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Wine of the Week: Balletto Vineyards 2016 Rose of Pinot Noir

Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa

I’m still changing my sixes into sevens when I write “2017” and, like many of us, getting used to a world without some of the artists and other personalities lost to the hungry maw of 2016, when along comes this: a 2016 vintage wine already. Isn’t February a little early to be drinking wine from the recent harvest?

Nope, this wine is right on schedule, according to Balletto Vineyards winemaker Anthony Beckman: “I do a whole bunch of what I call spring release wines, and they do way better early,” says Beckman. “They really shine now until winter.” For one thing, he’s been working with this rosé since it was harvested way back on August 10 last summer. “So it’s out early, but it was in early,” says Beckman.

There are several methods of producing rosé wine, none of them “better” than another—but they do result in different styles. For this wine, Pinot Noir grapes were grown specifically to be made into rosé, and whole-cluster pressed to retain the delicate flavors of just-ripe grapes.

“The advantage of the rosé is that it’s fermented in stainless steel, no oak barrels,” Beckman adds, “so it’s a lot quicker than if you ferment something in a barrel.” Heavier Chardonnays, for instance, are often fermented and aged for longer in barrel, while red wines need more time to settle and soften tannins.

The Balletto Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($18) is a light, bubblegum pink hue, and if the bubblegum aroma seems like too much “power of suggestion,” call it strawberry gelato if you must—or perhaps a bouquet of pink roses, fresh from the florist’s refrigerated case. Although it’s surprisingly sweet-bodied and substantial on the palate, this is certainly a dry, tart rosé with some zip and zing to the finish, following light, pink fruit flavors—as if steeped for seconds in a strawberry and guava herbal tea blend.

“This will pick up some weight and savory character with age,” Beckman advises. But in general, people want a rosé when it’s bright and fresh, he says, and because Balletto sold out of their last rosé at the end of June, some regular customers missed out during the tail end of last summer.

This is the kind of aperitif rosé that can be enjoyed with or without food—while cooking is one of the best times for rosé!—but should be welcome alongside soft, mild cheeses like Redwood Hill Farm California Crottin, chilled shrimp and vegetables with a mild hummus or ranch dip, or baked trout with asparagus.

Check out last week's Wine of the Week or other wineries to visit in Sonoma County