Rosés used to be cheap. They also used to be bad.
For a long time, the rosés ubiquitously found in North America were sweet, insipid Californian ‘blush’ wines. Sure it was a way to get generations raised on soft drinks to see wine as a possible alternative on a hot summer afternoon. But not so great if you were a wine lover looking for something light, crisp and clean.
Globalization has taken care of what once was a dearth of rosés. Thanks to market demand and ever-improving palates, the choices on store shelves are now virtually endless, with every country and every style represented. Ultimately however, rosé does its job best when it’s uncomplicated, honest and subtle. No big oak. No effusive florals. Just clean, crisp and dry.
As with all wine, quality counts and quality and price often goes hand-in-hand. To get the best experience, buy the best you can afford. Of course, there are always great bargains and sleepers, to discover – let your palate be your guide. Taste a range of rosés to help guide you to your sweet spot: a balance of price you can afford and taste you love and appreciate.
There’s a misconception that rosé gets its colour from a mix of white and red wines. Not true. The wonderful pink – sometimes pale and enticing, sometimes deep and alluring – comes from the amount of time the skins stay in contact with the juice; much less time than for red wines, but still ranging from a couple of hours to a day, after which the juice is separated from the skins and vinification begins. (There are some deviations to this method, but without going into too much technical detail, this is by-and-large the major approach to making rosé.)
In addition to being great sippers on their own, rosés harbour a secret power: they pair well with food where other wines might not. Try a nice crisp rosé with grilled salmon, or watermelon and feta salad. Your imagination is your only restriction to deliciousness.
Here are a couple of pointers to help put you on the right path to pink when staring at a wall of wine in your local store:
Go Provençal when you’re looking for a drier, more savoury rosé. These wines, driven predominantly by the Grenache grape, are meant to pair with seafood, light pastas, and grilled white meats. They often have a saline or herbaceous quality, as they originate between communities that sit on the Mediterranean and where lavender grows like a weed. For more info, read up on the Cotes de Provence AOC.
Dry wines come from the rosé cru appellation of Tavel, some from Côtes-du-Rhône as well as from Costières de Nîmes. These wines tend to have effusive red-fruit flavors with great acidity. They are often be perfect for either sipping on the deck or for pairing with food.
Rosato – the Italian name for rosé – is as varied as Italy’s regions and climates, meaning the wines from here often differ in flavor and aroma. Because of this diversity, the key to finding one you like will be tasting. In the face of overwhelming choice, definitely ask for assistance.
Rosado is the Spanish name for rosé. And, while dependent on region and climate (like in Italy), a lot of rosé comes from Navarra, where it’s made from Garnacha (or Grenache, as it’s known to English speakers). Given the breadth of indigenous grapes found in Spain, it’s not uncommon to see blends led by say, Garnacha or Tempranillo, with the addition of other less familiar grapes to make up their rosé. (One of my favorites is Bodegas Muga Rosado – 60 per cent Garnacha, 30 per cent Viura and 10 per cent Tempranillo.) Often, amazing value wines – white, red and rosé – are to be had from Spain.
This was where the unfortunate definition for rosé (“blush”) in North America started: White Zinfandel was sweet, fruity and cheap. But California has upped its game. Today, amazing producers have eschewed this unfortunate original style of wine for European flavor profiles and philosophies. Buy a good producer and you will appreciate the juiciness, but also the crispness, and savoir faire of these wines. (Personally, I love Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon vineyards Vin Gris de Cigare!)
There is so much more to say about rosé. For a full primer, surf over to my colleague and fellow wine expert, Madeline Puckette at Wine Folly.