Gone are the days when pink wine was poo-pooed. People get it now: it's not Boone's Farm, and it's not sticky sweet. Sure, there are still skeptics out there, and there are still bad rosés, but over the past decade or so, rosé has made the well-deserved shift onto the radar and into the wine glasses of the mainstream. Rosé can be fun and fruity rather than complex and intellectual, but, as with any quality wine, there's still hard work and serious intention behind it.
Here's what you need to know...I'll keep it light, I promise. Despite what we learned in art class, pink wine is not the result of mixing red wine and white wine (except in very specific circumstances and regions, but I won't get into that). Basically, rosé is made just like red wine, but the juice from the grapes doesn't sit in contact with the grape skins for as long. Red wine gets its dark color and mouth-drying tannins not from the grape itself, but from the skin—that's were all the pigment is. After crushing the grapes, the liquids and the solids hang out together; it's called maceration, and the longer it happens, the darker the color. For rosés, it's often just a matter of hours. Rosé usually macerates at cool temperatures to preserve the wine's more delicate fruit flavors. So you have a wine with a hint of tannin and the fruit flavors of a red (cherry, strawberry, blackberry), but the light body and refreshing acidity of a white—the best of both worlds, you might say. Many of the better-known rosé regions started making the stuff because they had an abundance of red grapes, but needed a cool, refreshing wine to combat the steamy summer heat—Provence, for example.
These days, rosé is produced in pretty much every wine region in the world, from Chile to Austria, Spain to California, and is made using pretty much every red grape you can imagine. That being said, for high-quality options that are still reasonably priced, I usually look to the places that have been making it for the longest.
This brings me to my second important point: most rosé is meant to be drunk young. It's not usually aged, and it usually doesn't spend time in oak barrels (there are, of course, exceptions.) This is part of the reason rosé is so light and refreshing, and also part of the reason it can be so affordable. The longer a wine, red, white, or pink, spends taking up space at the winery, the higher the price tag—it's like paying rent. Since rosé can be in and out of there in a flash, it's a relative bargain.
If you frequent wine shops like I do (all for educational purposes, of course) you may also notice that those pink bottles are on and off the shelves in a flash, too. Most rosé isn't meant to last from year to year (again, it's light and fresh, which makes it perishable), so each vintage is released in the spring, heralding its arrival by spreading those roseate hues—from ballerina blush to bubblegum pink—across the wall of wine at your local liquor store. Like summer tomatoes or fall leaves, rosé is seasonal, and once this year's vintage is out, last year's is no more. This ephemeral nature makes it all the more alluring, and it also means now that spring has fully sprung, it's time to dip into the 2012 rosés. Drink them while you can, as if you needed an excuse.
There are tons of worthy pink wines out there, and I tasted my way through 11 options from the 2012 vintage that sell for under 20 bucks. While all were perfectly chuggable, especially if you happen to be sitting in the sun somewhere, these were my top six, all $15 or less.
Maculan Costadolio Rosato ($15) is from the Veneto province in northern Italy, but it's made entirely from an unlikely candidate—Merlot. It has a beautiful pale coppery-salmon color, and a decidedly savory aroma. It does have a little bit of tropical fruit, but it also smells like celery seed, dusty earth, and chalk—think of banging chalkboard erasers together, if you're old enough to remember doing that. It also has a creaminess somewhere between butterscotch and burrata cheese, which made me think it would be perfect with a Caprese salad.
San Giovanni Il Chiaretto Valtènesi ($15) is also from northern Italy in the Lombardy region, but this one is made with indigenous grapes: Barbera and Sangiovese, which probably sound familiar, and Groppello and Marzemino, which may not. Its cool packaging and bubble-gum pink color definitely make it stand out, and it smells like tart strawberries, rose petals, and watermelon. It has a waxy character, too, and taking a sip reminded me of eating one of those Nik-L-Nip candies—the sweet, fruity juice on your tongue with just a touch of wax on your lips. The fruit is balanced by sharp acidity; this one would be perfect with spicy food, especially Thai.
Argiolas Serra Lori Rosato Isola dei Nuraghi ($15) is from Sardinia, and the intense color and smell of sun-baked stones definitely evoke the Mediterranean. It's made from a blend of cool indigenous grapes: Cannonau, Monica, Bovale, and Carignano, which, incidentally, is the same grape as France's Carignan. It has a fruity core: wild berries with just a touch of watermelon Jolly Rancher. It also has a warm-spice accent, like cinnamon and mint. This one would be perfect with smoky barbecue.
Pichard Jourdan Chinon Rosé ($15) is from the Loire Valley in France, and if you know the wines of Chinon, you're probably familiar with the earthy, savory reds made from 100 percent Cabernet Franc. The rosé is made from the same grape as the region's flagship wine, and has some of the same flavors you'd expect from the red—green pepper, parsley, menthol, and a touch of barnyard funk—but in this pretty pink wine they're balanced by strawberry-rhubarb pie and candied cherries. I'd drink it with a salad topped with fresh goat cheese and dried cranberries.
Moillard Les Violettes Cotes du Rhône Rosé ($13) is another example of a pink wine from a renowned red wine region. The wine, which was made from an equal-parts blend of Grenache and Syrah, smelled bright and grassy, like gooseberries, grapefruit, and narcissus flowers. Truer to its red roots, there's a little bit of tannin and a good amount of acid on the palate, and it tastes like citrus, with just a tad of stink. It reminded me of Camembert cheese rind, so why not try it with some?
Domaine de Fenouillet Rosé ($15) from Ventoux in Southeastern France is one of my perennial favorites, and the 2012 vintage is no exception. It's made from Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah, and if you like earthy wines with a little bit of funk, this is the rosé for you. It smells like barnyard, but with a bright, herbal, eucalyptus thing underneath, kind of like walking into a steam room (in a very classy spa, of course). It tastes like crushed raspberries, and is straightforward, but unique and delicious. This one could totally stand up to grilled pork tenderloin or even a burger.
About the Author: Rebeccah Marsters develops recipes and works as an associate editor for Cook's Country magazine in Boston. She likes learning about food, wine, and spirits almost as much as she likes eating and drinking—all the better if she can do both at the same time.
Maculan Costadolio Rosato, San Giovanni Il Chiaretto, Pichard Jourdan Chinon Rosé, and Argiolas Serra Lori Rosato Isola dei Nuraghi provided as samples for review consideration. 11 rosés were sampled for this piece.