One subpar experience can turn a person away from a particular food or drink for life. In the case of rosé, though, its wide range mean oenophiles can almost always find one they love.
Maybe you tried a pale Provençal rosé once and its dry, herbaceous qualities turned you off rosé forever. Or perhaps you sipped a juicy, fruity, dark rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and—as a Sauvignon Blanc fan—you decided you didn’t like rosé.
My discovery of a juicy South African rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes a few years ago made me realize how much range this wine style truly has: There’s a rosé to suit every wine lover. I reached out to Morgan Calcote, beverage director of Charleston, South Carolina restaurant FIG, who clarified exactly what rosé is and pointed me to news I could use as I try to locate a new favorite. (Pro tip: You can drink rosé any time of year; it doesn’t have to be hot out!)
What exactly is rosé?
Quite simply, says Calcote, “it’s wine made from red grapes. Those grapes are harvested and then pressed and left with the juice and skins of the grapes sitting together for a period of time.” The skins “bleed” their color into the juice, and how much time the two spend together—typically hours or days, as opposed to the weeks or months typical of red wines—dictate how dark the rosé is.
It seems like good rosé can come from almost anywhere; is that true?
“With rosé, I think it’s one of those wines that transcends most regions and most wine-producing countries,” says Calcote. “You can get rosé from the major wine-growing states in the U.S. and from the major wine-growing regions in France, Italy, and Spain. Wherever red grapes are grown, there’s probably somebody making rosé from those grapes.”
What sorts of grapes can be used for rosé?
The grape varietal can determine “the intensity of flavor, fullness of body, and profile” of the resulting rosé, notes Calcote. And each grape is treated very differently: “A thin-skinned red grape like Pinot Noir which is delicate [may] need to sit a little longer to achieve a color. Something like Tempranillo or Sangiovese or Cabernet Franc, which are thicker-skinned with a more inherent tannin drying sensation, will sit for less amounts of time.” You’ll see Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes in many of the classic, typically pale wines from the Provence region, but you’ll also see Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and of course Zinfandel, along with other less common grapes.
Will I like Provençal rosés?
Rosés from Provence tend to have “a very broadly accessible palate,” says Calcote. Expect “pretty fruit qualities, and nothing very ripe: strawberries, watermelon, and honeydew aromas and flavors.” These wines are typically characterized by a soft herbaceous quality, and sometimes saltiness or rockiness, she notes, and tend to be very dry. Also, they’re simply “a great summertime rosé; they go with lots of cuisines and are delicious to sip on their own.”
What if I like something a little darker or juicier?
If you want to stick to France, look for rosés from the Tavel region, suggests Calcote, since it tends to produce fuller-bodied, darker-hued, slightly more savory wines because of the preferred regional style and different growing conditions.
Can I age rosé or do I have to drink it right away?
Rosé is “generally made to be consumed within a short time period,” says Calcote. (If you have a bottle that kicks around your kitchen until October, don’t worry about it, she laughed.) But there are exceptions, specifically those from Bandol in France. These rosés “are famed for being very ageable—decades, even, sometimes,” she says. “They become more savory over time, and their bright expressive fruit will integrate into the more aggressive aspects of the wine.”
I’m a Chardonnay drinker; which rosé would I like?
If you love an unoaked Chardonnay, look for a Provence style rosé, says Calcote, which will typically have a “bright minerality and bright, mouthwatering acidity.” If you prefer a rounder, richer Chardonnay, “you might want to look to something with a darker hue” with a more rounded, weighty mouthfeel. “Something like a Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre blend, or rosé made from Tempranillo.” And if you like a super-oaky Chard, be warned that “rosé is aged in stainless steel, and very rarely in oak barrels, to preserve its floral, fresh flavors.”
How about for Cabernet Sauvignon fans?
Look for rosé from the Tavel region of France, which should have “that robust savory style,” says Calcote. Certain rosés made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes or those using Syrah will also often deliver for you.
And Sauvignon Blanc?
Pinot Noir rosé may have the grassy, herbal notes you want, suggests Calcote. Look to wines from Provence or Cabernet Franc rosés from the Loire.
How much can I tell by looking at the color of the wine, anyways?
With rosé, says Calcote, you can draw some initial assumptions in the same way you would with red and white wines. “The palest pink will very likely be lighter-bodied, more gently fruity, perhaps savory, and should have a bright mouthwatering acidity.” It it’s closer red wine in hue, such as the deeply rose-colored Italian rosados, or Sangiovese, or dark rosés from certain parts of France or the United States, “you can expect more substantive mouthfeel and weight; perhaps the acidity isn’t quite so ‘jump out there and getcha,’ maybe it’s a little more subtle.” Darker rosé wines tend to have spent more time maturing with their skins, lending them “an overall fruitier or fuller mouthfeel in flavor and overall impression.”
Now get out there and find your dream rosé!
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.