Introduction to Rosé Wine History, Tasting, and Making

Rosé, also referred to as rosado in Spanish and rosato in Italian, is a wine that’s dramatically increased in popularity in recent years due to its casual nature and stylish aesthetic that greatly complements the modern city living lifestyle.

Two glasses of Rosé wine being held by a man and woman outside.

We are going to explore how Rosé wine is made, which processes affect the colour and flavour, and Rosé’s history in Australia. We’ll also recommend five Rosé wines for beginners to check out when they’re ready to start their Rosé wine journey.

How Is Rosé Made?

There are two primary methods for making Rosé wine. The first involves macerating the grapes anywhere from two to 24 hours (sometimes even longer depending upon the winemaker). Maceration is a process also used to make red wine and involves the soaking of the fruit over a period of time to extract the tannins, colouring agents (anthocyanins,) and flavour compounds from the skins/seeds/stems. Basically, the longer the grapes macerate, the darker and stronger the flavour will be.

Macerating for a long period of time, for example two or more weeks, will result in a red wine, while macerating for a day or two will produce a Rosé from the very same grapes.

The second most-common way to make Rosé is the saignée method. Saignée, pronounced “san-yay,” is French for “to bleed” and sees the grapes soaking in their own juices for a period of 48 hours, after which around 10% of the juice is removed to ferment on its own to evolve into Rosé.

A common misconception about Rosé wine is that it’s simply made by mixing white wines and red wines together. This is wrong, Rosé can only be made by one of these two methods.

A bowl of red and green grapes.

The short maceration period is why you typically don’t have big tannins in your Rosé. The grapes don’t spend enough time with the stems, skins and seeds to pass all of those textures and tannins (phenolics) across.

Three glasses of rosé, white, and red wine.

It’s worth noting though that the colour of the Rosé has zero impact on its sweetness or dryness. For no established reason, Rosé drinkers have decided that colour determines sweetness. They will gravitate towards deeper coloured Rosés when they’re looking for a sweeter style of Rosé wine. This is a misconception that brighter or deeper coloured Rosés are sweeter.

In contrast there is also a misconception that the “clearer” or less coloured a Rosé is the drier it is.

In reality, this isn’t how it (the flavour/sweetness in wine) works. Some of the brightest (read richest in colour) Rosés could be the driest on the shelf and the more pale ones could be the sweetest. Don’t associate colour with flavour. At least when it comes to wine and especially to Rosé.

The Rosé colour is reliant on how long the juices were exposed to the skins during production and nothing else.

To summarise the four primary wine categories, we have;

  • White wine which is made by crushing the grapes and letting the juice ferment.
  • Red wine which is made by fermenting for a long period of time with the grape skins on.
  • Orange wine, a type that’s currently not often discussed. Essentially these are white wines made like red wines by soaking the grapes with the skins to draw off the tannins, flavours and colour.
  • And Rosé wine which we’ve already covered.

A Brief History of Rosé

Rosé had a bit of a rough start in Australia. Back in the day, we used to just import French Rosé. And most of it was terrible. It wasn’t well-made, and really didn’t have a lot of thought given to it. Australia was slow to find its place in the wine world, we often find ourselves at the back of a long queue when it comes to quality imported products (did someone say cork?). The few quality Rosé wines that made it over here were really expensive, so the logical decision for most people was to simply buy a local red which offered better value and quality.

Rosé has been an evolution, Winemakers are now giving more attention to Rosé both in terms of input and output. Rosé is no longer an afterthought. The quality of Rosé production has improved markedly over time, such that it is now a competitive market in Australia. The quality of French Rosé that we import has also improved significantly. Now French winemakers are producing some amazing Rosé and the result is that Australians in general are now given access to a much larger variety of Rosé wines to choose from.

Australian winemakers have also now fully embraced Rosé after treating the variety as an afterthought for the better part of 40 years. They used to just make it with leftover juice, but now they dedicate entire batches of grapes to making Rosé. We also now have this whole new generation of winemakers who are making some exceptional Rosés.

Rosé wine being served in a carafe and glasses on a picnic blanket outdoors.

Pete Schell of Spinifex Wines is one example of an Australian winemaker who’s doing great things with Rosé. He’s one of the new generation of winemakers… well relatively new anyway, who are making some of the best Provencal styles of Rosé in Australia.

Provence is a department in France where Rosé wine seems to have originated from. About 90% of the wine from the region is Rosé so it has become the benchmark for comparing wines of this type. Provencal-style Rosé is typically light, delicate, and ethereal. As with most wines, the more you’re willing to pay for Provencal Rosé, the better quality wine you will experience.

