Thursday, June 13, 2024

The First Blush of Summer

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 clear long stem wine glass lotAre you anxious for summer to begin?  I ask, because the first day of summer is next week, so I'm not really rushing things with this post.  And you'll excuse me for suggesting in the title, that this piece will be about blush wines.

A blushing person has a red face, caused by embarrassment or shyness, while a white wine takes on a "blush" of red when fermented from black grapes.  Blush is what the folks at Mill Creek Winery had in mind when they named their new lightly tinted wine.  The origin of the name was disputed by a wine writer, claiming he first used the term "blush." 

Truth be told, Mill Creek and the wine writer were never associated with blush wines as much as Sutter Home, the Napa Valley winery that adopted a variation of blush and then sold a gazillion cases of White Zinfandel.

But this piece is about rosé, a wine made from dark-skin grapes that undergoes  a short maceration, resulting in a wine ranging in color, from the pale orange-pink of Oeil-de-Perdrix (Eye of the Partridge) to the darker pink wine known in Spain as clarete.

The French are credited with many things associated with wine, including the development of rosé wines.  Among the most noted French Rosés are Tavel from the Rhone Valley and Rosé d'Anjou and Cabernet d'Anjou from the Loire Valley, and the pink wines from Provence.

Wherever black wine grapes are grown, you're likely to find pink wine:  Weissherbst and Schillerwein, Germany;  Rosato and Chiaretto, Italy; and Rosado and Clarete, Spain.

Making Rosé

Before looking  at the more popular rosés, here are a few words on how rosés are made.

At one time, pink wines were made by a number of different methods, including mixing red and white wines together and by using charcoal to extract the color from a red wine.  Today, the most common ways to make a rosé is by skin contact for a short period, of dark-skin grapes, in a press or tank, or by a maceration until the desired color is achieved.

Other methods for making a pink wine include saignée and vin gris.  Saignée is  the French term for "bled."  After a short maceration, a certain amount of free-run juice is run off during crushing of dark-skin grapes.  Saignée can be tricky, arriving at just right amount of pink color. 

Despite its name, Vin gris is not grey, but a pale pink wine, often made from the dark-skin Grolot, using white wine making techniques. Thus, the grapes are lightly pressed but not macerated; the key difference between vin gris and other pink wines.

The Best Known Rosés

Consumer buying habits for wine are usually based on price and brand familiarity. While the French rosés, Tavel and Rose d'Anjou, may be the most highly rated and considered to be the essence of what a pink wine should be, they are more expensive and less known.  Retail prices for Tavel range from $20 to $25, Rosé d'Anjou is $12 to $20. California roses have a wider price range, $12 to $35. 

                                       Chateau D'Aqueria Tavel Rose 2015

Tavel is an appellation in the southern Rhone Valley.  Tavel has three distinctions that set it apart from other French wines: Tavel was one of the first six wines to be granted an AOC designation in 1936; Tavel is the rare French appellation producing only rosé wine; and Tavelis is dry and long-lived for a rosé.              

The popular pink wine is a blend of Grenache and other grapes, most noteably, Cinsault, which is also a component of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.   Tavel rosés worth trying: Ch. d'Aqueria, Domaine de la Mordoree and Domaine l'Anglore.

The flavor profile of Tavel features strawberries and raspberries, with hints of honey, dark  cherries and black pepper. Grenache rosé has refreshing acidity and the slightest amount of tannin for texture.

Rosé d'Anjou is an unusual pink wine from the Touraine region of the Loire Valley. It is   made from the Grolleau noir grape (better known as Groslot) and blended with Gamay.  The odd thing about Rosé d'Anjou  is while the grape is allowed in Rosé d'Anjou, the variety is not permitted in AOC Touraine red wines, such as Bourgueil. 

Fruit salad, leaning to dark cherries are the main flavor features of Rosé d'Anjou. The color is a deeper red, some even like a light red, and the finish is medium dry to sweet.  The charm for some rosé fans is its fruit-forward sweetish flavors.

Cabernet d'Anjou is the more high-brow of the two Anjou pink wines.  Made from Cabernet Franc in the western Loire valley, this pink wine occasionally is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, or a blend of the two cabernet grapes.  

Cabernet d'Anjou can be very sweet, with brisk acidity and enough tannin to be noticeable.  The fruit sweetness and drying tannin is an odd combination that works, attracting fans looking for a pink wine with substance. 

The Rest of the Pinks

Rosé fans may claim that Grenache makes the best pink wine, but there are plenty of folks who  can rattle off a list of other grapes that make successful rosés.  Zinfandel has its champions, as does Syrah and Petite Sirah.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are three Bordeaux grapes that make respectable pink wines, as does Italian Nebbiolo and Sangiovese and the very popular Spanish Tempranillo.

A special category of pink wine is Rosé Champagne, an expensive bubbly made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two.

Matching a pink wine with food depends on the style of the rosé and the primary grape used to make the wine.  Just as Pinot Noir is an excellent match with grilled salmon, ham is very good with rosé, especially one with a little sweetness, like Rosé d'Anjou.  Tavel, Cabernet d'Anjou or a dry California rosé.  Though dry, these wines still have sweet fruit,  a nice match with grilled pork chops or a pork stew.   

