I’ve drunk a lot of rosé in my time. As a former supermarket wine buyer, I’d taste up to a hundred in one sitting (or rather, standing). Back in the day, it used to be rather hit and miss on the quality front, but now winemakers have upped their game and we’re awash with lots of excellent perky pinks and many are very affordable. While there’s no official rosé season, most of us agree it tastes way better in the sun, which is why sales go through the roof this time of year.
The thing that I’m most often asked about, when people are faced with the choice of varying shades of pink, is whether it really is a case of the paler, the better. Aside from remembering to serve it condensation-on-glass-cold, here are my thoughts on the matter, which I hope will help when you’re wandering aimlessly down the wine aisle:
For most rosé wines, what really determines the shade of pink is how long the skins are left in contact with the juice once the grapes have been crushed. Leave them together for a few hours and the result will be much paler than if left for a few days. It’s up to the winemaker to decide how much "skin contact" they want – the wine equivalent of fake tanning, if you like. Except less messy.
And, to give wine colour in the first place, you need to use at least one red grape variety to make it, because that colour comes from the skins. Some red grapes produce wine with more colour than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is a thick-skinned red grape, so produces wines with lots of it. But Pinot Noir is thin-skinned, producing lighter-coloured wines.
With Provence rosé, we’re in typically poached-salmon pink territory and the best are both pale and interesting. Some producers use local grapes like Tibouren (one to look out for on the back label), along with Grenache and Syrah among others. But go to Bordeaux, and you're looking at a darker shade of pink altogether, thanks to the grapes (the thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon is behind a lot of them). Some are made using the traditional "saignée" method, where a small portion of juice is bled off at the start of a red wine fermentation, concentrating what’s left and allowing the winemaker to knock up a batch of rosé wine in the process.
The Languedoc in southern France is a great source of simple "vin de soif"(a fabulously Gallic way of saying thirst-quenching) rosé wines the colour of candyfloss. In Spain, the Grenache (called Garnacha here), Tempranillo and Bobal grapes are behind many of the bright pink gemstone-coloured wines. Like juicy, just-crushed red fruits in a glass, they’re typically punchier than the pale wines of Provence. More arriba than arête; same goes for the rosé wines of South America, especially those made from the Malbec grape.
And so, I think, ultimately, whether paler means better, comes down to personal taste (buds). What I will say is that rosé is a brilliant food wine, matching up with vegetable and herb-laden dishes as well as lightly spicy stuff, thanks to its relatively light flavours. From the pale to punchy, all you have to do is decide what you’re in the mood for and how much you want to spend. Here are some of my current favourites:
Gorgeous, rhubarb-scented rosé made by an Englishman in Provence with help from Jo Ahearne, once a winemaker for M&S. Delicate – but with a savouriness that marks it out as better than average.
Made from a typical Provence cocktail of grapes including Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Rolle. And it’s from the vineyards surrounding Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s chateau, so comes with a sprinkling of stardust.
A Little More Pink
Great value from the Languedoc region in southern France, with lots of ripe red-berry fruit flavours. Ideal fridge-door rosé.
The best bag-in-box rosé around this summer from the people behind St John. Sourced for their customers, it’s proved so popular they’re now selling it from their London wine shop and online (free delivery if you order three boxes or more). Glamping essential.
Fairly cheap but very cheerful, outrageously bright pink wine made from the berry-scented Bobal grape in Spain’s eastern region of Utiel-Requena. Whack it in a jug and chuck in some ice cubes.
Helen McGinn is the author of The Knackered Mothers Wine Club, £12.99