Grand Cru Classe Domaines Ott Rosé is absolutely phenomenal, as an example. But it will typically set you back around 80 dollars per bottle. So, you need to really be into Rosé if you want to choose it over a good red or white wine that is usually much cheaper.

While the quality of Rosé in Australia has improved significantly, Rosé’s recent popularity is also partially the result of lifestyle changes of younger wine drinkers. For example, in a restaurant, it’s quite fashionable for a table to order a magnum or jeroboam of Rosé.

What is a magnum of Rosé? Well, the phrase literally means “a swimming pool of Rosé" and typically equates to two regular bottles of wine. A jeroboam is about three litres of wine (4 bottles). The fact that these two phrases exist in reference to Rosé says a lot about just how much Rosé is consumed today.

While it is safe to say that Rosé is incredibly popular with women, there are also plenty of male consumers that love Rosé too. We do need to be careful about putting Rosé into a certain box. There’s a surprising amount of diversity in Rosés, as much as there is with red and white wines. It is likely that there’s a Rosé out there for everyone, you just need to explore what’s available and experiment.

What’s the Best Rosé for Beginners?

For beginners interested in Rosés from Provence, I recommend Chateau Triennes. It’s not technically from Provence but it is just outside of the region and is designated IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée). What this means for you is that you get a high quality Rosé but for a price that’s significantly less than the official Provence wines, usually within the $20-35 range. Allowing you to experience Provence without paying the full price.

Another Rosé, which is one of my personal favourites, is Coeur Clémentine Rosé. This one is actually made by an American who moved to Provence to make Rosé. He employs about seven or eight different grapes that are native to Provence for his blend and it really is a delicious wine. A great example of what a Provence Rosé should look like. Best of all, it can usually be found in Australia for around $35.

Several glasses of rosé wine on a table in a restaurant.

If you’re looking for an Australian Rosé, a great recommendation is Spinifex Rosé by Pete Schell. He makes one of the best examples of Provence-style Rosé wines produced in Australia.

If you’re are looking for a Rosé with a little bit of an Italian bent to it, Alex Mackay of Collector Wines has put together a phenomenal Rosé that’s based on Sangiovese & Mammalo and it rocks. I did a stand with a mate a couple of years back selling Dry Rosé and we saw more demand for the Collector than anything else. It was incredibly popular.

Another Australian Rosé to look out for is that made by Dominique Portet in the Yarra Valley. They make a Rosé that’s Cabernet-based but is recognised as one of the best Rosés made in Australia. With good reason.

Those five are a great place to start for those looking to hit the ground running with Rosé. You should also keep in mind that, as with red wines and white wines, Rosé will also vary from vintage to vintage. The same Rosé from one year can taste very different year on year or the year after that.

As with all wines, it’s always worth exploring and experimenting with Rosé until you find a wine that you like.

Quick-Fire Rosé Wine Q&A

Here are some common questions people have when researching, buying, and sharing Rosé wine.

Is Rosé a Sweet or Dry Wine?

Rosé wine is available in both sweet and dry varieties. Most Rosés are bone dry while others are slightly off dry.

Is Rosé a Strong Wine?

No. Most Rosé is usually dry and will have approximately 12-13% alcohol.

What’s the Alcohol Content of Rosé Wine?

Rosé wine is usually about 12-13% alcohol.

Is Rosé Sweeter Than Moscato?

No. Moscato is usually off dry with high residual sugar, sometimes wineries might produce a Rosé Moscato though.

What Is a Dry Rosé? What Makes a Dry Rosé?

Dry Rosé is a Rosé that is bone dry, meaning the flavours are crisp and the finish is dry. All the flavours coalesce as a dry finish on the palate. Residual sugar is less than 10g/L and Alcohol is above 12%.

Do You Serve Rosé Chilled?

Yes. Most wines are intended to be served at room temperature, specifically room temperature in France which is approximately 14 degrees Celsius. Chilling over ice can achieve this.

Do You Refrigerate Rosé Wine?

You can refrigerate Rosé. This will achieve that ideal serving temperature of 14 degree Celsius.

How Long Can Rosé Wine Last?

Most Rosé is intended and made to be consumed shortly after release. However, some Rosé wines are made to such a level of quality (such as Domaines Ott or wines from the Bandol appellation), they can last up to a decade after release.

What Is Prosécco Rosé?

Prosecco Rosé is simply Prosecco where a red wine is added to the base wine before fermentation. Although the methods are different, it is akin to adding a red wine to the base wine when making Rosé Champagne.

Can a Man Drink Rosé?

Why not? Wine knows no boundaries and is not gender specific. If you like a wine, regardless of its colour then you should drink it.