Flatiron’s Rose FAQs: our simple guide to the best pink wines
This post was originally posted 5/4/2017 and updated 5/13/2019.
Let's start with the basics of what goes into Pink wines.
What is rosé wine?
“Rosé” is French for “pink,” or “pinkish”—so rosé wine just means pinkish wine.
What gives rosé wines their pink color?
Rosé is usually made with red-wine grapes, which have pigment in their skins.
All the color in rosé wines come from the skins of those grapes. (We’ll talk more about wine making later in this post.)
So, is rosé a red wine or a white wine?
Rosé wines fall somewhere between red wines and white wines.
Well, is Rosé more like white wine or red wine?
While the color of rosé wines can run the gamut from almost white to light red, people tend to drink them more like white wines than red wines. We drink rosé with a chill (the exact serving temperature depends, as with red and white wines, on all the particulars). Like white wine, many rosés are perfect for outdoor, hot day drinking: that’s why they’re mainstays of seaside vacations.
But rosé is also great with food, though, like white wine, we tend to drink rosés earlier in an evening as an aperitif or early in the meal with lighter courses like salads and fish.
Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming blog post all about Rosé Pairing.
Why all the hype about rosé lately?
Cause it’s delicious and people love stuff that tastes great! Seriously.
Also, there’s a reverse-snob appeal. For a long time most of the rosé we got in America was gross: industrial wine made by mixing cheap white wine with worse red wine (more on this mixing business below) and adding sugar. That created a real snobbery against rosé.
But that’s not how they make the rosés we love. They never made them that way in France’s southern paradise, Provence—which happens to be rosé’s spiritual home.
So when you drink rosé you get to drink something super-tasty and show that you aren’t the kind of person prejudiced by out-of-date snobbery. Win-win!
How do Rosés taste?
Like most wines, just what rosé tastes like depends on who made it, where they made it, how they made it, what they made it from, and how long it has aged. But here are some basics:
- Most Rosé wines are fresh tasting, with light, red berry flavors and the kind of mouthwatering acidity that makes it deliciously refreshing to drink in the sun (the way they drink Rosé in Provence).
- Some rosés have a little more sugar to balance deeper, richer flavors.
- Some rosés are very close to red wines. Cerasuolo from Central Italy is a classic example.
- You drink most rosés young, when they’re full of fruit flavors. But some of the best rosé wines will age beautifully and develop complex, mature aromas of mineral, and earth and more.
- Some rosés are industrially made plonk full of sugar and additives. We don’t drink those or sell them.
Why do Rosés vary in color and style so much?
Rosés vary in color and style for the same reason other wines do: different grapes grown in different sites treated differently make different wines!
As we noted above, the color in Rosés comes from the skin of the grapes. If you use very dark grapes with lots of pigment and let the juice absorb a lot of that pigment you end up with a darker wine.
What’s up with Rosé Champagne?
Pink Champagne: It’s the best!
Seriously, Rosé Champagne is amazing. Like regular Champagnes, it tends to be dry (drier, for instance, than prosecco), and like regular rosés Pink Champagne comes in various shades and flavors that range from barely perceptibly pink, to deep and practically red-wine flavored.
Good Rosé Champagne is one of the best things in the world.
I like dry rosés that are really light pink. How do they make such pretty, light rosés?
We know you do! Here are the two main tricks to making dry, light rosés that you want to crush all summer long:
- Winemaking Trick: Separate the grape juice from the dark skins ASAP, before the skins can give the juice more than that touch of color.
- Grape growing Trick: Pick your grapes a little earlier, when they have more fresh acidity and less sugar. With less sugar to convert into alcohol, you get a fresher, lighter wine. And with less ripe skins, you have less pigment to darken the color.
Now, we'll dive into some more of the nitty-gritty on pink wines.
So just how do you make good pink wine?
You pick red grapes, good red grapes from good terroirs! Then you press them to extract their juice, which is white (Really!). As the white juice begins to absorb the red pigment it turns pink. When you’ve got just the shade you want, you separate the juice from the skins and, voilà: rosé
There are two basic ways to do this: (1) Direct Press Rosé and (2) Rosé made by “bleeding” juice from a red wine. Of course, this being wine, we call the bled wine by its French name “Rose Saignée.” Sounds… less gruesome, right?
What is a “Direct Press Rosé”?
