2016 Virginia Rosé Report (Part I)

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Sweltering heat. Intense humidity. Dragonfly-sized mosquitos. Beach vacation. Tides baseball games. Copious rosé consumption. Typical summers in Virginia.  

Because Mother Nature is continuing her fickle ways, Virginia pretty much skipped the coveted mild temperatures of spring for the heat and humidity of summer (given the unpredictable weather, we’ll no doubt have a blizzard next week).  

Though my wife and I drink pink year round, our consumption of refreshing, crisp, dry rosés goes up substantially during the hot days of spring and summer.  According to Nielsen’s 2017 Beverage Alcohol Practice report on wine industry trends we’re not alone.

American wine consumers drink 20% more rosé in the warmer months (rises 40% for females age 21-34). Based on the results of the Nielsen study, rosé sales in the U.S. continue significant year-over-year growth, accounting for 1.5% of all table wine sold here.  That’s a lot of pink juice!

Having moved beyond the sweet White Zin style popularized in the 80s, dry and refreshing rosés are fashionable with consumers today and sales show no signs of slowing.

Though rosé sales are not tracked independent of total Virginia wine sales, many winemakers I spoke to say consumer demand for the pink stuff continues to grow and many wineries are increasing production.

Wineries across the state are beginning to release light whites and rosés from the 2016 vintage.

Unusually warm temperatures in late March then freezing temperatures and hard frosts in April (that killed primary buds in a number of vineyards), a July hail storm, heat spike in August and the typical harvest rains made for a challenging 2016.

Weird’ and ‘challenging’ were the two adjectives winemakers used most often to describe the 2016 vintage during recent conversations.

Since rosé and light whites like Pinot Gris are not generally a good reflection of vintage (there are exceptions, of course) it will be some time before we get a taste of the weird 2016 vintage.  

In the meantime, there are lots of light, crisp, dry, refreshing… and delicious 2016 rosés are available.

Following are a dozen of my favorites from a recent tasting of twenty-eight 2016 Virginia rosés.  Six of these were tasted on April 13 as part of last month’s Virginia Wine Chat and the others were tasted with our wine group.

SOUTHERN VIRGINIA

Rosemont of Virginia Vineyards, La Crosse, VA
Of the underrated wineries in Virginia that do not receive deserved recognition from wine media, Rosemont ranks at the top (along with Bluestone Vineyard, Philip Carter Winery, North Gate and a few others). Winemaker Justin Rose is making fantastic, thoughtful wines from 100% estate-grown fruit in southern, VA, situated between interstates 95 and 85 on the north side of Lake Gaston. The 450-acre Rosemont property has been in the Rose Family since 1858.  The Roses planted 22-acres to 12 varieties in 2003.

Rosemont 2016 rosé.  ($17)  
Made from 100% Chambourcin grapes grown at the Rosemont estate for rosé production.  This intentional rosé is made from 70% of first press juice from whole-cluster pressed grapes. The 2016 Rosemont rosé is darker and richer than previous years due to more concentrated fruit from a heat spike in August and there is less of it because of two late April frosts that killed 40% of the Chambourcin crop.

I am generally not a fan of wines made from Chambourcin but Rosemont’s rosé is delicious, year-after-year. Dark watermelon color in the glass, offering notes of rosé petal (there’s pun here somewhere) and mineral around a core of mouth-watering ripe raspberry.  Zippy tart strawberry acidity.  Customers can find Rosemont 2016 rosé soon at the winery tasting room or website.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

Veritas Vineyards & Winery, Afton, VA
What started as a passion project for Andrew and Patricia Hodson with a five acre planting in 1999 is today one of the most noted family wineries in Virginia. Today, the Hodsons, along with their two daughters and son, farm over 50 acres of vineyards and are known for producing world-class wines at Veritas.  Emily Pelton (daughter of Andrew and Patricia), took over winemaking 15 vintages ago after completing a Masters degree in oenology at Virginia Tech, crafts elegant, thoughtful wines vintage-after-vintage.

2016 Rosé ($18)
Two weeks ago I visited the Loire Valley and Languedoc region in the south of France. Refreshing, drinkable and delicious rosés of the region that evoked warm summer evening ocean breezes provided a pleasant surprise during my time there. This elegant Veritas rosé evokes that same summer evening breeze, local seafood and ocean views.  A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot (via saignée), this wine has a pretty pale watermelon color.  Opens with aromas of ripe strawberries, saline and nectarine, followed by stone and white flowers. Zingy on the palate with flavors of tart strawberry, white peach skin, and cherry; crisp, clean acidity. Lovely cherry and oyster shell finish. Drink this with pretty much any meal or as an aperitif!  Purchase this elegant rosé here.

King Family Vineyards, Crozet, VA
Winemaker Matthieu Finot, who is from the Croze Hermitage region of France, may be best known for his serious red Meritage blends but he also makes a delicious and drinkable rosé.  And lots of it! Given the demand from consumers, Finot made over 2,000 cases of 2016 Crosé.

