California Rose

Provence Put Rosé Wine on the Map, but California Keeps it Interesting.

By Published On: April 13th, 2022

Rosé is made in every growing region in the state and at every price point. 

Don’t get me wrong: the first sips that made me fall head over heels in love with the pink drink were from Provence. I’m not alone: of the 60 million bottles of Vins de Provence exported, 40% landed in American hands. Ballet-slipper pink, Provence rosé is a blend of grapes that might include Cinsault, Grenache, 

Mourvѐdre, Syrah, Tibouren, and Rolle/Vermentino. Provence rosé is dry, with flavors of strawberries, grapefruit, watermelon rind, mint. Ridiculously refreshing, it is dangerously chuggable on a sunny summer afternoon. 

Like Paris, croissants, and Chanel No. 5, Provence rosé will always have a place in my life. 

And yet. California’s boundary- and button-pushing spins on rosé keep this enthusiast thirsting for more. While classic Provençal-style California rosés abound, there are just as many outré versions expanding the notion of what pink wine can be. 

Shades of California

California rosés range in color from the palest of pink to dark, rich, and hot shades of light-red. The darker the rosé, the longer the juice spent in contact with the skins after the grapes were pressed; that extra color also delivers depth of flavor. 

While there are no rules about what grapes rosé can be made from, the most popular include Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvѐdre, and Zinfandel. 

  • Light rosé is typically traditional, Old World–style, with flavors of strawberries and melon. I love drinking this type solo or with fresh chѐvre, sliced watermelon, light salads. Think picnics, sunset strolls. I try to consume these upon release. In California, the light iterations are frequently made with Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Mourvѐdre, and Pinot Noir. 
  • Medium rosé is slightly darker, with sunset hues and sometimes even an orange edge. Here, the flavors are deeper, with notes of ripe red cherries, raspberries, dried Mediterranean herbs, August roses. I love this with grilled chicken or roasted shrimp and lemon pasta. Think date night, evenings on the patio. These rosés are fabulous upon release, but it’s fun to see them evolve and deepen in complexity over a year. Many California wines in this style are made with Pinot Noir or Grenache.
  • Full-bodied rosé is darker still, leaning away from pink toward red. Here there are more raspberries, pomegranates, bright spice notes. This style works well with flank steak and flavorful fish dishes like roasted salmon or wild mushrooms. Think family meals on the deck, an early-evening poolside tête-à-tête. Fantastically age-worthy, this rosé will easily stand up to two years in the cellar. I’ve been sipping some compelling full-bodied wines  from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Merlot.
  • Savory rosé, the most extreme version of rosé, can be mistaken for a light red. Here, you’ll get darker fruit, a lot more spice, even a hint of olive. I love sipping these with pizza, richer and meatier pasta dishes, perhaps barbecue. Think special occasion, whimsical pours. These savory rosés are powerhouses upon release but mellow out and deepen with softer flavors over time. My favorites are made from Syrah. 

Golden State Rebels 

Sweet rosé. Yes, it’s a thing—just not me.

I prefer dry rosé, but in the interest of a well-rounded review of California pink, I’d be remiss not to mention the sweet stuff. The state has a rich history of cranking out pink drink. Lodi vintner George West is known for making the first white Zin in 1869; and Napa’s Sutter Home popularized sweet pink wine in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Later, wine merchant Kermit Lynch introduced Americans to the (Provençal) stuff. But if sweet wine is your jam,  some well-respected rosés are made in an “off-dry” style, with 3–5 grams of residual sugar (natural sugar remaining in a wine after fermentation), from our old friend Zinfandel. You’ll find notes of cotton candy, watermelon Jolly Ranchers, melons of all hues. If I’m being honest, I never turn down a cold glass, especially with spicy takeout noodles. It’s perfect for book-club sessions with dishy gossip and greasy takeout. 

And in what has to be one of my favorite all-time California power moves, some winemakers have upended white Zin’s tricky past, producing serious, dry, oak-aged rosés from Zinfandel. Yet another reason why I’ll always be checking out what the Golden State is growing, fermenting, and bottling. 

Rosé is made in every growing region in the state and at every price point.  I look for the sweet spot—around $20–$25—and every year, I seek out new producers and grape types. 

A glass of hot pink, aged Girgnolino rosé? Don’t mind if I do. 

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