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Why you need to consider more than just one shade of rosé

May 8, 2021, 4:00 PM UTC

Although the consumption of rosé is increasingly a year-round occasion, the shift to warmer weather provides the perfect excuse to find your next glass. But not all rosés are the same, and the wine’s hue can tell you a lot more about the body and structure of a wine than you might expect at first glance.

“The color of the rosé is a matter of how long the skins of the grapes are left in contact with the juice and the thickness of the skins of those grapes,” says Caroline McCarthy, a French wine specialist for wine importer Frederick Wildman. “Consequently, there are some small differences. Dark rosés can sometimes have a little more tannin and body than a paler rosé. The aromatics are really a function of which grapes are used.”

Provence, in the south of France, is arguably the most well-known region producing rosé, providing the archetype for what is considered a quality rosé: pale pink in color (and with French prestige).

“Provence was really able to capture a certain style of rosé; that style being very light, dry, and refreshing with bright red fruit and salty minerality,” says Margaux Reaume, cofounder of Argaux, a female-founded digital wine shop with a particular focus on small-production, family-owned, and responsibly farmed wines from around the world.

But there is so much more to rosé than just Provence. Even within France, there are other prominent regions—including Sancerre and Champagne. Beyond that, rosé production is growing in several regions around the world, including the United States, Germany, Argentina, and Italy, with the newly formed Rosautoctono Italian Wine Institute, an organization created in Italy to challenge French rosé.

“I love looking to the Mediterranean islands when I am looking for something interesting and a little outside the box. They always wow me,” Reaume says, suggesting wine buyers should look for rosés from Corsica, the Canary Islands, or Sicily. At the same time, Reaume underscores that Sancerre—a region usually known for crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc—also produces outstanding rosés from Pinot Noir grapes. And while the U.S. doesn’t have a specific region dedicated to just rosé production, she suggests looking at bottles produced in California, especially along the Central Coast. “Producers right in our own backyard are killing the rosé game.”

A lot of factors can affect the color of a rosé, including the production technique, the grapes used, and the terroir of origin, notes Sara Maule, Italian fine wine brand manager and specialist at Frederick Wildman. “In general, though, lighter pink wines are high in minerality and acidity, and lighter in body; darker pink wines have usually a fuller body and more fruit flavors, such as raspberry and strawberry,” she explains. “If the rosé is darker and leading to an orange hue, it usually means that is produced in a natural, biodynamic way. A dark color is not an indication of more or less sweetness in the wines.”

Red wine grapes like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot tend to give more salmon to onion skin color, while Malbec remain always on the red or pink side, says Pablo Cúneo, head winemaker at Luigi Bosca, Argentina’s oldest family-owned winery.

“The main and most important factor is the grape composition,” Cúneo continues. “The balance between color and tannins of the grape will define in a big proportion the hue. The colors of the anthocyanin [the color pigment found in plants] are red or violet, depending on the pH level, and the tannins’ color is yellow, so the rosé color will depend on the natural balance of these two grape components going from red-pink color to more salmon or copper color.”

Rosé wine can be produced three ways: direct press, blending, or the saignée (bleeding) method. “The shade of a rosé can actually give you great insight into the style and flavor profile of the wine,” Reaume concurs.

“The saignée, or ‘bleeding,’ method is when the red grapes are harvested, brought to the winery, crushed without the removal of the skins and stems for usually six to 12 hours,” Reaume explains. “This method can produce a light to dark colored rosé. It all depends on how long the winemaker allowed the juice and skins to macerate together. However, rosés made in this method will have a little more body to them and usually very slight tannin from the skin and stem contact.”

In contrast, the blending method—used for producing rosé Champagne—is more straightforward. This method involves blending white and red grapes to produce a rosé with the color hue and flavor profile the winemaker desires.

Finally, direct press is when red grapes are harvested, brought to the winery, and gently pressed off their skins. The only way that rosé gets its familiar salmon pink hue is from this brief pressing period. The wine is then vinified (like a white wine), which produces the lightest hue and style of rosé. Reaume adds these rosés are usually very citrus-driven, with fruity notes like pink grapefruit, watermelon, and strawberry. 

