A primer on rosé, just in time for enjoying with spring dishes

Posted5/27/2020 6:00 AM

With spring in the air (or at least on the calendar), it's time for a refresher in rosé.

What is rosé? Simply put, rosé (ro-ZAY) is the lightest of red wines. After that, details pile up.


Rosé (originally a French term) might be called pink, blush or white (generally in the U.S.), rosada (Spain), rosato (Italy) or œil de perdrix (partridge eye, Switzerland). It might be sweet or dry, delicate or robust, bubbly or still, with a fruit bowl of flavors including strawberry and citrus, at everyday pricing or top shelf, with a whisper of alcohol or a knockout punch -- all depending on regional requirements and the international market's taste at the time.

Rosé production relies on one basic fact: Because the juice of nearly every grape is clear, red and rosé wines receive their color from red grape skins. Techniques include:

1) Saignèe (to bleed): A portion of red juice is removed from a red wine vat in the earliest stages of skin contact. 2) Red wine is blended with white. While all techniques are debated, the most widespread method of rosé production is 3) Maceration, allowing red grape skins to soak with new juice. For reds, skin contact might be five months; for rosé, maybe 10 minutes.

Where is it made? Rosé is made in every region that grows red grapes. In France, Provence and Cotes de Provence currently reign as the world's favorite rosé regions, slaking thirst and dominating shelves with delicate pink hues, firm acidity, and required dryness. No sugar may be added; natural grape sugar remaining after fermentation must be less than four grams per liter (g/l). (Many people perceive sweetness beginning at six g/l.) Often produced of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes, the wines are light in weight but rich in flavor to complement the flavors of Provençal cuisine. Such flavors and dishes include salade Niçoise, seasonings such as aioli (garlic paste) and tapenade (olive paste) and the world-famous fish stew, Bouillabaisse.

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In Spain, the Navarra region specializes in rich, juicy rosado at a great value. Produced in the saignèe method, generally of the Garnacha grape (identical to Grenache, above), the wines are nearly red, with voluptuous flavors of ripe berries to soften mouth-coating tannin. These roses are dynamic partners to the strong-willed natives and their hearty appetites for lamb stew, grilled beef, spicy sausage and the unique Basque bites called pintxos, an interpretation of tapas.

In America, plucky, and unencumbered by Old World wine regulations, the U.S. invented a new rosé that swept the world and saved cash-starved California -- White Zinfandel. Like liquid cotton candy, White Zin still satisfies plenty of sweet tooths and profit-loss statements. But beginning about 1990, even as the U.S. favored sweet red, our palate turned toward drier rosé, often based on the grape that Europeans deem too pricey for pink: Pinot Noir. Look for stunning rosé of Pinot Noir from producers such as Dutton-Goldfield (California), Ponzi (Oregon), with bubblies including J. Schram (California) and Mumm Napa (California).

When to drink? In terms of vintage, drink most rosé young, currently 2018 and 2019; purchase 2017 only under advisement of your merchant. In terms of season, pop rosé when lilacs bloom in the Spring through Turkey Day in the fall.

How to enjoy rosé? I enjoyed the silken drape of flavors in Dutton-Goldfield's Rosè of Pinot like a red, just cool to the palate. White Zin and the like are delicious chilled to slushies during the heat (see recipes online for another American invention, the Frosé). Generally, serve rosé moderately chilled.


Who drinks rosé? This is the question. In 2019 USA, the answer was, "Everybody!" But we're a fickle market. Between President Trump's threatened tariffs on French goods (remember when that was a crisis?), possible oversupply, and a cool spring, the rosé market is having a wobble.

But aren't we all?

Ross' choice

Name: Brut Rosé

Producer: Graham Beck

Region: Western Cape, South Africa

Vintage: Nonvintage

Availability: Specialty grocers, chains & boutiques, about $20

Distributed by: Winebow Inc. of Illinois, Schiller Park

Tasting Notes: Bright and bubbly, with strawberry flavors (tho' not as sweet as a strawberry) and playful smack of acid. The shimmering coral pink hue is extracted from 66% Pinot Noir, blended with Chardonnay, then vinified in the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa's translation of Champagne's technique, for multitudinous, teensy bubbles. I enjoyed the relaxed effervescence of Day Two. Not-too-dry, not-too-sweet the wine is just right for a refreshing quaff and to wash down breakfasts, lunches and casual dinners, especially delicately spiced dishes such as chipotle shrimp tacos, and the sausages and dry-cured meats that fill South Africa's tables and Chicagoland's own!

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