Women for WineSense: “What makes a perfect rosé region?”

Rosé wines hold so many admirable qualities – a pretty color, versatility, and a promise of a perfect summer. Even wines made in a sweeter lollipop fashion (not my favorite) bring back tender memories of carefree times and girly giggles.

When I think of rosé, two places immediately spring to my mind: the cote d’azure, blue skies and lavender fields of Provence, and majestic chateaux along the Loire river in Anjou. Yet, delicious rosés are now made everywhere: from Australia to Eastern Europe and to the US, in a wide variety of styles and colors.

But is there such a thing as a perfect rosé region? If yes, what sets it apart from other places?

Is it perhaps a long tradition of making rosé wines? 

In Provence, they have been made for mind-boggling 2600 years, since the ancient Greeks settled there. When the Romans appeared in the region, Provençal rosés already had a reputation for their high quality, which continued into the Middle Ages and modern times. Dry, crisp, fresh Provençal rosés with a scent of garrigue (wild fragrant underbrush) are still considered the gold standard around the world.

Is it dedication that counts? 

Rosé wines receive the undivided attention in Tavel in the Rhone Valley – the rosé-only appellation, which has been making wine just a hundred years less than Provence. Bone-dry and masculine, with more body, structure, and flavor concentration compared to most of their peers, Tavel wines were favored by king Louis XIV, popes of Avignon, Honoré de Balzac and Ernest Hemingway.

Is it diversity of styles that matters? 

In Anjou in the Loire Valley rosé is made in dry and medium-sweet, sparkling and still styles – what a heaven for a capricious wine-lover! There are three main appellations for rosé wines. The always medium-sweet (minimum 10 g/l of residual sugar) Cabernet d’Anjou, made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, are voluptuous, round and refreshing. Less sweet Rosé d’Anjou, made predominantly from the local grape Grolleau, are youthful, tender and gentle. Always dry Rosé de Loire – a blend with a minimum of 30% Cabernet grapes – are light and supple, meant to be drunk young.

Is there perhaps a most suitable grape variety? 

In fact, it is probably harder to list the red grapes that rosés are NOT made of! Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot… – all of them can serve a base for a rosé, making wines with different aromatic profiles, body, acidity and the depth of color. Yet, it’s hard to deem one variety superior to the other, especially considering the fact that many rosés are blends of several grapes, which is often determined by the local tradition and appellation laws.

Does it matter how you make it? 

Spanish rosados from Navarra are made exclusively using the Saignée, or bleeding, method, resulting in bolder wines with brighter color and a rich fruity aroma. They have long been considered flagship wines of the appellation. Yet, the Saignée method may not be universally suitable. Some critics think that for a lot of New World wineries this is just a convenient way to increase the concentration of the red wine. In this case the rosé is just a by-product, often made from sub-optimal – less acidic – grapes.

Perhaps it is the perfect local food pairing? 

In this case, it’s hard to beat the Mediterranean cuisine, with its freshly caught fish, olive oil, diverse vegetables, herbs, garlic, grilled meats, pizza and paella – all perfect companions for a bone dry, refreshingly acidic rosé.

But actually, a good rosé does’n necessarily need outstanding regional specialities: a very versatile wine, it can find ideal matches from far-away, exotic destinations. For example, a dry Provencal wine will make a great companion to Thai or Tex-Mex dishes, and an off-dry Anjou will be perfect with exotic spicy cuisine, such as curry.

… Or perhaps none of the above is as important as the context, or the occasion, or the memories. My perfect spot on the map is a little bistro table under a big plane tree in a medieval square somewhere deep in France, where we were drinking chilled salmon-hued wine and falling in love.

This post originally appeared as a guest post on the ‘Women for Wine Sense‘ (WWS) blog in 2015. WWS is an education and networking organization for wine aficionados and industry professionals.