Rosé has come a long way in the U.S. over the past few decades. The category went from being falsely maligned for its association with cloyingly sweet white Zinfandel to leading the charge among seasonal beachside indulgences, and has now catapulted into a year-round billion-dollar market for wine enthusiasts and casual sippers alike. From small producers to industry giants to celebrities, it seems like just about everyone produces a rosé now.
Along with rosé’s exponential rise in popularity came a barrage of rosé-related advice. One drinking strategy that gained a lot of traction in rosé’s early days was to select your bottle by color, under the assumption that those darkest in color would be sweet, and lightest would be dry. This debate seemed to come to a head in 2022 when Real Simple posted a “wine tip” on Instagram, suggesting that readers “always buy the rosé that is lightest in color.” The post received instant backlash from Instagram’s community of wine lovers in a flurry of comments and posts. Influencers like @winefarer did not hesitate to share their frustrations, worried that spreading misinformation could cause consumers to discount an entire category of delicious rosé options.
With the wide range of rosé shades on the market today, we can confirm this rule doesn’t hold true. The deep-pink Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosato, Garnacha and Tempranillo- based rosé blends of Rioja, and revered wines of Tavel are all great examples of darker-hued wines that challenge this selection strategy. So, if judging the wine’s color is not the proper way to select your next rosé, then how can consumers differentiate the overwhelming selection of bottles on the market? While there is no foolproof way to make sure each rosé you buy will be your favorite, looking at the grape variety the wine was made with is a good start.
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James Christopher Tracy, partner and winemaker at Channing Daughters winery on Long Island, crafts several different rosé expressions that make up the winery’s series of “multi rosati” (meaning “many rosés”) each year. The collection includes varietal rosés made of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Refosco, many from specific designated vineyards, as well as several blends. This varietal-focused rosé series itself goes to show how the grape variety is much more relevant to finding your perfect rosé than judging the range of pink, salmon, and coral tones these wines may come in.
“The grape variety gives you tons of information in terms of what those wines classically give you in aroma and flavor,” Tracy notes. “Rosés are remarkably true to the textbook varietal characteristics that are associated with each grape.” For example, when Merlot is vinified as a red wine, it can express a plush texture with notes of plums and cherries, while Syrah has more floral and pepper-driven aromatics. This means drinkers can expect the rosés made from these grapes to share the same characteristics. So, if you know you enjoy red wines made with Cabernet Franc for their red berry and earthy, green pepper flavors, chances are you will also enjoy a rosé of Cabernet Franc offering similar notes.
In terms of what a rosé’s color can tell you about the wine, Tracy remarks that there’s no real way to connect hue and taste. “It really depends. You can have a light-in-color rosé that is quite rich and full in body or the reverse. Who knows about sweetness levels? It can be all over the place.” Beyond checking the grape varieties, if you are still not completely sure about your rosé selection, Tracy mentions the best advice is to stick to a producer you love, check the winery’s website for tasting notes, or ask your sommelier or someone at your local wine shop to point you in the right direction.