But perhaps the biggest misconception about rosé wine is that it is sweeter than your average white or red wine. “The most important thing to know about the wine’s hue is that it does not affect the sweetness of the wine,” McCarthy says.

Provence-style rosés “just put you in a good mood and are something you can sip on all summer long,” says Argaux cofounder Margaux Reaume.
Courtesy of Argaux

Here’s a selection of rosés across the pink hue spectrum that are worthy of a taste (and a whole glass) this summer.

Olema: This bottle might be one of the best deals you’ll come across this summer. It’s a sheer delight from start to finish with a light but pleasant bouquet. Produced in the Côtes de Provence region in the true local style, this wine is crisp and dry, with just the right amount of body. A crowd-pleaser through and through. Suggested retail price: $15

Santi: Made from red grapes using white-wine–making practices, Chiaretto is a dry and crisp rosé produced in the region surrounding Lake Garda, between Milan and Venice, in northern Italy. (The name Chiaretto derives from the Italian term chiaro, meaning “light” or “pale.”) Chiaretto rosé pairs well with many types of food, from cheese plates and salads to pizzas and pastas. Pale pink in color with aromatic notes of ripe strawberries, cherries, and black currants, the Santi Infinito Rosé is balanced, fresh, and fruity, making it a perfect pairing for light summer dishes. SRP: $15

Luigi Bosca: “Argentinean rosés are made from a diverse palette of grape varieties resulting in different wine profiles,” Cúneo says. “The rosés from Argentina display very intense and elegant aromas going from floral, citric, red fruit to spicy. On the palate, they show a great balance between acidity and sweetness, giving a round and tasty sensation.” Pale with a salmon hue, the estate’s 2019 rosé is reminiscent of the classic rosés of southern France, with floral and red fruit notes—especially cherry—and balanced acidity. SRP: $20

Nicole Miller: Many celebrities have dipped their toes into the wine industry beyond just crushing some grapes. Some have been successful, others less so. Fashion designer Nicole Miller’s label has demonstrated staying power, with a dry and aromatic, but light rosé wine featuring a nearly hot pink hue. Produced at Château Auguste estate in the Right Bank region of Bordeaux, the 2018 rosé is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grapes. SRP: $23

Storm Wines: The fruit for this Grenache rosé was sourced from Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA and Watch Hill Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley. The Mediterranean-like climate along the coast of Santa Barbara, combined with older vines, yield fruit with balance and depth. Expect aromas of rose petal and white flower with red fruit flavors on the palate. It also pairs well with food, including salads, sushi, seafood, and spicy dishes. SRP: $25

Pascal Jolivet: “Expanding your horizons when it comes to rosé wine might sound daunting, however there are so many other options one might explore. Rosé from Provence might be an easy choice, but there are so many other fun wines that drink great,” says Asher Chong, a sommelier at Jean-Georges in New York City. “An example of that would be Pascal Jolivet’s Rosé Sancerre. This wine-producing region is mainly known for their crisp Sauvignon Blancs, but they make a great rosé wine entirely from Pinot Noir, which is fruity and whimsical; a perfect alternative to Provençal rosés.” SRP: $27

Origin: Made from 100% Syrah grapes surrounded by the redwood trees and coastal fog synonymous with California’s Central Coast, the 2020 Santa Cruz Mountains rosé is bold, crisp, and a true reflection of its…origin. The winemaker also prides itself on using handpicked fruit, sustainable farming practices, and native yeast fermentation. Expect notes of strawberry, cranberry, grapefruit, and orange jasmine tea. SRP: $32

Clos Signadore: Brimming with aromas of dried lavender and red fruit, this wine is light-bodied, making it ideal for a hot summer day. On the palate there are flavors of sweet cherry, wild fresh strawberries, blood orange, and allspice. It pairs well with almost any food, from tacos to pizza and pasta to dessert. SRP: $40

Ayala: While perhaps not as well known—at least to U.S. consumers—as some other Champagne houses, Ayala produces one of the most sublime bottles of sparkling rosé you can buy. Produced only in exceptional years, the 100% Chardonnay wine is the ultimate expression of boutique brand’s winemaking style, with minerality, roundness, and a velvety finish. SRP: $110

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