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Is This Rosé?

September 29, 2022

Story: Zachary Sussman

photo: Lizzie Munro


Is This Rosé?

September 29, 2022

Story: Zachary Sussman

photo: Lizzie Munro

Copper-hued, flor-aged, built to cellar—the style’s experimental side is proving there’s more to the category than simply commerce.

If David Berman, the late singer-songwriter of Silver Jews fame, was correct when he penned the lyrics “Punk rock died when the first kid said ‘Punk’s not dead,’” it could be argued that the millennial rosé craze expired the moment the first Instagrammer posted that now-ubiquitous hashtag, #RoséAllDay.

Now that we’re enjoying some critical distance between the throes of the rosé obsession and its subsequent backlash, an undeniable truth has become manifest. Sure, there’s still plenty of “meh” rosé out there, much of it made in the fashionably pale mold promulgated by Provence. But even amid the White Girls and Whispering Angels, rosé has officially come of age. In fact, the recent spotlight on the category has prompted a wider curiosity about the historical breadth and relevance of what is, after all, one of the world’s oldest wine styles.

It turns out rosé has even acquired its own experimental avant-garde that, both in theory and in practice, seeks to overthrow the usual “beach wine” stereotypes to challenge our very notions of what makes a rosé a rosé.

To clarify, this isn’t going to be another impassioned appeal for the wider social acceptance of darker-hued rosés. More than just pigment, what defines the new alternative canon is a question of intent. As Punch contributor and Pinch Chinese beverage director Miguel de Leon aptly notes, “You can make rosé for art or for commerce.”

Much of the rosé circulating through the supply chain follows an industrial, cash flow–efficient formula for churning out a lot of product very quickly. The savory, structured, often-oxidative examples that make up rosé’s fringe, however, willfully invert that model. Many signify a return to the way rosé was made in the past: Fermentations occur naturally, without cultured yeasts, often in large wooden casks rather than stainless steel tanks; producers avoid fining agents or filtration for color management; instead of the usual rush to market, wines can rest in barrel for months or even years before release.

“Ten years ago, if you didn’t fit this extremely narrow definition of what rosé was supposed to be, you would’ve had a major problem."

If any single producer could claim to be the poster child of this paradigm, it would be Provence’s iconic Clos Cibonne. To adopt de Leon’s phrase, the centuries-old estate’s pungent, salty, slightly orange-tinted offerings were among “the industry’s first entry points” to life beyond mainstream rosé. Championing the obscure tibouren grape—an all-but-forgotten local variety nearly wiped out by the shift to bulk production—and distinguished by the old-school practice of aging its wines in ancient wooden foudres under a “flower” (or fleurette or flor) of yeast, Cibonne entered the U.S. market in the early 2010s and quickly earned a dedicated fan base.

According to Sophie Barrett, manager of Manhattan’s Chambers Street Wines at the time, Clos Cibonne resonated with an audience that was also developing a taste for sherry, orange wine and Jura whites. “I recall that the story of the wine being aged under flor, like sherry or vin jaune, was originally one of the major selling points,” says Barrett.

Along with a few fellow touchstones—notably, Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva from Rioja’s R. López de Heredia, now a highly allocated rarity—Clos Cibonne’s rise to sommelier stardom helped expand the popular understanding of what rosé could be. “It took a producer like Clos Cibonne, and others like it, to prove that there could be an audience for that kind of cerebral, complex, ageable rosé,” Barrett explains.

Clearly, that calculus proved remarkably prescient. Today’s rosé lover can choose from a wider and more eccentric range of options than ever. “Maybe the wines we’re seeing lack that perfect, pristine color certain consumers want,” says Eric Moorer, director of sales at Washington, D.C.’s Domestique Wines. “But they’re complex and nuanced, and above all they communicate the winemaker’s vision for the region they’re working in.”

It would be impossible to account for every outpost of this revival, but an obvious place to start is the south of France. Even in Provence, the most aggro purveyor of “summer water” fantasies, there’s always been more to the story than Cibonne. The mourvèdre-based rosés from Bandol’s Château Pradeaux, for example, have long served as a reference point for “real” Provençal rosé. The same applies to Château Simone, the crown jewel of the tiny appellation of Palette, whose elegant, age-worthy bottling remains a benchmark of rosé greatness. Then there’s the Rhône’s Tavel, another canonical source of full-bodied rosé. Here, rising stars such as Romain le Bars and Ad Vinum winemaker Sébastien Chatillon, along with a handful of other protegés of natural wine legend Eric Pfifferling (of Domaine L’Anglore fame), have updated the area’s classic style through a fashionably minimalist lens.

Northern France, too, has its strongholds. From the Burgundian village of Marsannay, Sylvain Pataille’s old-vine Fleur de Pinot pays homage to the complex, barrel-aged rosés that were once the area’s claim to fame. Meanwhile, in Alsace, grayish-pink grapes like gewürztraminer and pinot gris yield wines like the musky, pomegranate-colored Phénix from Domaine Geschickt. And while pink Champagne needs no introduction, the southern commune of Les Riceys specializes in a robust, tangy style of still wine that blurs the boundary between rosé and light red. (Rising star Olivier Horiot makes some of the best.)


For Great Rosé, Dial Germany and Austria

The two countries have cemented themselves as the source of some of the world's best, and most affordable, rosé. Here are the bottles to stock right now.

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Ameztoi Txakoli Rubentis Rose

A Rosé So Divine They Call It Baby Jesus

Over the last decade and a half, Ameztoi Rubentis has maintained one of the most loyal, and unlikely, cult followings in wine.

Courtesy of a country whose rosé stylings have never shied away from a bit of extraction or tannin, the wide world of Italian rosato is equally ripe for discovery. Highlights include Abruzzo’s cherry-hued Cerasuolo (as interpreted by minimalists Francesco Cirelli and Nicoletta de Fermo); Sicily’s entire modern avant-garde (see: Cornelissen, Calabretta, Alessandro Viola); and, of course, northern Italian ramato, produced by soaking pinot grigio on the skins to arrive at wines that walk an ambiguous line between rosé and orange wine. See also: the big-boned, fleshy lagrein-based rosato from Alto Adige’s arch-traditional Nusserhof estate. 

Unsurprisingly, Germany and Austria have surfaced as key players as well. On the German side, Baden’s cult winemaking duo Enderle & Moll produces a faintly oxidized, basket-pressed spätburgunder (aka pinot noir) rosé that offers up a counterpoint to the country’s reputation for delicate, technically precise rosé. It’s Austria’s fringe, however, that has arguably contributed most to this canon, buoyed by the work of such leading naturalists as Kremstal’s Christoph Hoch, Kamptal’s Martin and Anna Arndorfer and Weingut Jurtschitsch, Styria’s Franz Strohmeier and Maria and Sepp Muster, and Burgenland’s Gut Oggau and Christian Tschida, among others too diverse to name. The resulting raft of experimental rosés from native grapes like zweigelt, blaufränkisch, and the rare blauer wildbacher continues to claim its place in the zeitgeist.

It’s become difficult to keep up with all of rosé’s new frontiers. We haven’t even touched upon the latest dispatches from Eastern Europe (in particular, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), or the current vogue for field blends and co-ferments that has revived the tradition of rosé-adjacent reds like Spanish clarete. For those of us on this side of the Atlantic, however, one of the most exciting offshoots of this revolution is the creative license it has provided to producers across the United States, who have taken to experimenting with homegrown tributes of their own.

It was none other than Clos Cibonne’s flagship bottling that inspired Cameron and Marlen Porter of California’s Amplify Wines to create their biologically aged Four on the Flor Santa Ynez Valley Rosé, first produced in 2016. “Their rosé was a revelation to us,” Cameron Porter explains. “We wanted to craft our own version from local fruit that would display those flor-derived characteristics without lacking for varietal character or a sense of place.” 

Their example is just one of many. From the Oregon coast to the woods of Vermont, new-wave winemakers haven’t shied away from such intrinsically weird efforts as Hiyu Wine Farm’s Aura, a hazy skin-fermented blend of Columbia Gorge pinot noir and pinot gris, or the Lupo in Bocca En Fleurette from Vermont’s La Garagista, a flor-aged take on the hybrid frontenac gris grape. To Matthew Rorick of California’s Forlorn Hope winery, who models his grippy copper-hued Dragone Ramato after the Slovenian examples he discovered in the late aughts, it’s all a testament to how radically—and rapidly—the market for pink wine has matured.

“Ten years ago, if you didn’t fit this extremely narrow definition of what rosé was supposed to be, you would’ve had a major problem,” Rorick says. “It’s amazing to be able to try making some of these styles, knowing that there’s actually interest out there.”

A Taste of Rosé’s Fringe

Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Cuvée Tradition 2020

While Clos Cibonne’s signature style reaches an apotheosis in its old-vine Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes, for many drinkers it’s this, the estate’s flagship bottling, that initially redefined their notions of what rosé can be. Never meant to dominate the wine’s underlying expression, here the effects of flor-aging integrate seamlessly into a rich copper-tinted wine. With notes of saffron, orange peel and a gentle salinity, it remains the perfect gateway experimental rosé.

  • Price: $36
  • ABV: 13.5%

Azienda Agricola Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Anfora 2019

Long before the “chillable red” entered the lexicon, Italy’s Abruzzo region specialized in Cerasuolo, a vibrant, ruby-hued take on the local montepulciano grape variety. Carrying forward the legacy of the style’s venerated masters, Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini, this version from minimalist Francesco Cirelli ferments entirely in clay amphorae, resulting in a wine that combines succulent strawberry fruit and an herbal tomato leaf aspect, with just enough grippy tannins to wash down whatever hearty fare might come its way.

  • Price: $22
  • ABV: 13.5%

José Luis Ripa Rioja Rosado 2017

Along with the noteworthy example from Bodega Akutain, aged a minimum of five years before release, José Ripa’s savory, cellar-able Rioja Rosado remains one of few examples of the long-aged, oxidative approach pioneered by R. López de Heredia. If his take bears a family resemblance to that hallowed benchmark, it’s no accident, as he happens to be married to Maria José López de Heredia. Perfectly nailing the balance between intentional oxidation, oak influence and crunchy red fruit, it’s sourced from bush-pruned garnacha and tempranillo vines from the heart of Rioja Alta that are at least 30 years old, and finishes with a refreshing pop of fennel pollen and burnt sugar.

  • Price: $29
  • ABV: 13.5%

Christoph Hoch Rosé NV

Arguably the most outré rosé of the bunch, this effort from Kremstal’s Christoph Hoch is paradoxically the palest and lowest in alcohol, coming in at just 9.5 percent ABV. Made from a multivintage blend of the same zweigelt grapes that go into his Kalkspitz pét-nat, this is essentially a pink vin clair (i.e., a still wine harvested early for sparkling production) that spends at least five months aging under flor in used Burgundy barrels before bottling. The result—a tart, briny, piercingly pure pink wine with flavors of pickled watermelon rind and rhubarb—is without precedent even in today’s weirder-than-ever rosé landscape.

  • Price: $21
  • ABV: 9.5%

Forlorn Hope Dragone Ramato 2020

An auspicious dinner with Slovenia’s Jean Michel Kabaj somewhere in the late 2000s provided the inspiration for this grippy fuschia-hued take on the ramato style from Forlorn Hope’s Matthew Rorick; he’s sourced the grapes exclusively from his own Rorick Heritage Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills since 2016. Hand-harvested, whole cluster–fermented, aged a year in neutral oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered, it has a firm core of acidity and tannins while displaying a delicate hibiscus tea–like aroma, a cumin-like spice, and ripe, sunny flavors of pomegranate and black plum that make it distinctly Californian.

  • Price: $36
  • ABV: 7%

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