Taste-off: Carneros rosés


Ah, summer. Long, lazy days basking in the sun … oh, who am I kidding. At best it gets to 70ºF here. But there’s one summer treat I do like to indulge in regardless: Pink wines.

Now, I’m not talking about your sticky-sweet White Zinfandel [shudder], though some would argue that a glass of that, over ice on a blazing hot day is not unwelcome. But again, see above about the weather.

No, rather, I am referring to the pretty, pert and sometimes petulant rosé wines so popular in Europe yet all too often overlooked stateside. The French and Spanish are particularly fond of these wines, especially as a complement to summer lunches. I remember steaming-hot days in Barcelona, sipping rosato wines, almost unbelievably dry and crisp and redolent of ripe strawberries and pears.

Clearly, I’m not the only one with an appreciation for these lovelies. Paul at Champion Wine speaks directly from my own heart:

"…The word hedonist is often used to describe red wines that taste more
like pancake syrup than wine. In my world, rosé is the definition of
hedonistic – crisp, refreshing, light and lively. The kind of wine that
sings – an echo of the setting sun, an instant reminder of warm weather
and days outdoors…."

Did someone say hedonistic?

And so, after a recent trip up to wineries up in Carneros, we came back with a carful of gem-like pink bottles, just dying to be sipped. But though Paul states that pink wines are meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed, I couldn’t resist staging a little taste-off with a few good friends.

Carneros, for those not local, is the region spanning the southern reaches of both Sonoma and Napa counties, hugging the northern boundary of San Francisco Bay. Because of its proximity to the water, it enjoys a cooler, foggier climate, and so is ideal for grapes that require less intense conditions. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the primary crops here.

A word about the tasters:

Donna and Dennis have a penchant for northern Italian wines, particularly those of the Piemonte region, having spent a fair amount of time in that area. Jim would step over his own grandmother for a good Barolo. Matthew isn’t partial to any one region of varietal, though I would venture to say his is the most sensitive schnozz among us. DPaul, historically, had a thing for big zins, but lately has turned to lighter wines. And me, I’ve long been a pinot-holic (well before that movie), and have only in the last few years introduced whites, much less pinks, into my repertory.

I would categorize us all squarely in the camp of wine consumers rather than wine afficionados. Still, we know what we like. And so, armed with three chilled bottles, some crudely scribbled-upon paper bags and a scoring sheet lifted from a website, I coerced my friends into some comparative analysis of three rosés, all produced within a few miles of each other.


I doodled three large numbers on the plain-brown wrappers, but in fact I should have labeled them A-B-C, for the wines at hand were:

  • Acacia 2005 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($20)
  • Bouchaine 2005 Rosé de Syrah ($18)
  • Cuvaison 2005 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($16)

We scored wines on a 1-5 scale across five characteristics: Appearance, Aroma, Body, Taste and Finish.

Acacia’s rosé was nicely clear, with a salmon blush that somewhat unusually tended to black on the edges. It was the crispest of the lot, with faint aromas of strawberry, raspberry and grapefruit.

Bouchaine was the big boy of the bunch, a robust rosé with an intense, almost magenta color. Like the Acacia, it has solid raspberry notes but leaned toward cherry, and had a clean, dry finish. "I could sip this all afternoon," said Jim.

Cuvaison charmed with pale carnation color and crystal clarity, by far the clearest of the lot. The bouquet was floral as well as fruity, and it had a nice acidity on the palate, making it the most food-friendly of the bunch, especially with, say, a nice goat cheese and some olives.

And the winner is …

… or rather the winners are. Bouchaine and Cuvaison tied with 113 points total each; Acacia came in a relatively distant third with just 94 points. I won’t bore with the breakouts, but I will share a few interesting statistics:

Bouchaine led the pack in the most categories, taking top marks in Appearance, Body and Finish. It blew the other wines out of the water in the Appearance category with an aggregate rating of 28, the highest ranking across any category. Interestingly, it ranked lowest in Taste with 16, by contrast the lowest ranking across all categories. It came in as the favorite for Jim, Dennis and me.

Cuvaison had the most consistent (and consistently high) rankings, winning both Aroma and Taste. Paul, Donna and Matthew ultimately liked it best of all.

Acacia was no one’s favorite and took top honors in no category. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfectly good wine — we wouldn’t have bought it if it were. It’s just that, on that particular sunny, warm day in Hillsborough, among these six particular tasters, it just wasn’t as good as the other two.

So there it is: Three summer-ready rosés ripe for the sipping. And all you have to do is get yourself to Carneros to pick up a few of your own.

  • Diane

    Hooray for pink wine! There are quite a few lovely versions out here. I’ve become quite partial to the Big House Pink (inexpensive and ubiquitous) though I also have two “higher-end favorites”: Silver Mountain Winery (Santa Cruz Mountains) and Breggo (Anderson Valley). I’m shooting myself in the foot for mentioning either, but they are both *lovely*.

  • Oh yes, Big House Pink is quite nice indeed. I’m also partial to Quivira Grenache Rosé. But Bouchaine definitely has my heart …

  • What timing! Last night we enjoyed that bottle of Bouchaine you shared with us. It was quite delish.

  • Glad you enjoyed it!

  • I’m glad you’re not afraid of the pinks!
    Big fan of them myself, and always disappointed when otherwise well informed and well intentioned wine drinkers refuse to entertain the notion of a delicious summertime rose.
    Another one we had recently was the Pinot Noir Rose from Toulouse in Mendocino. Definitely hedonistic!

  • After consuming waaaaay too much white zinfandel and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill in college, I thought I’d never drink pink wine again. But last summer rose was everywhere and I became a quick convert–it’s my favorite summer drink. I wonder if they sell Bouchaine and Cuvaison here in NYC? They both sound so refreshing.

  • Hi Sean,
    So fun meeting you! Thanks so much for stopping by, and thanks again for the strawberry jam. The card is on its way to Ilva but she doesn’t know it unless she reads this comment.

  • I’m so happy you are standing up for this lovely wine. I’ve tried to convince people of their charms, but they think all Rosé is pedestrian. Lovely picture!

  • kudzu

    Lovely suggestions – and thanks for doing the homework (which sounds nothing but pleasant)…I made a quick stop at The Spanish Table in Mill Valley last week to pick up something in a rush and was stopped in my tracks by some incredibly beautiful tall bottles of rose wines, clear and jewel-like. Will go back to pick some up! I think roses are perfect summer companions.

  • Tea

    My gosh, one glance at that top photo and I thought I was in Provence for a second (never a bad thing). Lovely.

  • I love Carneros!! In fact, I just interviewed Eileen Crane, the President and Wine Maker. She is an amazing woman… just like her wines!
    btw – Love your site!