Just five years ago, only a third of all bottles of rosé sold were of the pale, millennial pink variety. Today, light colored rosés account for more than half the market. We’re in the midst of a deep, societal wave of change when it comes to our preference for pink wine, with darker, deeper hues collecting dust on shelves. But everything you think you know about rosé may very well be wrong. Here’s what you need to know about dark rosé, just in time for its best drinking season.
Dark rosés are much sweeter, right?
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Let’s get the biggest misconception about dark rosé out of the way first: it isn’t necessarily any sweeter than its lighter cousin, though that is certainly the expectation from consumers. But think about it – reds aren’t homogeneously sweeter than whites, are they? If anything, the opposite is true during summer, when pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs fly off the shelves along with bone dry pinot noirs. Sweetness in wine has little to do with color, and everything to do with sugar content.
Perplexingly, many wines that range in taste from achingly sweet to bone dry contain relatively similar sugar levels. The mineral quality of soil that winemaking grapes are grown in has more to do with masking or enhancing the sweetness of a glass than tannins do.
Isn’t light rosé more sophisticated though?
Another popular misconception about rosé is that the lighter the hue, the fancier the bottle somehow. Consumers have recently flicked a switch in their collective hive mind, deciding en masse that pale pink rosé is the most delicious. But there is ample evidence to suggest that the opposite is true.
Rosés have long been made by limiting tannin exposure during the fermentation process. But newfound consumer interest in pale varieties means that winemakers are devising some less than stellar techniques to give people what (they think) they want. In order to achieve that perfect millennial pink shade, red skin grapes are now sometimes picked while they are underripe. Underripened grapes are then gently pressed, and often blended with the juice of white-skinned grapes to lighten the color even further.
What began as a wholly independent winemaking technique has now become a race to the lightest pink shade possible, by any means necessary – and then confusingly branding the product rosé. Elizabeth Gabay, an English master of wine, tells Food & Wine that the worst offenders of these new techniques are selling little more than “pink water with alcohol.”
If dark rosés take more time to develop, are they more expensive?
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It really differs from bottle to bottle, and winemaker to winemaker. While time is certainly a contributing factor in pricing, it’s not the only one. You can get an excellent bottle of dark rosé from the store for less than $20. Domaine Maby Prima Donna Tavel rosé 2016 and Gaia Estate Agiorgitiko 14-18h rosé 2016 are both perfect bottles to dip your toe into the space. And at $13 and $18, respectively, you can afford to make a few mistakes even if you end up not liking the taste.
So dark rosé is more authentic then?
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Oftentimes yes, actually. There are exceptions to every rule of course, and there are certainly some fantastic pale rosés on the market today amidst the sea of also-rans. But the vivid strawberry and fuchsia tones of darker rosés have existed as proof of the craftsmanship put into them for hundreds of years now. It took hundreds of years to develop the technique to make ruby-hued Tavel, bottles that appear to glow from within. But in a light rosé world, the longtime king of the entire rosé industry sits neglected on shelves
Sounds like the world really messed this one up then, doesn’t it?
Speak for yourself! Pale pink rosé is certainly in vogue across the U.S. and the U.K., but the rest of Europe and South America in particular still know how to appreciate a dark rosé. American drinking trends, like so many other parts of life here, are incredibly fickle. Pale rosé is likely a phase, a historical blip on the radar. Darker bottles of rosé will likely have their time in the spotlight back again before you know it. But now that you know better, you might as well get ahead of the trend.