Northwest Wine

Northwest Wine: Spring to action on the patio with Northwest rosé

DeLille Cellars co-owners Greg Lill, winemaker Chris Upchurch and Jay Soloff have helped set the standard of dry rosé in the Pacific Northwest through their work in Woodinville, Wash.
DeLille Cellars co-owners Greg Lill, winemaker Chris Upchurch and Jay Soloff have helped set the standard of dry rosé in the Pacific Northwest through their work in Woodinville, Wash. Great Northwest Wine

After our long, cold, wet winter, it is nice to see sunshine, higher temperatures and flowers showing up. And this puts us in the mood to fire up the grill and toss some beautiful bottles of Pacific Northwest rosés in the fridge.

The rosé movement is nationwide. Research by The Nielsen Co. shows sales of rosé in the U.S. grew by 56 percent last year. This spring, Portland journalist Katherine Cole, a James Beard Award-winning podcaster, authored a book on rosé. So did Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, a Master of Wine living in Los Angeles.

Chris Upchurch, founding winemaker for DeLille Cellars, in Woodinville, has been drinking French rosé throughout his adult life. A decade ago, he convinced his business partners that DeLille should produce rosé along the lines of Domaine Tempier from Bandol, Domaine Orr from Provence and Grenache rosés from Tavel.

The world is changing, and one of the ways it’s changing is that people are getting into more interesting wines. It’s getting away from being a two-wine society — Cab and Chardonnay.

Chris Upchurch, founding winemaker for DeLille Cellars

“The world is changing, and one of the ways it’s changing is that people are getting into more interesting wines,” Upchurch said. “It’s getting away from being a two-wine society — Cab and Chardonnay.”

Many of the top rosés in the Pacific Northwest are designed in the vineyard, grown for this lighter-style of wine and picked before accumulating the sugars — the standard 24 Brix — of most red table wines. The grapes are lightly crushed, left on the skins for hours or days, pressed and then fermented to dryness. As a result, Provencal rosé often carries a very light color.

The other popular winemaking approach to rosé is the saignée (pronounced “sen-yay”) method, which involves bleeding off juice early on from a red wine fermentation, then fermenting that pink juice separately.

In the hands of a skilled winemaker, either way will produce a delicious, food-friendly rosé.

“I like the grill, and I like it outdoors. I think it’s an alfresco-type of thing,” Upchurch said. “You can have it with almost everything. I eat a lot of Latin food, and Latin food can fight wine a little bit, especially dishes with corn or peppers, but a good crisp rosé that’s riding the fence between a white wine and red wine can really cut into a lot of that stuff.”

Here are a few delicious examples we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

DeLille Cellars 2016 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $32: This year, DeLille is using its Bandol-inspired rosé program to help celebrate its 25th anniversary and its award from Wine Press Northwest magazine as Washington Winery of the Year. This quaint chateau in Woodinville blends Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault for a particularly juicy and low-alcohol expression. Mourvèdre is credited with giving the wine its salmon color, while the gorgeous nose of honeysuckle, cherry, pomegranate and quince paste leads to flavors of brambleberry, red currant and strawberry leaf. (14 percent alcohol)

Barnard Griffin 2016 Rosé of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $14: Rob Griffin, the dean of Washington winemakers, ranks among the country’s most talented rosé producers, evidenced by his string of gold medals at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. He focuses on the Italian grape Sangiovese to create classic aromas of strawberry, watermelon and orange zest, which are repeated on the palate with a crisp and lingering finish. (12.9 percent alcohol)

Mercer Estates 2016 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $13: One of the state’s top sites for Malbec is the source for the Mercer family’s Grenache rosé. A 24-hour soaking on the grape skins leads to delicate and dusty aromas and flavors of white strawberry, cranberry and red currant that finish with finesse and almost no perceived residual sugar. (12.5 percent alcohol)

Goose Ridge Vineyards 2016 Estate Rosé, Columbia Valley, $20: Goose Gap winemaker Andrew Wilson pulled hand-harvested Grenache and Mourvèdre from the Monson estate near Richland, fermented the juice to dryness then spent three months on the lees in neutral French oak barrels. The process made for sandalwood and spice aromas with pomegranate. Raspberry and cranberry flavors are joined by plum skin in the finish. (13.8 percent alcohol)

Eye of the Needle Winery 2016 Moments Rosé, Columbia Valley, $15: Woodinville winemaker Bob Bullock, proud member of the 12th Man at CenturyLink, quarterbacks this blush-style pink made with Chenin Blanc and Sangiovese, which will tackle a summertime thirst with its tasty mix of strawberry, Fuji apple and raspberry. It finishes nicely dry at just 0.5% residual sugar, and it merited a gold medal at the 2017 Cascadia Wine Competition. (13.9 percent alcohol)

Underwood 2016 Rosé, Oregon, $14: JP Caldcleugh is responsible for one of the Northwest’s largest productions of rosé, and a sizable amount of the release by the prolific Union Wine Co., will be coming out in 375-milliliter cans. It’s more of a pink wine than rosé because the base blend is Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat. The early whiff of caramel corn transitions into lemonade with a twist of lime, making for a tasty and surprisingly dry drink. (12.5 percent alcohol)

Acrobat Winery 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Oregon, $14: King Estate continues to expand its Acrobat program. Created in the saignée method, it then spent two months on the lees in stainless steel to build mouth feel. Its strawberry-rhubarb color leads to aromas and flavors of strawberry-rhubarb compote with boysenberry acidity and Rainier cherry skin tannins. Enjoy with grilled lamb or chicken rubbed with herbs or barbecue. (14 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company;