The choices are nearly endless, but bold flavors and rosé are not a good match, so whatever you decide, keep the dish simple.

Next post: French or American Oak?

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Thursday, June 6, 2024

Alexander Valley Cabernet

In the late 1970s, California wine exploded onto the scene, propelling consumer interest to take off like a sky rocket.  One lasting development of that market expansion is the head-to-head disagreement over which valley makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon: Napa Valley or Alexander Valley.  

Advocates in both camps counter by asking which is better, chicken or turkey?  Most people, surely most omnivores, would agree that it's a matter of personal choice.  Further, the consumer is bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day with ads and images, suggesting we make a choice. Chicken or turkey?  Napa Valley or Alexander Valley?

Of course, the astute wine drinker would naturally choose both.  To help inform the conundrum, I offer this examination of  Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and why it has risen to the top of what many critics say is Sonoma County's best.  We'll look at Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in a future posting.

                                      Ripe Cabernet grapes on old vine growing in a vineyard Ripe Cabernet grapes on vine growing in a vineyard at sunset time, selective focus, copy space cabernet sauvignon grape stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

About Cabernet Sauvignon

First, a little background about Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sauv).  For a grape that is so widely planted throughout the world, Cab Sauv is relatively new, arriving on the Bordeaux wine scene in the late 18th century.  Little is known about how it got there, but thanks to DNA profiling in 1997, we now know that Cab Sauv's parents are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which appear, fleetingly at times, in the aroma and taste of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Cab Sauv is a vigorous variety that needs to be restrained to avoid over-cropping.  An advantage for both the grower and winemaker is that Cab Sauv ripens slowly, after Cab Franc and Merlot, the two grapes most often used with Cab Sauv in the Bordeaux blend.  Cab Sauv likes warmth and doesn't ripen as well in cooler climates, tending to develop green, vegetative notes.

At ripeness, the taste of Cab Sauv is black fruits like blackberry and black currant.  Mature Cab Sauv shows more complex fruit and berry with, and this depends on your sensitivities and perception, pencil shavings and/or cigar box.  Alexander Valley Cab Sauv  fruit is sweeter than Bordeaux and the grape's natural acidity is often hidden behind the more forward fruit. 

Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The history of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Alexander Valley really took off in the years after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.  Prunes and hops were major crops in the early years, but wine grapes eventually took hold, slowly at first. Then new vineyards moved to the bench lands and Cabernet Sauvignon became the leading variety in the valley.

Revolutionary may be too strong a word to describe the comments heard amongst California wine makers when the 1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon was released, but they became aware of this new style of California Cabernet Sauvignon. The Jordan release also made it clear that Alexander Valley was now a serious challenge to Napa Valley for the Cabernet crown. 

A lot has changed in the last 50 years with Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Planted acreage has increased and there are more wineries now than ever making Cab Sauv.   Throughout the 1970s, Cabernet was planted mainly on flat lands, but as prime land became scarce, new vineyards took root in the low rounded hills surrounding the valley. 

Today, there are 30 wineries in the Alexander Valley, running east of US 101, from just south of Cloverdale to outside Healdsburg.  The valley has the warmest daytime temperatures in Sonoma County, an ideal condition for warmth loving Cabernet Sauvignon.

different older vintages of Jordan Winery Cabernet lined up in the background with a silver tray full of different vintages of Jordan Winery corks on it in the foreground
                                                                                                                               Courtesy Jordan Winery

An aside: Wine fans remember the occasion when their wine knowledge moved up a notch. For me, the date was sometime in the late 1970s.  Exact years are hard to pin down, the older I get.  But I was at the Jordan Winery, in the Alexander Valley, about to have my first taste  of an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  

The French inspired Jordan Winery is tucked back out of sight on a hill, off Alexander Valley  Road.  As we drove up the narrow winding lane, Jordan's then director of national sales, Mel Master, explained to me that Tom Jordan is interested in hearing some outside comments about the Jordan 1976 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, before it's released.

Seated at the table in the grand dining room, as the Cabernet was being poured, I remembered Jordan telling me in an interview in his Denver office,  that he and his wife, Sally are Francophiles, with a particular preference for the wines of Bordeaux.  

With the first sip, I was struck with how non-California the wine smelled and tasted.  Being used to the riper, more fruit-forward style of North Coast Cab Sauvs, I was not prepared for the restrained, tightly-packed fruit flavors of the '76 Jordan.  Still, it had everything you'd want in a well-made Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The admiration for things French aside, Jordan wines are distinctly Californian. The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is one expression of Alexander Valley and by extension, California.  Jordan Cab Sauv remains one of Alexander Valley's best.  

Here are eight more Alexander Valley wineries making impressive Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley grapes: Stonestreet, Alexander Valley Vineyards, DeLorimier Winery, Soda Creek Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Trentadue Winery, Robert Young Estate Winery.

Next time you're shopping for California Cabernet Sauvignon, remember Alexander Valley.


Next post: The First Blush of Summer

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