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The ultimate guide to Rosé wine

Rosé wine has enjoyed phenomenal success in recent years, helped in part by much better winemaking and, some might argue, by the changing climate, with warmer days giving more opportunities for sipping from a glass of chilled rosé.

The ultimate guide to rosé wine

The profile of rosés has changed too, with more full-bodied and dry-tasting wines better suited to go with food. That they marry so effortlessly with the eclectic cuisine we enjoy in this country has won them a strong following throughout the year. Our love of rosé is no longer just a summer holiday romance.

Putting the pink in rosé

Rosé wines come in every conceivable shade of pink from almost white to practically red. In Champagne, rosé, a relatively recent innovation can be made by blending a little red wine with some white wine. Elsewhere, for quality wine, this method of producing pink wine is the exception. Quality rosés are made by leaching just enough colour from red grape skins to produce the desired colour (grape juice from red and white grapes is clear in colour).

Here two methods are used. The traditional method is by short maceration after crushing the grapes, maybe a day or two before the skins are separated from the wine. In the second method, tanks of lightly crushed grapes are "bled" (saignée in French) after a day and the free-run juice produces a rosé wine.

What makes a good rosé?

In a word: charm. For a wine of such apparent simplicity, rosé is one of the hardest to get right, as the slightest mistake can result in a wine that may be coarse and clumsy. Having said that, those who succeed tend to do so year after year. So the first rule of thumb is to find out who is good and stick with them.

Where are rosés made?

Rosé wines can come from anywhere where red grapes are grown and with each year the net seems to be getting wider. There are now delicious rosés coming from as far apart as Argentina and South Africa, but the heartland of this style remains around the Mediterranean where rosé wines were originally made to compensate for the lack of whites.

Southern France and Spain produce dry, full-bodied wines that are a must with food. Some of the more serious examples in Rioja or Roussillon are even aged in oak and typically keep for a year or two. In Bordeaux, rosé tends to be darker in colour and is often referred to as clairet. This style of rosé is invariably on the drier side and can even be a touch bitter. This style is especially appreciated in Italy where chiaretti are made.

Food matching

A chilled glass of rosé is delicious on its own but many are better still with food, working well with fish, grilled meats or vegetables. They are fearless in the face of tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, chilli, salad dressings and even eggs. They love the outdoors and are irrepressibly convivial. Fuller-bodied styles can cope with roasts and grilled meat and fish; just off-dry rosés are remarkably good with mildly spicy cooking and the cheese course. Sweeter wines can partner pastries and fruit tarts well.

Rosé and cheese
Rosé and cheese

Rosé Grape File

All black grapes can make good rosé and they can be used on their own to make a single varietal wine or in combination with others as a blend. As with all shades of wine, the choice of grape will obviously affect the taste. Equally, the choice of grapes will have much to do with local tradition and appellation laws. New World rosés are far more likely to be made from a single grape variety.

Both sauvignon and franc, cabernet is used to make rosé especially in Bordeaux and the Loire. Bordeaux rosé is deeper in colour, and robust enough to partner rich local dishes like confit duck or lamproie à la bordelaise. Cabernet-based Loire rosés are paler in colour, fragrant and on the sweeter side and depending on levels of sweetness can be good with fruit tarts and pastries or mild curried dishes. Cabernet franc is the sole constituent of The Society's Saumur Rosé - a perfect party fizz or partner for grilled salmon or strawberries.

Cinsault rarely ripens fully, and though it is not to be relied upon in red wine making, it is much used in rosé throughout the Languedoc and southern Rhône. At its best it produces appealing, almost floral pinks with a haunting bouquet of freesias. They make delicious aperitif wines.

Gamay is usually used on its own in Beaujolais or the Auvergne. Delightfully fruity, its wines can be good with light desserts.

Grenache/garnacha is the most generous of varieties, most usually seen in the company of syrah and other varieties, as it tends to oxidise if used on its own. A classic example is Tavel in the southern Rhône - a rich, full wine with some complexity. Having said that, there are stunning solo interpretations further to the west and over the Spanish border. Treat these as you would red wines and serve with roated or stuffed peppers and meaty, spicy main courses - chorizo and lamb chops, for example.

Merlot is used with or without cabernet in Bordeaux to make round, fruity wines reminiscent of summer pudding. Aromatic and juicy, rosé merlots are particularly good with cold cuts and meaty pâtés and terrines.

Mourvèdre can be too much of a good thing on its own so it usually needs tempering with other grapes. In France, the grape reaches great heights of sophistication in Bandol making wines that are light in colour but with real body and personality, and robust enough for the garlic, aromatic herbs and super-ripe vegetables which define Provençal cooking.

Pinot Noir is usually used on its own producing delicate, refined wines at their pinnacle in Sancerre and its neighbour, the relatively recent Coteaux du Giennois appellation. Stunning wines are also starting to appear from New World destinations and growers that are mastering this notoriously tricky variety,. Pinot noir is blended with chardonnay to make rosé Champagne. Rosé pinots are crisp, dry and elegant work well with fresh salmon, baked ham and other light main courses.

Syrah/shiraz, the grape of the northern Rhône, is increasingly used on its own, particularly in the New World to make focused, spicy pinks. In the Rhône and Languedoc, the grape is often used in blends alongside cinsault, grenache and mourvèdre. These are highly versatile wines which work especially well with Middle eastern tagines with lamb or chicken.

Tannat, the great bruiser of Madiran country may hold all-comers' records for mouth-puckering tannin, but it turns into a pussycat when made into rosé.

Grenache Grapes
Grenache/garnacha is the most generous of varieties.

Rosé Region File

The spiritual home of rosé draws inspiration from several varieties. Most contain cinsault, grenache and syrah, while the better ones will include mourvèdre and cabernet sauvignon is also allowed in some parts. A little known grape called tibouren is also used. These have the oomph to cope with garlicky aïolis, beef grilled over aromatic brush or chunks of beef and red pepper skewered on sprigs of fresh rosemary and are so much more refreshing than a red on a hot day.

Navarra, next door neighbour of Rioja, is rosado central, producing lovely, digestible wines from garnacha, with and sometimes without tempranillo. This region is also one of Spain's best market gardens, so think globe artichokes, asparagus, piquillo peppers, and perhaps a spicy dipping sauce of fruity olive oil and smoked hot pimentón to dunk them into. The versatility of these high-octane rosés also makes them excellent partners for the whole of the tapas selection, from jamón to meatballs.

The chiaretti of Bardolino can make delightful quaffing, but going south, Italian rosati take on deeper colour and are full of flavour and good fruit. This makes them ideal with garlic-dressed salads, Mediterranean fish like snapper and sardines and all sorts of antipasti.

In tandem with sciaccarellu, the nielluccio grape, related to the sangiovese of Tuscany, makes exquisite rosés on this ruggedly beautiful island, demonstrating that depth of blush is not necessarily an indication of strength. Corse Calvi Clos Culombu Rosé from the north of the island is one of the most pale and interesting of all our pinks, and yet is utterly fearless in the face of a herb-encrusted sheep's milk cheese, a robust blood sausage or any variation on the theme of semi-feral acorn-fed pig which underpins Corsican gastronomy.

The basic principles of food and wine matching, apply to rosés, just as they do to reds and whites.

All rosé wines

Rosie Allen

The Society's Brand Marketing Manager

Rosie Allen

Rosie joined the team in 2016 and oversees all our content including 1874 magazine and Discovery pages.

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