It also produces light red wines in Italy’s Liguria region, where it is known as rossese.

“Tibouren may be the best variety for pink wine,” Grahm said, “because of its inherent core of fruit, a succulence that makes it appealing. It also is very persistent on the palate.”

Tibouren has lost favor in much of Provence because it’s disease-prone and doesn’t yield a reliable crop. Grahm is basing his blend – which includes cinsaut and mourvèdre – on the only known commercial planting of the variety in California, in Paso Robles. He is also trying to propagate strains of tibouren at his Popelouchum vineyard in San Juan Bautista, an outdoor laboratory where he is crossbreeding grape varieties to create new ones adapted to the California terroir and climate.

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“I’m not trying to isolate the uber clone of tibouren,” Grahm told me. “I’m looking for the weird ones, the funky oddball variants that may be the source of unique complexity. The best result may be a composite of a number of strains.”

Grahm may be tilting at vine rows in his quest to create an American rosé based on a model from ancient Provence. But his fans – and I am one – won’t count him out. We’ll join him as he helps develop a growing, fascinating and delicious genre of American wine.

Here are a few of my favorite American rosés I’ve tasted this year. Some of my other favorite producers not mentioned here include Tablas Creek (California), Brooks (Oregon), Ankida Ridge (Virginia), and Wölffer Estate (New York).

Great value

Bonterra Rosé 2021

California, $16

From Mendocino County’s organic pioneer, this is the rosé the word “zippy” was coined for. It’s a grenache-based blend from certified-organic vineyards throughout California. Look for flavors of ruby red grapefruit, watermelon, rosewater and persimmon. This may be the best value in California rosé. Certified B Corp., Climate Neutral, CCOF Organic. Alcohol by volume: 13 %. Bottle weight: 410 grams (Light).

Alexander Valley Vineyards Dry Rosé of Sangiovese 2021

Sonoma County, Calif., $20

A reliable favorite, this sangiovese rosé bursts with flavors of strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. There’s nothing subtle about this beauty from winemaker Kevin Hall – just lots of delicious fun. Certified sustainable. ABV: 13.5 %. BW: 560 grams (Average).

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Boxwood Estate Rosé 2021

Middleburg, Va., $22

Winemaker Stephen Rigby harvested cabernet franc (and a little sauvignon blanc) for this wine two weeks before the rest of his reds, while the acidity in the grapes was still high. After fermenting them like a white wine, with minimal skin contact, he blended in some saignée juice bled off from the riper red wines. The result is a juicy Jolly Rancher ride across the palate, ending with a slight appealing bitterness. ABV: 12.2 %. BW: 510 grams (Average).

Julia’s Dazzle Pinot Gris Rosé 2021

Columbia Valley, Wash., $22

A rosé from pinot gris? Wait, isn’t that a white grape? Well, yes, but pinot gris has dark skins, so it easily takes color with any amount of time on skins after pressing. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, perhaps the salmon color of the wine suggests the ideal food pairing. This is more on the melon side of the fruit spectrum rather than berries – think cantaloupe and honeydew, with a hint of citrus peel. ABV: 13.4 %. BW: 730 grams (Heavy).

Stinson Vineyards Rosé of Tannat 2021

Virginia, $23

Tannat is known for dark-colored, deep and tannic red wines. With Rachel Vrooman’s skillful handling, it becomes a zesty rosé redolent of red grapefruit, wild herbs and honeysuckle. This is a vibrant wine that seized my attention with the first sip and never let go. ABV: 12.9 %. BW: 425 grams (Light).

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The Language of Yes “Le Cerisier” 2021

California, $25 (Not Yet Released)

The debut vintage of Randall Grahm’s project with E&J Gallo Winery sold out within hours of going on sale last September. The 2021, to be released online this September, is 65 % tibouren, an obscure grape from Italy and southern France that Grahm says once was fundamental to Mediterranean rosé. The rest of the blend is cinsaut and mourvèdre, two grapes more familiar to fans of Provençal rosés. The color is more onion-skin than pink, and the wine reminds me somewhat of fermenting. There’s a wild herb note of garrigue and some bright cherry with a rich, velvety texture. ABV: 12.5 %. BW: 540 grams (Average).

Anaba Rosé of Grenache 2021

Sonoma County, Calif., $34

Winemaker Katy Wilson combines grenache from two Sonoma County vineyards into a spicy rosé with flavors of Rainier cherries and cranberries, balanced by a perception of sweetness on the mouthfeel. ABV: 13 %. BW: 630 grams (Average).

Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir OGV Estate 2021

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, Calif., $40

Kathleen Inman offers us a garden in a glass – this beautiful wine swings between floral and fruity with each sip. Aromas of roses, lilac and honeysuckle mingle with strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. Plush texture carries the flavors through a long finish. I have only one complaint: The bottom of the bottle arrives way too soon. ABV: 12 %. BW: 470 grams (Light).

