When most of us think of rosé (pronounced ro-ZAY) wine, we immediately think of White Zinfandel or other sugary-sweet pink beverages beloved of bachelorette parties and ladies’ luncheons. Because of the way gender works in our society, we often associate pink with sweetness and femininity.
Now, I don’t want to wine-shame anyone. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sweet wine. If you like White Zinfandel, drink it proudly! But even if the sweet pink stuff is your jam, you have other options. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Most rosé is nothing like White Zinfandel. It’s typically dry, meaning it has little to no residual sugar, and therefore is not sweet. It has fun, complex flavor profiles that include floral and herbal notes, fruit flavors, and minerality (when you can smell or taste rocks in a wine). It’s zesty, with high acidity that makes your mouth water like a glass of lemonade. It’s fun and refreshing, and at this time of year it’s everywhere!
So, what is rosé? Do winemakers mix up red and white wine until they get pink? To understand what rosé is and how it’s made, I need to talk nerdy to you. If you’re not interested in wine geekery, skip to the bottom section to read why you should be drinking rosé. Still with me? Cool, let’s learn something.
How Rosé is Made
First, let’s talk about grapes. Go to the supermarket and pick up a white (green) grape and squeeze it. The juice is clear. Now try squeezing a red grape. What color is the juice? Yep, it’s clear, too. The flesh and juice of red grapes is clear, so how does wine made from these grapes end up red?
When a producer makes white wine, they quickly separate the skins from the grapes before fermentation begins. This means the resulting wine will be clear, or perhaps have a yellow hue. When making red wine, red grapes are allowed to stay in contact with their skins for a long time—for days or even weeks. This causes the resulting to wine to appear red, to have more depth of flavor, and guarantees the presence of tannins.
If a winemaker wants to, she can remove the skins from red grapes immediately and produce a white wine from red grapes (known as blanc de noir, literally white from black, in French). This is common practice in Champagne and other regions that produce sparkling wine. I’ve even come across a white Pinot Noir from Oregon.
To make rosé, a winemaker starts with red grapes. The winemaker allows these grapes to maintain skin contact for a much shorter time than they would when making a red wine, usually for a few hours. This results in wine that is pink or copper in color, rather than red or purple.
The above method is the most common one for making rosé—simply remove the skins much sooner to give the wine a hint of color and flavor. Boom, you have a batch of rosé! Most of the rosé you can buy is made in this way. The other two methods are far less common.
The saignee, or bleeding method, is used when a producer wants to make an intense, concentrated red wine. A few hours into the process, they bleed off a small amount of grape must, removing the juice from contact with the skins. This grape must will be fermented separately and ultimately become a small batch of rosé. The wine left in the main vat benefits from more intense skin contact, producing a wine that will be dark in color, have powerful flavors, and a high level of tannins—excellent steakhouse wine. To recap, the saignee method produces a batch of super concentrated, delicious red wine that you’ll want to write home about, with the added bonus of a small batch of rosé.
Even less frequently, a rosé can, in fact, be created by actually blending a small amount of mature red wine (usually Pinot Noir) with a batch of mature white wine (typically Chardonnay). This creates a wine that is 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir, with a slight blush of pink color. Winemakers in the Champagne region are fond of this method to produce a blended sparkling wine. Ruinart’s Rosé Champagne is made using the blending method.
Why Should You Drink Rosé This Summer?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed a few trends that kick off in the warmer months each year. Social media hashtags proclaiming “rosé all day” repeat like a Top 40 refrain. Wine retailers erect monuments to the flavor of the season: displays of hundreds of bottles of pink and copper wine for generally low prices. It seems like everyone is obsessed with rosé during the summer. You may be scratching your head, wondering why this latest trend is such a big deal.
This phenomenon has several explanations.
1. Rosé is seasonal. Rosé is a wine that’s typically not meant for aging. The rosé made from grapes picked last year is ready to drink this year, and will quickly lose its flavor integrity if left forgotten in a cellar for too long. Each spring, the rosé produced from last year’s harvests are shipped around the world, and the influx of product means happy drinking for all of us.
2. Rosé is cheap. Even rose imported from places like Provence, France costs an average of $6 to $16 a pop. More exclusive rosé exists for higher prices, but this is one time you can count on the cheap stuff being just as tasty as the higher end bottles.
3. Rosé goes with just about everything. Food wise, rosé is an easy wine to pair. Salads, dips, seafood, poultry, fruit, and even BBQ all benefit from a glass of rosé. It’s one of the few types of wine that you can drink with spicy food without burning a hole in your tongue. In the mood for Thai? Bring a bottle of rosé. Going out for oysters? Try a sparkling rosé from Provence or the Loire. Backyard barbecue? Many of your summer snacks—chips and salsa, roasted corn, grilled chicken, pork tacos, and watermelon—are perfect matches for a glass of rosé.
4. Rosé is refreshing. It boasts crisp acidity, low sugar content, fruity and floral flavors, and an ephemeral taste that doesn’t linger on the palate. A glass of chilled rosé is the perfect thirst quencher for yard work, lounging by the pool, and outdoor concerts. Summer activities are better with rosé.
5. Rosé is a great mixer. You don’t have to drink it by itself. This is one of the few times I advocate watering down your wine. Fill a glass with ice, add some rosé, then top with club soda and sliced limes for a badass wine cooler. You’re welcome.
6. Rosé is fun. It’s visually stunning. Rosé ranges in color from pale carnation pink to coppery salmon to deep magenta. Remember, we eat with our eyes, and brightly colored drinks can make a meal more enjoyable.
7. Rosé doesn’t have to be girly. Not that there’s anything wrong with being girly, but men out there shouldn’t be afraid of enjoying a glass of pink wine. Fellows, bring a bottle to the beach and proudly share it with the ladies or men in your life. You might even make some new friends.
Which Rosé Should You Try First?
I love trying new things. My idea of a fun Saturday afternoon is heading over to Total Wine and grabbing a few random bottles off the shelves, then taking them home for my own private tasting. If you don’t like to leave things to chance, don’t fear! I’ve blazed the trail for you and have a few rosés I can recommend.
Royal Provence, Rivarose Brut, Provence, France
Grapes: Rivaner, Syrah
Tasting Notes: This sparkling rosé is one of my top picks this summer! It’s delightfully bubbly with delicate strawberry flavors with a touch of citrus and minerality. I could drink it by the gallon.
Where to Find It: This may be exclusive to restaurant retail. If you’re in Texas, you can get this at both The Four Seasons and at my wine bar, Old Town Wine House. Price varies.
If You Can’t Find It: Try another sparkling Provençal rosé, such as Maison Fortant Brut (www.warehousewinesandspirits.com), $14.99
Famille Bougrier Rosé d’Anjou 2017, Loire Valley, France
Grapes: Gamay and Grolleau
Tasting Notes: Light and crisp with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberry, white raspberry, and watermelon rind. Delicious, refreshing, and dangerously like drinking juice that will get you buzzed.
Where to Find it: Total Wine, $11.99
If You Can’t Find It: You really can’t go wrong with French rosé. Just pick one.
Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2016, Cotes de Provence, France
Grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Vermentino
Tasting Notes: This one is a bit pricier, and perhaps a bit cliché (it’s also known by its nickname, “Hamptons Water.”) Still, Whispering Angel is worth a taste. Enticingly aromatic floral nose, with flavors of sweet strawberries and peaches on the palate, balanced by mineral notes.
Where to Find it: Total Wine, $15.77
Domaine de Bendel, Cotes de Provence 2016
Grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre
Tasting Notes: Deep salmon color with orange and coppery tints. Aromas of cantaloupe, strawberry, herbs de Provence, and lavender blossoms. On the palate, green flavors abound: fresh herbs, cut dandelion stalk, and melon rind.
Where To Find It: Total Wine, $16.99
If You Can’t Find It: Pick any rosé from Provence. Drink. You win.
Kerloo Cellars Painted Hills Vineyard Rose, 2017, Columbia Valley, Washington
Tasting Notes: This wine is a beautiful pale salmon color, suggesting delicate and ephemeral flavors. On the nose, I smelled melon rind, citrus (grapefruit, lemon zest), and white flowers. Mouthwatering flavors of cantaloupe and pink grapefruit exploded on the palate. This is an excellent rosé and it’s worth the price and shipping, trust me.
Where to Find It: Kerloo‘s website, $24
If You Can’t Find It: Waters and Latta wines (also from Washington) make great rosé as well.
Charles & Charles Rosé 2017, Washington
Tasting Notes: The wine is coppery pink with fuchsia reflections. This fruity wine leads with wild raspberry and strawberry on the nose, accompanied by notes of lavender and herbs, citrus, and rose petals. These flavors continue on the palate.
Where to Find It: Total Wine or grocery store, $10.49
If You Can’t Find It: You shouldn’t have any trouble.
Day Owl Rosé 2017, California
Tasting Notes: This wine is salmon colored with copper tints. On the nose, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and dried flowers dominate. On the palate, I tasted juicy cantaloupe, melon rind, and sour watermelon. This rosé would pair nicely with a watermelon-cilantro salad.
Where To Find It: Total Wine, $12.59
If You Can’t Find It: Try Dark Horse, another rosé from California. Dark Horse is more floral with notes of rose petals and strawberry flavors on the palate, but it’s also affordable and enjoyable.
I couldn’t resist including the more unusual rosés I tried. Sadly, these probably aren’t available in your typical wine store.
Boya, Leda Valley Rosé 2017, Chile
Grapes: Grenache, Pinot Noir
Tasting Notes: Though it wasn’t my favorite, this Chilean rosé was interesting. On the nose, lots of green: cut Bell pepper and fresh-cut grass. On the palate, tart citrus flavors and a hint of brine suggested that this might be the perfect rosé for oysters.
Yellow City Cellars, Texas High Plains Dead Flowers Rosé 2017
Tasting Notes: Funky nose full of medicinal herbs and stale tobacco. The flavor was pleasant, and very different from the aromas. On the palate, flavors of juicy raspberry, cherry, and burnt orange peel (like the garnish for an Old Fashioned) gave way to a finish reminiscent of strawberry and banana candy.
Chateau Goudichaud Rosé 2017, Graves de Vayres, France
Grapes: Bordeaux red blend
Tasting Notes: When I think Bordeaux, rosé is not a wine that comes to mind. Yet, here it is, a Bordeaux rose. In the glass, this wine is more orange and copper than pink, though it looks almost red in the bottle. On the nose, ripe strawberries and cherry blossoms are the main players. On the palate, I detected crunchy red fruits and a definite hint of tannins. The taste overall is bright, though the wine has an almost medicinal finish to my taste.
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There are thousands of rosés on the market, either at your local grocery store, specialty wine shop, or one click away on your internet browser. With low prices, they’re a low risk/high reward wine to try.
Be adventurous, fill your glass with something pink, and toast the summer. Like this wine’s ephemeral flavors, it won’t last forever.