Direct Press is the simplest, most direct way to make a rosé.
- The farmer picks grape bunches meant specifically for rosé.
- She puts the bunches in a giant press and squeezes them to get the juice.
- She lets the crushed skins sit in the juice until she has the color she wants.
- She separates the juice from all the skins and stems.
- She lets the pink juice ferment on its own, as if it were a white wine.
Well then, what’s the “Rosé Saignée”? How is it different from a Direct Press Rosé?
When a winemaker makes a Saignée, he sets out to make two wines from one batch of grapes: a red and a rosé. So he generally starts by preparing the grapes to make red wine.
- He harvests grapes that are ripe enough to make a red wine.
- After harvest, he destem the bunches and crushes the grapes.
The crushed berries and juice go in a vat together and macerate.
- This juice extracts more “stuff” (including color) from the skins than in the direct press method since, without stems, the juice gets more skin contact.
- After a little while he’ll “bleed off” some of the juice (“saignée” means “bled”). This could be anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the crush.
- That bled juice becomes the rosé saignée.
- The juice that remains on the skins will absorb lots of stuff from the skins, since the bleeding reduces the ratio of juice to skins.
The result of the Rosé de Saignée is two wines:
(1) a rosé that’s a little more robust than a direct press and
(2) a red wine that’s more concentrated than it would have been without any bleeding off of juice. (Obviously, if you took this saignée thing too far, you could end up with a gross, overly concentrated red wine. Don’t overdo it, friends!)
Rosé as a by-product—that doesn’t sound so good…
Well, it does get looked down on in some circles.
It definitely has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest difference is that the grapes you pick to make red wine are usually riper than the grapes you pick for Rosé, so the flavors can be less pink-friendly, more robust. But there are great examples of saignée rosé.
So you don’t make rosé by mixing red wine and white wine?
Not normally for good wines. There’s one big exception, though: pink sparkling wines, like Rosé Champagne.
In Champagne they’re allowed to break all kinds of rules, and they get to break this one too!
So lots of Rosé Champagnes are made by mixing a tiny bit of red wine into a white sparkler.
Is there a fancy French name for this blending technique?
Actually there is: taché! French for “stained.” See how much better things sound in French?
So, with either basic technique, to make a darker Rosé you just let the grapes and the juice mix for longer?
And to make a red wine you just let the skin and the juice mix till skins have colored the wine completely red and made it tannic?
What’s the point of darker rosés, anyway?
They’re also delicious!
Maybe not for drinking while you’re sitting out in the sun or by the water. But if you think of them as really light red wines that you can chill down and serve with food, you’ll get the picture.
Just imagine bbq chicken with a bit of spice on a hot summer night. You want something cool and refreshing, but your super-pale, very subtle rosé may get obliterated by the dish. But a darker rosé with a touch more fruit will stand up to meal without becoming weighty, like some big, old winter-time red.
One last thing... Aren’t there pink grapes that can do all this?
No, not exactly. There aren’t many pink grapes out there. But there are grapes like Pinot Gris (“Gray Pinot”) that you can treat sort of like red wine to get a copper-hued rosé.
How can I learn more?
- Drink the stuff!
Honestly, the best way to learn about wine is to drink some great wines.
Here are some of our star rosés that, in addition to being great drinking, make for a fascinating exploration of the world of Rosé.
Commanderie de Peyrassol, Cotes de Provence Rose, 2018
Already a hit throughout NYC, this classic, crisp Provencal rose has just a hint of strawberry fruit and is taking the Flatiron District by storm!
Clos Cibonne, Cotes de Provence Rose “Cuvee Speciale des Vignettes”, 2010
Made using a solera system, raspberry creamsicle, cherries, like regular rosé on steroids, with a very long finish.
Domaines Ott, Cotes de Provence Rose “Chateau de Selle“, 2016 (6L)
THE wine you want for your big party this summer.
Thibaud Boudignon, Rose de Loire, 2018
Fermented on the indigenous yeast, this has the purity and vibrancy of a natural wine, the subtlety and balance of a collectible wine and the crushability of wine for the people.
Wolffer Estate, Long Island Rose, 2018
Our favorite local pink juice. Required drinking this spring and summer.
- Keep checking this blog.
May is Rosé month at Flatiron.
Each week we will be updating our blogs about Rosé and it will all culminate in a big Rosé party! (More on this later!)