This Napa rosé proves that dark rose wine doesn’t have to be sweet and raw



The rise of rosé over the past decade has led the drinking public to look above all for one quality in its rosé wines: the pale color. As Provence rosés have become more and more ubiquitous on American shelves, many drinkers have come to understand the ultralight hues of these French wines as a marker of their quality.

It is true that the depth of color of a rosé often corresponds to the style of the wine. These pale Provençal creations are typically dry and delicate, unlike the soft, magenta rosés of yore like Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

But it is a correlation, not a causation. The color of a rosé doesn’t dictate how dry it is or, more importantly, how good it is, no matter how deeply ingrained this dogma is in the minds of many people. Color is determined by how long the juice stays in contact with the red grape skins – the longer the contact, the darker it will be. After the juice has drained from the skins, a winemaker can ferment the wine to dry or not, but the color has nothing to do with it.

So, I always smile when I stumble upon a delicious rosé that’s deep, shameless, dark. Even better when it comes from the most old-fashioned grape of all rosés: Zinfandel.

One of those wines is Zin Gris from Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Calistoga. It’s a saturated coral pink color, so bright it almost looks cheeky. The aromas and flavors are equally intense: it smells like a bowl of macerated berries and tastes like passion fruit and strawberry buttercream. There’s one element here that you don’t tend to get in these pale Provence rosés: the tannin, which adds a catchy bite and just enough bitter to the palate.

Jerry Seps, the owner and winemaker of Storybook Mountain Vineyards, has been making this wine this way for about 30 years, he says. When he started producing Gray Zin, it was the height of the white Zinfandel craze, and he wanted to be careful to differentiate his product from the mass-produced sweet plonk. This is why he decided to call the wine Zin Gris, a play on the French “gray wine”, synonymous with rosé.

Storybook Mountain is the rare Napa Valley winery that focuses primarily on Zinfandel, rather than the local specialty of Cabernet Sauvignon. A history teacher, Seps bought his property in 1976, dining out what was once known as Grimm Vineyards in the 19th century. Although he maintained the tradition of the Brothers Grimm (no connection to the authors) of cultivating Zinfandel vines, when it came to naming his new business, “we decided that Grimm may not be not such a good thing to revive, ”says Seps. Still, the name he chose, Storybook, is a nod to the Grimm’s, meant to evoke fairy-tale thoughts.

Seps cultivated his vineyard using organic practices from the start. “We didn’t advertise,” he says. “It was like wearing lederhosen and Birkenstocks back then.”

His approach to making Zin Gris is just as old-fashioned. Most of the high-quality rosés today are made using a method called direct pressing, in which the grapes are picked earlier in the season, especially for rosé, and then put directly into a press to extract the juice from the skins of grape. But Seps makes its rosé by a method called bleeding (French for “bleeding”), which simply involves draining the juice from a vat of red wine. Bleeding is used to concentrate the red wine that remains in the tank – by removing juice, this changes the juice / skin ratio – and creates rose wine as a by-product.

These days, bleeding is a somewhat outdated practice, often considered the cheapest and least quality conscious way to make both a red wine and its rose by-product. In the case of Seps’ Zin Gris, however, it works, resulting in a full-bodied rosé that’s textured and spicy, but still balanced with plenty of crisp acidity. Forget about delicate rosés. Bring the rosés with punch.

Wine is available on the Storybook Mountain website or at the following Bay Area retailers: K&L, Paul Marcus Wines, Jackson’s Wine & Spirits, Cordial Cellar, PlumpJack Wine & Spirits, Calistoga Wine Shop, Sunshine Foods Market, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace.

Mountain Vineyards Zin Gris Napa Valley Storybook 2019 ($ 25)

Esther Mobley is the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic. E-mail: [email protected]


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