By Celia Strong
Spring is official now. And with it come the Spring holidays and Spring clothes in all their lovely pastel colors. So, seems to me, it’s time for pastel wines too. True, we don’t, and can’t, get assorted pastel colors. Like lavender and baby blue and mint green and soft yellow. But we can get pink. Lots and lots of lovely pinks. Of course, in the world of wines, we call them rosés. But lovely shades they are. And lovely flavors and great with foods and holidays and Spring.
As a reminder, we should probably review a few facts about rosé wines. First, we make a distinction between blush wines and rosé wines. Blush wines are sweeter style wines. They are made by fermenting grape juice into wine, but the fermentation is stopped before all the grape sugar is converted into alcohol. That means the wine is a bit sweeter. And, these wines are made into pink wines by adding a small amount of grape juice before bottling. Rosé wines are made exactly like red wines. The juice is fermented with the skins and these red grape skins give the wines their rosé color. These skins are only left to sit with the juice or the fermented wine for short periods of time. From several hours to several days. (Red wines sit with their skins for up to three weeks, give or take, so they have more color and flavors and textures.) These rosé wines vary in their flavors, as well, depending on which grape varieties are used to make them. As we said, the shades of color also vary – from light pink to rose petal to coral to cotton candy to cherry red to ruby to raspberry. Yes, lovely colors! If they are aged in barrels, for rosés it is usually a very short time. Which gives us one more reason to think of rosé with the arrival of Spring. They both come at the same time every year.
Our rosé this week is from Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley. This AVA is probably the best known of all the AVAs in Oregon. It consists of the drainage basin of the Willamette River and covers over five thousand acres. That means it holds most of the state’s wineries. The Willamette AVA was established in 1984, and now has six newer AVAs within it. The climate in Willamette is fairly mild all year long. Cool and wet winters and dry and warm summers. The temperature only goes over ninety degrees for five to fifteen days every year. And, it only goes below zero degrees every twenty-five years. Not all of the Willamette Valley is suitable for vineyards, but what is suitable does a great job. Around the world, it is known for producing some of the very best Pinot Noir wines in the world. So, guess what? Our rosé is a Pinot Noir.
Elk Cove Vineyards is our winery. Founded in 1974, by Pat and Joe Campbell, Elk Cove is still family owned and operated. Son, Adam, joined his parents in 1995 as winemaker. The couple met when they were both teenagers picking strawberries for spending money. Pat’s family was already growing grapes, before Prohibition. Joe went to Harvard and Stanford Medical School. Pat and Joe chose their property for its shallow soils, steep, hilly terrain and fabulous panoramas. The property had been a farm and they converted the original barn into their winery. In the beginning, friends helped them in the vineyards – free labor and instant customers. In addition, Joe worked in a hospital emergency room. They chose their winery name, Elk Cove, because in 1974, when the family was still living in a trailer behind their barn, a herd of elk bedded down in a clearing around the trailer. From the beginning, and still now, the Campbell family has always had hand crafted wines as their goal. And, no, they did not realize that they were pioneers in the Oregon wine industry.
A side note – besides specializing in hand crafted wines, Elk Cove operates as a certified “Salmon Safe” winery. This is an official organization that promotes farming practices that keep the land and the water safe for salmon. More than sixty thousand farms and wineries are members. And, some rosés are, in fact, salmon-colored. Good segue?
And we arrive at our 2014 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé. The 2014 vintage in Oregon is considered to be the vintage of a lifetime. A vintage with both high quality and high quantities. The growing season, in 2014, was warmer and drier than normal, yielding lots of small bunches of grapes. According to Adam Campbell, “the amazing summer weather led to the lowest disease pressure I have ever seen, creating a harvest that was the stuff dreams are made of – little rain, gorgeous fruit, and an easy tempo making for a relaxed and delightful crush.” Makes even me want to go work out there.
All the Elk Cove grapes are hand-harvested. And all of them are estate grown. For the Rosé, they used both young vine and old vine fruit. This combination gives them full flavor development and aromatics. The juice comes partly from gently pressed whole clusters of grapes and partly from the Saignée method (free run juice that is bled off before fermentation begins). The pressed juice and the Saignée are fermented at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks. Then, specifically selected lots of Pinot Noir fermented red juice are blended back in for color and texture. (Yes, this is another way to make a rosé wine.) The finished wine is completely dry. It is a dusky rose color with aromas of guavas, mandarins and floral notes like camellias. Its flavors include some spicy crystallized ginger, ripe Rainier cherries and caramelized orange. And, this is a fairly full bodied rosé.
All of which gets us to food pairings. Of course, we remember pink meat with pink wine. (The colors of Spring!) Keeping in mind Easter dinner hams. But pink meats include roasted pork and pink fish. Salmon, obviously, and tuna. But all the other foods we’ve listed over time for rosés work too. Asian flavors – ginger, basil, lemongrass, barbecue sauces, vegetable dishes, smoked seafood and meat, mild cheeses. Yum! So Happy Spring! Color-wise and wine-wise. For $15.99. Enjoy.