It’s that glorious time of year when the shelves of wine shops start to blush, giving drinkers an option beyond the usual bipartisan selection. But within the dozens of rosés that blossom between Easter and Labor Day, there’s a spectrum of colors and styles that vary as widely as whites do from reds. Since this weekend marks the start to summer—the season when hunks of meat begin sizzling on grills across the nation—I’ll set aside my preference for barely-there, salmon-colored rosés to focus on the beefier versions that refresh like a white, but satisfy like a red.
First, a reminder of how rosés are made and what gives them their different shades of pink. There are three main ways to produce rosé wine: saignée, blending, and skin contact.
For rosé wines that are a by-product, producers employ the saignée (French for “bleeding”) method in which a portion of red grape juice is bled off after only a short period of contact with the skins. The pink juice gets fermented separately now, though historically it was either thrown away or bottled up for the labor’s weekly ration. The juice still left in the vat continues its fermentation becoming a more deeply-colored, higher-quality red wine since bleeding off increases the skin-to-juice ratio.
Blending, or simply mixing red wine with white wine, is only common in the privacy of our homes or in Champagne (where it or the saignée method are used to make pink bubbly), and is frowned upon and even outlawed elsewhere.
|A half case from Wine Warehouse for chilling while grillingChâteau de Ségrès Tavel 2011. $16.99
King Family Vineyards Crosé Rosé 2011. $19.99
La Bastide Saint-Dominique Rosé 2010. $11.99
Raffault Chinon Rosé 2011. $15.99
Saintsbury Vin Gris de Pinot Noir Carneros 2011. $17.99
Producers making rosé as a primary product use skin contact or maceration to impart color and tannin to the wine in varying levels of intensity. After crushing dark-skinned grapes, the juice and skins remain in contact (often in a cold soak) for one to three days before the must (see Winespeak 101) gets pressed and the skins discarded. The longer the maceration period, the darker the rosé and the more tannic (astringent) the flavor.
Some of the meatiest rosés come from Tavel, an area of sun-drenched vineyards in France’s Rhône, which counts as the first and only rosé-exclusive AOC. With a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent and an upper limit of 13.5 percent, Tavel can even benefit from some aging. It’s made by saignée after about 10 to 36 hours of skin contact, but many producers will do two bleeds and then blend the lighter must with the darker must for a more powerful result. The wine’s dark and spicy grapes—grenache, cinsault, syrah, and mourvèdre—along with the region’s searing heat, protective mistral winds, and rocky terroir also contribute to its vigor. Many argue that Tavel’s too complex a wine to be relegated simply to summer, and I agree, but served cold, with its flavor of pepper and berries, you’ve got one happy buddy for your burger off the barbie.
Other grapes that lend their curves to full-bodied rosés are cabernet franc and merlot, both of which grow well here in Virginia. They’re grapes that walk that line between fruity and woodsy, so your juicy currants and cranberries get amped up with a hit of cedar and smoke—perfect for the char on a slab of ribs or the blackened blister on a hot dog. France’s Loire Valley makes cabernet franc-based rosés in the Chinon region that deliver enough bright raspberry flavor to partner the salads on your plate, but enough herbacious spice to go with your chicken kebabs.
In Italy, nebbiolo—that king of grapes from Piemonte that makes the region’s tony Barolo and Barbaresco wines—makes a rosé with enough oomph to be a cooperative cohort with everything from pesto-rubbed salmon to BBQ pork. Spain’s garnacha or tempranillo-based rosés are agreeable amigos for carne asada or chile-rubbed shrimp. Even pinot noir, which is generally known for its restraint, makes bold rosés, especially in California, where lots of sunshine translates into ripe cherry flavors and plenty of alcohol—a winning combination at any outdoor barbeque.
You get the picture. You can still channel your inner neanderthal and drink pink wine. Or, as Washington State rosé producers Charles & Charles cleverly published on bumper stickers used to market their own watermelon cooler of a wine: “Yes, you can drink rosé and still be badass.”
Must (n.): Freshly pressed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit (or pomace). Making must is the first step in winemaking.