For some, these warm summer evenings are perfect for enjoying a nice, light glass of wine on the deck.
And, while rosé wine can be enjoyed year-round with a wide variety of foods, its light, dry, fruity taste and growing popularity over the past few years make it a pleasant choice for summer sipping.
Jan Waltz, a winemaker who co-owns Waltz Vineyards and Waltz Estate Winery near Manheim with his wife, Kimberly, has been making Stiegel Rose rosé wine since 2008. It’s named after Manheim founding father Baron Henry Stiegel.
The rosé has won many medals at state, national and international competitions, including the Pennsylvania Farm Show and the Finger Lakes and Riverside international wine competitions.
We asked Waltz about how rosé is made, and why it has become more popular recently. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe your Stiegel Rose?
Typically, you’ll get a nose of strawberry in most of the vintages, or red raspberry. The 2016 (vintage) is now released. It’s in several restaurants in the Lancaster area … and at all of the (Waltz) locations. We produced a little over 600 cases of it. It’s selling very quickly.
Why do you think rosé is so popular now?
It’s a very food-friendly wine. I think prior to four or five years ago, the pink wine in the marketplace was blush wine. Everyone was familiar with white zinfandel for a long time. And the dry wine drinkers did not order rosé wine because it was blush and they didn’t care for all the sweetness. But as wine producers produced more rosé that was dry (it became more popular). And, of course, in the spring and summertime, it’s a lighter wine that doesn’t have as much tannin because it’s not fermented on the (grape) skins. So it’s fresh, light and crisp with a little lower alcohol, and it pairs very well with many different foods.
Was it popular elsewhere before it took off in America?
If you go to the south of France, they produce a lot of dry rosé wine. Provence is well known for their dry rosés. But in the U.S. market, only about four years ago or so did it really take off. Because the perception was that if it was pink it was sweet. But then, there were a lot of articles written in food and wine magazines and so many more wineries producing dry rosé that the American consumer can now tell the difference between a rosé and a blush. It has similar characteristics to what other dry wines would have.
What foods does rosé pair well with?
It is very versatile. It goes well with foods with a little bit of heat, a little bit of spice. It also works very well with whiter meats — pork and chicken and turkey. It goes great with a lot of cheeses, with a goat cheese salad and even an occasional dessert — such as red berry types of desserts. (Rosé) typically has a hint of strawberry in it, or other red berry undertones. Sometimes it even has kind of an herbal characteristic.
What is the process you use to make rosé?
We do mostly saignee. That’s the bleeding of the juice from the crushed red grapes prior to red wine fermentation. So, we’re taking 15 to 20 percent of the juice away from the skins of the red grapes before they start fermenting. And what we do with that then is that we ferment that juice like it was a white wine. Of course, it’s minus the skin, so we don’t get the color of a red wine. ... It’s a common practice in France.
What grapes do you use to produce Stiegel Rose?
Because it’s produced from three varieties of red grapes that we grow, there’s still a faint rose color. It’s made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot grapes.
Are there any special challenges in making rosé wine?
One is picking the right fermentation temperature. And then, how long do we age it before we bottle it? And do we age it in stainless steel or do we incorporate some neutral oak barrels? We ferment it in stainless steel, very similar to what a white wine would be. We really don’t want to add that oaky flavor to it because that would cover up the nice fruit-forward flavor it has. Reds are typically a higher-temperature fermentation.
It’s very important to have the right acidity so it’s crisp. It’s naturally a little higher in acidity and typically a little lower in alcohol. You don’t want it to be “hot,” which is the term we use; if the alcohol is too high then the alcohol can overpower the wine itself. So the balance between the alcohol and the acidity is important. We want it to be more like when we ferment chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Much cooler, much slower, preserving the aromatics of the wine and the fruit-forward characteristics.
What percentage of alcohol do you shoot for in a rosé wine?
Most rosés are 11 to 13 percent.
I understand you’re a sixth-generation farmer in the Manheim area. When did you start producing wine?
My family has been farming here since the 1700s. We’ve been producing grapes here for over 20 years, since 1997. This is actually our 20th anniversary. We sold our grapes to other wineries in Pennsylvania. And then in 2007-8, we built our facility to start making wine commercially, and we keep most of our grapes.
Does the good soil on your farm play a part in the quality of your rosé?
Well-drained soil is important for growing grapes. We have a lot of very good, well-drained soil in Lancaster County that allows grapes to ripen properly. There’s a lot of shale and the soil drains very quickly. Grapes don’t like to grow with wet feet. I would say it would be a factor in the quality of rosé that we would make. It’s important for all wine grapes to be grown in the right type of soil.
What else should people know about rosé?
I just think it’s a great wine for this time of the year. Or any time of the year, really. We even recommend it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s not a seasonal wine. It’s a wine for all occasions. It just happens to work nicely when it’s hot outside because you can serve it chilled. But it also works very nicely on a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table with ham and turkey and your lighter meats, or a goat cheese salad and a nice fruit dessert. Or just on the back patio as a summer sipper.