You know that spring has arrived when stacks of rosé wine start hitting the wine shops. From still to sparkling, dry to sweet, pale pink to deep fuscia , there is a huge diversity of styles when it comes to rosé. This can make finding the best rosé wines to suit your palate a little tricky!
What is Rosé?
Rosé is essentially a paler, lighter bodied version of red wine. It is generally made with red wine grape varieties. The difference is that rosé wines spend as little as a few hours, or up to two to three days, in contact with their skins, before being pressed and then fermented like white wine. Red wines are macerated on their skins for far longer (anywhere from one to three weeks). Rosé’s shorter maceration period means that the colouring pigments, aromatic compounds, and tannins found in grape skins have less time to leach into the wine, resulting in paler wines, with more delicate aromas and softer tannins.
What Grape Varieties are used to Make Rosé?
Each rosé producing country and region has its favourite grape varieties. I have tasted rosé wines made from dozens of different grapes, but some of the most popular varieties include:
- Grenache: fragrant raspberry aromas, moderate acidity, high alcohol
- Syrah: dark fruit & spice flavours, fresh acidity, firm structure, tannic
- Cinsault: light, perfumed (ripe to candied red berries), refreshing, low tannins
- Vermentino (aka Rolle): minor white grape used in Côtes de Provence rosé blends. Said to accentuate aromatics and give subtle saline nuances on the finish.
- Pinot Noir: elegant, with tart red berry and floral notes, crisp acidity, low to moderate tannins
- Sangiovese: high, crisp acidity, sometimes a faint sour cherry bitterness, generally very dry
- Cabernet Sauvignon: similar aromas as the red wine, if more restrained: bell pepper, black currant notes, crisp, medium bodied, with a firm structure, subtle tannic grip
- Zinfandel: overt candied red and black fruit, often produced in a simple, low alcohol, sweet style
How much or how little the chosen grape variety(ies) influence the style of the wine depends on how long the rosé macerates on its grape skins, and what percentage of each grape is used if a blend of two or more varieties is made.
Fun Fact about Rosé Wine!
Thanks to a big celebrity boost and some clever social media campaigns, rosé wine has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. Despite what you might think though, rosé is far from a new wine style. The Greeks were making rosé wines in the colony of Massilia (Marseille) back in 600 B.C. Long after the Romans arrived and started producing fuller-bodied red wines, the pale pink Provincia Romana wines remained popular.
Different Rosé Styles
The stylistic range of rosé wine is immense. From light-bodied, refreshing, bone-dry rosés to sweet, low alcohol, fruity rosés, and elegant sparkling rosés, there is definitely a rosé wine out there for you. The major styles include:
The majority of sparkling rosé wines follow the same initial winemaking as still rosés, followed by a secondary fermentation in tank or bottle to render the wines effervescent. Depending on the region, they can be mono-varietal wines or blends, and tend to have a fairly similar profile to their sparkling white counterparts, with more vibrant fruit, and a slightly weightier, rounder mid-palate. In Champagne, rosé is produced by blending still white wines and red wines together. This gives a slightly firmer, more structured style of sparkling rosé.
Try these styles:
- Champagne rosé, France (generally Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier blends)
- Franciacorta rosé, Italy (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc blends)
- Cava Rosado, Spain (a blend of white Cava grapes with a minimum of 25% red grapes including: Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir or Trepat)
Pale Pink to Salmon Coloured, Dry Rosé
Pale coloured rosé wine is generally “direct pressed”. This means that the grapes are only in contact with their skins for a very brief period (4 – 6 hours is common). This style of rosé tends to have fairly restrained aromas ranging from pink grapefruit, to subtle red berry notes, to floral or herbal nuances. They are light in body, often quite crisp and refreshing, with a bone dry finish. Pale, dry rosé is a great alternative to crisp white wines for pre-supper sipping.
Try these styles:
- Côtes-de-Provence, France (Grenache or Cinsault dominant blends from Provence)
- Côtes-du-Rhône or Costières-de-Nîmes, France (Grenache, Syrah led blends from the Southern Rhône)
- Pale Spanish rosado (Tempranillo-led blends from Navarra or Rioja)
Coral to Fuscia Coloured, Dry Rosé
Medium to dark coloured rosé wine is often fermented on its skins like a red wine for anywhere from 10 to 36 hours, before being drawn off its skins and finishing fermentation in a separate vessel. This process is called “saignée” which literally means bleeding off. Rosés made in this style tend to have more intense fruity aromas, a weightier mouthfeel, and firmer structure. They can also have subtle tannic grip on the finish. This denser style of rosé will pair well with a variety of lighter fare. You can serve it in place of light red wines.
Try these styles:
- Tavel, France (Grenache dominant blends from the Southern Rhône Valley)
- Navarra, France (Garnacha single varietal wines)
- Bandol, France (Mourvèdre dominant blends, South Eastern France)
- Marsannay, France (Pinot Noir from Burgundy) or Sancerre rosé (Pinot Noir, Loire Valley)
Off-dry to sweet styles of rosé have a long-standing and staunchly loyal following. They are often quite low in alcohol, with overtly fruity/candied flavours, and a smooth, rounded palate. Sweetness levels vary from subtle to pronounced. They can be anywhere from pale pink to deep fuscia in colour. These rosé styles are perfect for wine lovers with a sweet tooth.
Try these styles:
- White Zinfandel, California (medium sweet, low 9 – 10% alcohol, moderate acidity)
- Pink Moscato, California & Australia (Mosato, often blended with a touch of Merlot, medium sweet to sweet, very low 7.5 to 9% alcohol, moderate acidity, still and semi-sparkling versions)
- Rosé d’Anjou, France (mainly Grolleau grape, medium sweet, low 10% alcohol, brisk acidity, Loire Valley)
- Cabernet d’Anjou, France (Cabernet Franc and/ or Cabernet Sauvignon, off-dry, Loire Valley)
Oak Aged, Premium Rosé
Don’t be surprised if you see rosé wines well over the 30$ mark on wine store shelves these days. Many of these, especially from the rosé hot spot of Provence, are starting to employ fine white winemaking techniques for rosé. This treatment is usually reserved for the estate’s best parcels of old vines. Vinification practices include barrel fermentation, lees stirring, long barrel ageing, and so forth. The result is a concentrated yet voluptuous style of rosé with a creamy, layered texture and a complex array of subtle fruity, spicy and woody nuances.
Try these wines:
- Côtes-de-Provence top cuvées such as: Château d’Esclans “Garrus”, Clos Cibonne “Cuvée Speciale des Vignette”
- Bandol, France: Château Romassan (owned by Domaine Ott)
- Rioja, Spain: López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado
- Abruzzo, Italy: Valentini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo
Expert Tips to Get Maximum Enjoyment from your Next Glass of Rosé Wine!