All About Rosé Wine

Written by
Vintage Cellars
October 16, 2018
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Pink drinks are on a fashion high, with rosé leading the charge. Not the sweet lolly-water of yesteryear, but fragrant, clean, crisp and oh-so-pale rosés with savoury flavours and a dry finish. Like fashion items, rosé has been through its highs and lows. The last high was 50 years ago with the Portuguese Mateus immensely popular as a seductive drink in the era of mini-skirts and white knee-high boots. Mateus came (and still does) in a distinctive hip-flask-shaped bottle that was used by swooning young things as a candle holder – a recycling move well before our intense modern-day focus on upcycling.

Rosé’s fashion low quickly followed, driven by a tsunami of sweet, uninspiring wines that lacked flavour, substance and style. But these days, rosé is on a stylistic high, with anecdotal evidence that rosé has outstripped white wine sales in France. The trend is flowing to Australia, with dangerously drinkable, pale and dry rosés increasing vintage by vintage.

The History of Rosé Wine

In many ways, rosé predates white and red wine with ancient rosé-style wines dating back 8,000 years. They were made simply by crushing any available grapes, allowing the wild yeasts to ferment the (relatively low) grape sugars into a rustic wine that was drunk as soon as possible, as it quickly turned to vinegar. The colour would be more amber than pink, with an alcohol level more the strength of beer than modern wines.

Rosé and Its Food Friends

Rosé derives its name from the French word for pink, morphing to rosado in Spain and rosato in Italy. Rosé’s flavours and styles are as varied as the food it matches. The colour interplay between a watermelon pink rosé and the sauce of an old-school prawn cocktail makes a fun match. Rosé laps up spice, soothing the chilli hit of a Thai chicken curry or a lip-numbing laksa. Take an Italianate slant with a fragrant rosato teamed with a bowl of spaghetti alle vongole or a slice of pizza margherita.

Rosé is mandatory with salads, be it waldorf, caesar or niçoise. Head to Spain for tapas or pinchos (snacks) paired with a grenache or tempranillo-based rosado. Piquant Mexican food favours a lively rosé, as does a bowl of blazing hot Sichuan noodles. But then again, rosé happily drinks well on its own. A chilled glass of Bird In Hand Pinot Rosé makes the perfect apéritif on a warm, sunny day shared with family and friends.

Rosé’s True Colours and Tannins

The colour of a rosé can be a red herring – a deep fuchsia pink rosé may be bone-dry, though it’s likely to be full flavoured given balance by a gentle squeeze of tannin. Tannin primarily comes from the skin of a grape – as does colour. It’s tannin that sets rosé apart from its white and red siblings. Almost all wine grapes have clear juice; it’s the skins that give the colour. Hence (white) Champagne and sparkling wines can be made from red grapes (typically pinot noir) by pressing whole bunches quickly to run off the clear juice and ferment into a white base wine.

To make a rosé in this way, the winemaker simply allows that free-run juice to stay on the red skins to pick up a little colour, more flavour and a smidge of tannin from the skins. The longer the juice stays on the red skins, the deeper the colour, the bolder the flavours and the firmer the tannins. Some winemakers ferment the juice in older oak to build the weight, shape and texture of the finished rosé.

The Farr Rising Saignée Rosé is the ultimate expression of this style. Winemaker Nick Farr picks whole bunches of pinot noir grapes, then tosses them into an open fermenter, stomps around to break the skins to release the clear juice, which begins to soak up colour from the red skins. Farr “bleeds” some (up to 20 per cent) of this now pink-tinged juice into a barrel to ferment, where it remains for a few months before bottling. The technique is known as saignée (literally “to bleed” in French) and results in a full-flavoured, complex rosé with the side benefit of concentrating the primary pinot noir ferment.

The Cellars

Rosé is an extremely versatile style, not only at the drinking end of things but in the vineyard and the winery. Grenache is the most popular rosé grape, with its lifted confectionary aromas, juicy red fruit flavours and mild-mannered tannins creating the textbook triumvirate for rosé. The temperate Provence region of France is home to some of the world’s best rosé, perhaps naturally, given it’s widely planted with grenache and its Rhône varietal associates, mourvèdre, cinsault and syrah.

The Roseline Rosé Prestige is a classic example of this style. The Bandol wine area, where the Roseline is made, clings to the Mediterranean coastline in eastern Provence and is deemed to represent the pinnacle of rosé production. Mourvèdre is the region’s hero grape, generating rosés with an über-pale salmon colour, delicate yet savoury flavours and a bone-dry finish. That Bandol rosé goes perfectly with the local bouillabaisse, patés and terrines is a culinary bonus.

Australian Rose Styles

Rosé is crafted into many styles in Australia and can be made with a host of red-skinned varieties. Grenache is the customary variety for rosés from the Barossa (try Charles Melton Rose of Virginia) and McLaren Vale (try Geoff Merrill Grenache Rosé) – warm regions with old-vine grenache plantings. Spinifex Rosé from the Barossa follows a Francophile approach with its pale but savoury notes. In the cooler Adelaide Hills, tempranillo is the go – try the La Linea Tempranillo Rosé with tapas-style dishes.

In Victoria, the choices are endless; the Italian heritage of the King Valley’s producers makes sangiovese the obvious choice (try Pizzini Rosetta), while nearby in Beechworth and Heathcote nebbiolo brings a food-friendly umami (savoury) tone. In the Yarra Valley, pinot noir reigns supreme, bringing strawberry perfumes and spicy flavours to the rosé genre. The La Bohème Act Two Dry Pinot Rosé is the perfect example.