What Is Rosé Wine?

If all you know about rosé is its color, read on.

2013 Château d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé
Photo: Danny Kim

What Is Rosé?

Rosé is a dry, pink wine made from a red grape. According to Napa Valley winemaker Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé: A Guide to the World's Most Versatile Wine ($38, amazon.com), rosé is "brighter and more refreshing than many red wines and shares some characteristics with white wine."

Rosés are typically made in one of two ways: 1) A winemaker presses red grapes (many of the same ones in your favorite red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon to Grenache) right after harvest, yielding a pale rosé color; or 2) The winemaker crushes the grapes, letting them sit in contact with the skins before separating the pink juice from the skins.

Some rosés are made via a third method—blending white wine with red wine—but these are rarely of high quality.

"The best rosés are produced in wine regions where rosé is a signature wine, not an afterthought," according to the late Steven Kolpan, former professor and chair of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York.

What Should a Rosé Look and Taste Like?

A rosé's color does not directly correlate with its taste. "Darker rosés may have more body than paler rosés, which could be appealing to those who prefer red wines," says Doug Bell, the Atlanta-based global beverage buyer for Whole Foods Market. "But often paler blush wines have surprisingly complex aromas and flavors that can linger long after you've taken a sip." In both styles, sweetness varies. Some bottles are bone-dry, while others have a slightly sweet finish.

What Foods Pair Well With a Rosé?

Rosés are some of the most versatile wines, thanks to their bright acidity and lack of tannins (the mouth-drying flavor compounds found in red wines). One consideration is whether the wine is dry or sweet.

Dry rosés often work best with lighter dishes like fish, grilled chicken and vegetables, charcuterie, and salads. Some find that dry rosés struggle to compete with heavier fare, like roasts and rich sauces.

Sweeter rosés work with a wider range of foods. "Sweetness helps to put out the fire in spicy food, de-emphasize the saltiness in salty foods, and balance smoky flavors," said Kolpan, which means that these rosés are great paired with barbecue.

Most experts agree on one thing: Rosés don't play well with desserts, because sweetness can highlight the alcohol in the wine and make it taste bitter or flat.

How Do You Know If a Rosé Is Sweet or Dry? And What About Bubbles?

Sweetness is revealed only by tasting or by asking the salesperson. And some rosés, even non-sparkling ones, may have a bit of effervescence, thanks to carbon dioxide trapped during the fermentation process. "That bit of bubble can compensate for a lack of acidity, making the wine more refreshing and your mouth water, so you crave another sip," said Kolpan.

How Much Should It Cost?

The most important question may not be how much to spend on a bottle but rather how many bottles to buy. Sure, there are some notable (and notably expensive) bottles, but the spirit of rosé is predominantly the opposite: young, fun, lighthearted—and about $10 to $20 a bottle.

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