It was breaking news in the summer of 2015: The New York Post warned that the Hamptons was running “dangerously low” on rosé wines. Thankfully, we no longer face this existential crisis. The country has been awash in rosé for years. After all, what’s not to like? Rosé is delicious and easy to drink; it’s the least judgmental of wines. If it’s hot, you can blend it into a frosé, and if you want to drink like a VIP, many celebrities offer stylish choices, like Bon Jovi’s Hampton Water or ‘Brangelina’s’ Miraval Rosé, a classic from Provence, France. The real challenge is to treat rosé just a tad more seriously. As a category, rosé has much to offer, and it’s worth expanding our world view.
First, a word about color and taste. Rosé wines get their pink-to-berry-hued tones from the skin of red grapes. All grapes run clear on the inside; the color is on the outside. To make rosé, winemakers press red grapes (or “bleed” the color off) and macerate the juice with the skins to reach the desired color. Rosé comes in many shades, ranging from delicate pale pink to light strawberry, rich raspberry and ruby tones that are just a hint lighter than true red. The darker hues often reveal more complexity; they’re juicy and refreshing but with more intense body and flavors. And, contrary to some misperceptions, high-end rosé wines are usually dry, not sweet.
If you’re just getting into rosé, start with wines from the South of France. Provence produces pale-colored rosés with loads of minerality and fruit beloved the world over, particularly by the French (who consume more than 30% of their own production). Of all the wines featured in the New York Post shortage article, Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans in Provence has had the most impact on our palates. Ten years ago, you could only find 500 cases in the most fashionable places. “It was in the Hamptons and Nantucket, and a little bit of Miami,” recalls brand director Paul Chevalier. Now at over 500,000 cases sold, Whispering Angel is the wine that made Americans fall hard for the Provençal style. In a recent tasting, master of wine Patrick Schmitt captured what makes this Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend so drinkable: “The fruit is delicate and soft. It’s a brilliant pink drink, ripe and light, not biting and so cleansing. Truly, it’s hard to drink slowly.”
Italians have historically not been as enamored of pink wine as the French, but times are changing. Writer Ian d’Agata reports that Italy’s wine shops “fully expect rosé to be the next hot thing.” Italian rosé, known as rosato (or the plural rosati), is often crafted from local grape varieties, making the style quite special. For echoes of Provence, look for the pale pink “Chiaretto” wines of Lago di Garda, a stunning lake region situated in the Veneto and known for its Riviera-like vibe. Organic producer Le Fraghe Ròdon makes a beautiful, lightly salmon-colored Chiaretto from the Bardolino area with notes of wild rose and zesty tangerine.
Le Fraghe Ròdon Rosato 2018
Organically farmed, 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella.
Light salmon-colored with bright notes of
wild rose and juicy strawberry.
DAOU Discovery Collection Rosé 2020 (Paso Robles)
95% Grenache Noir, 5% Sauvignon Blanc. Inspired by Provence,
with a clean, fresh crispness; notes of apricot and
peach balanced with floral rose and hyacinth.
Roca Altxerri Txakoli Rosé 2019
100% Hondarrabi Beltza, a low-alcohol choice at 10.5%.
A gentle fizz (natural to the Txakoli style) brings out
fresh raspberries and lime zest, ending in a clean finish.
Many rosati are more deeply colored than Chiaretto, with rich flavors that fit well with the Italian lifestyle and food scene. Sangiovese, the noble red grape of Tuscany, lights up rosati with a signature acidity and cherry-berry profile. In the hills above Pisa, Chianti producers, such as Fattoria Fibbiano, are adapting their harvest schedules to pick their rosato grapes early and bring out this fresh character. Further south in Sicily, some of the best rosati come from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. Winery owner Marc de Grazia makes the peachy Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosato from the Nerello Mascalese grape. It’s a bright and vibrant rosato that de Grazia describes as a wine “with the body of a white and the soul of a red; a wine that’s joyful without being frivolous.” It also pairs with everything from seared tuna to prosciutto and pasta. Not to be overshadowed, nearby Puglia, on the heel of the Italian boot, offers rosati from at least 20 native grapes, including intensely flavored releases from Primitivo and Negroamaro, which are worth seeking out.
Spain is also producing more rosé than ever before. The northern Navarra region is renowned for the running of the bulls and strawberry-hued rosados, often made from native Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. The Chivite winery in Navarra offers good value rosados for everyday indulgence as well as single vineyard offerings crafted from old vine Garnacha, an emerging trend. For something completely different, head to the Basque country for the distinctive “Txakoli” rosés. Sourced from the coast near San Sebastian, Basque rosé has a spritzy profile that bursts with sweet berry flavors and ends in a cleansing, sea salty finish. Wines like Roca Altxerri and Ameztoi Rosé are a pure pleasure to drink (if hard to spell).
As for U.S. rosé, domestic wineries have much to offer. Wölffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons has made its lovely rosés a fashionable choice for years, while Sonoma Coast Flowers Pinot Noir Rosé and Robert Sinskey Vin Gris have led the way on the West Coast. A newcomer on the scene, DAOU Vineyards in Paso Robles released its first rosé last year. The two brothers who own DAOU grew up in Cannes and fell in love with the Provence style. True to its origins, 2020 DAOU Discovery Collection Rosé is remarkably fragrant, with notes of fresh peach and a silky finish. Be forewarned, their first vintage sold out quickly, an indication that the best rosés are as popular as ever. *
Helen Gregory is the founder and president of Gregory + Vine. She has worked in strategic brand management and communications for beverage industry leaders such as Moët Hennessy USA, Rémy Cointreau and STOLI, and has led award-winning hospitality, beverage and lifestyle campaigns for prestige clients from the European Union to Argentina, Australia, Chile, Israel, South Africa and across the United States.