Washington Gets Serious About Rosé

Seattleites, tune in to 1150AM KKNW today 8-9am when I'll be on Table Talk Radio talking about rosé. 

Now that spring is not only officially here but there is warm weather to prove it, it’s time to turn our attention to rosé.

Rosé comes in just about every shade and color. It is also made from just about every red grape being produced in Washington – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. You name it.

Some are a blend of grapes and some are varietally labeled wines. Most are fermented and aged in stainless steel, but I have had a few that were fermented and aged in non-neutral barrels (!). They can be dry, off dry, or even semi-sweet and, as is usually the case, there is no way to tell unless the bottle is labeled as such unfortunately.

Rosé can be made in several different ways. One method is to grow grapes specifically for rosé; pick them earlier than you would normally pick grapes for red wine so that the acid is higher and the alcohol is lower; and then ferment the juice briefly on their skins to give the wine a light color.

Another method, referred to as the saignée method, involves taking grapes intended to be used for red wine, fermenting the juice briefly on their skins to provide some color, and then bleeding off a small amount of the juice to produce a rosé while leaving the rest to become red wine. This has the duel effect of concentrating the red wine as well as creating some juice that can be sold as rosé.

For me, the best rosés inevitably come from grapes grown for rosé. This just makes sense right? It shows intentionality instead of having the final product essentially a by-product. You would never grow grapes trying to create the world’s best dessert wine and then use a little bit of the juice to make white wine as well right? Why should rosé be any different?

You can generally get some sense of what type of rosé you are drinking, saignée or not, by looking at the alcohol level. Grapes picked specifically for rosé tend to be lower in alcohol – less than 13.5% is a decent, but not perfect, rule of thumb. Similarly, grapes picked for red wine tend to be higher in alcohol with over 14% alcohol being a general rule of thumb (I’ve seen some pushing 15%!). Another indication of a saignée wine is a blend of every grape in a winery’s portfolio.

While each year Washington produces a number of enjoyable rosés and some producers even consistently produce high quality bottles, overall rosé is a bit of a no man’s land in Washington. Many wineries don’t make that much, if any of it. Even fewer take it particularly seriously as a wine. For some it is simply a cash cow (see the saignée, kitchen sink blends). For others it is a limited offering that is often intended as a simple, straightforward wine.

But rosé doesn’t need to be just a simple spring and summer quaffer. These can be serious wines as well.

Enter two 2011 Washington rosés, one from Gramercy Cellars and one from Maison Bleue. This is the first time either of these two wineries has entered the rosé fray, and these wines do not disappoint.

The Gramercy Cellars wine is 50% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, 25% Syrah with the fruit hailing from Olsen Vineyard. Winemaker Greg Harrington says of his decision to make the wine, “Chateau Peyressol is, to me, the best rosé in the world. I absolutely love what they do. Then it occurred to me that we have the same varietals, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache, at Olsen Vineyard. So we wanted to see what would happen if we picked it specifically for rosé.”

The results in the 2011 Gramercy Cellars Rosé are extremely impressive, raising rosé quality to new heights in Washington. To me this wine is all about texture with the use of 100% malolactic fermentation giving the wine a long, drawn out feel.

Harrington says he decided to use 100% ML due to the high acidity of the vintage. He also says, “I think rosé, acid wise, needs to be somewhere between red and white wine. When you taste the great rosé from Provence or even the Southern Rhone, they have the perception of acidity, but are not driven by it.” Note that I have included Gramercy Cellars’ Rosé Manifesto in its entirety at the bottom of this post for your enjoyment.

While Gramercy Cellars made a limited amount of its rosé in 2011 – and at 97 cases you’ll have to go to the winery to find it - Prosser’s Maison Bleue went all in with its rosé producing 420 cases of this exceedingly delicious wine. Interestingly, this varietally labeled Mourvèdre rosé also comes from Olsen Vineyard with 10% Grenache added from Boushey.

As with all of the Maison Bleue wines, this one comes with a name with a personal meaning. Winemaker Jon Martinez explains, “La Famille – the family. It’s for my mom and dad. They’ve always wanted me to make rosé, so this is for them. Unfortunately dad’s gone but he would have loved it.”

Martinez credits rosés from Bandol as the inspiration for the wine. He adds, “I wanted to make a wine that was bone dry. I’m also looking for a certain potential alcohol and a certain amount of acidity as well, so it had to be the perfect picking decision.” Especially considering the difficulty of the growing season Martinez says of the results, “I got lucky.”

Whether luck or another sign of the strength of this young winery is no matter. This is a thoroughly delicious rosé that conveys as sense of seriousness while also remaining light on its feet. Along with the Gramercy Cellars offering, the Maison Bleue 2011 La Famille Rosé of Mourvedre is as fine a pink wine as the state has produced, a perfect summer wine.

While there is nothing wrong with a simple, straightforward rosé, both of these wines give a little something extra to contemplate and enjoy while sitting on the porch or flipping burgers on the grill. And with spring now upon us, who could ask for anything more? Let the rosé season begin!

