One 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.
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.
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.