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It ain't Barbie's wine. There's more to rosé than meets the eye.
The weather's warming up, which means it's time to keep a bottle of rosé chilled and ready in the fridge at all times. Do keep in mind, though, that not all rosés are made equally. In fact, they differ quite considerably around the world.
With that, we bring you our quick guide to all things rosé, which should give you a better sense of what to look for--from the inexpensive, everyday pink drink all the way up to the serious (expensive) stuff.
How rosé is made: There are three main ways to make rosé, but only two of them are common, standard practice. Both of them involve crushing a red grape variety and keeping the juice's contact with the grape skins--which impart color--at a minimum.
A basic, skin-contact production method of rosé involves taking a batch of red grapes--say, Cabernet--and crushing the fruit and leaving the berries and juice in a tank for a few days at most. The skins are then pressed to impart more color and tannin; the skins are removed, and the dark pink or light red juice is then fermented (for a classic red wine, the skins and juice are fermented together for weeks before pressing and pumping the dark-red wine to oak barrels for maturation).
Perhaps the most common way to make rosé is known as the Saignée method, also known as "bleeding." This starts out the same as the above method, but is also used to make a red wine more concentrated. So let's say you're making a red wine, and the juice and skins are sitting together in the tank. After a couple days, you bleed off some of the pink juice into a separate tank. You ferment that separately to make your rosé, and the added benefit is that the higher skins-to-juice ratio in the first tank will help you make a more concentrated red wine as well as the rosé.
The third and final way of making rosé is to blend red and white wines. This is relatively rare except for in Champagne, where rosé Champagne is sometimes made by adding just a touch of still red wine to the blend to give the bubbly a pink color. (Although, there's another exception, below.)
The Grapes: Pretty much any red grape can be used to make rosé. In the home of rosé, Southern France's Provence, rosé is usually made of Grenache and Cinsault, but it's perfectly normal to see varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tibouren used as well.
It all just depends on what part of the world in which the wine is being made. In South Africa, for example, one of the best rosés is made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon by Mulderbosch. In Australia rosé is typically made of Shiraz; in New Zealand, you'd be hard-pressed to find a rosé that isn't made of Pinot Noir. And if you come across it, definitely try Il Mimo ($13) a rosé from Italy's Piedmont region, made from the Nebbiolo grape.
It's also very common that grape varieties are blended to make rosé, since the aim is usually to make a light, bright, refreshing, strawberry-flavored wine that's easy to drink--not designed to make you think. (There are exceptions, such as some more delicate and refined rosés exhibiting peach and wild strawberry flavors--these also tend to be pricier wines.) And depending on when and how the grapes ripen within any particular region (some ripen early, some late), blending is often necessary to maintain a consistent style or flavor profile from year to year.
Bieler Père et Fils Rosé 2010 ($10) from Provence, for example, contains 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Cinsault and 15% Cabernet. Taste 2010 ($14), made by Long Island winery Bedell Cellars, contains 62% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot. Keep in mind, the winemaker's plan usually isn't to provide a rosé that tastes like a particular grape variety, but one that tastes like the style we all associate as rosé. Blending helps the winemaker achieve this.
In part, it’s also why you should be able to find some well-known producers that make very tasty, wallet-friendly rosés. Prestigious estates in the Rhône Valley--such as Clos du Caillou, just outside Chateauneuf du Pape, and Jean-Luc Colombo in the Northern Rhône’s Cornas appellation--also make Cotes du Rhône-level rosés that cost as little as $10, while their top wines fetch $50, $100 or more.
The Styles: To repeat: Not all rosé is made equally. Some is designed to be fresh and fruity, and some is produced to be a bit more soft and round, even contemplative. This can be a simple matter of whether the wine was bottled with a screw cap--which does a better job preserving freshness--or with a cork. But there are some seriously expensive, high-end rosés that belie the "brighter, fresher, younger" paradigm of most pink wines.
Chateau D'Esclans, a Provence winery that's a regular fixture at our Around the World in 80 Sips™ tastings, matures some of its higher-end rosés in oak barrels to create more complexity in the wines. But you do pay accordingly for rosés that got the royal treatment--often as much as $20 or $30 more per bottle.
Perhaps the most prestigious Provence rosé is Domaines Ott, which typically runs anywhere from $35-$40, though some of the older vintages are even higher in price. The wine--which comes in a distinctive bottle that looks as though Barbara Eden might leap out of it--is made of Cabernet, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, and is aged in oak for several months before it's bottled and released.
If it's a toss-up between Ott and the world's other best-known rosé, Lopez de Heredia Rosado Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva ($26) from Spain, you'll want to try the latter. The main reason is that the current release of Lopez is the 2000 vintage--nearly 11 years old! All of this winery's reds, whites and rosés are cellared for several years, and only released when the winery feels the bottles are at optimal maturity. So Lopez de Heredia always offers a great sense of what a well-made wine tastes like with some age on it. The rosé, in particular, is made of Grenache, Tempranillo and a small amount of the white grape Viura, and it was aged for four and a half years in oak barrels.
We're not promising that you'll like this wine, but it's definitely worth trying once if the funds allow for a purchase. If nothing else, you'll learn that the world of rosé is much bigger than you ever thought. What's your favorite rosé? Share your pick below.