“That just might be the girliest thing I’ve seen you drink all year,” said my friend as I sipped on a vibrant pink glass of rosé at a local wine bar recently. This friend of mine trained in the army, still wears her sturdy combat boots, and doesn’t own makeup — the least “girly” girl I know. When I suggested she try my wine, she refused to let go of the grip she had on her own full glass, which she had ordered from the “Sociable Reds” category on the wine list.
I didn’t understand her hesitation. If she were truly feeling sociable, she would have at least sampled a sip. After all, there’s nothing more friendly and approachable than a chilled glass of pink rosé on a sunny, spring day. “Come on, you’ll like it,” I said. “I promise, you won’t turn into Barbie if you try it.”
“But it looks like Arbor Mist!” she said with a laugh. “Too sweet for me.”
Yes, the Spanish 2011 Celler el Masroig Les Sorts Rosat in my glass was undeniably bright pink in color. And yes, it did look dainty and feminine and flirty. But it was also everything a serious rosé should be — youthful and vivacious, with ripe, bold berry flavors, juicy acidity, and a hint of spiciness. It made me feel good when I drank it — revived and refreshed — and it was far from being too sweet.
I’m always happy to welcome rosés back around this time of year. I look forward to their annual debut the same way some people anticipate the seasonal arrival of rhubarb, blossoming tulips, or fresh green peas. For me, the reappearance of various shades of pink bottles on display in wine shops is what truly marks the beginning of spring. So of course I was going to celebrate the onset of warmer weather with a nice glass of rosé. My friend, however, was unmoved by its arrival.
To be fair, the low expectations she had for the wine weren’t entirely her fault. Plenty of rosé rejecters have the same false perceptions and opinions of pink wines. After all, it wasn’t that long ago those embarrassing misrepresentations of real rosés — white zinfandel and low-quality, mass-market blush wines — were the face of pink wine and elegant rosés went largely unnoticed. You still find entirely too many rosé imposters on shelves today — from producers like Sutter Home or Cupcake or Skinnygirl — and sadly, for some wine lovers, the unpleasant memories of sickly sweet blush wines are hard to shake.
It’s important to realize that rosés and blush wines are not one in the same. Aside from their vibrant pink colors, they actually don’t have much in common at all. The biggest difference between the two is the quality of their production: Blush wines are an easy, quick, and inexpensive blend of red and white wines together. Traditional rosés from Europe are never made this way — it’s illegal.
But the strict restrictions haven’t always existed. A few years ago, there was a push from winemakers who wanted to mix their surplus red and whites together to produce a less expensive rosé. After much debate, in 2009, the European Union decided not to allow blending in order maintain quality control. Champagne is the only controlled appellation in Europe permitted to use this method for making rosé wines. Other countries like Australia, South Africa, and the United States, permit wineries to take shortcuts by mixing red and white wines, though it often results in a rather undesirable low-quality blush wine.
It was everything a serious rosé should be — youthful and vivacious, with ripe, bold berry flavors, juicy acidity, and a hint
Traditional rosés made in European countries like France, Italy, and Spain, are produced one of two ways. Most commonly, skins of red grapes are briefly left in contact with the juice during fermentation before being removed — usually no more than three days. This helps extract a little color pigment and light tannins for structure. The longer the skins stay in contact with the juice, and the darker the grape’s skin is in color, the deeper in pink the final rosé will be.
Another way to make a rosé is the saignée method, where a certain amount of juice is leaked — or “bled” — from tanks of red wine at an early stage during its fermentation process, when it’s still pink in color. The juice that is removed is then separately fermented to produce rosé wines, and the juice that remains in the tanks continues to involve into a more intense red wine.
They may not have always been taken seriously in the past, but real rosés have come a long way since the era of white zinfandel. There’s no reason to think of rosés as unsophisticated or unpleasant anymore. According to the International Wine Review, the sales of rosé wines shot up 28 percent here in the States in 2012 — a good sign that pink wines are on the rise again — the right ones this time. What’s even better is how incredibly affordable they are, with many priced under $15.
