A Six-Bottle Master Class to Rosé

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Rosé is a wine style that encompasses a lifestyle, a sun-soaked expression of the good life. It evokes the outdoors, warm weather and foods fresh from the garden. But it’s also a year-round category of easy pairing partners for different types of foods.

With so many ways to make rosé and a range of flavor profiles, one little word doesn’t seem enough to sum it all up. Part of what makes rosé so fascinating is the way that bottlings can vary depending on the grapes used, the terroir from which they were grown and the production method employed.

Provence rosé wine vineyard
Vineyard in Provence, France / Getty

Rosé is still a polarizing style. Some recall the sticky-sweet offerings from decades ago and may think of it as an inexpensive wine. For others, to sip a glass of crisp, herbal Provençal rosé is the height of sophistication, like linen pants and Persol shades.

Some rosé lovers choose their wines by the hue, which can range from the palest salmon to cotton candy, geranium and everything in between. Rosé can be a tricky wine to get right, but when a winemaker succeeds, it’s a delight.

To understand this beautifully varied style, taste through these three comparative couplings: saignée versus direct-press rosé, cool-climate versus warm-climate rosé, and unoaked versus oaked rosé.

Your local wine retailer should be able to help guide you with selections.

Saignée vs. Direct Press

Saignée, which means “bleeding” in French, is a technique for rosé production. While red grapes macerate in a tank to allow the skins and seeds to add color, flavor and texture to red wine, a portion of the liquid is siphoned out early, or “bled off,” to make rosé.

Direct-press rosés are made from red wine grapes often picked slightly underripe. Harvesting early can create a rosé with higher acidity and crispness. The grapes or clusters are pressed, and the juice has very brief, if any, skin contact, which creates a wine with a pale hue.

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Direct-press rosés offer delicate flavors and aromas, and they generally exhibit lower alcohol levels that those produced using the saignée method. Classic southern French rosés from Provence and many from Languedoc and Roussillon are fine examples of the direct-press style.

Because they’re made from ripe grapes, saignée rosés generally have fuller flavor, more red fruit character and sometimes slightly higher alcohol than direct-press bottlings. If you’re a fan of bolder wines, saignée rosé may be for you.

Saignée vs. Direct Press Rosé Flight
Wine 1: Typically, darker-hued rosés employ some use of saignée, though that isn’t always the case. Check the back of the bottle to see if production methods are listed, or ask your retailer for assistance.
Wine 2: For classic direct-press rosés, look to the pale pink wines of Provence.

Cool vs. Warm Climate

While rosé is a refreshing warm-weather wine, some of the most exciting examples come from less temperate areas of the world. These cool-climate rosés show higher acidity and lower alcohol.

For cool-climate bottlings, a notable impression of minerality can emerge, as well as precise flavors. Besides focused acidity and freshness in cool-climate wines, there’s often a beautiful restraint, too. Flavors often can present hints of tart red berries like currants, underripe strawberries and raspberries, depending on the grape variety.

If you want to explore rosés from cooler climes, look for bottles from the Loire Valley in France, Northern Italy, Austria, the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Marlborough region in New Zealand.

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On the other side of the spectrum is warm-climate rosé. These wines are generally lush in character and deliver heady aromas and flavors. They can offer everything from floral notes, like rose, to a cornucopia of fruits like ripe watermelon, strawberry, ripe peach and even banana.

Winemakers in hotter areas can struggle to hang onto some acidity, so it’s crucial to pick grapes at the right moment. The best examples exhibit ample acidity for balance, so the wine is tangy and refreshing instead of flat. Consider quality selections from warmer regions in California, Spain, Southern Italy, Australia and South Africa.

Cool-Climate vs. Warm-Climate Rosé Flight
Wine 1: Rosés from Austria and the Loire Valley in France are great zesty, cool-climate options.
Wine 2: For a warm-climate option, look to rosados from Rioja in Spain and rosatos from Puglia in Italy. For domestic options, look to Paso Robles in California.

Unoaked vs. Oaked

A well-made, unoaked rosé is the essence of youth in a bottle. Many have an ephemeral quality. They’re light, sheer and delicate in flavor. The aromas are reminiscent of the first strawberries or cherries of the season, or freshly picked flowers. These are wines that whisper “seize the day” and “drink me now.”

Many wineries make unoaked rosés in smaller quantities, as they’re not designed to age more than a year or two. Over time, the subtle aromas and flavors of ripe, young fruit fall away. You may be left with some pleasing acidity and perhaps hints of minerality or herbal tones, but the fruit largely falls out with age.

oak aging rose wine
Oak aging rosé wine / Getty

An oaked rosé is a different creature. Here, the winemaker seeks to give the wine’s summery flavors a kind of immortality by aging the rosé in oak.

To some, aging rosé in an oak barrel is like adding fluorescent lace ruffles to a classic Chanel jacket. But there can be plenty of positive aspects to oak aging, even for rosé.

During the time spent in oak, fruit flavors can deepen and resemble those of a light red wine. The oak adds its own imprint, with warm spices, vanilla or toasted nuts, along with a richer texture.

Unoaked vs. Oaked Rosé Flight
Wine 1: Most rosés of the world are unoaked, spending time only in stainless steel or other neutral vessels to maintain their bright, crisp, fruity nature. Most options within the $15–20 price point will be unoaked.
Wine 2: Premium bottles of Provence and Bandol rosés in France can employ oak.

Published on June 24, 2021
Topics: Master Class