It wasn’t that many years ago rose’ was persona non grata in much of the wine world. It becoming vogue seemed more unlikely than Taco Bell launching a pop-up hotel in Palm Springs. Then, a remarkable thing happened, rose’ roared back.
It’s the beneficiary of a perfect storm, the appeal of being retro, the most innovative packaging in the wine world, being embraced by pop culture, the rise of a new generation of wine drinkers discovering it for the first time and largely affordable pricing. When someone like Conor McGregor spoofs his own brand of rose’, you know it’s arrived to the masses.
The history of rose’ goes back to Roman days in the south of France. While much of the wine world has had a rollercoaster relationship with rose’, there it’s remained a mainstay for centuries.
Over the years, rose’ has shown flashes of wide popularity. Decades ago, brands like Mateus and Lancers had staked their claim with a broad market, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-v5cE9Afrg. For many in the US, it served as an introduction to imported wine. Then, came White Zinfandel, called blush or pink wine, it’s rose’. At its peak of popularity, it was a significant driver of the California wine business. As its appeal faded, rose’ was largely a stigmatized segment of the business. The image of cheap and sweet was difficult to shed.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to taste 200+ new rose' releases from Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. The market for rose' has never been so broad. That said, just a couple of years ago, it seemed as though some winemakers made small amounts as an afterthought. The tiny amounts often sold out quickly. Today, it’s become a significant growth driver for an increasing number of brands as it's moved from a wine with a seasonal appeal to something that sells year-round.
How is it made?
A wide range of red grape varieties can be used. For most, two things matter, getting the color right and preserving the primary fruit character. In this case, the primary fruit aroma and flavors are dominated by red fruit character.
This one is most closely linked to high quality rose’ production. As the name implies, the juice and skins are left in contact, same as in red wine production. However, the skins remain for only a short time, from a few hours to a couple of days. A lengthier maceration leads to a deeper color, but it can also result in bitterness.
Direct Press Method
This option is the maceration method, but skin contact is very brief. Instead of allowing the juice to extract color, the grapes are pressed immediately to remove the skins. It’s then produced like a white wine. The finished wine will have just a slight hint of color. Vin Gris is sometimes used to describe wines made by this method.
“To bleed” is a method that's closely linked to red wine production. It’s the early bleeding off of a small percentage of fermenting juice from a vat, typically about 5% to 7% of the total volume. The juice will have a bolder and darker color than the very common, popular pale pink styles. The remaining red must receive an added boost of higher grape skin to juice ratio.
Blending red and white wines is not commonly used, but occasionally it can be found as a cheap, short-cut method of making clumsy rose’. In some cases, the practice is prohibited.
Importance of vintage
Most rose’ has a short life. Fresher is better. 2018 is now hitting the market. 2017 is still ok for the most part, but stay away from anything from 2016 or before. Later this year, 2019 from the Southern Hemisphere will hit the market.
The color can range from pale pink to moderately deep red to something that resembles onionskin. Recently, I’ve been hearing a misnomer. Color does not provide an indication of sweetness level. While most rose’ is either dry or off-dry, there is no definitive way to know the sweetness level by sight alone. Traditional Mediterranean examples will almost always be dry. New World versions can cover the gamut, although there is a clear trend to drier styles.
Aroma and flavor
Most rose’ will scream aromas and flavors that will remind you of red fruits. It’ll vary based on the grape variety. Pinot Noir often shows strawberry notes. Cabernet Sauvignon for cassis. Sangiovese will often show tart cherry. Grenache brings pomegranate and citrus. Malbec for plum. Merlot for watermelon. Cabernet Franc often shows cranberry. And, Zweigelt for a strawberry and stone fruit character.
If there was ever a wine that was ideal for a screwcap or glass closure, it’s rose’. Both are perfect for preserving light, bright, fresh wines that are built on primary fruit character. Also, most rose’ is packaged in clear glass to show off the wine color. The drawback is clear glass allows UV light to penetrate the wine. Short term effect is no big deal, but if it sits on store shelves for many months, it can have a degrading effect.
Serve it chilled, but not ice cold. A very cold serving temp will deaden the aroma and flavor. Rose' is one of the most food-friendly wines, ideal with all sorts of seafood and poultry that is grilled, baked and fried. Great with summer salads, as long as its light on the vinegar. Soft, creamy cheeses also work well. I had a glass of rose’ with a grilled pork Banh Mi while writing this article. Very nice.
Early on, I thought the recent rose’ craze would be just another passing fad. Maybe, but the options for rose’ have never been better, never broader and the quality has never been higher. It’s ticking all of the boxes for a long term stay of popularity.