Making The Case For Rosé

In Europe, springtime is a time for celebrating the arrival of warmer weather and colorful blooms — and the release of the latest vintage of rosé. People clamor for rosé; it's the wine of choice for entertaining indoors and en plein air. The reason? Few wines rival the quality, versatility, quaffability, and affordability of well-made rosé.

A Wine That Can Beat the Heat

When the mercury rises, people's dining and entertaining habits change to match the season. We naturally gravitate toward lighter fare and avoid spending too much time cooking in a hot kitchen. We shed our heavier winter wine choices, much like our wardrobes, and search for thirst-quenching wines that are more compatible with dishes prepared using delicate seafood, baby lettuce, and vegetables.

Everyone, from sommeliers to restaurateurs, wine experts, and foodies, clamors for rosé because it's what's commonly referred to as "a red wine masquerading as a white wine." In other words, you get the crisp, refreshing, food-friendly qualities of a white with some of the weight and complexity of a red.

Pink's Bad Rap

In the 1980s, bulk wine producers began selling pink plonk, aka white zinfandel, which became a notorious example of insipidly sweet wines completely bereft of character or nuance. As a result, rosé wine was rejected by two generations of wine drinkers with the mistaken view that all pink wine is poorly made. Wine industry pros have done a good job of proselytizing rosé in an effort to reverse American consumers' disdain for pink wine, and we have finally turned the corner.

Americans are beginning to "get" what Old World wine lovers have always known and, consequently, there is more fantastic rosé available to buy and drink. For quality, the benchmark has always been, and still is, French rosé, especially from Provence. These wines offer heady aromas, intense acidity, gobs of complex flavors, and can be had for anywhere between $8 a bottle to $20 without ever sacrificing quality.

So here's the skinny on how this lovely wine is made.

The Grapes

Generally, rosé is made exclusively with red grapes, but there are exceptions — as in rosé sparkling wines, which are often made with both red and white grapes. The grapes used depend on the region, preferred style of wine (dry, off dry, sweet, etc.), and can include pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, syrah, cinsault, tempranillo, sangiovese, and a host of other grapes.

In general, but not always, Old World rosé tends to be dryer than New World, but that is changing, and today rosés often taste as good as they look in the bottle. These beauties come in a kaleidoscope of salmon, pink, magenta, ruby, and mahogany tones and with just as many variations of aroma and flavor. Don't let the pale salmon or coral ones fool you; these can be just as scented and deeply flavored as any of the darker toned wines.

Here's a tip about rosé: Unless you are told the rosé you purchase can age, most rosé wines are meant to be drunk within one to two or three years, so don't hold on to them. Drink them now and enjoy them all season long.

The Method

Rosé wines can be made using several methods. There is the saignée (which means to bleed in French) method, in which whole clusters of grapes are stacked deeply in vats and the sheer weight of the grapes slowly bleeds out the pale juice. The trick is to press the wine without releasing any tannins or bitterness. These wines are generally, but not always, paler, fruitier, and more aromatic.

Pressé, or pressed rosé, is made using a bladder press that gently presses on the grape skins until the right amount of color has been achieved. For many rosé producers, this is the preferred method; it results in a lovely pale color with a zip of fresh fruit and aromas.

Maceration or soaking is another method where the skins are left in contact with the juice until the wine attains the right color. Once that is accomplished, the juice is drained from the skins and transferred into a tank to complete fermentation. This method can produce a deeper-colored wine, but there is always the risk of releasing bitterness and tannins.

Runoff is a method not generally used to produce quality rosé, and in essence it is wine made from tank run off collected after fermentation. It results in a deeper, darker rosé but generally doesn't taste of fresh fruit.