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10.28.2008

2007 York Creek Vineyards Touriga Nacional Rose, Sonoma County

york_rose.jpgOne of my favorite punching bags in the world is the sorry state of California rosé. For some reason, winemakers just don't seem to be able to produce the beautifully dry, crisp, tart rosés that I have come to expect from southern France, southern Italy, and northern Spain. These Mediterranean wines are the benchmark for rosé, and most American wines fall quite short.

Which is why I'm so enthusiastic when I discover pink wines that are made well in this country. And when they're made of exotic grape varieties, so much the better!

If you gave me three guesses as to which winery in northern California would be most likely to grow Touriga Nacional, I'd probably have ended up with York Creek Vineyards before I ran out of guesses.

The York Creek property is one of the largest and most beautiful parcels of land on the crest of Napa's Spring Mountain. One hundred twenty-five acres of vineyards are surrounded by another 575 acres of woods and orchards, hosting 24 varieties of native trees whose silhouettes make an appearance on the York Creek wine label. The property mirrors the variety of trees in its vineyard plantings of over 14 different varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, and Touriga Nacional.

York Creek has been owned since 1968 by Fritz Maytag who purchased the property around the same time he purchased the Anchor Steam Brewing Company here in San Francisco. He always meant to make his own wine there, it just took him a while to get around to it -- about 32 years, to be exact.

Maytag is the prodigal son of the Maytag family who decided that he needed to do something instead of appliances or blue cheese with his life. Not that his family ever had any intention of just letting him run the family business. Maytag was encouraged to find his own way in the world without a sense of entitlement. That way included a stint at Stanford as well as a lot of hanging around in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, until the day in 1965 when he fell in love with the Anchor Brewing Company, and decided to save it from going out of business by buying a controlling interest "for the price of a used car."

Maytag took to brewing like a fish to water, and in the subsequent decades, he has become the Midas of the beverage world. His beer is world-renown and best-selling; his experiments in whiskey and gin have become quick successes. Maytag is a dabbler, a beverage renaissance man if you like, that seems to get it right. From home grown olive oil, to home grown apple brandy, to grappa and port, and now his own wine, Maytag wouldn't have seemed out of place in the turn of the century village market where farmers eked out an existence from every asset the land provided.

Maytag initially started his winemaking operations in the early Nineties for fun and with the encouragement of his neighbor and friend Cathy Corison, owner and proprietress of Corison Vineyards. In 2000 he moved his operations to a specially designed (by him, of course) winery building across the street from his brewery and made his first commercial vintages. There he continues to serve as winemaker, though now with some help from Tom Holmes, formerly one of the brewers at Anchor Steam who trained as an enologist.

York Creek Vineyards makes a number of excellent wines that I have tasted repeatedly over the years. They are distinctive, well made, unpretentious and often good values. Some of the wines also express what I take to be Maytag's adventurous spirit for experimentation. I'm quite certain this pretty rosé falls into that camp. Who on earth would have thought of making a rosé in California out of Touriga Nacional, one of the primary red grape varieties that goes into Port and the dry red wines of Portugal?

I don't know much about the winemaking for this wine, other than what I can guess from what is in the bottle. The grapes were probably harvested ripe-but-not-too-ripe on a cool morning, destemmed, crushed, and then a portion of the fermenting juice was probably bled off from the tank and put into a separate steel tank to finish fermentation on its own.

One of the first wines I fell in love with as a young wine lover was Mateus, a rosé from Portugal that had two important characteristics: it came in a cool shaped bottle, and it was just slightly sweet, not unlike contemporary White Zinfandels -- perfect for a beginning wine lover. This wine is quite superior in quality and flavor, but it reminds me fondly of the beginnings of my wine adventures.

Tasting Notes:
Brilliant rose pink in the glass, this wine has a nose of crushed stones, hibiscus, and candied orange peel. In the mouth it is light and smooth with flavors of hibiscus, raspberry, watermelon, and a light bitter earthiness that emerges on the finish. Dry, but not tart, the wine has enough acidity to make it refreshing. A unique and pleasurable rose.

Food Pairing:
I had this wine with cornmeal crust goat cheese pizza with tomatoes and basil, as well as a salad of mixed greens with scallions. It was a particularly nice counterpoint to the scallions, which made the wine more floral in character. 140 cases made.

Overall Score: between 8.5 and 9

How Much?: $15

This wine may or may not be difficult to track down. I found it at my local Whole Foods, but it seems like it may not be available for sale online.

Comments (9)

Dylan wrote:
10.31.08 at 10:08 AM

That's so neat-- I never investigated the history of the company although I have become a recent fan of Anchor Steam beer. Thanks for the lesson, I can always count on something interesting.

Hank wrote:
10.31.08 at 5:43 PM

If I had to guess, this is a product of delestage of a larger batch of Touriga that went into something as a blender. I came very close to making a Touriga rose from some Lodi grapes this fall, but since they were at 27 brix I made a Port-style wine instead.

I'll have to buy some of this stuff to see what I missed!

Remy Charest wrote:
11.01.08 at 6:24 PM

Alder, you should try the grenache ros made by A Donkey and Goat Winery. I visited them last Thursday, in my post-Wine Bloggers Conference travels in Wine Country, and loved the fine, well-defined, naturally-crafted wines Jared and Tracy create.

Their ros is bright and crisp, refreshing and yet deep and elegant - as far away from white zin as can be.

Funny enough, the wine is made from grenache gris, although the federal government apparently denies that grenache gris exists in the States and prevents them from mentioning it on their labels. It's not just the French government that is funny about wine, sometimes...

Rich M wrote:
11.04.08 at 12:06 PM

Wow, I never knew the history either.
Well I am an Importer in NY and will be bringing a very nice Rose from Portugal by December. If you would like a taste shoot me an email.

Jason wrote:
11.07.08 at 4:42 PM

Seriously? Try Emmolo, Unti, Robert Sinskey, Stags Leap - go on. Isn't it time we quit comparing California wines to our EU counterparts? Just because it's not thin and steely doesn't mean it's not quality produced or in a state of "sorry." Don't apologize CA producers - dare to grow to the terrior and benchmark not the EU.

Alder wrote:
11.07.08 at 4:59 PM

Jason,

Sinsky is great, one of the best for sure. Not a fan of Stags Leap, Unti is OK not great, and haven't tried the Emmolo.

I taste hundreds of California roses each year, and frankly, most of them suck without any comparison to the EU needed.

One man's opinion.

Remy wrote:
11.07.08 at 6:24 PM

Jason,

There's quite a range between syrupy, overly sweet, on the one hand, and thin and steely on the other. Too many US roses fall too far on the sweet side, and that's why mediterranean roses remain a benchmark. I feel there's plenty of diversity in California wines, but as far as roses are concerned, the ones that feel like they actually "grow to the terroir" are few and far between.

Wine Videos wrote:
11.20.08 at 6:23 AM

York Creek really makes some sensational wines for the price don't they. Way cool that they made it with Touriga Nacional too! I'll have to seek out the wine for education for my palate. Thanks

Pink wrote:
07.12.09 at 9:46 AM

Although you may say that Cali is not producing rose wine as you would expect from Southern France, you should try South American wines... they are delicious! From Cali, Robert Mondavi's rose wines are not bad either...

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