It’s Rosé Season Again! A Primer on Choosing a Great Bottle of Rosé Wine

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Regular readers at The Kitchn will know that I am a committed rosé wine fan, and while I drink rosé wine all year round, there is something about the arrival of spring and summer that seems to herald in these pink and salmon toned wines.

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Every year I say it and here I go again, rosé's popularity just keeps growing — if the number and diversity of choices is anything to go by.

For me, rosé is more than a simple pink wine. While certainly a symbol of summer sipping, the diversity of styles makes rosé a versatile partner at the table, and as I have mentioned in two recent ‘Wine of the Week’ posts on Chêne Blue and Clos Cibonne, not all rosé wine is created equally.

First let is go back to basics and take a quick 101 tour on how rosé wine is made.

How Rosé Wine Is Made

Typically rosé 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 wine style and 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.

Colors can range from the palest salmon hue to deep neon pink. Aromas and flavors span the spectrum from strawberry, raspberry, red currants, watermelon and fresh cherry interwoven with all sorts of citrus notes, dried herbs, spice, and floral notes.

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Off-Dry and Sweeter Styles of Rosé

Off-dry or sweeter styles such as White Zin', etc. are usually fermented dry and then some sweetening concentrate is added back in, or the fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol.

Rosé from White Grapes - Pinot Grigio Rosé

You may be surprised to hear that you can make a Pinot Grigio rosé. Though Pinot Grigio is a white wine grape, its skin is actually a grayish pink. With a little persuasion (a.k.a maceration), it can be persuaded to release enough color to qualify as rosé.

Rosé by Adding Red Wine - Rosé Champagne

One other more unusual method of rosé wine making is Champagne. Under EU wine law Rosé Champagne is the only wine that can be made rosé by the addition of red wine to the blend. The red wine must come from the Champagne region — where the official designation for still red wine is Coteaux Champenois. While this is how rosé Champagne has traditionally been made, not all rosé Champagne is made by the addition of red wine. Some producers prefer the maceration method as described above. 

Can Rosé Wines Age?

Most simple rosé wines are best enjoyed within a year or two of their release. While many can hold up well for a few years, most do not improve with extended bottle age. Of course there are exceptions like Rioja’s Lopez de Heredia (the current vintage of its "Viña Tondonia" Gran Reserva Rosado is 2000) as well as the wines from Provencal producers such as Clos Cibonne and Chêne Bleu. And don’t forget Rosé Champagne, the greatest of which can age for decades.

Choosing Amid the Vast Selection of Rosé Wine

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:

  • In general look for the current vintage, which this year will be the wines of 2012. Although, I did taste a number of 2011’s and even some 2010’s that had retained a lot of freshness and bright fruit.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Experiment – Rosé wines are keenly priced. Most run from under $10 to about $20. Try different ones for sipping, or with your favorite foods.

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Mary Rosé Picks for Summer 2013

There are simply too many great rosé wines available to include reviews for all I have tasted in this post. This is just a sampling to whet your appetite if you have not already caught the rosé bug! I would love for readers to add to my list by sharing their favorite or go-to rosé this summer. 

• 2012 Bieler Père et Fils ‘Sabine’, Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France $11 – A superb value rosé wine, from vanguard 'hipster' winemaker Charles Bieler (of Three Thieves and Charles & Charles wine fame). It is a blend of predominantly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault in the mix. A perfect summer sipper for the lazy afternoon in the garden or on the deck, as well as for  picnics and leisurely lunches. Pale salmon in color, this wine is packed with delicate but persistent lively flavors – a cocktail of red berries laced with notes of citrus, dried Provençal herbs and savory spice.

• 2012 Muri Gries Lagrein Rosato, Alto Adige, Italy, $16.99 – Pale cherry in color,  I especially love the wild berry, spicy and savory mineral aromas in this wine. It is made from the local Lagrein red grape. Crisp, refreshing and packed with tangy vibrant flavors. Perfect for lighter summer fare, it is especially great with air-dried or cured meats (think speck), salads and grilled fish. 

