Wine 101: What exactly is rosé?

In Sonoma County, wine is often at the center of the meal, the conversation, and the weekend. And as wine drinkers, and those new to wine soon, know, there is so much to learn about wine that it can take a lifetime to cover it all.

But what about the basics? Especially for beginners in wine tasting, where to start?

In this monthly feature of our new Wine Country section, we aim to explain those basics and perhaps untangle some wine misconceptions along the way. How to read a label? What is an American Wine Area? Are there “rules” for pairing wine with food? If you have a question you’d like us to consider for an upcoming “Wine 101,” you can email wine writer Peg Melnik at [email protected]

We start with a fundamental question about a grape variety that is sometimes ridiculed for not being a “serious” wine – rosé.

Rosé is perhaps the most misunderstood wine of all for novice wine drinkers. It’s not white wine, and it’s not red – so what is it? And why is it pink?

Rosé is made from red grapes, just like red wines. Rosés can vary from pale pink to copper, and they get their hue from contact with the skin of red grapes. The difference is that while red wines ferment for weeks on red skins to achieve their color, rosés are in contact with the skins for a much shorter time – often just a few hours.

The rosés are made from a range of red grape varieties. Some of the most popular are Grenache, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sangiovese.

When it comes to flavor, rosés are typically described as having notes of watermelon, wild strawberry, cherry, lemon zest, and lime. Dry rosés are known for their bright acidic and mineral notes and their zesty, tart fruit, such as wild strawberry and cranberry.

Rosé is often confused with its brotherly twin – white zinfandel – by novice drinkers. A sweet rosé, White Zinfandel was invented by winemaker Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Family Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1972. It was one of the first rosés to catch on in the United States and gained popularity in the 1970s. 1970 and 1980.

More recently, however, American winemakers have turned to making drier rosés, closer to those that have long been popular in France. Makers of dry rosés have tried to dodge white zinfandel’s reputation for having an ultra-sweet taste. This is especially true today, now that so many rosés on the market are dry and refreshing.

Even today, many winegrowers who produce dry rosés end up defending the category. As Charles Smith, winemaker of Smith-Madrone Vineyards in Napa Valley, recently said, “Rosés are serious wines that just happen to be roses. Quality rosés are not disposable wines. The French, in places like Tavel and Anjou and elsewhere, take rosés seriously.

If you’re looking for some rosés to try, here are some of our blind tastings of the recently selected wines of the week. They all landed scores of four stars and above.

  • Husch, 2021 Blaze Rosé, Mendocino, $18 4
  • Pedroncelli, 2021 Signature Select Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, $22
  • Orsi, 2021 Rosato, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, $28
  • Smith-Madrone, 2021 Rosé, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, 30 $4.5
  • Theopolis Vineyards, Rosé from Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County, $28

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5310.

Elisha A. Tilghman