Rosé has a long history in the Pacific Northwest

Think pink when it comes to serving wine at holiday dinners

By Ken Robertson

As the Northwest wine industry began to emerge in the 1970s, the region’s grape growers, winemakers and consumers all looked elsewhere for guidance.

The two most powerful influences were California and France, so it was natural for growers to plant Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and, with a nod to the Germans, Riesling.

Almost completely absent from our region’s wines were examples of rosé. Oregon winemakers produced a few promising rosés made from Pinot Noir, and in Washington, Preston Wine Cellars of Pasco made a rather sweet version from Gamay Beaujolais grapes that endured for many vintages.

For about three decades, though, rosé languished in the Northwest, and what winemakers produced often was semi-sweet and often styled after California’s white Zin, which although popular, draws at best grudging acknowledgement from wine lovers.

Maury (Moe) Balcom (left) and Rob Griffin are shown here standing in the newest block of Sangiovese grape vines that Maury planted in his Balcom & Moe vineyard just north of Pasco, WA. in the summer of 2016.

That began to change early in the 21st century, partly because Northwest grape growers and winemakers, always an adventurous lot, decided to try something new. Among the first and most successful was Rob Griffin, owner and head winemaker of Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland, WA., who partnered with longtime grape-growing friend Maury Balcom to hatch something different.

That something became Bernard Griffin’s highly praised, readily available and bargain priced Rosé of Sangiovese. Griffin and Balcom were unhappy with the result of their efforts to produce a red wine from Balcom’s Sangiovese acres, so they decided to try a rosé purpose-built from the start of the growing season back in 2002. Griffin made 200 cases of rosé that first year, and it rapidly sold out.

By 2005, he and Balcom had the grape-growing elements dialed in — early picked grapes with more acidity and less sugar, which means lower alcohol from fermentation, and his Rosé of Sangiovese began an astounding run of medals and awards.

The result has been 11 gold medals over the past 12 years at the San Francisco Chronicle judging — the nation’s largest wine judging event. The San Francisco awards also include four sweepstakes and five times best of class, plus an array of medals in many other competitions, including several Platinum awards in Wine Press Northwest magazine’s annual judging of the Northwest’s finest wines.

Others might argue that many factors combined to foster the rise of rosé, more popular in the Pacific Northwest and the nation about 15 years ago. But it’s clear that since the Barnard Griffin rose’ began to win with regularity, the number of dry and slightly sweet rosés being made has blossomed in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Earlier this year, I participated in the Northwest’s largest-ever judging of rosé sponsored by Wine Press Northwest magazine, which drew 125 different entries. What was striking was the astounding quantity of high-quality rosé available in 2017. The two panels of judges rated eight of those 125 rosés as double golds and another 22 as worthy of gold medals.

For the consumer, that’s doubly good news because you can buy top quality for wallet-friendly prices. That award-winning Barnard Griffin from 2016 was on sale in early fall for about $10 at my local grocer. Even its full price is only $14. Many others of top quality sell for similar prices. And it’s possible, but difficult to pay more than $25 for any Northwest rosé.

The 2016 vintage of Barnard Griffin’s Sangiovese Rose’ sells for $14 a bottle. If you can’t find a bottle at your local grocery store or wine merchant, you can order it directly from the winery at:

Many of us tend to think rosé only in the spring and summer months, but we really need to begin thinking of rosé as year-round wine. It is, for example, remarkably well suited to our upcoming holiday meals.

Let’s talk turkey, for example. A crisp, bright rosé has the acidity to balance the fattier dark meat from drumsticks and thighs. And it’s light enough for the more delicate white meat from turkey breast.

Planning a standing rib roast for Christmas? Rosé will pair as nicely as most whites with your salad or soup course. A New Year’s Day ham is perfect for rosé, no matter how you slice it. And we Northwesterners love our salmon every month of the year, which is another perfect match for a crisp, dry rosé.

Fall is the perfect time to find rosé on sale. Wineries know that their 2017 vintage will start appearing by Valentine’s Day. And, as one winemaker told me, “Age is not Rosé’s friend.” But I’ve yet to find a year-old version that wasn’t just fine.

You likely can find them made from a broad array of red wine grapes –Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and even Malbec.

Some may be sold out or hard to find this late in the year, but we have listed below 16 Washington wineries that make outstanding examples, including a sparkling wine that’s available throughout the Northwest. If you can’t find these wines at your local wine retailer, most of the 16 wineries can sell them to you directly.

àMaurice Cellars: Syrah rosé, 178 Vineyard Lane, Walla Walla, Wash., and Woodinville, WA., (509) 522-5444.

Barnard Griffin Winery: Rosé of Sangiovese, 878 Tulip Lane, Richland, WA., (509) 627-0266.

Bartholomew Winery: Rosé of Carménère, 3100 Airport Way S, Seattle, WA. (206) 395-8460. www. (second location coming soon in Kennewick, WA., Columbia Gardens Wine Village on Columbia Drive).

Brian Carter Cellars: Sangiovese and Grenache blend, 14419 Woodinville-Redmond Rd NE, Woodinville, WA. (425) 806-9463.

Browne Family Vineyards: Grenache rosé, 31 E. Main, Walla Walla, WA. (509) 522-1261.
Coyote Canyon Winery: Life is a Rosé, made from Barbera, 357 Port Ave., Suite A, Prosser, WA. (509) 786-7686. www.

Desert Wind Winery: Sangiovese rosé, 2258 Wine Country Road, Prosser, WA. (509) 786-7277.

Domaine Ste. Michelle: Brut rosé, 14111 NE 145th St., Woodinville, WA. (800) 267-6793.

Kiona Vineyards and Winery: Sangiovese rosé and Syrah rosé, 44612 N. Sunset Road, Benton City, WA. (509) 588-6716.

Hedges Family Estate: Rosé blend made from Syrah and Grenache, 53511 N. Sunset Road, Benton City, WA. (509) 588-3155.

Jones of Washington: Syrah rosé and Pinot Noir rosé, 2101 F St. SW, Quincy, WA. (509) 787-8108,

Martinez & Martinez Winery: May Mae Rose’, 357 Port Ave, Studio C, Prosser, WA 99350. (509) 786-2392.

Maryhill Winery: Rosé of Sangiovese, 9774 Highway 14, Goldendale, WA. (509) 773-1976.

Milbrandt Winery: Syrah rosé, 508 Cabernet Court, Prosser, WA. (509) 788-0030.

Monarcha Winery: Pinot Noir rosé, 600 Piper Ave., Walla Walla Airport, Walla Walla, WA. (509) 522-8466. (second location to open soon in Columbia Gardens Wine Village, Columbia Drive, Kennewick, WA.)

Saviah Cellars: The Jack Rosé made from Tempranillo and Syrah, 1979 JB George St., Walla Walla, WA. (509) 522-2181.

EDITORS’S NOTE: Ken Robertson has been sipping Northwest wines and writing about them since 1976.