Provence and the Languedoc Roussillon, in the South of France, are probably the first places that come to mind when thinking of rosé wines. However, today wine store shelves are packed with rosé wines from every corner of the winemaking world. From the palest salmon to deep pink, side by side, you will find a very diverse palette of colors and tastes.
These days almost every red wine producer makes a rosé. But that is not all; such is rosé’s popularity that we are starting to see rosé wines made from white grapes, which seems a bit of a contradiction.
Last year, a newbie for me was ‘pink’ Pinot Grigio. However, this is not really an anomaly given that the skins of Pinot Grigio grapes are actually slightly pink and can be macerated a bit more rigorously to produce a delicate rosé.
More unusual is Pink Prosecco because Prosecco is actually a white grape. It is made pink by blending in local black grape varieties, which are macerated on their skins to produce the color.
Another ‘newish’ offering in the ‘pink’ market is Pink Port. Created by Croft, and made from the usual mix of red port grapes, it is an interesting innovation that tries to position port as a more contemporary drink, and also capitalize on the growing rosé and cocktail market.
How Rosé Wine Is MadeTypically rose wines are made from black (or red) grapes, and traditionally the wine is fermented dry. While different production methods exist, the most usual is ‘maceration’, whereby the black grapes are gently crushed and the juice is left in contact with the skins for short time to extract just enough color to achieve the desired hue. The length of time depends on the grape variety used, as well the winemaker’s preference.
Once the maceration is complete, the wine is fermented, like a white wine, off the skins. The choice of fermentation vessel, as well as fermentation temperature will also influence the resulting style of wine. Cooler ferments tend to produce more fruit driven styles, while warmer fermentation temperatures give more structure to the wine.
Some styles such as ‘Blush’ or Vin Gris are the palest in color, as they do not go through any pre-fermentation maceration. Off-dry or sweeter styles are usually fermented dry and then some sweetening concentrate is added back, or the fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol.
Most rosé wines are best enjoyed within a year or two of their release. While many can hold up well for a few years, they really do not improve with extended bottle age. Colors range from the palest salmon hue to deep neon pink. Aromas and flavors include strawberry, raspberry, redcurrants and fresh cherry interwoven with all sorts of dried herbs, spice, and floral notes.
But how do you know which wine you will like best? Sometimes the back label will tell you whether it is a dry or off-dry style, but often not. Experimentation is one way to find the rosé that works best for you. Alternatively here are a few guidelines that hopefully will help you navigate your way through the selection on offer.
Rosé Wine Buying Tips
1. Look for the current vintage, which this year will be the wines of 2009. Although, I did taste a number of 2008’s that had retained a lot of freshness and youthful bright fruit.
2. As most rosé wines do not indicate whether dry or off-dry, it is worth remembering that in general, old world producing countries will be dry. For the New World, ask the sales assistant, if the back label information does not help. Another tip is to look at the alcohol level. If below 11 or 12% the chances are it might be off-dry.
3. Ask about the grape variety. Traditionally in the south of France rosé wines are blends from different grape varieties such as Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Today we see more and more varietal rosé, made from Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec to name but a few.
4. Experiment – Rosé wines are keenly priced. Most run from under $10 to about $20. Try different ones for sipping, or with your favorite foods.
At the table rosé wines offer incredible pairing possibilities. While at home with Mediterranean cuisine, they also work perfectly with seafood, pizza, pasta, salads, grilled fish and even hamburgers.
Mary’s Top Rosé Picks
• 2009 Chateau de Lancyre Rosé, Pic Saint-Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France, $16 - Medium salmon color, this wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Quite full-bodied and very minerally showing off classic notes of garrigue and delicate lavender. Lots of wild strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors to balance the wonderful minerality.
• 2009 Domaine de Familongue Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc, France - Delicate pale, salmon color. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. Dry with aromas of pear-drop, anis and creamy strawberry jelly.
