Rosé Wine Spotlight: California Dreamin’

Posted on Jun 11, 2022

Rose wine glass

A glass or Rosé on a summer’s day.

Every year about this time, the craving starts. As summer starts showing signs of arrival, our palates turn to something a bit lighter and more refreshing than the dependable, comforting reds that have gotten us through the winter. As the weather warms up, Rosé is calling and we’re more than happy to pick up a glass and answer.

While the reliable choices for us are usually produced in Provence, we’ve done our best to get out of our pink elixir comfort zone and explore what other regions have to offer. We’re  particularly fond of those that we have easy access to such as those from Washington State and British Columbia. This year, we’re heading a little further south down the west coast and taking a look at some of our favourites from California.

Napa Valley wine

Stunning views at Smith-Madrone in Napa.

The biggest challenge (and benefit) of California is that the state encompasses multiple world class regions that provide a wide range of high-quality driven examples. With all due respect to the few regions we have yet to visit, our recommendations come from those we have: the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and El Dorado.

Willamette valley oregon

Pinot Noir grapes.

The main thing you’ll notice with our choices below is a wide range of varieties used for our recommendations whether single varietal or blends including: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Counoise, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Mondeuse.

Each winery brings its own unique expression to their version of Rosé based on the terroir they’re working with, and each are equally excellent showing how wide the spectrum can be with this seasonal favourite.




It took close to 50 years (and some convincing from his son) for Stu Smith and his brother Charles to make the winery’s first Rosé. We tasted the inaugural vintage when we last visited Spring Mountain pre-COVID and as you’ll see from our tasting note below, we absolutely loved it. 2021 marks their third release and the level of quality combined with the fact that they only produce 165 cases, means it will sell out quickly.

Napa Valley wine

2018 Smith-Madrone Rosé

2018 Smith-Madrone Estate Rosé

A blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is just the style that made us into Rosé lovers. The strawberry and rhubarb profile has great intensity making this a more serious style of Rosé as opposed to the cocktail style. Components of earth, mineral and spice add complexity. There is well-judged acidity that keeps the flavours juicy and adds precision. With swirling we get tart strawberry, raspberry and red delicious apple. Wonderfully refreshing. Excellent (USD$30)



Talisman Wines

wildcat mountain vineyard los carneros

Marta & Scott Rich.

One of our favourite wineries anywhere, Talisman is a small production winery in Sonoma that takes the term artisanal to a whole new level. Scott and Marta Rich are quality people making quality wine and we’ve never visited Sonoma without a stop to see them.

When we first discovered their winery, they were making only Pinot Noir from different vineyards throughout the region. They have since added a couple of other varieties including Chenin Blanc but Pinot Noir remains their primary focus so it’s no surprise that’s the variety they make their Rosé from.

Sonoma valley wine

The 2017 & 2018 Talisman Rosés.

We had the good fortune of tasting their 2017 & 2018 Rosé offerings in 2019 and it’s difficult to say which we enjoyed more. Both are made from fruit sourced from the Los Carneros area, the latter from Dawson Vineyard. Lively, refreshing, and smooth, Talisman Rosés will seduce you from the first sip. We don’t usually think “complex” when it comes to Rosé wines, but these offer up layers of flavours that will keep you coming back for more. Excellent (USD$22)


Laurel Glen

From one of the top Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the Sonoma Valley comes Laurel Glen’s Rosella Rosé, one of the few wineries we’ve come across that makes Rosé from this variety.

Sonoma valley wine

2018 Laurel Glen Rosella.

Definitely more intense but still wonderfully refreshing thanks to its excellent balance. The 2021 is their latest release but it’s only available to wine club members. Given their excellent lineup of wines across the board, if we lived in the United States, we’d likely be members of their wine club (and not just for their Rosé)!

2017 Laurel Glen Rosella Rosé – Tasting Note

Made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% from a field blend of old vines, this is a serious and intensely flavoured Rosé. Wonderful on its own, this would even be better with food. We get flavours of cranberry and tart watermelon with hints of spice on the long finish. Good back end acidity that you would expect from a Rosé but the big surprise here was the textural component: lots of body making this a more muscular Rosé and in a good way. One of the top Rosés we have tasted. Excellent (USD$35) *Available to Wine Club Members only

Enkidu Wine

The wine world occasionally offers up a few treasures that seem to fly under the radar and offer great wines even though the winery is not well known. Enkidu is just one of those treasures.

Sonoma Valley wine

Enkidu Winemaker Phil Staehle with his trusty companion Anu.