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Prices are approximate. For availability, check Wine.com, Wine-searcher.com and the websites of the wineries, importers or distributors.

FAQs

Is rosé wine the same as White Zinfandel? ›

Rosé can be made from any red grape, but white Zin is made from—you guessed it—Zinfandel grapes. As far as flavor goes, white Zinfandel is generally sweeter, pinker, and less complex that many rosé varieties. Rosé can be dry or sweet. It can also range in color from blush to bright red.

Why is White Zinfandel not called rosé? ›

That juice had become a rosé, it had a pink color and was very dry, so they decided to bottle it at sell it to the public, but fearing consumers wouldn't respond to the name rose, they called it White Zinfandel instead.

Is White Zinfandel a cheap wine? ›

They too began bottling their excess juice from Red Zinfandel wine and selling “White Zinfandel.” And because it cost them little to make, it became one of the cheapest wines available. Over the years, White Zinfandel wine has become known as THE box wine.

Is rosé White Zinfandel sweet? ›

White Zinfandel wine is not a white wine, but in fact, a sweet, bright pink rosé that was first created by accident in the 1970s through Stuck Fermentation at Sutter Home Winery in California. The team at Sutter Home decided to market the accidental product, and it became famous for its sugary taste and cheap price.

What wine is closest to White Zinfandel? ›

Carignan. If you're a fan of lighter styles of Zinfandel, Carignan is a great alternative for you. Grown mostly in southern France where it is typically used as a blending grape, Carignan has a medium body, medium tannins, medium-high acidity, and high fruit flavors.

Is White Zinfandel good for you? ›

Zinfandel/Primitivo contains antioxidants, including resveratrol, which has been linked to heart health. This wine contains saponins, which help lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

What is the difference between Zinfandel and White Zinfandel? ›

First things first: white Zinfandel is not a different grape than red Zinfandel. It is the same grape that's used in red Zinfandel, but made in a semi sweet rosé style. This means the juice is only allowed to sit on the on the skins for a small amount of time, which gives it that “pink” color.

Do they still make White Zinfandel? ›

Most white Zinfandel continues to be sold at retail.

Is White Zinfandel a sweet or dry wine? ›

White Zinfandel Food Pairings

Zinfandel is a moderately sweet wine with melon and strawberry notes. The best pairings are with light meats, spicy sauces, cheeses, and desserts.

Can White Zinfandel get you drunk? ›

White Zinfandel has a decent alcohol percentage, even when it's not a port wine. It can get you drunk, but those that taste less like alcohol generally have less alcohol.

Is there a lot of sugar in White Zinfandel? ›

Semi-dry wine

Semi-dry wines (off-dry wines) such as Rieslings, White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, which contain a trace of residual sugar that remains after the fermentation is completed and most rose wines (semi-sweet ) can have 10-50 grams per litre.

Can White Zinfandel go bad? ›

Ports will last between 1-3 weeks. Dessert wines are good for 3-7 days. Red and rich white wines last roughly 3-6 days. Lighter white wines last 4 or 5 days.

Should rosé wine be served chilled? ›

Best Temperatures for White, Rosé, and Sparkling Wine

Keeping white wine, rosé wine, and sparkling wine chilled punctuates their delicate aromas, crisp flavors, and acidity. Fuller-bodied whites like oaked Chardonnay are best when served between 50-60 degrees, which brings out their rich textures.

Is White Zinfandel wine considered a red wine? ›

White zinfandel: This is not actually a white wine but a slightly sweet rosé style invented by Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home in the 1970s. It was hugely popular in the 1980s, outselling red zinfandel six to one.

Which Zinfandel is sweetest? ›

White Zinfandel is much sweeter than other rosé wines because it lacks some of the dryness found in its other pink counterparts. Drinkers may find it more refreshing than Pink Moscatos or other very sweet dessert wines. White Zinfandel is full of fruity, melon notes.

What flavor is White Zinfandel? ›

In making White Zinfandel, the focus is to highlight the fresh red berry, citrus and melon aromas and flavors, and round them out with subtle hints of nutmeg and clove. This wine has a youthful exuberance that is enjoyable as a sipper on its own, or with a variety of dishes.

Is White Zinfandel popular? ›

Although sales of White Zinfandel have dropped since its heyday, Trinchero still sells 4.5 million cases of it a year and says the category is an $800 million annual business, with Sutter Home and Beringer Vineyards the major volume players.

Why White Zinfandel is pink? ›

In winemaking, Zinfandel grapes for white are pressed (the juice squeezed out) as the very first step, prior to fermentation. The pressed juice has a slight pink color because only a small amount of red pigments are released from the skins during pressing.

What is the healthiest wine to drink? ›

Pinot Noir is rated as the healthiest wine because of the high levels of resveratrol. It is made of grapes with thin skin, has low sugar, fewer calories, and low alcohol content.

