Exploring the New Wave of Bright Rosés
Sustainable picks that go beyond pale pink — into delicious new territory
Over the past two years, I tasted through more than 120 dry rosés for lists like “The 25 Best Rosé Wines of 2020.” I learned a few things along the way. Key among them is that one should never judge a rosé by its color. There are excellent rosés being made in all shades of pink.
Yet wine lovers seem less interested in brightly colored rosés because of some misconceptions. Let’s nip those right in the bud:
Is a pale pink color of a sign of quality? No, color is not an indication of quality.
Does a brighter color mean the wine is sweet? No. There are sweet rosés out there, but color has nothing to do with sweetness.
The global rosé leader is France’s Provence region, where pale pink rosés dominate. But I’m drinking less of these wines, since there aren’t many brands following organic or biodynamic practices (one exception is Chateau Peyrassol).
But Provence is not what we’re talking about today. I’m interested in the new frontiers of rosé wines, the bottles from small, sustainable producers making low intervention wines. The rosés I like most convey a sense of the place they were made, and the grapes they came from.
What to Know
Rosé may be easy drinking, but the wine is complicated to make. Here’s why: The juice of most red grapes is colorless — anthocyanin pigments in the grape skins give color. When grapes are crushed, juice can quickly be removed from the skins to make a white wine. Leaving the juice on the skins makes a red wine.
Nailing a specific shade of pink requires a precise dance of temperature and timing. Regardless of the technique used (most commonly short maceration or saignée), the challenge is the same: Extracting enough flavor and character from the grapes to make the wine delicious, but without going so far that it turns from pink to red. And just a few hours can make all the difference.
It’s even harder for low intervention winemakers, who don’t have a toolkit of additives or techniques — like fining — to strip out color for a desired shade of pink. That’s one reason the rosés I like tend to be brighter in color.
Another is food pairings. The lighter flavor and body of Provence rosés make them a great match for salads and lobster rolls, but not as much with grilled meats, fried foods, and spicy fare. Rosés from a broader range of grapes offer more flavor and texture experiences.
IMO, rosés from other areas — Italy, Spain, the United States, other parts of France — is where the party’s at right now. Producers in these areas are using many grapes to make rosé, each with their own style. Many rosés are made in blends, but these are the main grapes I look for:
Grenache — A key variety in the classic Provence blend, it makes crisp, fruit-forward rosés with berry, melon, and citrus flavors, sometimes with herbal complexity. These have lighter flavor and body, and often very dry. Pair with soft cheeses and crackers, or lightly flavored main dishes like niçoise salads or simply prepared fish.
Mourvedre — This grape makes fuller bodied rosés with floral notes that evolve into flavors of plums and cherries, herbs and smoke, sometimes with umami savoriness. Typically made in France (notably Bandol) and Spain, these wines tend to have more structure to pair with grilled foods.
Nero d’Avola — Originally from Sicily, this grape make flavorful rosés with bright fruit (strawberry, peach) and herbs (fennel, green olive). The herbal notes make this an excellent pairing for generously spiced fare, including Mediterranean, Thai, and Indian dishes.
Sangiovese — An Italian grape, it makes medium-bodied rosés that tend to be bold and complex, with fruit (cherries, strawberries, peach), spice (clove, allspice), and wild herb flavors. The flavor complexity and lively acidity of these wines work well with flavorful fare like carnitas tacos, fried seafood, and tomato-based dishes.
Syrah — A French grape that makes bolder, heavier-bodied rosés with layers of flavor, from plum and cherry, to black pepper and smoke. These wines have complexity and weight that can stand up to burgers and barbecued meats, or main-dish salads.
Tempranillo — A Spanish grape that makes a more savory style of rosé with notes of herbs and green peppercorn alongside strawberry and melon flavors. These wines are excellent with flavorful foods like grilled meats and fish.
The list could go on. There are plenty more rosés out there made from grapes like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but I don’t find them as compelling as the rosés made from these grapes.
As another Summer of Rosé heats up, these are the wines I’ll be seeking out — the ones that overdeliver on flavor and character, creating new taste sensations and food pairing possibilities. Enjoy!
Six Sustainable Rosés to Try
Whether you call them rosé, rosato (Italy), or rosado (Spain), sustainably made pink wines are a challenge to find. They’re often produced in small quantities, so once you find a wine you like, buy several bottles, as they’re likely to sell out.
This organic wine is made from Grenache and Cinsault on a family estate in France’s Languedoc that takes its name from a wild, aromatic herb “patience.” It’s similar in style to a Provence rosé, but with deeper color (peachy pink) and flavor (bursting with grapefruit, peach, rhubarb). This would match up with any Provençal fare — from bouillabaisse to ratatouille.
Top value. This wine is made from Mourvedre, and hails from one of the few organic wineries in Spain’s Valencia region. A pink grapefruit color, it has fresh acidity and a slight prickle, with flavors of strawberry, dried cherry, and plum. It’s a rounder and fuller bodied style of rosé, excellent to pair with grilled foods.
Wide availability. This strawberry-hued wine is a biodynamic pick from a bigger producer, Michel Chapoutier in France’s Roussillon. Made from Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, it’s a fuller-bodied rosé with lively acidity and flavors of watermelon candy and strawberry along with saline minerality that gives it a clean finish. It’s versatile and a great value.
Made from Sangiovese, this vibrant pink wine is dry and fresh with a raspberry-lemonade fruitiness, and green herb complexity. The rosato is crisp, but with enough texture and character to pair with fried foods. It’s a versatile BYO to the seafood shack, pairing with clam strips or lobster rolls. The wine is made in Italy’s Marche region by a family-run organic and natural wine producer. (Note: Limited availability, in NJ.)
A delicious outlier, this wine is pale coral in color and made from a blend of Portuguese grapes, including Touriga Nacional and Aragonez. The winemaker is Antonio Macanita, who IMO is one of the most exciting winemakers in Portugal. It’s a very dry, textural rosé that’s more savory than fruit driven, led by an oyster shell brininess, supported by flavors of watermelon, orange zest, and wild herbs.
Martha Stoumen is a one of the world’s great Nero d’Avola whisperers, and one of my favorite California winemakers. This rosato is the grown-up fruit punch of my dreams. It has the vibrant color of fruit punch, but is dry and lively, packed with flavors of cherry, watermelon, and plum. Earthy and mineral notes give complexity, and it ends on a lingering taste of wild strawberries.