ITHACA, N.Y. — In making and marketing rosé, local winemakers have to overcome two damning stigmas about the blushing beverage.
Many people who bypass rosé today were turned off by the saccharin sweet White Zinfandel that dominated the market through the 1980s and ’90s. This resonating White Zin trauma paired with the Finger Lakes’ own history of uninteresting, flabby wines once created a formidable barrier for a local rosé culture.
Truly high-quality rosés are made from vinifera grapes such as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir and obtain their color and flavor either through maceration or a method called Saignée. Maceration refers to the soaking of crushed grapes while Saignée rosé is extracted from red wine juice after a short period of grape skin contact. Many consumers (falsely) believe that rosé is simply a blend of red and white wines. While many are made this way, these wines are often designated the less desirable title of “blush” and contain either hybrid or labrusca grapes like Concord or Catawba.
For some time now, however, winemakers have strived to bring more balanced, complex rosé into the forefront, even launching the “Discover Dry Rosé” campaign between 2013 and 2018. Innovative viticulturists have distinguished the Finger Lakes as a destination for serious wine drinkers. But that doesn’t mean you need a degree from Cornell’s world-renowned enology program to enjoy rosé.
• Related: Exploring the growth of Finger Lakes wine
This spring (for the benefit of readers, of course) I drank my way through the Finger Lakes to find the perfect rosé for every occasion.
For Entertaining Guests
Even the most agreeable of friends are bound to have different tastes. And choosing a wine isn’t so simple as settling on a pizza topping. How do you appeal to fans of a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon without leaving behind the Pinot Grigio drinkers? You certainly can’t please everyone, few will oppose something refreshing and easy to drink. Osmote Wine, located in Burdett, has a rosé of Cabernet Franc that is bound to get the party started.
“I think I am setting out with that wine to make a dry rose,” says owner and winemaker Ben Riccardi. “But what I’m really setting out [to do] is that I want to create the wine that you crave as you drink it cold up here next to the lake. Or if you’re in Manhattan, I want this to be the wine that you’re just going to drink for hours next to the Hudson river on a rooftop.”
Riccardi produces this rosé with “an intention for texture in the mouthfeel,” opting for a natural fermentation process and extended contact with native vineyard yeast to ensure creaminess. The wine gets its delicate color from limited skin contact, but still delivers full raspberry, cherry, and cranberry flavors. Hand-picked grapes harvested early in the season give the off-dry wine an energetic acidity. With 1.5% residual sugar, this is a rosé that will appease sweeter wine drinkers while fans of drier wine will appreciate the mouthwatering tannin and hints of dried herbs.
($15, osmotewine.com, Seneca Lake)
For Making Frozé
The visual appeal of pink wines has undoubtedly revived the market demand for rosé.
Designers and decorators ushered in the internet obsession with “millennial pink,” and it’s no wonder Instagram is inundated with #roséallday and #yeswayrosé posts dedicated to the lighthearted wine. Another craze born out of this social media attention is the “frozé,” or rosé slushie. A good frozé calls for a wine with enough flavor, color, and body to withstand added water and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards checks all these boxes.
Comprised of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Cabernet Franc, Wiemer’s rosé offers a myriad of fleshy red cherry and berry flavors with notes of watermelon and a crisp finish. An 18-hour cold soak imparts a gorgeous medium salmon color that will hold up to the slushie-making process.
Be sure to pick up two bottles so you can enjoy this superb rosé as is.
($19.50, shop.wiemer.com Seneca Lake)
If you think rosé only pairs with fruit and cheese, it’s time to think outside the bottle. While a bold, smoky red may be the obvious choice for a cookout, who wouldn’t want to drink something cold and crisp after standing over a smoker in the hot sun? Plus, the tartness of cool-climate rosés like those found in the Finger Lakes makes them a perfect companion for sweet, spicy, and tangy sauces alike.
Sheldrake Point’s Cabernet Franc rosé has the building acidity to compete with a vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce. Whether you enjoy it with a pulled pork sandwich or baked beans, the sour cherry, raspberry, and citrus flavors are like a wet wipe for your palate. Every sip makes your next bite taste brand new.
($18, wineshop.sheldrakepoint.com, Cayuga Lake)
When we hear the word “barbecue” most northerners automatically picture the darker, heavier, and sweeter Kansas City-style marinade. This quintessential sauce requires a wine with a bit more gusto. Luckily, Penn Yan’s Fox Run Vineyards offers a rosé with a bolder profile and structured tannins, so it can stand up to a thicker sauce. A near-even split of Pinot Noir and Lemberger (a.k.a. Blaufrankisch) make this a unique wine for the region. Aromas of red fruit and watermelon open into flavors of wild berries, strawberry sauce, and white pepper.
($18, shop.foxrunvineyards.com, Seneca Lake)
The summer brings plenty of reasons to rejoice. Everyone you know is getting married or graduating. The sun sets later and your vacation getaway is right around the corner. Even if you’re just celebrating the end of a long week a glass of bubbles is always in order. But for more ceremonious occasions a premium bottle of sparkling wine is a classic way to say congratulations. For that very reason, however, you may find that you’re not the only one who thought to bring a bottle of bubbly. So how do you avoid looking unoriginal? With a sparkling rosé, of course.
When you gift a bottle of Brut Rosé from Dr. Konstantin Frank, you can take pride in knowing you chose a wine of inarguable quality. Dr. Konstantin Frank’s contributions to winemaking are a part of the foundation on which the Finger Lakes stand. The Frank family prides itself on continuing the Doctor’s legacy, a tradition that is now four generations in the making. Produced in the Champagne method, Dr. Frank’s Brut Rosé offers tiny, foamy bubbles with delightful yellow apple, quince, and honeysuckle lying beneath pleasant aromas of red berries, rose petals, and toasted brioche. Altogether, this sparkling rosé is simultaneously traditional and stylish.
($34.99, drfrankwines.com, Keuka Lake)
White wine drinkers need little persuasion to join the slightly darker side. The fruit-focused palate and lively acidity of most cool-climate rosés is nearly identical to a Riesling or stainless steel fermented Chardonnay. Those who prefer red wine, however, are not easily swayed. A flimsy glass of watermelon water isn’t going to convert someone who prefers a bold Syrah. And while rosé of Cabernet Franc may provide more body than those made from Pinot Noir or Grenache, they do little in the way of impressing a fan of Malbec. But don’t give up on rosé before you try the 2018 Teinturier Dry Rosé from Standing Stone Vineyards in Hector.
“Teinturier” translated from French means to dye or to stain, referring to a rare variety of exceptionally pigmented grapes. Standing Stone’s Teinturier rosé is made from the uncommon Saperavi grape which contains a red pulp, whereas most red grapes have a clear pulp. Unlike other rosés, the Teinturier rosé does not require any contact with the skin or seeds to produce its deep pink color. Darker flavors of black berries and plums may appeal more to red wine drinkers, who will also love the unusual notes of licorice and savory herbs.
($18.50, standingstonewines.com, Seneca Lake)
Correction (4:45 p.m. July 5) — An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Osmote’s rosé was made by the Saignée method.
Featured image: Wine regions featured at Northside Wine & Spirits in Ithaca. (Photo by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice)