Dry rosé: What’s not to love? It’s a light, crisp option with some body and a distinctively fruity nose that promises summer in a glass. For the past decade, the rest of the world has watched the U.S. with amusement as we’ve embraced a wine that they’ve been drinking all along.
Pink Zinfandel is largely in the rearview mirror. Today, rosé offers a sophisticated alternative to white wine and stands up to a great variety of cuisines, especially when a heavy red just won’t do. But the revolution means also that walking into a shop for a bottle or two requires facing a wall of pink wines from all over the world at a wide variety of price points. How can you find that sweet spot of price and quality that works for you? Here are a few essentials to keep in mind.
In France and Italy, where rosé is a summer staple, the rule is to buy and drink only the current vintage, in this case 2019. American distributors often run discounts before the new wines arrive from Europe, but when it comes to rosé, you generally want current vintage only.
“But,” you say, “I’ve had some lovely rosés with a few years of age, and last year’s rosés are perfectly fine.” Yes—rosés from quality producers can certainly last for a couple of years and some can even age. (Most from Europe are under cork.) A couple of years won’t kill them. However, these wines are not necessarily made for it, so plan accordingly.
As with all wine rules, there are exceptions. Really old rosé from a high quality producer can be pretty special. At a tasting a few years ago at Domaine de Terrebrune, just east of Bandol, owner Georges Delille shared a gorgeous old bottle of rosé from the late 80s—caramel colored, dry, rich and, while oxidized, not unpleasantly so. It tasted like a dry sherry but with some fruit notes holding it up. It was a wonderful, interesting adventure—but don’t even try it without high quality product. Drink young!
Dry rosés are generally made in two ways producing two distinctive styles—and colors. Often, the lighter and medium pink rosés are made from the just-pressed grape juice macerated on the grape skins for a short amount of time. The skin of the grapes gives the nearly white juice some color and flavor complexity, and the longer the wine is held on the skins, the darker the color turns.
The second way rosés can be made is by a method called saignée (literally “bleeding”), where a small amount of juice is siphoned off of new red wine. What’s left behind becomes more concentrated, and what’s been bled off is used to create a rosé with a darker, richer color, one that tastes more like a light red wine.
With both methods, the color can vary widely depending on the grape varietal and how long the skin of the grape was in contact with the juice, but the flavors are very different and generally discernible when tasted side by side. For the sake of choosing in a wine shop, though, I generally call them “light pink” and “dark pink.”
“Light pink” roses are most common for wines from Provence—arguably the spiritual home of this wine style—and can contain a wide variety of grapes from Grenache to Vermentino. They are light and fruity, but still dry. Sometimes there’s a little bubble gum on the nose. Perfect for sipping poolside, many have a depth and dryness that make them terrific to pair with seafood, bouillabaisse, paella, and even pizza. Thai cuisine? Oh, yes. These light pink wines include those from Provence, the Southern Rhone, Italy, and even California.
The darker style, which I often call “Tavel-style” for the popular dark rose found in the small Tavel region in the Southern Rhone, is usually a much darker pink, more like the light red wine it truly is. Tavel rosés are heavier—more body, evident tannins, and less overt fruit with a drier finish. Tavel-style wines are more likely to be made by the saignee method, although it’s not required for the region; most Bordeaux rosés employ this method. These wines can stand up to heavy meats, barbecue, and seafood.
Rosés come from an amazingly wide variety of both red and white grapes. From Italy, you’ll see Vermentino and Sangiovese, while those from the south of France will be blends of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Syrah and Picpoult. Rosés from Bordeaux, the Lorraine, and California will often include blends of grapes grown in the region. As you try a few, you’ll decide for yourself whether you prefer those made with similar grapes or in a similar style. This is one strong differentiator to use as you shop.
Some rosés are consistently delicious in the $10-12 range, while others can top $25 a bottle. The range, especially for European wines, can be daunting. The most important thing to remember is that more expensive doesn’t always mean better. (My current favorite from Nimes in the Languedoc retails for $10 while some other favorite discoveries from Bandol, which sell for under 12€ in France, demand well over $30 a bottle here in the States. Proceed with caution.)
It can help a great deal to know which producers have rich pedigrees. The ubiquitous La Vieille Ferme with the rooster on the label that’s consistently delicious? It’s produced by the storied Famille Perrin just across the road in Chateauneuf du Pape from their much more expensive property, Beaucastel.
Celebrities have discovered the rosé business and the prices it can command so you’ll see brands like Provence’s Chateau Miraval (owned by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who cannot seem to figure how to divide the asset) and Maison No. 9 (fronted by musician Post Malone). Some of these wines are really delicious, but you can find less expensive alternatives by discovering a style you like, then trying similar wines. Rosés are great to buy by the case for the summer, especially if your shop offers a discount for doing so.
The most important rule—and here’s one to which we admit no exceptions—is to drink what you like. If you find a particular maker or style that fits your taste and budget, then go for it!