A rose by any other name would smell as sweet—and a rosé by any other name would be as pink. Would Shakespeare not be proud? If you have ever wondered about the provenance of the pink stuff—where it’s made and how it’s made, for instance—your primer has arrived.
How It’s Made
By technical standards, rosé is wine that assumes some pigment from some version of skin contact with red grapes. Although that’s a basic distinction, there are several methods of producing rosé. The saignée (or “bleeding”) method involves leaching off some of the juice produced by red wine after it has had skin and seed contact. Rosés made using this method are typically darker in color and bolder in flavor (this is not your Provençal-style, onionskin pink rosé). Wines like this appear throughout the world, most notably in places like Spain and Italy, where the standard is to produce more robust versions of pink wine.
But rosé can also be produced in other ways. A simple contact method yields those famous light pink wines that rosé lovers around the world are so fond of. Dark grapes are crushed, and the skins remain in contact with the juice for long enough to impart color (typically less than a full day). Unlike in red wine production, when the skins are kept in contact with the pressed must during fermentation, in this method of rosé production, the skins are discarded after the first 24 hours. The result is a wine that can range in color from pale rose to deep blush.
A third method used to make rosé is actually blending. Fully fermented red wine is combined with fully fermented white wine in order to attain a balance of color in flavors. Few international producers employ this method in the production of still wine—but it remains popular in Champagne, where some producers blend wine prior to the second fermentation in order to achieve a pink sparkling wine.
In France, there are more methods still. Wine known as vin gris is pale pink wine made from pressing skin-on grapes without macerating them. The wines that fall under this category must be labeled as such and can only come from skin-tinted grapes like Cinsaut, Gamay, and Grenache Gris. Equally specific is the decolorization method, whereby fully fermented red wines are turned pink by the addition of activated carbon, which strips color from the wine. This method, to be fair, is exceedingly rare.
The Major Regions and Grapes
The traditional grapes used in rosé production differ from region to region. In Provence, home to some of the world’s most famous rosé (Provençal appellations include both Bandol and Cassis), Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdremake up the lion share, with blending grapes Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tibouren also chiming in. Tavel, an appellation in the Rhone Valley also known for its rosé, is a blend of Cinsault, Carignan, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. Sancerre rosé comes from 100 percent Pinot Noir, the grape also responsible—along with Pinot Meunier—for lending pigment to rosé Champagne.
In Italy, the grapes used in rosé (like the grapes used in still wine) are expansive, and depend on the sub-region. In Tuscany, the Montepulciano grape is a popular choice for rosé production, while in southernmost Sicily, the native grape Nero d’Avola makes a star appearance, along with, in most cases, Syrah. So, too, does native Nerello Mascalese, the dark-skinned grape that grows on the volcanic slopes of the island’s famed Mt. Etna.
The deep pink rosados of Spain’s Navarra region typically contain a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Garnacha (the same grape, genetically, as France’s Grenache). In Austria, the native grapes Zweigelt and St. Laurent are used, but German winemakers prefer the country’s Spätburgunder, which is actually Pinot Noir. American winemakers, bound less by rules and convention, produce rosé from numerous grapes, from Pinot Noir to Syrah to Cabernet Franc. Recent trends in more casual wine consumption have even moved some American winemakers, like Oregon’s Underwood, to sell their rosé in easily portable cans, rather than bottles.
Rosé is actually produced in most major winemaking regions, including Portugal, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, and Argentina. As the category’s popularity grows, so, too, has the movement to represent regions around the world.
Drink It Young…and Old
Most people making the case for rosé consumption will tout its virtues as a youthful subset of wine drinking. And it is true that drinking rosé young has some advantages. Current release vintages of rosé are at the peak of their color and freshness, meaning that the wines will be more fruit-driven, a little racier, and a little livelier. But time in the bottle, when it comes to rosé, is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider a Dom Pérignon rosé from the 1980s, which has developed secondary notes of bread and butter. The same can be true of still rosé—holding a bottle or two of the current release from a great producer back introduces deep complexity. The resulting wines are suited for any time of year, not just summer.
Picks We Love
Domaine Tempier, Bandol, France– This female-owned winery makes rich, opulent rosé.
Clos Ste Magdeleine, Cassis, France– Extremely limited production makes this one of the world’s rarest rosés. It’s a delicate gem if you can get your hands on it.
Muga Rioja Rosado, La Rioja, Spain– This nearly fuchsia wine can stand up to more substantial dishes, including anything coming from the grill.
La Spinetta “Il Rosé di Casanova,” Italy – A lively, spicy, and fresh wine made from a blend of Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile.
Tenuta della Terre, “Nere Etna Rosato,” Sicily, Italy – Made from Nerello Mascalese, this is a potent, earth-driven rosé that can hold its own.
Red Car Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma, United States – A delicate wine made by the boutique winemaker Red Car, this rosé teems with fresh melon and strawberry.
Ameztoi, “Rubentis,” Rosé Txakolina, Basque, Spain – In the tradition of Basque Txakolina, this wine is just the slightest bit effervescent, making it a fun and festive alternative to truly still rosé.
Schloss Gobeslburg, “Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg,” Kamptal, Austria – Considered a reliable Austrian producer, Schloss Gobelsburg makes this stunning-yet-sturdy rosé from native varietals.
Weingut Küntsler, Spätburgunder Rosé, Rheingau, Germany – A bright, clean representation of no-nonsense German winemaking.
Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rosé, Loire Valley, France– Known for their coveted limestone soils, Domaine Vacheron produces benchmark white wine, but the same is true of their mineral rosé, which is made entirely of Pinot Noir.
Castello di Meleto Borgaio Rosé – This Tuscan bottle is crisp yet full of depth, great on its own or with a picnic in the park.
Castello delle Regine Rosé delle Regine – This pink sparkling wine has fresh, berry notes and is a wonderful way to kick off an evening.
Domaine de Belambree Rosé – A classic Provence rosé with floral notes and a wonderful minerality.
Hannah Selinger’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kitchn, RawStory.com, Edible Long Island, Edible East End, and numerous other regional and national publications. A Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, she writes the monthly wine column for the Southampton Press. Hannah lives with her husband, two sons, and two dogs in East Hampton, NY. Website: http://www.hannahselinger.net; Twitter: @hannahselinger; Instagram: @druishamericanprincess.