Until recently, my roommate and I primarily drank cooking wine from our nearest supermarket. Yes, it tasted like expired Welch’s but we just thought ShopRite had a trash wine selection. We were, in fact, painfully unaware of the New York laws that limit the sale of (drinking) wine, beer, and spirits to liquor stores.
Mistakes aside, this is the season to shop rosé like the grown up version of the Parent Trap twin who grew up on a vineyard: well-informed and thoughtfully. More and more days are fit for Call Me By Your Name-esque afternoons and lazy days spent napping in the park where the glittering pink wine just flows out of bottles. If you currently have a browser tab open for basket bags or linen outfits, you know what I mean. This is the spring/summer 2019 fantasy.
With a wine that is so defined by its color, the cheat codes for shopping rosé like a pro may be hidden in its many shades of pink. As Sayle Milne, certified wine educator and founder of Wine Savvy NYC, says: “The rosé rainbow is all kinds of ‘pretty in pink’ and goes from the lightest hue to deep salmon and ruby.” A good rule of thumb is that, generally, lighter rosés are dryer (less sweet) and darker rosés are sweeter and more full-bodied. Emphasis on the word “general” however, because a rule is nothing without its exceptions.
Aylin Doker is the co-founder of Turquoise Life, a wine importer whose VieVité rosé is an example of a rosé wine that is the perfect shade of salmon pink. “A light color insinuates a dry rosé,” she explains, “so if you see a darker color, people think it might be on the sweeter end, and that might be true.”
Doker likens the winemaking process to how one might prepare a cup of tea. Just like a teabag is left to steep in water, grapes and their skins are left to macerate over the time. The longer the maceration period and the warmer the temperature, the more tannins, flavor, and color the skins will release. How much sugar is in wine is determined in the step after maceration, fermentation, where yeast eats up the sugar to produce alcohol, which is why not all light rosés are dry and not all darker rosés are sweet. The relationship between shade and sugar content is a matter of correlation, not causation.
But it’s still a useful pattern: Doker makes a case for dryer (and often lighter) rosés, saying, “The dryness of the wine gives it a little sensation of salt and minerality.” In other words, a lighter rosé with less sugar makes room for other flavors and aromas – like that salty-brininess that makes you feel all tan and moisturized or those hints of peach, cherry, and blossom that can make you feel like Marina and the Diamonds in the FROOT video.
Doker’s rosé comes from the Provence region of France, the unofficial rosé capital, where the sugar content in rosé is highly regulated and has to be less than 4 grams per liter. So when you’re out in the shops, if “Provence” is on the label you’re guaranteed to get a lighter dryer (less sweet) rosé.
But if you’re looking for pink wine and you want it sweet, white zinfandel might be the choice for you. White zinfandel wine is often incorrectly referred to as rosé because it’s pink. “It’s actually a different winemaking process and people refer to it as rosé because it’s pink but it has a higher sugar content,” Doker says. No matter the shade of pink, white zinfandel walks on the sweeter side.
The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice
“It is true that the sugar content is often higher in the darker shades of rosé wines,” Doker noted, “but you can find darker shades of rosé without a higher sugar content.” Some rosés from Italy and Spain are known to be a darker shade of pink yet dry.
Sayle Milne of Savvy NYC is partial to a darker rosé, like a ruby-red Tavel from Rhône in southern France. Darker rosé is going to have a stronger flavor and be more full-bodied. And because wine doesn’t have arms of legs, the word “bodied” needs an explanation – it refers to the thickness and viscosity of the wine, or in 2019 terms, its thiccness.
But returning to the tea-bag metaphor: The longer you steep a tea bag, the darker color and the stronger the flavor of your tea. Milne noted: “Likely the grapes used in that rosé are heartier grapes and/or the winemaker left the red grape skins in contact with the juice for a longer amount of time.”
Again, darker rosé is not always sweeter. In reality, it all comes down to the grapes, the region, and a host of other factors that would defy the point of a rosé-by-the-shade guide if explained here. But according to Milne, shopping rosé by the shade is not a bad place to start.
Putting It To The Test
I decided to put my newfound expertise to the test. From my local liquor store’s single rosé shelf, I pulled a bottle of light-salmon-hued rosé, the word “Provence” clearly printed on the label. I’ve made worst decisions at the liquor store, and this one only cost me $16.
My first educated wine purchase was a success. I tasted all the aromas, and whatnot. I shared the second half of the bottle with my roommate, who sipped, looked at her glass, and said nodding, “this is delicious.” I held up the bottle, pointed to the word “Provence” and explained how they limit the sugar you can put in rosé and because it has less sugar she’ll feel less hungover. Then I asked her: “Do you see how this one is a light, salmon-y shade of pink?” to which she said: “ya, girl, I guess.”