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The Insider’s Guide to Not-Crappy Rosé

The essential producers, wines and methods behind the world’s most noteworthy rosés.

Rosé’s bonkers popularity has brought with it a sort of neurosis. Pink wine wouldn’t seem like the sort of thing to cause stress, but wine is no different than Gucci: when it grows popular, you can usually thank the creation of a lot of cheap knockoffs. Same with good rosé, which is why a cultural battle has grown up between the forces of the cheap (sometimes not cheap) and obvious, and those who believe rosé offers more than summer water.

This tension is healthy, in that rosé has finally jumped the fence from Memorial-through-Labor-Day mindlessness to being what it is: a big and diverse category of wine, considered distinct from red or white or orange wines, and great to drink all year.

You wouldn’t necessarily pick up this message by looking at case stacks of rosé in the typical shop, which seem to be in a pitched battle to be as colorless and insipid as possible. Provence is the major offender on this front; pale and largely flavorless pink wine from that southern swoop of France has become the new go-to for people who have what I’ll call a complicated relationship with flavor. Consider it the pinot grigioification of rosé.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and in many corners, it isn’t. A lot of winemakers, and a lot of places around the world (Bandol, Bardolino, most of Spain) still have faith in the distinctiveness of rosé—wine with flavor, color, even a bit of red-wine tannin. That’s what we like to concern ourselves with: rosés that can stand up and walk around with more than a bit of saunter in their step.

These more serious examples matter because, as the pink craze inevitably grows lukewarm, what will remain are rosés that linger in memory—that dare to be more than inoffensive. And candidly, when you graduate rosé from being mindless beach drink to something meant for interesting and complex food, you need wines with more to offer.

But how to separate the great from the good? There’s no easy map; dedicated practitioners can be found anywhere wine is made. Pink wine with bubbles does tend, in an inverse of the laws of wine, to be of particularly higher quality than equivalent non-pink versions. But we’re talking about still wine today.

It’s well established by now that at PUNCH we’re big fans of Team Teutonic when it comes to rosé—those from Austria and Germany remain some of the world’s best examples, and best values. The grapes can be anything from zweigelt to pinot noir, but it’s more that a lot of winemaking talent can be found here. They are very serious about rosé, and we mean that in a good way.

There’s California, too. After a long time making rosé as a byproduct of more serious wines (see below), the modern crop of winemakers has decided to get serious. Top examples these days are contemplative and nuanced, made as often as not from overlooked grapes like valdiguié and barbera, in addition to more traditional choices like grenache. There’s similar seriousness found today in Oregon and New York, although those wines can be hard to find. And France, in plenty of places aside from Provence, is still plenty diligent when it comes to for-real pink wine.

In the end, your best map to finding great rosé is simply to do some research about the producer. People who are serious about their other wines are serious about pink wine, too, which is why markets like New York have been drinking up spendy rosé from producers like Burgundy’s Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey and Napa’s Matthiasson as fast as they arrive. So the solution to the pink-wine hunt is an obvious one: Find a talented winemaker, and you’ll find great rosé.

Fast Facts

  • There are essentially two ways to make rosé: direct press, which simply means the grapes used for the wine are pressed and all of their juice goes to rosé; and saignée, in which a portion of juice is bled off (hence the name, from French) from a pressful of red grapes intended for red wine. Much debate has ensued as to which makes better wine. In theory, grapes actually intended for rosé are going to make better wine than a byproduct, but lots of evidence exists either way.
  • Rosé is made from red grapes almost all the time—save for the rare occasion when a percentage of white grapes are used. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that so-called “gris,” or grey, grapes can also be used. As in “pinot gris,” which isn’t in fact a white wine but something approximating colorless rosé.
  • In a few places, “gris” grapes are traditionally made with some color, including Reuilly in the Loire, Côte Saint-Jacques in Burgundy and the ramato style of wine in northern Italy. In truth, these are closer to orange wines than rosé in spirit, although they’re usually lumped in with the latter.
  • The popularity of Provence really can’t be overstated; the southern French region makes nearly 160 million bottles annually. Forty percent is exported—and of that, 43 percent goes to the United States. So, yeah, we’re picking up what they’re putting out.
  • Despite rosé’s reputation, there are a number of appellations across Europe where it’s a specialty. In addition to Bandol in Provence and Tavel in the Rhône, there’s also Marsannay at the top of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, known for subtle, complex wines from pinot noir; and even farther north, Les Riceys, at the southern tip of Champagne, which makes hearty, long-aging rosé that’s spiritually akin to a light red.
  • The rise of rosé comes in tandem with the rise of light red wines from around the world. At times it can be difficult to tell the difference, although in general: rosés rarely get more than eight or 10 hours soaking on the grape skins, which is what provides the wine’s color and structure. A light red usually will get at least a few days, even if it sits untouched.
  • For much of winemaking history, lines between white and red weren’t as clearly delineated. The fondness for light reds stretches back to Greek antiquity, and was popularized in the “clairet” style of Bordeaux, which became red “claret” and lives on as a dark (and infrequently produced) rosé. The style reflected both the less intense winemaking of the past and the whims of taste, particularly in Britain.

