Rosé: A Wine for All Seasons

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

While I drink rosé wine all year round, there is something about the arrival of spring that seems to herald its arrival on the shelves of most wines stores. Rosé’s popularity just keeps on growing, if the number of choices in any one store 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.

In preparation for this post I have been attending tastings, scouting out local wine stores to try and taste as many rosé wines as possible. In past years readers have pointed out to me that I did not give sparkling rosé much attention. No such slip this year.

Making Rosé Wine
Typically rosé wines are made from black (or red) grapes, and traditionally the wine is fermented dry (i.e all the sugars in the juice are converted to alcohol). 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 ‘pink’ hue. The length of maceration time depends on the grape variety used, as well the winemaker’s color and style 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, also influences 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, most are made to be enjoyed for their youthful freshness and do not improve with extended bottle age. Colors range from the palest salmon hue to deep neon pink. Aromas and flavors are diverse and run the gamut of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant, cherry and watermelon interwoven with all sorts of dried herbs, spice, and floral notes.

Rather than just list my recommended rosé wines, I have arranged them geographically – a sort of mini world tour if you like. Price wise I have tried to keep it under $20 but I have deliberately included a few ‘special’ rosé wines, that are worth the splurge and really do show how great a rosé wine can be.

United States
A lot of pink wine made in the United States is off dry to medium sweet white zin. Personally not my preferred tipple, so when I drink American rosé I tend to reach for sparkling wine, as there is really a great selection, and not just from California, but also New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and New York state. Brands widely available include Roederer Estate, Domaine Carneros, Mumm Cuvée Napa and Schramsberg.

As I’ve recommended these producers before I wanted to make special reference to a new sparkling rose that I recently discovered from Handley Cellars in Anderson Valley) – a wonderfully cool place up in Mendocino county, northern California – an ideal climate to grow grapes for sparkling wine.

2006 Handley Cellars, Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, California, $40 – This is one that I put in the ‘splurge’ category. Beautiful, pale salmon color and the tiniest of persistent bubbles. Delicate aromas of cherries, wild red berries, fresh toasty brioche, with touches of wild rose and jasmine tea. Refreshingly crisp, focused, with a firm backbone of acidity and elegant, lively persistent mousse, intensely flavored yet very refined. Long minerally finish.

Three of my favorite producers of American dry, still rosé wines are:

2011 Wöllfer Estate Rosé Table Wine, Long Island New York, $14.99 – Pretty pale pink color, lively bright red fruity aromas. Crisp, very refreshing with lots of tangy flavors. Juicy with a moderate finish. Light-medium bodied.

2011 Channing Daughters Rosato di Merlot, Long Island, New York, $17.99 – Pale salmon color, pretty nose with gentle red summer fruits, hints of rose petal and tangerine. Refreshing with pristine red fruit flavors, juicy texture and appealing creaminess on mid-palate. Moderately long finish.

2011 Bonny Doon, Vin Gris de Cigare, Santa Cruz, California, $16 – Delicate salmon color. Lively and nicely layered nose Bing cherries, cranberry, and wild raspberry with notes of thyme and sage. Juicy, lively flavors. Good persistence and medium-long savory finish.

Leaving the United States for Europe, the first port of call has to be France, especially Provence, famous for its delicate rosé wines. Rosé wine is made all over France from the warmer Languedoc and Rhône Valley in the south to Bordeaux and even as far north as Burgundy and the Loire. This short list is but a tease for all the rosé that awaits you to try from France.

2011 Chateau Lascaux Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc, $17 – Fresh, crisp, appealing layers of garrigue, dried herbs and spice interlaced with ample bright raspberry, strawberry, cherry and citrus fruit. Juicy with moderate length.

2011 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris, Corbières, Roussillon, France, $16 – Really very pale color, delicate fresh aromas with notes of earthy minerality. Fuller body and rounder mouthfeel that expected given the nose. Firm with plenty of depth of flavor. Strong minerality on finish.

NV Domaine Chollet, Crément de Bourgogne “oeil de Perdrix”, Burgundy, France, $19 – Smooth creamy mousse, refreshing and brightly flavored -red-currants, strawberry, cranberry, earthy/underbrush notes, biscuit nuances. Well balanced.

2011 Argiolas Serralori Rosato IGT Sardegna, Sardinia, $15 – Cheerful, refreshing, lively and packed with juicy cherry-berry fruit. Medium bodied, solid with a moderately long savory finish.

2011 Poggio al Tesoro, Cassiopea Rosato, IGT Toscana, Italy, $15 – Very good structure. Lot of definition on the palate. Layers of flavor, juicy fruit, savory, earthy notes, minerality. Refreshing, yet firm. Long savory finish. Though I tasted the 2011, there is still a lot of 2010 in stores – which should be okay as it has enough structure and depth of flavor.

2011 Librandi Ciro Rosato, DOC Cirò, Calabria, Italy, $12 – I wrote delicious after tasting this wine. Combines subtlety with firmness, fruit and structure. Fresh, defined with plenty of flavor and a very long length. Nice gentle tannic grip with spicy clove and earth on the finish.

2011 Protos Rosado, Ribera del Duero, Spain, $18 -Very perfumed nose – inviting. Packed with bright raspberry, wild cherry, watermelon and strawberry aroma and flavors. Noticeable minerality. Firm acidity and backbone. While ripe fruit, lots of savory layers mingled in and nuances of bay, laurel and sage.

2000 Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” Rioja Garnacha Blend Rosado, $22 – A bit of a splurge perhaps and you will notice that it is from the 2000 vintage. Lopez de Heredia is famous for long aging its wines, even Rosado and they can take it. Showing delicious development – subtle earthy, leather nuances, dried flowers, savory, almost gamey notes. Extremely long, lingering minerally finish.

NV Vilarnau Rosado Cava, Penèdes, Spain, $15 – I recently discovered this Cava brand and I love it. Medley of red berry and citrus aromas and flavor, with just a nuance of brioche. Creamy, persistent mousse and tiny lively bubbles. Vibrant, balanced and refreshing.

2011 Argyros Atlantis Rosé, Santorini, Greece, $13 – Made from 80% Assyrtiko, which is a white grape, and 20% Mandilaria. So made slightly differently from the norm for rosé. Despite only being 20% the color is quite vivid. Lots of lively ripe red and blue berry aromas and flavors, strong savory, earthy notes, hints of spice and a touch of saltiness that balances the bright fruit. Firm tannic grip.

2011 Wieninger Rosé of Pinot, Vienna, Austria, $20 , – Very pale salmon color, slight coppery tinge, Dry and delicious, combines juiciness with a nice tight structure. Lots of red cherry and wild strawberries flavor, minerality and appealing savory note. Succulent slightly fleshy texture. Persistent.

Australia, South Africa and South America

2011 Yalumba Y Series Sangiovese Rosé, South Australia, $12 – Youthful, lively and refreshing. Cocktail of cherry aromas and flavors. Fairly straightforward and fruity, but juicy and well balanced, with a nice creaminess mid-palate. Moderate length.

2011 Jelu Rosé of Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, $10 – A great value spring or summer sipper. Vibrant red cherry-berry aromas and flavors. Slight tannic grip. Rounded mouthfeel. Easy-drinking and packed with ripe juicy fruit flavors. Medium-bodied and slightly warming with a juicy, fruity finish.

2008 Graham Beck Sparkling Rosé Brut, Western Cape, South Africa, $19 – A very tasty sparkler from South Africa. Pale salmon color with a bronze hue. Soft creamy mousse and fairly persistent bubbles. Flavors and aromas of red berries, fresh bread and a hint of spice. Smooth finish.

What rosé wines have you discovered this season?

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.