When looking for the right bottle of pink to buy, you can’t ever go wrong with France — home to some of the world’s finest rosés. Provence, in southeastern France, is the area most famous for its rosés, which are often pale pink in color. The Rhône Valley produces exceptional ones as well, especially the almost red tinted rosés from Tavel, a legendary region that only produces rosé wines. And if you like a hint of sweetness, look for ones from Anjou, a small area in the Loire Valley known for rosés of a vibrant and sophisticated sweeter style.
But don’t stop at France. There are other places that take rosé just as seriously. They’re made all over the world — in Italy, Spain, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, California, and Austria. And depending on where they come from, rosé wines can be made with syrah, cinsault, gamay, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, sangiovese, merlot, tempranillo, grenache — or any grape, really. Where red grapes can be grown, rosé wines can be produced.
There’s no better time to drink pink than right now. So over the past two weeks, I’ve made it my mission to taste at least one rosé a day. The collection I gathered represented various places, and they presented a wide range of colors. Some were pale pink and almost translucent. Others were deeper and darker, magenta in color, and could have easily been mistaken for a lightly tinted red. A few even had hints of mandarin orange in their color.
Not all of them were as pleasant and elegant as rosé wines should be. I tried one made entirely with malbec from Argentina that smelled more like a dirty gas station than a basket of freshly picked berries or flowers. And the taste of another was more reminiscent of a watermelon flavored jolly rancher candy than it was of a refreshing wine.
But the best rosés had all the right compelling characteristics — they were vivacious and uplifting, fruity and floral, and not overly sweet at all. My favorites had a touch of spice, a handful of fresh berries in the glass, and a bit of tannic structure, which made them a friendlier match with food. I even invited my not-so-girly friend to be part of the tasting, who left my apartment with two of her favorite bright pink bottles in hand.
“I never thought I’d enjoy embracing this part of my femininity,” she texted me when she got home. “I’m on my second glass, but don’t tell anyone.”
The following wines showcase how truly diverse in color and flavor rosés can be. I’ve covered the French classics, but also ventured to other regions that take rosé winemaking just as seriously.
Tavel, Rhône Valley, France, 13.5% ABV, $14.99
From the legendary Tavel region — which only produces rosés — this wine is serious and substantial. Almost red in color and full of cherry aromas. Tastes like biting into a blood orange while standing in a field of blossoming flowers.
Provence, France, 12.5% ABV, $17.99
A slight splurge, but by far the most elegant rosé I tasted. Remarkably pale in color — I could almost see through the glass. Smells like a bouquet of white flowers and tastes like a juicy grapefruit, with a graceful trail of minerality on the finish.
Rhône Valley, France, 13% ABV, $14.99
A rosé of grenache, cinsault, and syrah grapes, this one is light salmon in color with aromas of ripe strawberries on the nose. Fresh and charming, but leaves a pleasant hint of spiciness on the palate. Would pair well with a variety of light and fresh meals.
Anjou, Loire Valley, France, 11% ABV, $10.99
From Anjou, where a slightly sweeter style of rosé is traditionally made. Vivacious, bright, and full of fresh raspberry flavors, this one may be a tad sweeter than others, but has good acidity to balance it out.
Loire Valley, France, 12% ABV, $8.99
A good-value rosé made entirely from gamay grapes — better known for their use in the popular fruity wine, Beaujolais. Smells like a basket full of just-picked berries, with fresh but spicy flavors in the mouth.
Rioja, Spain, 13% ABV, $11.99
Made from Rioja’s star grapes, tempranillo and garnacha, this Spanish rosado is lively and juicy, herbal and floral, and totally easy to drink several glasses of — trust my word.
Umbria, Italy, 12% ABV, $8.99
One of the most unique of the bunch, this rosato is not only fresh, fruity, and bursting with berry aromas, but it also has hints of freshly picked herbs and a savory finish. It’s a blend of sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and aleatico – an ancient local Italian grape.
Illustration by Claire Jelly