If we were putting together the ideal guest list for our summer kickoff party, Helen Johannesen's name would be right at the top, because wherever Johannesen goes, eye-opening wine is guaranteed to follow. As the energetic and charismatic director of operations and beverage manager for some of Los Angeles' coolest restaurants—Animal, Trois Mec, Petit Trois, Son of a Gun, Trois Familia, Jon and Vinny's—and the proprietor of her namesake wine shop, Johannesen has built a sprawling wine empire across the entire city.
And Johannesen's breezy approach to recommendations makes her the perfect choice for cutting through dizzying wine jargon—so we decided to ask her to help with one of summer's biggest alcohol-related challenges: finding a quality rosé. What follows is a foolproof (and thirst-quenching) guide to the world of drinkable blush.
"There's a lot of shitty rosé out there," says Johannesen, quickly cutting to the chase. "There are a lot of mass-produced, underwhelming varieties which often lack texture, complexity, and overall tastiness." If you've ever come across a sommelier shying away from rosé, this is why. Wine pros know that many varieties of rosé are produced as an afterthought—either by carelessly blending red and white grapes, or by blindly siphoning a portion of the juice before it goes on to become red wine, without much consideration for the final product. It can often be the actual dregs of the wine world, if you will.
"Sommeliers crave the concept of terroir in wine," continues Johannesen. "They're looking to taste and smell an entire story within each bottle—and, oftentimes, rosé does not deliver that complexity." But Johannesen assures us it's not a lost cause, saying that rosé can surely be top-notch, so long as "you get your hands on the gems."
Here, Johannsen offers her five rules for finding these gems in your local wine shop, plus five of her favorite bottles that meet all the criteria of a standout rosé.
"Although color doesn't denote the sweetness or body of the wine—it's actually an indication of what kind of grape was used to make it—it's still something to consider if you aren't confident in various styles. If you know you like pale, dry, Provençal rosé, don't stray far from the path. Unless you know the producer, a deeper-pink rosé might not be your speed."
Fancy Bottle Shapes Are Lame
"Look, I get it, mass-market wines like Miraval, Whispering Angel, and Domaine Ott all have fun, funky bottle shapes, but you're wasting your money on something overproduced and underwhelming! Rosé should be treated as a limited-release, small-production gem that comes in every year in April and is gone by August. You have to ask about about the small producers with limited allocation. This is not the stuff you see at Whole Foods, but it's absolutely worth the search for something magical without the fancy bottle illusions."
Get to Know Importer Names
"Another rule that can help determine quality is to buy wine from certain importers or distributors who've already done all the work finding the best wine. If you go into a wine shop and say: 'What kind of rosé do you have from Neal Rosenthal?'—who is an amazing national importer of mostly French and Italian wine—then you've narrowed yourself into a great selection."
Yes, You Can Look Beyond Provence
"I think there's some really exciting rosé coming out of California, particularly pinot noir-based varietals. I don't have tons in my shop at the moment, but I'm excited for when they all start landing in the next few weeks. There's also a small amount of producers who make Sancerre [a light white wine from France's Loire Valley] rosé, which can be absolutely exceptional and worth asking about."
Don't Be Afraid to Go Big
"I'll be trying to sit by as many pools and beaches as possible this summer (while covered in SPF 1000), and I'm not scared of going big with my wine choices while I'm at it. Rosé is always more impressive when it's spilling into your friend's glass out of a magnum-sized bottle. Be a boss about it."
Commanderie de Peyrassol, Côtes de Provence, 2015 "Wine has been cultivated on the lands of Château Peyrassol for hundred of years, way back to when the Knights Templar were protecting the crusaders. Needless to say, this area has been through it! This rosé is a beautiful, pale color, and a refreshing yet utterly serious rose. It's awesome alone, or killer with food."
Pinot Gris Rosé, Domaine Reuilly, 2015 "This rosé is so unique! First of all, it's so pale it almost looks yellow, but it has this fresh, lemony factor that zip-lines through it—and, coupled with the amazing weight from the pinot gris grape, it's one of my all-time favorites."
Domaine de la Manarine, Côtes du Rhône, 2015"This rosé is mostly grenache [a red wine grape originating from Spain]—it has a slightly deeper hue, but it's very fresh with a nice strawberry acidity."
Bourgogne Rosé, Thierry Richoux, 2014"Made from pinot noir in Irancy [a commune in Burgundy, France], this is a racy and bright rosé with a wonderful texture. (Thierry Richoux is also a total hunk à la Gérard Depardieu, and makes the wine with such passion that it's hard not to be totally enamored by him.)"
Arnot-Roberts Rosé, Healdsburg, 2015 "This wine is interesting because it's made from 100% Touriga Nacional, which is a grape mostly seen in Portugal. The result is a bright, lush, elegant rosé that's great on its own and excellent with food."