2016 Crosé ($19.95)
This Merlot-based rosé (blended with 9% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) is light, crisp and dry; lovely pale salmon color; aromas of watermelon and citrus jump from the glass. The palate is redolent of a farmers market of fruit — peach, grapefruit, cherry, unripe strawberry, and lime zest. Lovely pink grapefruit acidity.  A few tastes of this elegant rosé and it’s easy to understand how King Family Vineyards sells two thousand cases each year.  Perfect to pair with a warm afternoon polo match on the King Family Vineyards grounds or on the deck with friends. Order this wine here.

Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison, VA
As much as any winery in the state, Early Mountain has grown in quality and importance in the last five years.  Since purchasing the former Sweely Estate in 2011, owners Jean and Steve Case and their team have implemented a best of Virginia program that showcases some of the top wines across the state, and solidified their commitment to long-term vineyard and winemaking quality by hiring noted winemaker Ben Jordan in June 2015 and Maya Hood White as Oenologist & Vineyard Manager (who makes some crazy good Pet-Nat!).

Quaker Run Vineyards 2016 Rosé ($24)
A blend of 60% Merlot, 25% Syrah, 10% CF, 5% Malbec from Quaker Run Vineyards in Madison. Beautiful light pink color, this rosé is fresh, light, and full of watermelon and raspberry; redolent of a country road-side fruit stand. Seriously drinkable, this was the overall favorite rosé among the group. Calls for a watermelon salad and a warm evening on the deck with friends. About 1,000 cases produced. Find this rosé here.

Blenheim Vineyards, Charlottesville, VA
2016 Rosé ($17)
Add this 2016 rosé to the list of fantastic wines Kirsty Harmon offers at Blenheim. Vintage after vintage, Harmon continues to deliver world-class, accessible wines across the entire Blenheim lineup.  An intentional rosé made from 46% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah. Vibrant coral hue with aromas of raspberry, red apple skin, strawberry, and melon.  Racy red berry acidity; zingy pink grapefruit finish.  Buy lots of this wine for tomato sandwiches and for pre-dinner sipping. Order this wine at the Blenheim site.

Horton Vineyards, Orange County, VA
True to the pioneering roots of founder Dennis Horton, who was the first to plant Viognier and other important grapes in the state, Horton Vineyards is finding success with this Northern Italian variety.  Horton planted the Nebbiolo used to make this rosé in 1995.

2016 Nebbiolo Rosé Private Reserve ($25)
Winemaker Mike Heny, who joined the Horton team in the mid-90s, made this rosé from 100% Nebbiolo via direct press.  Nebbiolo can be challenging to work with in Virginia; of all the grapes grown at Horton, Nebbiolo buds the earliest (along with Chardonnay) and the last to harvest (along with Norton).  This 2016 marks the third vintage Horton has produced a 100% Nebbiolo rosé.  Watermelon in color with brick-orange tinge, this wine delivers loads of strawberry, cranberry and watermelon with lingering notes of herbs. Racy red berry acidity. A dry, slightly musky finish. Enjoy with burgers on the grill!  Purchase this wine.

Trump Winery, Charlottesville, VA
With 210 acres of under vine, Trump Winery is home to the largest estate vineyard in Virginia. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler (who was also winemaker under the former Kluge Winery) and his team planted 7.5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and 7.5 acres of Viognier earlier this year and have plans to add 15 acres of Petit Verdot next year.  Wheeler may be best known for crafting elegant vintage sparkling wines but this rosé and other still wines are delicious.

2016 rosé ($19)
This blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Pinot Noir (all estate fruit) is a mix of direct press and bleeding; stainless steel fermented. Pale watermelon color. Nose of grapefruit, strawberry, peach skin and floral notes. Crisp on the palate with strawberry, stone, watermelon and lingering watermelon flavors; lively red berry acidity. Straightforward and refreshing. Purchase this wine here.

Loving Cup
One of the most compelling stories in Virginia wine, Loving Cup is the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Old Dominion. Like many vineyards throughout the state, the organic vineyards at Loving Cup suffered two hard freezes in late April killing 100% of their primary shoots and reducing overall crop to one-third of anticipated yields.  Because of the loss, owner and winemaker Karl Hambsch did not make any 2016 reds.  Instead all the red wine grapes were whole cluster pressed for rosé.

Dudley Nose rosé 2016 ($22)
A blend 58% Corot Noir and 42% Marquette hybrid grape varieties, this rosé is pomegranate colored with orange hues.  Aromas of cranberry and pomegranate lead to ripe strawberry and dark cherry flavors in the mouth; off-dry.  A substantial rosé.  Pair with a cheddar grilled cheese and a warm afternoon.  

‘Dudley nose’ is the term for lack of pigmentation in the noses of some dogs (most often it is pink). The Hambsch family donates a of portion of proceeds from sales of Dudley Nose rosé to the Almost Home Pet Adoption Center, no-kill shelter in Nelson County that rescues and finds homes for nearly 1,000 cats and dogs each year.  Order here.