Winemaker/Proprietor Phil Staehle got his start in the wine business in the mid-1980s with Carmenet, a member of the Chalone Group. Chalone’s founder, Dick Graff, was Phil’s mentor and he credits much of his success as a winemaker to Graff’s tutelage. Phil buys his fruit from a number of Sonoma vineyards that adhere to the sorts of viticultural practices that Phil knows will produce great wine grapes. Both the name of the winery and the name of his Rosé are references to the ancient Mesopotamian story ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ (to hear why visit: ). Below is our tasting note on the 2016 vintage and the current vintage (2021) is now available. Also a GSM blend, it won’t last long with just 115 cases produced.

Sonoma County

2016 Enkidu Shamhat Rosé.

2016 Enkidu Shamhat Rosé

A blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 15% Mouvedre, this wine was made using Saignée method where the wine is bled off after just a few hours contact with the skins.  Shamhat in the Epic of Gilgamesh was the temptress that seduced Enkidu to tame his animal spirits and make him more human. Complex and spicy, whole clusters are fermented until completely dry. Very refreshing, a worthy homage to the tavel style. Excellent (USD$26)



Dracaena Wines

Paso Robles Wine

2017 Rosé of Syrah.

Dracaena Wines (pronounced druh-see-nuh) has built their winery around Cabernet Franc, a grape generally used for blending, added to other Bordeaux varieties to play a supporting role while leaving the lead to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Despite their love of and dedication to, Cabernet Franc, Michael & Lori Budd expanded their wine production in 2017 to include their first vintage of Rosé made from Syrah known as ‘Cordyline’. In 2020, they shifted from using 100% Syrah to a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache (56% / 44%).

We have yet to get our hands on a bottle to provide a tasting note but based on their award-winning Cabernet Franc which we’re big fans of, we’ll be searching for it as soon as we can get back down across the border!


Skinner Vineyards

El Dorado County

The 2017 Skinner Rose

Of all the interviews we’ve done with winemakers and/or winery proprietors, the story of Skinner Vineyards and Winery in El Dorado County has to be one of the most unique we’ve come across. While wineries that have been in a family for generations are common, the Skinner story is a tale reminiscent of its Gold Rush heritage—one of curiosity, discovery, risk, and ultimately reward (visit here for more details:

They draw inspiration for their Rosé after the styles made in the South of France such as Bandol. The 2020 vintage is a blend of 54% Counoise/26% Mourvèdre/12% Grenache/ 8% Cinsault and won gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s an absolute steal at USD$24.

2017 Rosé

A blend of 45% Grenache, 25% Mouvedre, 15% Counoise and 15% Cinsault. This blend saw skin contact of 2 to 5 hours creating a lovely light copper orange colour. We gent intense flavours of melon, strawberry and citrus with a nice dry minerally streak on the finish. Excellent (USD$24)


Santa Barbara Wine Country

Jim Clendenen, Allison & Bob Lindquist.

Our last AdVINEture before the global pandemic shut down borders was to Santa Barbara wine country in February of 2020. It was then we had the honour of having an epic winemaker lunch with US wine pioneer Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat. Bob Lindquist & Frank Orsini also happened to be there which is why we named the write up of that memorable day as Lunch with Legends!

It was at this lunch that we were introduced to Jim’s other wine project Clendenen Family Vineyards and tried that label’s Rosé Mondeuse. It was our first time trying this variety in any form let alone as a Rosé, and under Jim’s guidance it was unsurprisingly interesting and delicious. Sadly, Jim passed away unexpectedly 3 months after we met him, but that lunch will live in our memories forever. He also left an indelible mark on the wine industry and a legacy of wines we can all continue to enjoy for years to come.

2018 Clendenen Family Vineyards Mondeuse Rosé

Santa Barbara wine country

2018 Clendenen Family Vineyards Mondeuse Rosé.

We started our nearly 3 hour lunch with this very refreshing rosé made from this little known grape which is generally associated with the region of Savoie in Eastern France. Minimal skin contact provides a lovely pink/crimson colour and avoids extracting some of the bold tannins this grape will produce with longer macerations. The result is crisp acidity backing up strawberry and cranberry notes with a mineral streak that punctuates the finish. Very refreshing. Very Good+ (USD$19)



    Just enjoyed a Rose yesterday – it’s time to try all the ones noted above – summer is here…these look amazing

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    • ’tis the season and we’ll happily join you on the tasting front anytime!

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    • Our pleasure! We’re long overdue for a trip back to Paso and look forward to when we can make it happen (at the same time)!

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