It was a sober group of six at the start of this tasting, quietly sniffing, swirling and taking notes as instructed. By the time I poured the last wine, the room was filled with laughter and excited talk about starting a roller derby team or a pub crawl—something like that. The point is, rosé wine had done its important work.
Cline 2016 Ancient Vines Contra Costa County Mourvèdre Rosé ($17) This pale rose-colored crowd-pleaser puts Bohemian arts editor Charlie Swanson in a fresh meadow of flowers, while I'm reminded more of the florist's cool case, and someone else says "pressed flowers." One way or the other, the theme here is a floral aroma. We also like the hint of sweet strawberry fruit that follows through on the finish, making this a candidate for sipping alfresco on a warm evening without worrying over what food you need to pair with it, and because it's Mourvèdre, which is widely grown in the South of France, rest assured it's got something in common with those "serious" rosés. ★★★★
Tara Bella 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Cabernet ($35) Yes, even Cabernet Sauvignon can be made into a rosé, if this version betrays the varietal with a firm, chewy grip to the fruity peach and raspberry palate. Capped in pink wax and available to wine-club members only—I'm told they love to pick out the bottles with swirling hues. ★★★½
Rodney Strong 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) Watermelon Jolly Rancher, ruby grapefruit, pink bubblegum and a spiffy new label—take it to the lawn and crack the screw cap. ★★★★
Sidebar 2016 Russian River Valley Syrah Rosé ($21) Something's different about this one, everyone agrees—but they can't say just what until I point out it's the first (in the order we tasted) made with Syrah, not Pinot. Just a hint of smoky, meaty Syrah peeks through this crisp, complete rosé, like bacon bits in a raspberry scone. ★★★★
Toad Hollow 2016 Eye of the Toad Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir ($13.99) Red fruited and dry, with an oddly floral hint of pink moscato, the Toad Hollow is all too gulpable—if a little watery. But I miss the metallic pink "eye" that was on previous labels. ★★★
Harvest Moon 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($24) Decant a rosé? I say yeah. This light coral-colored wine has a green, vegetal note that didn't make good with the raspberry pastille flavor until re-tasted the second day—jalapeño pepper jelly, without the heat. If you must worry about pairing rosé with food, try this! ★★★½