Gramercy Cellars Rosé Olsen Vineyard Columbia Valley 2011 $25
(Excellent/Exceptional) Pale salmon with a slight pink tinge, slightly cloudy as the wine is unfined and unfiltered. An aromatically appealing wine with watermelon, raspberry, and cherry. The palate is incredibly textured and drawn out with a lingering, sour cherry-filled finish. 50% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, 25% Syrah. Olsen Vineyard. Fermented and aged in stainless steel with 100% malolactic fermentation. Unfined and unfiltered. 13.2% alcohol. 97 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Maison Bleue La Famille  Rosé of Mourvedre Yakima Valley 2011 $20
(Excellent/Exceptional) Pale salmon colored with a slight copper tone. Lightly aromatic but with great complexity with orange zest, strawberry, and spice. Palate is medium bodied and textured, drawing out for such a long time it’s impossible to separate where the palate stops and the finish begins. As compelling a rosé to come out of Washington to date. 90% Mourvedre (Olsen) and 10% Grenache (Boushey). Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 12.5% alcohol. 420 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

What follows is Gramercy Cellars Rose Manifesto

"Rose needs to be conceived from a specific intent to make Rose. Too much Rose today is the after thought of blending various substandard, homeless red and white lots or the result of bleeding off pink wine from highly alcoholic reds. It should only be made from red grapes with proper maceration techniques.

Good Rose is made in stainless steel tanks at cold temperatures and is bright orange or very light pink. Leave the bright pink neon in Las Vegas where it belongs.

Rose should be drunk chilled, not ice cold or luke-warm. And remember, ice cubes are for iced tea, not Rose. Drink only the most recent vintage of Rose - ie, only 2011 Rose should be consumed this year. All other vintages are terminal or deceased.

Rose is to be consumed only during t-shirt weather. If this is too difficult to remember, defer to the old white pants rule for women. If you can wear white pants, you can drink Rose. Since this is absolutely foreign to most men, you can start drinking Rose right after March Madness and should stop when you hear John Madden on TV - or when you start cleaning that deer rifle.

Rose is one of the most versatile food wines, second only to German Riesling and Champagne. (Note that "French Champagne" is a redundant term).

And most importantly, never be ashamed to admit you love Rose with your whole heart and soul. It will never give you more than a summertime romance, but you will always have the memories." 

Rating System 

Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here. (Exceptional)
(Not recommended/Flawed)

Readers please note that Blogger, where this site is hosted, has upgraded to a new version which has significant bugs and formatting issues. There are, at present, no work arounds, so you may see significant formatting errors within the posts.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. 2011 will be the vintage of the rose! Gramercy, Maison Bleue, Kerloo, all doing rose for the first time. Sleight of Hand, Fjellene, Syncline and Buty all had really nice roses when we were out for Cayuse weekend.

  2. We'll be tasting the 2011 Mannina Cellars rose of Grenache at Vino Bello Wine Bar in Burien this Saturday. Can't wait!

  3. First off, I'll state that you and I have completely different preferences for rosés. I prefer a rosé made from the saignée method, while you prefer rosés made from grapes that were only destined to become rosé. These style rosés, to me, are made in a style that is utterly boring. More often than not they are made with only a tiny bit of color, nearly or completely dry, without enough acid and almost completely flavorless. Even in your own reviews of two rosés made this way, the only actual flavor descriptor you could muster up between the two was "sour cherry-filled". If I wanted a nearly flavorless wine, I'd drink Pinot Gris!

    I tasted both the Maison Bleue and the Gramercy rosés at Taste Washington and found both of them flavorless and lifeless. Along with the Syncline; which is a shame because that's the first Syncline wine I have not adored. None of these wines had any character, and tasted like water with a few drops of red wine in it. Pure plonk. I tried four or five rosés like this at Taste Wastington and then stopped trying any rosé that looked similar to those.

    There were two rosés, however, that were quite excellent in my opinion. The dry one, Barnard Griffin's Rosé (sangiovese), and the off-dry one, Kaella's Rosé (sangiovese). They both had some actual color, but more importantly, FLAVOR! The descriptors of these wines didn't stop with the smell, unlike the others. Tefft also makes a great rosé, but that one sells out very quickly and I can rarely find it anymore.

    If you want to make a very light colored, dry wine, make a white wine! In fact, now that I think of it, I've had Pinot Gris' with more flavor and excitement than those rosés. I'm sure there's a market out there for rosés like the Maison Bleue and the Gramercy, but I will not hesitate to turn down anyone offering me a rosé of that style. No thank you.

    It should be obvious by now that you and I have different palate preferences when it comes to rosés, but to me giving each of these wines 4.5 stars is laughable.

  4. I tasted Syncline's Rosé at Taste Washington PDX and found it to be one of my favorite wines of the event. Complex, balanced, beautiful.

  5. Dude,
    Is there such a thing as a rose snob? If so, that dude is it! You'd think that a rose snob would most certainly be in the Maison Bleue (I've already had three bottles and it's a dead ringer for Tempier) and Gramercy camp. Low alcohols and terrific acidity. Not in the Barnard Griffin camp (I almost spit out my water when the rose snob wrote that BG was the favorite rose!), which every time I've had it reminds me of boxed blush wine. Anonymous rose snob, thanks for the chuckle!!


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