As temperatures rise, our drinking preferences tend to turn to wines that are more crisp and refreshing. Whites are certainly a solid warm weather option, but rosés are also a good choice.
Still fighting a reputation of being a sweet wine that is not taken seriously, the arrival of more dry rosés on the market is demonstrating that these wines have credentials to match even the most discriminating of tastes. Just like reds and whites, rosés come in a variety of styles, ranging from sweet to bone dry, and from light-bodied and “quaffable” to full-bodied and “substantial.”
The Path to Pink is Red
Rosé wines get their color and character from red grapes. When the grapes are crushed, a limited amount of grape skin contact is allowed with the pressed juice to extract color, a process called maceration. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the darkness of the grape and the winemaker’s desired level of color.
When the juice is drained from the skins, the resulting color can range from just a hint of pink to darker strawberry and cherry hues. By contrast, when making red wine, producers will sometimes leave the skins in contact with the pressed juice through the entire fermentation process, about two weeks.
Rosé can also be made by “bleeding off” some of the pressed grape juice within the first few hours of making red wine, a process called saignée (sang-yay). Although this technique is not widely used, some regions producing higher end red wines, such as Napa or Sonoma, may employ this method.
Blending – literally adding red wine to a vat of white wine – is another way to make rosé, although this method is not very common and usually not an indicator of quality wine. The one exception is rosé Champagne, which is most often a blend of red and white base wines and the only rosé that can be made this way in the European Union.
Any red grape can be used to make rosé, although some varietals are preferred over others. Grapes typically used in dry rosés include Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir, either as single varietals or as a blend. Since red grapes are used, rosés tend to be heavy on red fruit characteristics, with flavors of strawberries, watermelon, rhubarb, and raspberries. More intense rosés may also feature flavors of cherries and plums. Spicy and floral characteristics can include rose petals and dried herbs.
Sweet rosés are usually made from Zinfandel, Merlot, and Moscato grapes, although any wine can be made sweet by not allowing all of the grape’s sugar to ferment into alcohol. In addition to red fruit, sweeter versions may have more pronounced citrus and honeydew melon characteristics.
Whether dry or sweet, the wine’s flavor intensity will vary depending on the color and flavor intensity of the original grape, and how long the winemaker has allowed skin contact with the juice. Generally speaking, darker hued wines will have more flavor, intensity, and structure than lighter hued wines.
This Color Looks Good on Everyone
While part of rosé’s warm weather appeal is its light and fruity characteristics, its high acidity also makes it a versatile wine to pair with summer foods. High acid wines pair well with high acid foods, such as tomatoes and fruit, and act as a palate cleanser for dishes that are rich and fatty, such as cheese, burgers, and fried foods. The lighter, fruity character of rosés is also a nice complement to chicken, pork and fish.
Confirming this wine’s easy-drinking style, rosés are best consumed within a year or two of the wine’s release. Ageing for any extended period of time will cause the wine’s delicate fruit aromas to fade.
Most quality rosés you’ll find on the market today are from France, with the Provence and Bandol leading this charge, followed closely by the Rhone Valley and Loire Valley regions. In the U.S., the Sonoma and Santa Barbara regions are gaining a reputation for rosés that are more than just “pink and sweet,” and from Spain, rosés from the Rioja Alta region are also well-regarded.
If the label doesn’t indicate if the wine is dry (sec) sweet (demi-sec), check the type of grape(s) used and in what region the wine was produced for clues, or ask the sales assistant for a steer.
If you haven’t incorporated rosé into your summer wine rotation yet, give a few different versions a try to see which styles and grapes you prefer. You might find that your summers will never be the same again.