Photo credit: StockFood / Hans-Peter Siffert
You say “rosato,” I say “rosado,” but let’s not call the whole thing off.
The wine that goes by many names, including “rosé” and “vin gris,” can hail from regions as diverse as South Africa and Australia, Argentina and France, but no matter its origin or name, it refers to one thing—a blush-colored vino, particularly tempting come spring and summertime.
Rosé by any name is distinguished by the length of time the skins of the grapes (always those that are also used for red wine, such as Grenache or Syrah) spend in contact with the wine itself. It’s typically for one to three days (as opposed to weeks, or months, which would make it a red wine). Rosé is aged in stainless steel, and very rarely in oak barrels, to preserve its floral, fresh flavors.
We spoke to Judy Rundel, wine educator at Heights Chateau Wine & Spirits in Brooklyn, New York, who has been leading tastings and helping shoppers find the perfect rosé for 20 years. She reminded us that producers “love to make rosé” because “it’s an immediate moneymaker.” The winemaking process starts in the fall, and bottles are on the market within six to eight months (as opposed to wines that take years to come to maturity, and keep vintners’ money tied up).
Rundel has strong opinions about the wine—which are prominently displayed in shops starting right now!—and shared her tips for what to look for when you waltz in to pick up a bottle for a picnic or party:
1. Color will tell you a lot. "There’s a distinct correlation between how light the color is and the intensity and fruitiness of the wine," said Rundel. "I just love when we get a huge collection of rosés in and you see the range of colors, barely tinged with pink all the way up to full-blown [almost] red." Color can lead you to the rosé that suits your style: Broadly speaking, "darker rosés will be more berry-like. Classic Provençal rosés tend to be the lightest and the driest." Rundel is not a fan of super-light rosés: "Some are so pale, frankly, I feel I should be watering the flowers with them." (She laughed admitting that a colleague at her wine shop has exactly the opposite taste, preferring dry, light-colored rosés.)
2. Young is best. "Younger, fresher, better. For the most part they do not improve with age,” said Rundel. Typically an older rosé (look for the 2013 vintage in shops this year) “loses the qualities that you like about them to begin with—that floral, fruity freshness,” says Rundel.
3. Look at the grapes, not the nation. Since rosés are made from grapes you may already know and love in other forms, turn the bottle around and look for varietals you like: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Gamay, Malbec, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, Carignan, and even Cabernet Sauvignon are all common rosé grapes. (Note that with Provençal rosés, the wine is often made from a blend of grapes not specified on the label, so check with the shop owner.)
4. French isn’t always best. Right now Rundel is a fan of Crios ($12), from Argentina, made from Malbec grapes by a female winemaker: “It’s rich and berryish, with a depth to it… it’s meatier.” She’s also a proponent of a “full, rich, robust” South African Cabernet Sauvignon rosé called Mulderbosch ($12). If you want something French, Rundel suggests keeping an eye peeled for one from Mas Carlot ($12), a strawberry-laced rosé that’s “not pale, pale, pale, but on the lighter side,” made “with a classic blend of Rhone grapes” (in this case, Grenache and Syrah).
5. And don’t forget about American rosé! America has jumped on the rosé bandwagon, and Rundel recalls a bottle from Charles & Charles, in Washington state, for which customers went bananas last year: “We ran out roughly by the end of July.”
6. Do stock up. Speaking of which, rosé has a short lifespan. When you find one you like, buy lots! Since the drink is most popular during warm-weather months, “importers and distributors will commit to their producers to taking on only what they think they can sell between Memorial Day to Labor Day,” says Rundel. “When it’s gone, it’s gone!”
7. Don’t break the bank. Investing in a case to bring to parties all summer long shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. “I don’t think a rosé should cost more than $20, says Rundel. “I get very upset when I see them reaching up there.” To her mind, a rosé should be in the $12-$16 range, in large part because they're so easy to get on the market: “Those guys didn’t have the expense of oak barrels, and they didn’t have to wait to get their money. From their point of view, it’s a quick and dirty operation.”
And a delicious one.