• 2012 Torre De Beati - Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cerasuolo Rosé, Abruzzo, Italy, $16.99 – I love so much about this wine, the bright, almost neon, cherry color that pops, the hand drawn label and of course the deliciousness of the wine. It is made from the red Montepulciano grape. Wonderfully dry and minerally, it is brimming with tasty cherry and strawberry fruit flavors. This is quite a full-bodied rosé to enjoy over dinner.

• 2012 Ktima Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé, Amyndeo, Macedonia, Greece,  $14.95 – I have a strong fondness for all Greek wine, and this delightful rosé made from the Xinomavro grape does not disappoint. Quite a vivid pink color, it offers a delicious combination of lively red and black forest fruit flavors interwoven with a distinct savory minerality and herbal, balsamic tang. Wonderful to pair with lamb chops, roast chicken or even a simple hamburger.

• 2012 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris, Corbières, France, $14.99 – A blend of mainly Grenache (70%) with 10% of each Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault, this wine has a delicate pale salmon color. Quite an elegant nose: minerally with delicate notes of wild strawberry, watermelon, cherry and a distinct ‘garrigue’ / wild dried herb note. Delicious, very refreshing with crisp acidity and restrained but persistent flavors that fill the mouth. Spicy tang with a subtle creaminess mid-palate and a long finish. Pair with a host of summer salads, grilled vegetables and seafood dishes.

• 2012 Nigl, Zweigelt Rosé, Kremstal, Austria,  $17.99 – I am a big fan of Austria’s Zweigelt red wines. It is great to see more of their rosé wines hitting the U.S. market. Deep salmon color. Aromas and flavors are a veritable tangy cocktail of berries — strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant — laced with citrus. It has delicious refreshing zesty tartness that is well balanced by the exuberance of the fruit, and savory kick on the finish. 

• 2012 Bedrock Ode to Lulu Rose, California, $24.99 – I bought this rosé wine recently. It was my first time to the wine, made by renowned Zin-head and maverick California wine maker, Morgan Twain Peterson. The wine is predominantly made from gnarly old vine Mourvèdre with a splash of old vine Carignan (Morgan, like his famous dad Joel Peterson, is major old vine fanatic). The wine successfully combines richness and fullness with lightness and brightness. Bright raspberry, wild strawberry and cherry fruit interwoven with savory spice, hints of pepper and dried herbs. This rosé is definitely one to savor with grilled meats.  

• 2012 Shinn Estate Rosé, North Fork of Long Island, New York, $13.99 – Deeply bronze-copper in color, this wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The nose is fairly ripe and intense, showing jammy strawberry and raspberry aromas with an overlay of creamy toffee. A firm spine of crisp acidity on the palate anchors the wine, which is rich and full-bodied. Packed with juicy, ripe flavors, it is a fairly bold, powerful style. One to enjoy at your next barbecue – it will pair really well with spare ribs or a juicy grilled cheeseburger.

• 2012 Bonny Doon, Vin Gris de Cigare, California, $15.99 – I buy Vin Gris de Cigare every year. It is a great staple / house wine to have on hand. It is pale salmon in color with coppery glints. Aromas and flavors are vibrant – cherry-berry with a nice juiciness and citrus tang. Attractive nuances of dried herbs and spice add dimension. This wine is a really great summer sipper on its own or pair it with salads and grilled vegetables.  

• 2012 Domaine Saladin Tralala Rosé, Côtes du Rhône, France, $19.99 — Pale salmon color, this Rhône Valley rosé is a blend of old vine Grenache and Cinsault. Tangy nose of ruby grapefruit and tangerine mingling with a cocktail of red berry fruit – cranberry, watermelon and raspberry. Crisp with a zesty kick, flavors mirror the nose. A very lively, lighter bodied style to enjoy as a supper sipper or serve with grilled white fish such as flounder or sea bass. It would also work well with tarragon roast chicken.

Until next week, enjoy something pink!