Getting to Know Provence Rosé
What is rosé wine?
For centuries, dry rosé wine has been a staple in the south of France, where it is embraced as the best lunchtime, seaside, and all-occasion wine. Particularly in the coastal Provence region, the heart of the world’s dry rosé production, a passion for dry pink permeates the culture.
Provençal citizens know from centuries of winegrowing history that vin rosé pairs with all the foods they like, any time of year. In fact, French rosé outsells white wine in France.
In North America, however, some consumers still equate pink with sweet, based on past encounters with sugary White Zinfandel. Yet, as rosé experiences a global rebirth and wine consumers become more knowledgeable, North American wine drinkers are discarding the misperception that dry rosé wines are the same as sweet blush wines. They’re discovering the joy of what some call the world’s most versatile wine.
So what is a true rosé? First, rosé is a category of wine – just as white and red are categories. It takes its name from the French word for pink.
Within the rosé category you’ll find a variety of styles, some fuller, some lighter. Even within a single wine-producing region, such as Provence, rosés will display a range of colors, textures, and flavors. Yet all Provence rosés have some common characteristics: on the palate they tend to be fresh, crisp, bright, and dry.
A typical American blush wine contains nearly seven times as much residual sugar per liter as a Provençal rosé. Provence rosé is by definition not sweet.
"Good rosé has enough acid to make it a good food wine and enough tannin – from the red grape skins – to give it a little bit of backbone."
–Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher
What makes it pink?
Provence rosé is not a blend of white and red wine.* Instead, like red wine, rosé wine is made from red (or black or purple) grapes. But whereas red-wine makers allow the grape skins to ferment with the juice for an extended period of time, rosé producers keep the pigmented skins in contact with the clear juice for only a short time. Then the juice, now tinted pink, is removed from the skins. The resulting color, ranging from pale pink to a deeper shade of salmon or coral, is a delight for the eyes.
To learn more about rosé vinification, see The Rosé-Making Process.
In early 2009, the European Commission proposed new rules that would allow rosé to be made from a mix of white and red wines. Following protests from French wine producers, the European agriculture commissioner withdrew the proposal, thus preserving the quality and character of traditional rosé.
*For decades in France, the blending of red and white has been been approved only for the making of pink champagne.
The Making of Provence Rosé: Inside the Grape
Francois Millo, director of the Provence Wine Council, shows off some rosé wine grapes and talks about the secret of Provence wines -- harvesting very quickly and preventing oxidation.
When to drink pink
One of the most notable features of French rosé is the fact that it pairs with so many types of food. It naturally goes well with the cuisine of Provence and the broader Mediterranean regions, foods that Americans have come to love.
More and more, chefs are also serving rosé with Asian-inspired dishes … Indian food … tapas … Tex-Mex … and regional American fare. There’s a good reason for this: If rosé falls between red and white wine in color and character, it follows that it would complement both richer and lighter fare.
If the old rules about pairing French wine with French food have been discarded, the maxim that rosé is only a warm-weather wine is also on its way out. Yes, rosé tastes great on the deck, porch, or patio, but wine lovers are getting more creative than that. Rosé is for fun. Serve it at festive times and places, whether formal or casual:
- Bridal and baby showers
- Spa weekends
- Neighborhood gatherings
- Vacations by the lake
- Romantic dinners for two
- With your Thanksgiving turkey or holiday buffet
- Beside the grill or campfire
For more year-round ideas, see our Food & Lifestyle page.