Rosé: History + Basics


similar crystal saucer

Rosé on my front porch – hello late Spring!

I had this idea of buying a bunch of different rosés, noting all their little complexities, and making a post about it. Then I started digging into its history and some basic facts and realized instead of listing specific labels, in truth, its more helpful to just understand how it is meant to be consumed and the regions in which it is produced. And, I’d be remiss to not include some backstory. Here’s the rundown.

Rosé was the first wine. Thousands of years ago, the Greeks would stomp red and white grapes together and then diluted it. It was considered savage as well as the choice of criminals to consume “pure” red wine. The Greeks brought it to the South of France where monks later kept the tradition of wine-making alive.

Many countries produce it and yet Provence, France is still the premier producer for rosé. In a nutshell, terroir is the complete natural environment of wine – from the soil to the topography to the climate. And in this region, it is found to be quite varied – from rolling hills, to the salty coast, limestone, clay, and crystalline (think minerality). And no, the endless lavender does not play a role here. Although that does give me an idea for a rosé cocktail now that I’ve typed lavender… more on that another time, maybe.

The terroir talk brings me to mention its special, beloved air they’ve named The Mistral. I have visited Provence in the summertime and can attest it is a hot one. However, the humidity is cut by this particularly strong, cold wind sweeping down The Rhône and over The Alps – saving its thriving vines and allowing some of the best wine in the world to succeed. I’ve zeroed in on sharing some of their history because, well, they’ve been making it for 2,600 years there and it’s still the classic standard.

It can be still, semi-sparkling, or sparkling. It can be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. It can be savory or spicy. It ranges from nearly translucent to salmon to deep pink.

It can be made from one varietal or a blend. Typically it is made from 2-3. Furthermore, while it is generally made from the early pressing of red grapes after 12-24 hours of skin contact (maceration), it is sometimes made by mixing white and red together. Although in France, this practice is illegal.

It is not meant to be served as cold as white wine – consider pulling it out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before you intend to drink it so as to be able to pick up on its unique flavors. It can range from berries to honeydew melon to citrus to even rhubarb.

It is supposed to be consumed in less than three years. It doesn’t keep. Unless you want vinegar.

It can make a mean cocktail. It doesn’t have to be served on its own. Try concocting a punch bowl or a pitcher of the tried and true frosé.

Provençal rosé is going to be your crowd pleaser – it is dry (not so sweet – no added sugar) and available to enjoy at any price point. You can get a great bottle between $5-$20. There are more expensive options, but really, why bother? Unless you’re dining out.

More from The Old World. In Italy, roscato can be sweeter and sometimes is a blend of white and red grapes. Same goes for Germany and its rosewein. Meanwhile in Spain, they take early-pressed rosé and add it to red wine and call it roscado. Head over to the Portuguese, and your option is a sparkling, sweetened bottle.

New World. American rosé is largely known as “White Zinfandel” and can be very sweet. On the other hand, in recent years and hailing from the cold, salty airs of Long Island, NY,  a hand full of rosés can mirror its provençal rivals. There are some exceptions coming out of California, too.

You can find a great bottle from any corner of the world, just go with the basic rule of the thumb – the lighter the color, the dryer (less sweet) the wine. Go a little darker, and you’re going to get a fuller-bodied flavor. But, anyone can add sugar to the final product so it’s best to do a quick research or ask your wine store. The low price point makes it easier to try different ones until you’ve found one you like. And really, there is no shame in liking it sweeter – sometimes the French ones are so decidedly dry they can start to taste a little watery – it comes down to preference. I’ve only mentioned a couple, but they are making it in most major countries. And yet the threat of a shortage is a real thing every year.

Lately wine enthusiasts like to stress it can be enjoyed year round and with all food. I mean, yeah. Do you. I’m the kind of born-to-be-a-mom gal who lives for decorating around different holidays so for me to reserve it for those balmy late spring to late summer days is a treat. It’s nice as a dinner’s aperitif, too. I’d prefer something like a little kebab of prosciutto, melon, and mozzarella or a nice salad or grilled fish with it – not because it’s a light wine, but because it’s a sneaky, sometimes complex wine that I’d rather sip and be able to give a little attention to it. But, all is fair in food and drink – have whatever you like! I own several books on wine but a very approachable, highly recommended read would be Wine Folly – it has easy charts and everything.

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