The Essential Producers

Domaine de Marquiliani: Along with Antoine Arena and his family in Patrimonio and Camille-Anaïs Raoust of Domaine de Maestracci, Anne Amalric’s winery represents some of the best of Corsica’s talent with pink wine, which is to say, some of the greatest rosé anywhere. Amalric uses syrah, sciaccarellu and more to make great rosé that defines the great contradictions of this French-but-different island, where despite the Mediterranean idylls, rosé is never bland.

Chateau Pradeaux: The Portalis family has been making wine in Bandol for centuries—leathery, intense wines that give no quarter to mild modern tastes. Their rosé remains a standardbearer for all the feral intensity of mourvèdre (Bandol’s quintessential grape) and quality has been on an upswing for the past decade.

Schloss Gobelsburg: This ancient Austrian estate is best known for its serious white wines, but its Cistercien rosé remains a summer favorite—for good reason. It’s that essential combo of great winemaking talent, the attention to detail that makes those Teuton rosés so good, and the approachably plummy flavors of zweigelt (blended with pinot noir and St. Laurent, typically).

Los Bermejos: Sure, Spain’s Canary Islands are so hot right now, but this property on the easternmost island of Lanzarote has been making exceptional rosado since well before it was a must-have, harnessing the indigenous listán negro grape. Candidly, this has been Team PUNCH’s go-to pink wine for years.

Triennes: Having slagged Provence rosé, it’s also worth acknowledging that some pretty good examples exist, even for larger-production wines. This joint project of the Seysses family of Domaine Dujac and the de Villaines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti—the heaviest of hitters in Burgundy—puts a lot of winemaking firepower into an under-$20 bottle.

La Boutanche: This project from importer Selection Massale is an effort to make affordable rosé from a number of their producers. The rosé tends to come from Quentin Bourse and Frantz Saumon in the Loire, and Andi Knauss in Germany, and quality is always impressively high.

Also: Ryme (Sonoma), Leitz (Rheingau), Enderle & Moll (Baden), Domaine Charles Audoin (Burgundy), Domaine Bart (Burgundy), Loimer (Austria), Kelby James Russell (Finger Lakes), Ferme Saint-Martin (Rhône), Olivier Horiot (Riceys), Idlewild (California).

The Essential Wines

A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara County Rosé of Grenache: Angela Osborne is known as one of California’s top talents with this grape, even if her rosé is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be, especially not in the 2017 vintage. This showcases grenache’s subtle, silken side—with a sneaky power, all raspberry-ice tang and corn silk, lavender and poppy.

Markus Altenburger Vom Kalk Burgenland Rosé: More evidence of that great penchant for pink wine in Austria, this time from Markus Altenburger, who organically farms his family’s land near the large lake known as the Neusiedlersee. From blaufränkisch and zweigelt planted on limestone (hence the name,Vom Kalk), it combines user-friendly white peach and currant fruit with a talc-like mineral complexity.

Bedrock Ode to Lulu Old Vine California Rosé: This is one of California’s perennial standouts—a tribute from Morgan Twain-Peterson to old heritage vineyards and to Domaine Tempier, the most famous of the Bandol estates. The 2017 is an exceptional specimen, with a koji-like richness and cotton-candy softness from grenache perfectly balancing the growl of mourvèdre.

Pierre-Marie Chermette Les Griottes Beaujolais Rosé: Beaujolais doesn’t get much discussion where pink wine is concerned—for one, there’s not much of it—but gamay noir makes a fantastic rosé and Chermette makes one of the best, from young vines on the family’s property. Gamay packs a lot of fruit in rosé form, and just so here, with mashed plum and black sesame.

J. Mourat Collection Val de Loire Rosé: Jérémie Mourat says this hails from the “Loire Meridionale” or “southern Loire,” his sly reference to the maritime area known as the Fiefs Vendéens, an hour south of Muscadet. It’s a blend of three Loire stalwarts—pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay—plus little-known negrette. Look past the weird flared bottle—do you even Ott, bro?—to a fantastic balance of rich pulpy peach, the texture of salted egg yolk and a pointed herbal side, like sawtooth basil.

Diel Rosé de Diel Nahe Pinot Noir Rosé: Caroline Diel keeps up her track record of making some of Germany’s best rosé. This is quiet, just the slightest bit sweet in its fruit and texturally rich, with dried violets and a darker mineral aspect underneath. The 2017, especially, is the quintessence of classy at a time when rosé struggles for just that.

The Essential Fringe

Ramato: As mentioned, the northern Italian tradition of soaking pinot grigio long enough to give it color has for a long time been considered a legitimate form of making, if not rosé, a “gray” wine  (salmon-colored, really) that functions in a similar realm.

But… Provence: Yes, when the rosé reckoning comes, that region of southern France has a lot to answer for. But there are also very serious producers like Henri Milan, Les Terres Promises and Domaine de Sulauze that endeavor to make distinctive and unique rosé that has little in common with summer water.

Valdiguié: As noted in our Insider’s Guide to Alt-California, this once-obscure southern French grape is having an American revival—and not just in red form, but in pink, too, thanks to labels like Lumia, Jolie-Laide, Cruse and more.

Bardolino Chiaretto: This classic Italian pink wine from the shores of Lake Garda was on trend before anyone knew what the trend was. Tangy, a bit savory and definitely cool climate in its mien, it’s one of the great rosé traditions.

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