Afton Mountain Vineyards, Afton, VA
Nestled in the rolling hills west of Charlottesville, Afton Mountain Vineyards is one of the first farm wineries in the state. Tony and Elizabeth Smith purchased the property in 2009, and have since expanded the vineyard plantings from ~13-acres to 25-acres under vine, planted to 15 varieties.  The Smiths, along with winemaker Damien Blanchon (who hails from Perpignan in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France), are producing a range of excellent wines, including this rosé.

Rosé 2016 ($20)
A blend of 57% Pinot Noir and 43% Cabernet Franc, vinified separately and then blended; aged four months in stainless steel. Beautiful pale watermelon color with salmon hues. Fresh on the nose with citrus, watermelon and rosé petals. Flavors of bright cherry, melon, apricot with white tea and pepper notes lingering on the finish.  An elegant rosé. Seriously drinkable.  Just 375 cases produced. Purchase this wine here.

 

LOUDOUN COUNTY
Located about 40 minutes northwest of Washington, DC, Loudoun County is home to over 40 wineries and tasting rooms.  Most wineries in the region offer a rosé.

Breaux Vineyards, Purcellville, VA
Officially opened in 1997, the 404-acre Breaux Vineyards estate in Purcellville includes 104 acres under vine, one of the largest estate vineyards in the Commonwealth. Today, Breaux Vineyards is one of the most recognized estate wineries on the east coast of the U.S., best known for Nebbiolo and Viognier.  Two 2016 Breaux rosés were tasted as part of the April 2017 edition of Virginia Wine Chat.

Breaux Vineyards 2016 rosé ($24).
This blend of 38% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 21% Cab Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, and 7% Petit Verdot is a lovely salmon color in the glass, offering notes of strawberries, orange peel and herbs de provence.  Would pair nicely with a herbed margherita pizza.  Purchase this rosé here.

Breaux Vineyards 2016 Cellar Selection Nebbiolo ($26)
Made from 100% estate-grown Nebbiolo this is one of the tastiest rosés I’ve had from Virginia.  Light salmon color in the glass, this wine offers layered notes of raspberry, strawberry, orange peel, pepper and hints of herbs de Provence. Zippy tart cherry acidity; mineral-grapefruit finish. A complex, delicious and drinkable rosé!  Buy this rosé here.

LOUDOUN COUNTY — MIDDLEBURG AVA (Mosby Cluster)

Boxwood Estate Winery, Middleburg, VA
I first tasted Boxwood wines at the 2010 Drink Local Wine conference and have been a big fan of their wines since. Founded by John Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins, the Boxwood property is a National Historic Landmark.  Boxwood EVP Rachel Martin lead the establishment of the Middleburg AVA that includes 24 wineries and eight vineyards.  Acclaimed Bordeaux winemaking consultant Stephane Derenoncourt and noted viticulturist Lucie Morton provide expertise in crafting the wines at Boxwood.

2016 Rosé ($19)
A blend of 41% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 12% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot from Boxwood’s estate vineyard. One-third from whole cluster pressed Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the remaining two-thirds is saignée from Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. The result is a delicious wine! Pale salmon color, this rosé is crisp, refreshing with notes of strawberry, tart watermelon (taste near the rind), and hints of pepper on the finish. Won’t last long; purchase this wine here.

 

NORTHERN VIRGINIA — FAUQUIER COUNTY

Philip Carter Winery, Hume, VA (Fauquier County)
Situated on 27 acres of rolling hills in Fauquier County, Philip Carter Winery opened in 2008.  Founder Philip Carter’s family has deep roots in Virginia and a historically significant connection to local wine.  In 1762 Charles Carter sent a dozen bottles of wine made from grapes grown at his estate to the London Society for the Encouragement of the Arts.  The Society awarded Carter a gold medal in recognition of being the first person to make a “spirited attempt towards the accomplishment of their views, respecting wine in America.”   (read more about the Carter family’s history here)

Rosewell 2016 Rosé ($26)
True to the family’s deep roots in Virginia, each Philip Carter wine label bears the name of a historically significant figure or property (one can learn a lot about Virginia history by researching the story behind each PCW wine name).  This rosé is named for the ruins of the historic Rosewell mansion built in the early 18th century that is located Gloucester County.  In 1916, a fire gutted the historic mansion, leaving only the outer brick walls, but is still a popular attraction for history enthusiasts.

This Merlot-based rosé (70% Merlot, 20% Vidal Blanc, 10% of Cab Franc/Tannat) is light salmon-colored; redolent of strawberry and rhubarb with hints of crushed rock and dried orange peel. The 2016 Rosewell rosé will officially be released Mother’s Day weekend.  

These are just a few of the many rosés available in local tasting rooms across the state. Look for just-released or soon-to-be-released rosés from Chatham Vineyards on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, DuCard Vineyards, The Williamsburg Winery, Barrel Oak in Delaplane (they are releasing two rosés this year), and Glen Manor Vineyards in the Front Royal area.

Drink Virginia Pink!

If you would like to see a local rosé reviewed in Part II of the Virginia Rosé Report, please email me.

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