Fintan Kerr: The Rosé revolution

By , 13 December 2023

“There´s never been a greater time to drink wine”. If I had €1 for every time I’ve heard or read this over the past couple of years, I´d probably be able to buy a 375ml bottle of something I actually want to drink. My cynicism around rapidly escalating prices aside, there´s genuinely some truth to the statement. Whilst the truly great wines of the world may now only be readily available to the wealthy and the well connected, there has never been such a broad spread of accessible, quality wines across the globe. A big part of this is a general improvement in viticultural and wine-making practices, particularly recently with so many wine-makers maintaining modern hygiene standards whilst reincorporating traditional techniques in the winery, often to great effect. A big part of it is a huge improvement in logistics (2020-22 a notable exception), allowing for wines to be shipped and enjoyed around the world, often even in small quantities. For me though, a key part of this period of plenty is that the spectrum of wine styles has been drastically expanded, to the benefit of wine drinkers everywhere.

Variety is the spice of life and it´s a key strength of the wine world. Of course, this is usually simplified for the sake of navigation. Open a wine list anywhere in the world and with few exceptions, you´re likely to find the list split into sections according to style, notably Sparkling, White, Rosé, Red and perhaps Sweet, if you´re lucky. It´s long been accepted that within “White” and “Red” that there will be stylistic differences according to location, grape, vintage and producer. As much as some would dearly like to condense these options for the sake of simplicity, wine simply pushes back and continues its merry journey of organic expansion instead. Whilst new categories have been added, orange/amber wines in particular, it´s the  growth of the existing categories that has had the greatest impact on the options we have available to us. Lighter styles of red wines are now, finally, often as acclaimed as their bigger, bolder brothers. White wines range from the chiselled, feather-weights of the Mosel Valley to the waxy, rich wines of the Northern Rhône. Now, it´s the category of rosé that is spreading its wings and taking flight.

The growth of rosé wine in the last decade has been nothing short of remarkable. For some reason, pink suddenly became a popular colour and certain wineries reaped the rewards, whilst others scrambled to board the train. As with any sudden period of growth in quantity, there comes a period of slowing down after the initial frenzy, which often leads to improvements in quality. The rush to suddenly create rosé wines led many down the Provençal route; high yields of thin-skinned grapes, usually directly pressed and fermented at cooler temperatures to create a rather insipid, pale wine with the same generic characters as their neighbours. Bottle in clear glass, light-strike be damned, sell at an affordable price and it´s a commercial winner, particularly if your margins can afford an unusually shaped bottle to grab attention. Whilst these wines may still rule the supermarket shelves, the attention to the category unearthed a lot of more traditionally-made rosé wines in other parts of the world, whilst inspiring others to create high quality, pink wines of their own.

Domaine Tempier, Bandol.

At their best, rosé wines are a true bridge between the world of white and red wines, taking positive elements from both without ever directly competing with either. Perhaps unsurprisingly, France takes centre stage when it comes to rosé wine, both in terms of production quantities and also for high quality wines. Every category must have its benchmarks and it would be hard to dispute that Domaine Tempier of Bandol is just that for rosé wine. As John Atkinson MW once put it, “it´s a wine that´s folded back on itself multiple times, like a Japanese sword”. However you produce a rosé wine, the limited time to extract flavour from the grape-skins is always a constant challenge, yet Domaine Tempier manage to create a wine with an undeniable sense of place; sun-kissed red fruits, garrigue and wild herbs instantly transport you to the French Riviera. Slightly further north, the remarkable wines of Domaine L´Anglore in Tavel explore the limits of rosé wine as a category; I´ve had red wines with lighter bodies and a paler colour! Yet their drive, energy and transparency is unparalleled in a region known exclusively for rosé wine production.  

In Spain, the north has traditionally been the home of rosado wines, particularly from Navarra and Rioja. The Holy Grail for Spanish rosado is Lopez de Heredia´s unique Rosado Gran Reserva; ironically, they stopped producing it from 2000-2008 due to a lack of demand! Now this savoury, multi-dimensional rosado is near impossible to find, with recent vintages doubling or tripling in price. The deeper colours of Spanish rosado may be a little jarring for those used to a paler style, but the results are often spectacular. Dominio del Aguila in Ribera del Duero might be famous for its fresh, vibrant red wines, but their Picaro del Aguila Clarete is my pick of their line-up; field blends of red and white grapes are co-fermented in a traditional style before ageing in oak. The finished wine is a deep, soulful rosado with layers of ripe, red fruits, watermelon and smoke.

Italian rosato wines are perhaps the truest to themselves of all; like so many wines of the country, they come to life most when they´re enjoyed at the table. Valentini´s cherry-red, Cerasuolo is perhaps the most sought-after wine, but the country is awash with bright, delicately grippy examples that can be found without filing for bankruptcy in the process. Nervi-Conterno´s Rosato, high in Alto-Piemonte, is a wonderful tribute to Nebbiolo; red fruited, lifted and remarkably fresh, with more than a hint of the tarry, savoury depth of the grape itself. At the opposite end of the country, Giralamo Russo´s Etna Rosso is deliciously evocative of its volcanic soils and high altitude plantings, on the slope of Mount Etna.

The New World, by comparison, involves much more cherry-picking. Few regions have laid a claim to a consistent style of high quality rosé wine production, with the more traditionally minded producers hitting the closest to hitting the mark. It´s perhaps not a coincidence, then, that South Africa is perhaps making the most interesting rosé wine of the New World, particularly in regions such as the Swartland. My favourite of them all is Samantha Suddon´s project. The salty, briny character of Vine Venom´s NV Rosé sets it apart immediately; a short period under flor complements the verve and ripeness of the Paardeberg fruit. Interestingly, some of the best rosé wines across South Africa are increasingly made from Pinotage, a grape that splits opinions more than any other when used in red wine production. L’Avenir´s Glenrosé is a great example of this; a single vineyard Pinotage wine made into a serious rosé wine, with all the bright, berry-fruit and freshness of Pinotage, without its wilder side showing up to divide the room.

It may gall me to see rows upon rows of cheap rosé wine dying in shop windows as the sunlight slowly breaks it down through clear glass, but the knock-on effect to the world of fine wine has been very welcome indeed. The fact that I could now pick up a wine list and seriously consider a rosé with my meal instead of a sparkling, white or red is testament to how much I, and the wine world, have changed their view on the category. As more wine lovers discover the depth of rosé and wineries focus on it as a stand-alone project, rather than a side-effect of red wine production, the spaces around the edges will continue to be filled in and the rosé wine will continue to evolve. Watch this space!

  • Fintan Kerr, DipWSET, lives in Barcelona and is a wine writer, educator and founder of Wine Cuentista (Cuentista is Spanish for “storyteller”.) Follow him on Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista
  • SA’s best Rosé revealed! We tasted 58 wines blind for the inaugural category report sponsored by financial services company Prescient – full results here (subscribe to read).


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