Rosé Rising

Upstate New York winemakers are responding to demand with confidence by pushing the boundaries of what was initially considered “traditional.”

The Finger Lakes is raising the bar on rosé

by Maiah Johnson Dunn

photos by Tomas Flint

In the summer of 2014, The Hamptons ran out of rosé. All kinds of rosé: imported offerings from France and Italy and domestic wines from their very own home state of New York. Even Hamptons-located Wölffer Estate, which had just released its inaugural Summer in a Bottle rosé with 1,585 cases, quickly sold out. The news was reported on Page Six and even in the Washington Post as the area descended into panic. It was the summer that solidified America’s love for everyone’s favorite pink drink.

But this isn’t just a New York State phenomenon. In May 2019, Nielsen reported an increase in total dollars spent of 33.9% on still and 20% on sparkling rosés from the year prior. Of the offerings from the United States, New York continues to play a major role. As an example, today (just seven years later), Wölffer Estate’s Summer in a Bottle rosé production totals an impressive 68,000 cases.

Upstate New York winemakers are responding to demand with confidence by pushing the boundaries of what was initially considered “traditional.” At the same time, the increased popularity of the beverage is leading consumers to become more exploratory and discerning. We’re learning that rosés aren’t all sweet, that some can be aged, and that they’re a refreshing alternative to red and white wines year-round. All signs point towards continued growth with a new eye on the true potential of rosé, especially in the Finger Lakes.

“The great thing about rosé is that it goes with everything and nothing,” says Lynne Fahy, winemaker at Keuka Spring Vineyard. “You feel good about drinking it alone (usually tame alcohol and refreshing), but it is also fantastic with all types of food, from shellfish to poultry and pork, and I am sure you could find a rosé that would go with beef!”

Like all winemakers in the Finger Lakes, Lynne’s rosé program isn’t an afterthought. In fact, this year the Keuka Lake winery is focused on increased production to meet demand. The 2020 Dry Rosé by Keuka Spring Vineyards is a thirst-quenching blend of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Thanks to a quick three hours of skin contact, the wine is almost rose gold in color. Notes of bright fruit like cherry and pomegranate are balanced by acid on the finish.

The wines don’t lack in complexity of flavor or texture. Lynne credits working with Austrian varieties in the Finger Lakes as a major driver. “I think they add not only bright red fruit characters to the wine, but also a savory or herbal character,” she says. “We tend to pick our rosé grapes at the same time as our reds because it leans into the flavor concentration we are looking for in our rosé. We want our rosé to have an impact.”

Finger Lakes dry rosés are made from a variety of grapes including Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Try a selection from different wineries to see which style suits your palate.

Julia Hoyle, winemaker at Hosmer Estate Winery on Cayuga Lake, is also looking to make an impact. “Finger Lakes rosé specifically is exciting for the acid-fruit-alcohol profile that we can carry. Part of growing grapes and making wine in a cool climate is a lower sugar level at harvest. This directly translates into alcohol during fermentation.”

Julia further details, “One bonus we have is the ability to hang fruit for flavor development without having huge jumps in sugar accumulation. We are able to make luscious, fruit-forward rosés that remain under 13% alcohol.”

And that’s exactly what she did with the 2020 Cabernet Franc Dry Rosé by Hosmer Estate Winery. This 100% Cabernet Franc features intense color due to a 24-hour cold soak and gives notes of juicy strawberries with cream and a deliciously mouthwatering squeeze of citrus. “It is a great summer sipper or, with its acid profile, a fun food-pairing wine,” Julia says. “I love Cabernet Franc dry rosés for their versatility. We always have some on our Thanksgiving table, long after the perceived ‘rosé season’ has come and gone.”

For those interested in something a bit more rare, the 2020 Teinturier Saperavi Dry Rosé at Standing Stone Vineyards on Seneca Lake is perfect nerd-out material. With the largest plantings of Saperavi outside of the country of Georgia, the winemaking team at Standing Stone is able to have a little fun. “The coolest thing about Saperavi is how versatile we’re finding it,” says Jen Menges, director of operations at Standing Stone Vineyards.

Versatility is clearly trending in the Finger Lakes. “We’ve been able to make a lot of different styles—traditional dry reds with and without oak, dry red blends, a fortified wine, this rosé and even a sparkling rosé. It lends itself to creativity and we’ve been enjoying all of the options!”

Teinturier is the French word for to dye or stain. Fittingly, the Teinturier grapes in this wine feature dark skins and grape flesh, enabling the grape to produce vibrant color with free-run juice that sees zero time on skins. Even without that time, the wine still gives a slight grippiness from tannins that red wine lovers will appreciate. Ripe grapefruit and red berries are supported by a backbone of acid that pairs really nicely with food.

Everyone’s perfect pairing had two things in common: the lakes and good company, which is exactly how rosé is meant to be enjoyed. Jen smiles thinking about hers. “Out on my bestie’s family pontoon boat on Keuka Lake, waiting for the sun to go down, maybe a little sunburnt and a lot happy, with a cold glass of this rosé and fried calamari, picked up dockside from one of the lakefront restaurants. Bring it on. I’m ready.”

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