Is rosé healthier than red wine? ›

Rosé wine can be good for your health if enjoyed in moderation. Red wine is the healthiest type of wine, but rosé has more of the antioxidant properties of red wine over white wine.

Is a bottle of wine a day too much? ›

Drinking a bottle of wine per day is not considered healthy by most standards. However, when does it morph from a regular, innocent occurrence into alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism? First, it's important to note that building tolerance in order to drink an entire bottle of wine is a definitive red flag.

What kind of wine is white Zinfandel wine? ›

White Zinfandel is an off dry to sweet rosé wine, which was invented by Sutter Home Family Vineyards winemaker Bob Trinchero in 1975. Originally the result of a stuck fermentation and fortuitous accident, White Zinfandel is made from the Zinfandel wine grape that would otherwise produce a bold and spicy red wine.

What is White Zinfandel considered? ›

Despite the confusing name, “white Zinfandel” is a rosé. It's also made in a slightly sweet style. “Blush” is a somewhat outdated term for rosé, or pink wine. It was more widely used in the 1970s and '80s, back when off-dry wines like white Zinfandel were much more fashionable.

Is rosé considered white wine? ›

– Rose' Wine Rose is made from red or purple grapes, and it is somewhat between white wine and red wine.

What's the difference between rosé and white wine? ›

There are two major differences between making White wine and Rosé wine. First, Rosé wines use both white and red grape varieties. Second, standard Rosé winemaking looks a lot more like how white wine is made with an additional maceration time added in the beginning.

Is White Zinfandel high in sugar? ›

Semi-dry wine

Semi-dry wines (off-dry wines) such as Rieslings, White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, which contain a trace of residual sugar that remains after the fermentation is completed and most rose wines (semi-sweet ) can have 10-50 grams per litre.

Is White Zinfandel dry or sweet? ›

White Zinfandel Food Pairings

Zinfandel is a moderately sweet wine with melon and strawberry notes. The best pairings are with light meats, spicy sauces, cheeses, and desserts.

What's the difference between Zinfandel and White Zinfandel? ›

White Zinfandel vs Zinfandel

While both wines are extremely different, they are essentially made from the same grape. To differentiate them, the term “White Zinfandel” is used to denote the pink, rose-colored version. Without any modifier, Zinfandel is used to signify the red wine.

Does White Zinfandel go bad? ›

Ports will last between 1-3 weeks. Dessert wines are good for 3-7 days. Red and rich white wines last roughly 3-6 days. Lighter white wines last 4 or 5 days.

Is White Zinfandel sweeter than Moscato? ›

Moscato is typically considered a dessert wine (which, then, yes would be sweeter than White Zinfandel).

How do you drink White Zinfandel? ›

White versions are best served chilled at around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so will maintain its crisp taste and prevent it from coming off too sweet. You should also chill your wine for a couple of hours before setting it out for 30 minutes before opening.

Is rosé a healthy wine? ›

Rosé wine benefits include a boost of heart-healthy antioxidants, reduced cholesterol, even a lowered cancer risk, all in a lower-calorie beverage. Those positive health effects are thanks to its source of pigment. More interaction with red grape skins means a healthier glass of wine.

When should I drink rosé wine? ›

Summer is hailed as the start of "rosé season," the-five-or-so-months-a-year that's generally accepted as the time to drink rosé. So, perfect, get your pink drink on until October. But don't stop there.

Which wine is better red white or rosé? ›

"Rosé is a tad healthier than white wine, but red and orange will have more antioxidants," says nutritionist Lisa Kilgour, RHN. And in more womp womp news: Rosé also requires a lot of outside help from sulfites to keep it fresh and flavorful (white wine does, too), so anyone with a sensitivity should stay away.

Should rosé wine be chilled? ›

Bubbly bottles such as Champagne, Prosecco, sparkling brut, and sparkling rosés should always be chilled to 40-50 degrees. These cool temps keep the carbon dioxide intact and prevent the bottle from unexpectedly popping open. Store your white, rosé, and sparkling wine in the fridge for two hours.

Does rosé taste like white wine? ›

When comparing rosé to its red and white wine counterparts, one of the main differences to note would be that it doesn't taste as heavy as red wine, but isn't as sweet as white wine. Also, rosé relies more on grape skin when it's made while both red and white wine have more bits and pieces of grapes in them.

Is white wine sweeter than rosé? ›

White Zinfandel is much sweeter than other rosé wines because it lacks some of the dryness found in its other pink counterparts. Drinkers may find it more refreshing than Pink Moscatos or other very sweet dessert wines. White Zinfandel is full of fruity, melon notes.

Videos

1. Croatian Rosé Wine
(Dr. Matthew Horkey)
2. Aperitempo: The Bright Bubbles of Rosé
(University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo)
3. Sip-Size - Intro to Rose
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4. Winecast: Zinfandel
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5. Make It Pink! A Wine for All Seasons
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6. How to make ‘Not Your Mom’s White Wine Spritzer’ l GMA
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