• 2009 Kaiken Rosé of Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, $15 – Quite a bright cherry color. Medium bodied, with lively acidity it is packed with ripe, juicy red fruit – strawberries, red cherry and watermelon and has attractive floral aromas
• 2009 Chateau Margui Rosé, Coteaux Varois en Provence, France, $20 - Delicate salmon pink color, This was one of my favorite wines both to sip on its own as well as with food. Refreshing with bright strawberry, watermelon and hints of garrigue and anis. Silky smooth, with good structure and minerality on the finish.
• 2008 Wild Rock Hawkes bay New Zealand Rosé Wine, $16 – This was actually the first rosé I have ever tasted from New Zealand. Quite vibrant pink hue, it is a blend of mainly Merlot with some Syrah, Malbec and Pinot Noir. Quite pure ripe fruit tangy cherry, strawberry, creamy redcurrant flavors with a lively zesty finish.
• 2008 Schiava Rosé "ViV", Vivallis , Alto Adige, Italy $11 – Deepish pink in color and made from the local Schiava (also called Vernatsch) grape. I love the savoriy note on this wine nicely intertwined with bright cherry (sweet and tart) fruit. Bright acidity, and a lovely earthy kick on the finish.
• 2009 Mulderbosch Rosé, Stellenbosch, South Africa – $10 - A South African rosé based on Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve tasted this wine annually for many years and it always pleases. And it is excellent value. Quite a deep pink color it is full of ripe strawberry, pomegranate and raspberry aromas and flavors. Easy drinking with a slight sweet note on the finish.
• 2009 A to Z Sangiovese Rosé, Oregon, USA, $12 – We usually think of Italy when we hear Sangiovese. Well, here we have an example from Oregon and pretty good too. It has quite a vivid pink color. Up front and fruity with wild strawberries, watermelon, sour cherry and lovely rose petal floral notes.
• NV Vinho Espumante, Bruto Baga Rosé, Luis Pato, Portugal $12 – I found this wine quite interesting. A great summer, dry pink bubbly. Refreshing and tangy and while it has lots of ripe fruit flavor (raspberry, watermelon, cherry), it has an attractive earthy minerally finish.
• 2009 Shinn Estate Rosé, South Fork, Long Island, New York, $16 - Another gem from our local wine area. Made from Cabernet Franc, for which they are well renowned. Really great fresh acidity that is well balanced, with delicate strawberry, pomegranate and raspberry flavors.
• 2009 Gai’a 14-18h Rosé, Peloponnese, Greece, $14 – Made from the local and, excellent Agiorgitiko grape. Medium-pink color, and it is fairly full-bodied. The name of the wine comes from the amount of hours the grape skins and must remain in contact. Great minerality on the finish, a touch of creamy roundness on the palate, and flavors of red cherry, ruby grapefruit and wild raspberry.
• 2009 Cerasuolo Montepulciano Rosé, Torre de Beati, Abruzzi, $16 – Very vivid, almost neon pink, this wine is made from the Montepulciano grape. you’d almost expect it to taste sweetish, but nope, it is bone dry. Ripe strawberry, tart cherry and redcurrants with a really nice spicy earthy finish
• 2009 Copain Rosé "Tous Ensemble", Mendocino County, California, $15 – A perfect summer rosé. It is made from mostly Pinot Noir and some Syrah and the fruit comes from cooler Mendocino County. Quite restrained fruit, wild red berries, watermelon and ruby grapefruit flavors with a hint of delicate smoke and summer flowers.
• 2009 Montes Cherub, Rosé of Syrah, Colchagua Valley Chile, $18 – Despite the very vivid deep pink color, this wine is wonderfully dry. Crisp, with ripe cherries, ruby grapefruit, red-currants and pomegranate with a really attractive peppery spice. Smooth and round on the palate and very long finish.
These are just a few of the bright, fresh rosé wines that we've recently tasted. Check out your local store to see what they have on offer.
Until next week, enjoy some pink wines!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman; Courtesy of wineries)