By Tom Bender

When the Trinchero family winery in Napa accidentally made a white zinfandel wine in the mid-1970s, they initially saw it as a troubled light red with a stuck fermentation. But the style of wine went on to become one of the most successful blush wines ever produced.

At the time the only other blush wines or roses of note were slightly sweet Mateus and Lancers from Portugal, and a handful of drier roses from southern France. Everyone just associated these pink wines with a big dose of sweetness. Dry style roses were far and few between dealing with an identity crisis to boot.

Fast forward to the current wine scene and you quickly discover it is a reversal of roles. Dry-style roses have become extremely popular, and it seems like every winery has jumped on the band wagon to produce one. In the world of wine, rose has become the fastest growing segment of wines. Consumption along with production globally doubled last year. While it lags way behind America’s love with Chardonnay, its refreshing food-friendly style makes it a great summer beverage. And yes, it seems to be a seasonal favorite as sales generally fall off once the snow flies and temperatures drop off.

With summer officially underway, this is the perfect time to pour pink. This watermelon- or salmon-colored favorite is not the pink associated with white zins or some of those sweet knockoff roses trying to take advantage of its growing popularity and the widespread rose trend.

And if you have visited a nearby Sierra foothills winery lately, you will most likely see a rose offering among the tasting possibilities. More and more local wineries are responding to the growing interest in roses and are coming up with notable results. At the recent Amador County Fair wine judging competition, there were more than 25 local roses entered with the actual “Best of Show” overall winner being awarded to a rose, the Cooper Vineyards 2016 “Round Pen” Grenache Rose. This means the wine beat out all other wines as the top wine at the competition.

At the Calaveras Fair competition several weeks ago, the 2016 Renner Syrah Rose scored double-gold and took top rose honors. And many of our locally produced roses have scored gold medals in statewide competitions as well.

Locally, the number of grape varieties being used is widespread as well. Grenache seems to be a favorite and the most common varietal. But there are a number of properties having success with Barbera, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cinsault and Sangiovese. Other California regions have had success with Pinot Noir. The best French roses come from Provence or the Rhone Valley in France and usually include portions of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, or Cinsault as rose blends.

There are several was to make a rose. It is not the cheating process of simply mixing a splash of red wine into a larger quantity of white. I am sure that goes on with some large scale bulk producers. That process is actually illegal in some countries. Sometimes it can be an afterthought as a winemaker drains off juice following the crushing of red grapes for the purpose of concentrating color and boosting tannins to the specific red wine. This action is called saignee and results in a lighter color as well. Depending on the grape and sugar level, the most common practice is to pick the red fruit a little earlier than the harvest for the red wine production. The winemaker then leaves the crushed red grapes in contact with the skin for a short period of time to extract a touch of pink color and the necessary flavors that come from the skins. Gently pressing to separate the juice from the must, the juice is then cold fermented like a white wine to preserve the freshness and bright flavors of the fruit. I have noticed a share of our local roses tend to be a bit higher in alcohol than the popular French versions.

Serve it well-chilled as a poolside sipper or with simple summer foods. Pair them with Mediterranean favorites — grilled chicken with fresh basil cilantro pesto, antipasti, or even the popular fried shishito peppers! A perfect match on one of these hot summer nights.

Sonora-area resident Tom Bender has taught classes on wine in Columbia College’s Culinary Arts program since 1979. He managed the Columbia City Hotel, and its award-winning wine cellar, for many years and now manages a wine bar at a Modesto specialty market. He is also a wine maker. Contact him at wineguy@goldrush.com.

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