Spring is in the air, terraces have opened up and despite what the rain gods may think, rosé season is upon us! But what is a rosé? And why are red and white wines defined by grape or region like Cabernet Sauvignons or Chablis, yet we lump all rosés together under that one umbrella term?
Actually, I don’t know why we do that, but it is useful to know that rosés are made from a whole range of grapes, grown in different regions and climates all over the world and using a range of winemaking techniques, meaning there is real variety and wine-diversity under this pink blanket.
To put it simply, a rosé is a red grape made in a white wine way.
If you take a red or white grape and crush it, the juice is the same colour – clear. What gives red and rosé wines their colour is how long the juice has spent in contact with the grape skins. The more time they have spent on the skins, the deeper the colour. Those rosés may also have a lick of tannin too, but the oft-touted theory that darker coloured rosés tend to be sweeter is not actually grounded in fact. Like Chardonnay being “oaky”, this belief may have come about because of a brief fashion for deeper coloured, sweeter rosés meaning winemakers added or kept more sugar in the wine deliberately.
There are two main ways of creating a rosé. Red grapes are pressed and the juice is left on the skins for a brief amount of time (known as ‘maceration’) before fermenting the juice into wine. This is typical in places such as Provence and tends to create a very pale pink style of wine. Another option is that during the making of a red wine some of the juice is run off separately in the first few hours, then that batch is fermented at cooler white wine temperatures and the rest goes on to be a red wine. This is rarer but more typically found in places like Napa in the US, where it makes a rosé and also concentrates the red wine’s flavours by reducing its liquid.
For those who thought rosé was made by blending red and white wines together (hands up who tried that during their misspent youth) you are not entirely wrong. This is a method too, though largely frowned upon and in some countries actually illegal. For example, a wine made this way cannot legally be called a rosé in France unless (and there is always a caveat in wine) it is champagne. Champagnes, for some reason, are different, exempt and blending is allowed. A splash of still pinot noir is added to colour the sparkling chardonnay wine.
Though we tend to think of them as summertime-sipping-by-the-pool wines, rosés can actually be extremely varied, versatile and fantastic with food. To quote the great Victoria Moore, author of The Wine Dine Dictionary, “whatever the (food) question, rosé is generally a good answer”. Thanks to the fruit forward notes, refreshing acidity and easy-drinking qualities they made excellent foodie wines. The surprise heavy-weight champion of the dining or picnic table these wines can handle a plethora of platters from charcuterie to chicken, tangy feta salads, roasted duck, salmon, prawns, seafood and soft cheeses.
Personally, I often enjoy a rosé with a curry, especially a New World one which tend to be a bit fruitier and riper. They are still zippy and refreshing, the fruit often complimenting the spices but they are also low in tannin. Tannins inflame heat and chilli spice which is why off-dry whites are often recommended as a (Western) pairing for Thai or Indian cuisine but if you like your wine dry then give rosé a go instead. (If, however, you are a glutton for the heat then grab yourself a tannic red and burn, baby, burn).
For too long rosés have been short-changed in the wine world, seen as the less sophisticated, siblings to more “grown up” wines on the list. It is time for that to change. They may not be wines to store and age but they make fantastic drinking right now and whether your preference is for a deep, savoury Syrah style or the freshest and palest of pink Provence, there will be a rosé out there for you. You just need to jump in and try a glass or two.
Recommended rosés for right now
Having beaten Champagne and won Best Sparkling Wine in the world for their Blanc de Blanc 2018, England’s Langham winery have also created this stunning sparkling rosé. Elegant and complex with delightfully fine bubbles, this is essential premium English drinking.
“Quality English wine with a modern mindset” Folc released their 2020 rosé just last week in one of the most instagrammably beautiful bottles around. With a focus on transparency, community and equality Folc, which comes from the Old English noun for tribe and family, is a refreshingly zippy rosé created by one of the UK’s few female, BAME wine producers.
A small Surrey-based team with big ideals, Sea Change has introduced this award-winning rosé from France’s Château Pigoudet in their eco-focused packaging. Biodegradable, plant-based labels, lighter bottles to reduce carbon footprint and donations to the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in Baa Atoll, this is a deliciously classic Provence rosé which polishes your halo as you drink.
No longer a faux pas, boxed wine is sustainable, economical and perfect for wines that are meant to be drunk young and fresh. Three bottles worth in a box, this People’s Choice winner was the dream of British family, the Cronks and is perfect for parties or solo living as it can be poured straight from a tap in your fridge and once opened will last for up to three weeks!
Another fantastic English pick, this 100% Pinot Noir rosé is bright neon in colour, packed full of flavour and limited edition. Young, fresh and funky, Gusbourne’s rosé sells out every year so be quick if you want to get your hands on a bottle or two this summer!
Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie, an independent wine consultant and co-creator and presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better – an irreverent series on wine, without the snobbery. Instagram: @a_little_sip_of_me_time @boozybeastTV