Until just recently—this year, in fact—a wine’s only job, come summer, was to be pink. Not sweet. Just pink. Rosé has ridden a wave of love over the last decade, beginning when we got over the shame of sweet white Zinfandel en masse and embraced the pleasure of a crisp, dry, pink wine haunted with delicate red fruit flavors. The style lately claiming the most allegiance: Provençal (although the term is over-used on the marketing front to the point of losing its meaning).
This year, though, it’s not enough to be pink, pale, and dry, in the style of rosés from the south of France. A rosé needs a distinctive character to stand out in the crowded field—a particular weight and flavor profile from the red grape variety(ies) it’s made from, for instance. A level of complexity and authenticity that make it an interesting wine, not just a beach pounder.
Leading the field in pushing rosé into wine geek territory (in the best way) is Kathleen Inman, who has produced a Pinot Noir Rosé from her Olivet Grange estate vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley since 2004, a wine she made to mark her 20th wedding anniversary to her husband, Simon, aptly called “Endless Crush.” Inman is convinced that a good rosé can not only carry unique flavor markers from its fruit source, but also reflect the nuances of the specific site the fruit came from. In fact, she believes rosé can do that almost better than a red wine.
Here’s how she explains it: “It’s my belief that the riper grapes get, the longer they stay on the vine, the more the unique varietal [and vineyard-specific] flavors are muddied. Pinots that are left to reach high brix before picking all take on stewed fruit, prune, or raisin flavors that aren’t easily differentiated from Syrah or Grenache that have also been left to hang. In contrast, if you pick when the grapes first become ripe, like I do for rosé, the unique flavors really stand out.”
So in 2018, besides the rosé from her estate vineyard, Inman made a rosé from two other vineyards she sources Pinot from in the region. The trio—a first, as far as we know—make a terrific study in terroir through rosé. “The contrast among the three vineyards I work with is very noticeable in the red wines,” she says, “but as rosé, they’re worlds apart.”
The three bottles of Inman’s Endless Crush would elevate a summer gathering of serious wine friends to all new levels of rosé consciousness. And we’ve added a few more of our new favorites—all offering the nuance of variety and place that make them serious wines.
Inman Family 2018 Olivet Grange Estate Vineyard Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
A distinct minerality in this Endless Crush—even a salinity (appealing)—underlines rose petals on the nose. Vibrant citrus and juicy watermelon follow on a palate marked by racy acidity, texture, and tension ($38).
Inman Family 2018 Pratt Vine Hill Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
The profound paleness of this wine belies its intensity of tart flavors. A savory herbal quality mixes with spice and haunting hibiscus on the nose, with under-ripe stone fruit and cherry carrying through a long, bright finish ($38).
Inman Family 2018 Pratt Sexton Road Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
This one is about fruit. Fuller-bodied and darker pink, it offers up jasmine, forest, and spice on the nose, with loads of raspberry and strawberry following on an impressively structured palate, and a sassy kick of citrus trailing on the finish ($38).
Château Gassier 2018 Le Pas du Moine Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire
Aged in cement tanks for several months, this Gassier rosé has rich textures and the weight to match a great range of foods. Beautiful floral aromatics give way to exotic red fruit, with peach and passionfruit notes ($30).
Château Minuty 2018 Minuty 281 Côtes de Provence
Ultra-pale, this 90 percent Grenache Minuty rosé surprises with both intensity and complexity. Layers of minerality lurk under white blossoms, peach flavors, and puckery grapefruit laced with an interesting salinity ($79).
Dutton Goldfield 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
A fresh and bright wine from Dutton Goldfield, yet with mouth-filling weight. A balance of flavors, from damp loam and minerality to delicate, briary cherries and orange notes keeps this one interesting ($30).
Gamble Family Vineyards 2018 Rosé Napa Valley
Think of an orchard just after a rain. Juicy Ranier cherries, peaches, and pink grapefruit are layered with crushed herbs, florals, and a dry minerality, creating a complex, refreshing interplay in this lovely rosé from Gamble Family ($25).
La Sirena 2018 Rosato Amador County
This unique La Sirena rosé of Primitivo from the legendary Heidi Barrett might just be white Zinfandel done right (Primitivo being genetically identical to Zinfandel). Its nose doubles as a rose garden, with white peach and pink grapefruit mingling around the edges. On the palate, it’s beautifully dry and crisp to the end ($28).
Minus Tide 2018 Feliz Creek Vineyard Carignan Rosé Mendocino County
A first release from a new team in Mendocino, this pale pink opens with a fresh-ocean-breeze salinity mixed with wild strawberry, spice, and honeysuckle. It’s perfectly balanced between juicy fruit and dryness, with a satisfyingly savory finish ($24).
Tablas Creek Vineyard 2018 Dianthus Adelaida District, Paso Robles
Deeply pink and structured, showing significant skin contact, this serious Mourvèdre-based rosé from Paso’s iconic Tablas Creek is not afraid of the texture of tannins. It’s a rosé for red wine lovers—and for food (duck comes to mind). Complex earthiness is layered under watermelon and cherry flavors and orchard blossom aromas ($30).
Three Sticks 2018 Casteñada Rosé Sonoma Coast
Three Sticks might be one of Sonoma’s power Pinot Noir producers, but this is a Rhône rosé—darker colored and with a sense of power. Damp earth clings to strawberries and rose petals, balanced between weight and brightness ($45).
Mod Sélection Rosé Champagne
Fresh off tequila and American whiskey innovation—with DeLeón and Virginia Black, respectively—Brent Hocking (along with his partner, musician Drake) has turned his penchant for challenging tradition to Champagne. Working with a five-generations-old Champagne house, Hocking has created Mod Sélection Champagnes, in a style he describes as “pure, elegant, balanced and fresh.” It’s a profile in contrast to the weightier, yeasty, autolytic character often associated with wines from the region. The bubbles in his Mod Rosé Champagne ($400) are impossibly vibrant, creating an elegant tension. Delicate wild strawberry aromas lead to lively cherry and cranberry notes—intense but fresh and light-footed at once. And as you’d expect, Hocking’s out-of-the-box vision extends to the design of the bottle as well, with intricate, filigreed metallic etchings.
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 Rosé
While Madame Clicquot was the original pioneer behind the assemblage method of making a rosé Champagne (the first of which was first released 200 years ago), a new cellar master now helms the maison’s cave and has masterminded the La Grande Dame 2008 Rosé ($300). Dominique Demarville, that cellar master, has taken a brave turn with this release, which would make many estates nervous—but which the pioneering widow would no doubt have applauded. He has dared to craft a Champagne from 92 percent Pinot Noir grapes, with barely a blanc in sight. The copper-hued rosé is even better than its brut of a cousin: It includes juice from a special plot called Clos Colin, giving it smooth tannins and a supple minerality and salinity. It has such enticingly subtle fruit that you wonder if it’s your imagination, so you can help but sip it again. And again.