During our recent trip to Santa Barbara’s wine country we tasted several rosés for our forthcoming annual rosé report. While Santa Barbara isn’t yet recognized for its rosé wines, several producers are crafting delicious wines that merit serious attention. We especially liked the rosés of Beckmen, Clos Pepe, Dragonette, Ojai Vineyard, and Presq’ile. These and the other rosés we review below are great aperitif wines, but they also go superbly with a wide variety of foods, as we’ve written about elsewhere.
What makes Santa Barbara rosé so special? Geography is obviously part of the explanation. Its unique topography of east-west running coastal mountains allows the cold winds of the Pacific an unimpeded passage inland, giving the vineyards of the Santa Rita Hills, the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Maria Valley low temperatures and an extra long growing season. These translate into low yields, sometimes surprisingly low, and the high levels of natural acidity essential for high quality rosé.
Santa Barbara also enjoys a wide range of altitudes, proximity to and exposure to the sea, and soils that vary from alluvial on the benchlands to sandy loamed ancient sand dunes to white, diatomaceous earth and even areas of limestone in Ballard Canyon. These diverse growing conditions create hospitable conditions for a number of different grape varieties used to make rosés around the world.
Of course, terroir alone does not make great rosés; they also require superb winemaking, and the making of rosé allows for many possibilities. Most rosé is made in the saignée style, which entails bleeding free-run juice off grapes being macerated for red wine. This technique has the advantage that it produces a light-colored rosé while concentrating the colors and flavors of the red wine.
However, we find the best rosé is made like a white wine in which the grape juice and skin are macerated for a period long enough to extract the desired amount of color before fermentation. This technique allows the winemaker to harvest red grapes earlier than she would for a red wine with resulting lower sugar, lower alcohol, and higher acidity, often resulting in a rosé of exceptional lightness and elegance. The most serious rosé producers plant specific parcels for rosé and manage them differently than they would for red wine. Our favorite rosés, made by Beckmen, Clos Pepe, Dragonette, Ojai Vineyard, and Presq’ile, all macerate their rosés like white wines instead of using the saignée method.
Tasting Notes and Ratings
Beckmen 2012 Grenache Rosé Purisima Mountain Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley ($20) 90 The Grenache Rosé is a blend of 82% Grenache with small amounts of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Counoise. Light salmon pink in color it reveals aromas of delicate strawberry and minerals. It has good concentration of red berry fruit flavor with excellent balance and acidity and nice dryness on the finish. Destemmed, crushed and fermented mainly in stainless steel. Made from specific rose-designated vineyard blocks and directly pressed.
Clos Pepe Brut Rosé Santa Rita Hills ($49) 90+ This 100% Pinot Noir sparkler shows steely, mineral, yeast and nutty aromas that carry over to the palate. It’s elegant, crisp and very dry in the mouth, finishing with a cherry fruit note. The fruit comes from the coldest, most frost prone section of the Clos Pepe vineyard. Canopy management differs from regular Pinot Noir with more leaf pulling to give the grapes as much sun as possible, and the fruit is picked early, before any heat spikes, at about 19 Brix. Norm Yost of the Flying Goat makes this wine.
Costa de Oro 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley ($20) 89 This is a full, big rosé showing ripe red berries and a hint of earth, fermented completely dry. Made from the first-picked fruit that spends less than 12 hours on the skins and is then bled off, spending about 4 months in neutral oak. It doesn’t go through malo.
Dragonette Cellars 2012 Rosé Happy Canyon ($20) 91 The high natural acidity of Santa Barbara reveals itself in this refreshing, crisp rosé that is fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and neutral oak barrique.A blend of 75% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah, the wine shows refined light red berry fruit aromas and flavors and a crisp finish. The Grenache and Mouvedre are grown especially for rosé at the Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon. The 5% saignée Syrah is added later.
Hartley-Ostini 2012 Hitching Post Pink’s Rosé Central Coast ($15) 88 Beautiful bright red-pink in color, this barrel-fermented rosé is unique in its blend of grapes. The wine is softly textured with fresh, simple and flavorful red berry notes. A blend of 47% Grenache, 5% Pinot Noir, and 48% Valdiguie.
La Fenetre 2012 A Côté Rosé Santa Barbara County ($15) 88 Bright red berry fruit shows on this pretty and pure rosé. It’s soft on the attack and clean with moderate acidity. Made saignée style from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Bien Nacido, Presqu’ile and Riverbench vineyards, it’s barrel fermented with arrested malo.
Longoria 2011 Pink Wine Cuvée June Santa Barbara County ($18) 87 Pink salmon in color, this wine shows dried cherry and strawberry scents. It’s soft and mellow with ripe flavors but dry on the finish. A blend of Syrah from the Estelle Vineyard and Grenache from Clover Creek Vineyard.
Ojai Vineyard 2012 Rosé Santa Barbara County ($20) 90 Pale salmon in color, this predominantly Syrah rosé reveals rose petals and tangerine skin on the nose that are mirrored on the palate with the addition of a light red raspberry note. The wine is balanced and fresh with good persistence on the finish. All whole clusters and barrel fermented with partial malo, this rosé is made like a white wine with red grapes grown specifically for making rosé and picked at low brix to capture the acidity. The Syrah comes mostly from the Roll ranch in Ojai with a lesser amount of Grenache coming from the Bien Nacido and Sebastiano vineyards.
Presqu’ile 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé Santa Maria Valley ($18) 90+ Dark salmon orange in color, this rosé reveals a hint of tangerine and herbs (from whole cluster pressing) on the nose and a nice rich, creamy palate, again with tangerine and herbal notes and bright acidity. This wine is made from whole cluster Pinot Noir, not bled. It spends only 90 minutes on the skins before fermentation in stainless steel. It has a chalky mineral finish.
Samsara 2011 Grenache de Rosé Santa Ynez Valley ($18) 88 This is a very flavorful wine showing ripe red cherries and a spritzy, flamboyant palate with quite high alcohol (14°) for a Santa Barbara rosé. The ripeness of the fruit combined with biting acidity seems a bit unbalanced to us. However, this is quite a unique style that will appeal to those who like very flavorful, big rosés. Made from fruit of the Windmill Ranch in Ballard Canyon.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler