Amid our current rosé frenzy lies a slightly awkward truth: A lot of pink wine these days just isn’t that good. We don’t talk about it, perhaps, because it’s easier to talk about the rosy-hued positivity of these wines, rather than impose a critical judgment. But even in Provence, where we are led to believe that pink wine is serious business indeed, the word business may be most important: Easy money has yielded a sea of largely uninspired wine.
But what if there was a place where rosé was still being taken very seriously, made by some of the world’s most skilled winemakers and produced from grapes grown with the utmost care?
Turns out there are two: Austria and Germany. What we’ll call Teutonic Rosé has caught traction as relief from the growing fatigue with insipid pink wine. This is, in part, because it hasn’t yet fallen prey to the same market frenzy as Provence or even the New York rosés that seem to proliferate in the Hamptons. And partly because the wines aren’t quite on message.
We like to think of rosé being from warm places, Mediterranean places. Sure, there are outliers, like the Bardolino area in Veneto, but we’d rather dream of Corsica or Sicily or the southern Rhone, or Napa and Sonoma if you shift the Mediterranean dream to the New World.
But if you think of rosé this way, well, stop. As a group, rosés from these two countries are some of the best: Our recent tasting not only far surpassed the results from any panel of Provençal rosé we’ve done in recent years, but it was frankly the best PUNCH tasting we’ve done in at least a year.
Much of this has to do with the general standard of winemaking in both places. The cliché is that the Teutonic mindset leads to overly technical and soulless winemaking, but today the best German and Austrian talents combine derring-do with an appreciation of cellar hygiene that often goes lacking in France. And both countries are obsessed with quality; their most talented winemakers don’t see rosé as a second-class task.
What’s more, the wines are still wildly undervalued. It’s almost hard to hard to believe that a rosé from a star winemaker like Caroline Diel, who otherwise is crafting some of best rieslings in Germany’s Nahe (and thus, the world), will cost you barely more than half what you’d pay for a bottle of Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.
While there’s no single thread connecting these wines—save a common language for its winemakers—they typically come from lower-yielding vineyards that could be making perfectly good red wine, and the fruit flavors are ripe. And while they are generally high in acidity, it’s rare to find them achingly tart, in the way that, say, Loire rosé can be in some years. Actually, many German rosés balance their acidity with an intentional bit of leftover sugar and are sometimes marked feinherb to denote a slight off-dry style. That’s a world apart from the hidden sugar left, cynically, in many rosés to help appeal to the sweet tooth that many of us dare not admit we have.
As for grapes, the Germans tend to look to pinot noir, which can produce some of the most nuanced and complex pink wines on the planet, in places like Oregon or the Burgundian commune of Marsannay. Not long ago, skeptics might have pointed to Germany’s northerly latitude to suggest that pinot rosé was a better option than red. But today, the country ripens pinot at least as well as Oregon, so to choose to make rosé—usually from direct-pressed grapes rather than bled from a red wine tank—is a willful decision.
It’s a slightly different take in Austria, where its indigenous zweigelt is a prime pink candidate, yielding a heartier, more savory rosé. But pinot appears here too, as does the St. Laurent grape, whose similarity to syrah can add a spicy note. There are even rosés, like those from the culty Steiermark producer Strohmeier, that use the rare blauer wildbacher grape.
Keep in mind, also, that these wines are becoming an essential part of the rosé repertoire. In the new economics of pink wine, the most popular choices are often pre-ordered by April Fool’s Day and gone before July Fourth. And so, as all that Provençal rosé vanishes, these are the wines we’re lucky enough to fall back on.
THE CLASSIC | Tie
2015 Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg Cistercien Niederösterreich Rosé | $16
Gobelsburg’s white wines are renowned thanks to Michael Moosbrugger, who used perfectly good white-wine land in the Langenlois area of the Kamptal for this rosé, which, for the second year running, might be the summer’s most drinkable wine. It’s a mix of zweigelt and St. Laurent, from direct-pressed grapes, and it’s juicy and rewarding—full of ripe strawberry and poppy seed—but with an intense brightness and frothy salinity. The name, by the way? Gobelsburg is an old Cistercian monastery, dating to the 12th century. Importer: Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines [Buy]
2015 Loimer Niederösterreich Rosé | $17
Fred Loimer could easily be in the rock star category (so could Moosbrugger, actually), but his pink wine, with its screaming-fuschia label, is so well-known that it has become a rosé classic. Loimer blends mostly zweigelt with a bit of pinot noir for a plusher, blackberry-scented wine with more mineral and herbal components (think dried oregano). It’s subtle, but with just enough tannin and acid to give it real power below the surface. Importer/Distributor: Winebow [Buy]
See also: Leitz, H&M Hofer, von Buhl, Weingut Jäger
2015 Schlossgut Diel Rosé de Diel Nahe Pinot Noir Rosé | $24
The Diel name has been famous for decades, but Caroline and Sylvain Taurisson Diel have raised quality for the estate’s rieslings even further. But this is pinot noir (spätburgunder in German) from their own parcels in the Nahe. It satisfies the intellectual need to see such wines as more than pretty in pin, but also offers sheer pleasure: beautiful, ripe blackberry and tangerine fruit, even a hint of spritz in this new vintage. Yes, there’s more sweetness than you’d expect, but it’s balanced by a stony, spicy side and an apricot-liqueur warmth that will add appeal well beyond Labor Day. Importer: Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines [Buy]
See also: Emmerich Knoll (who makes a rare Blauer Burgunder rosé), Rebholz, Beurer
2015 Walter Buchegger Terrassen Niederösterreich Rosé | $14
With the Kamptal and Wachau next door, the Kremstal region can struggle for attention. But Buchegger’s wines are a perfect example of standout quality. This is a curious mashup: half pinot noir, with a mix of zweigelt and merlot making up the rest, all grown on loess (like the Gobelsburg and Loimer). There’s a bit of sweetness, too, that puts great plum flavors in the spotlight, highlighted by accents of spice and black tea. And it’s got some muscle, for when you’re dispensing with the corn salad and going straight for the ribs. Importer: David Bowler Wine [Buy]
See also: Josef Ehmoser, Dolde
THE OVERACHIEVER | Tie
2015 Huber Austria Zweigelt Rosé | $18
The provenance here, from the Traisental region, is less-known, but we flat-out loved this wine, which is direct-pressed and lands with just a bit of sugar—although again, just enough to soften it. The fruit is explosive: shaved cherry ice, and one of our tasters swore she tasted a bit of kiwi, with a slight bite, like it still had seeds, plus peppercorn and flinty minerality. Importer: Broadbent Selections [Buy]
2015 Jakob Schneider Feinherb Nahe Spätburgunder Rosé | $17
For years, the Schneiders have been quietly making great Nahe rieslings, and their pink similarly offers far more than this modest bottle lets on. The labeling is a bit old-school Germany—the feinherb denotes some sugar, and pinot noir is listed under its German name. Never fear. This is subtle and finessed, and the sweetness is quiet, more showing up as ripe, mashed cherries, plus poppy seed flavors and a darker spice. It’s a sleeper hit. Importer: Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines
See also: Erich Sattler, Andi Knauss