Rosé has an image problem. Think about it. You’ve invited a few friends around for the evening and want to offer them a glass of wine when they arrive. The standard greeting is “What are you drinking, red or white?” If it’s a particularly lavish affair guests might be offered “red, white or sparkling”.

In the “red or white” world of wine Rosé seems to get marginalised. That’s a pity for several reasons:

  • New Zealand Rosé has never been better
  • It’s possible to buy very good imported Rosé in this country. Australia, France and Spain all produce many excellent examples.
  • Rosé offers good value with an average price of a little over $20 and a few good buys under $15.
  • Rosé is a good and versatile food wine that will perk up a wide range of dishes.
  • Screwcaps have at least doubled the shelf life of Rosé, allowing most to offer good drinking after three years or so.

When to drink pink

Rosé is a delicious summer sipper but the wine’s ability to be enjoyed without the complication of food distracts from the fact that it can make a brilliant match with quite a wide range of dishes.

I dine regularly at a good BYO Thai restaurant within walking distance of home. Rosé is my first choice of wine (Gewurztraminer is a close second) for a number of reasons. Thai food has a couple of distinguishing features. It has plenty of flavour, subtle underlying sweetness and is spicy (I generally have mercy on the wine and choose the “mild” option).

Try matching my favourite dish of Vegetable and Chic Pea Fritters in a Green Curry Sauce with a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and the wine can taste slightly bitter. Match with a very slightly sweet Rosé and the wine tastes perfectly dry without any hint of bitterness. Sweetness in food tends to suppress sweetness in wine. If there is very little sweetness in the wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, the wine can become bitter.

Rosé also has a little more weight and flavour intensity than many dry wines making it a good match with high flavour foods.

I recently ordered a fish dish at a licensed restaurant while my wife chose meat balls. The restaurant had a limited offering of wines by the glass so we decided to order a bottle. Rosé was the logical choice. It went beautifully with my seared snapper but had enough weight and flavour to also go well with meat balls in a rich, savoury sauce.

One of the greatest food and wine combinations of all time is Rosé and hot smoked salmon. Try this. Mix one part sea salt with three parts brown sugar and add enough scotch to make a thick slurry (it’s worth using the best scotch you can manage – you don’t need much and it makes a difference). Baste it on the fish and leave for at least an hour but no more than three hours. Hot smoke on Manuka sawdust for 15-20 minutes for a side of salmon (less for smaller pieces). Spread the salmon on buttered, thin-sliced Vogels bread and enjoy with a chilled glass of Rosé. Expect the earth to move a little. If you wish to express your appreciation for this brilliant wine and food match you can email me at

New Zealand Rosé styles

If I had to identify two broadly different styles of New Zealand Rosé it would be South Island and North Island. Pinot Noir is most popular choice of grape variety for South Island Rosé (look for “Pinot Rosé” or “Pinot Noir Rosé” on the front label or information about grape variety(ies) on the back label). These wines tend to be pure, delicate with good acidity and often a hint of sweetness.

North Island wines are sometimes made using Pinot Noir but most tend to use a combination of Merlot and Malbec. Other varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc or even Chambourcin are also used. North Island Rosé is typically fuller-bodied and richer than the South Island equivalent.

Sweetness levels can vary although the majority of wines fit into the medium/dry category. Rosé wine labels seldom give an indication of sweetness. If my notes on the top ten wines do not include a description of the wine’s sweetness assume it is in the medium/dry category.

Rosé styles in other countries

Australian Rosé can be very good and is generally dry, or at least fairly dry. My tasting did include several Australian wines the best of which was Jacob’s Creek 2011 Cool Harvest Shiraz Rosé $17.99 (tastings) – a deliciously fruity wine that earns its name from the fact that the grapes were picked in the cool of the evening to retain extra freshness. I also like Brown Brothers 2010 Moscato Rosé (tastings), an unusually sweet wine made predominantly from Muscat grapes. Served well chilled it is a deliciously fruity and thirst-quenching wine – the perfect choice for summer.

Any Kiwi who has holidayed in the south of France during the summer months will return singing the praises of Rosé from Provence or the Languedoc region. Grenache is a popular choice of grape variety for these big, flavours, dry and spicy wines. I received just one French Rosé for my annual tasting – Chateau de Sours 2010 Bordeaux Rosé AC $32.95 (tastings). Don’t be put off by the name – this is a serious Rosé in a bone-dry style with plenty of ripe berry flavours.

Italian Rosé is also typically dry though lighter with more subtle fruit flavours than the French model. One Italian Rosé was entered in my tasting – Farnese 2009 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC $20 (tastings), a dry, delicate and rather savoury wine with character. This wine has a plastic closure and probably needs to be enjoyed within a year or two (at the most) of vintage. Italian Rose can be very good and mostly offers excellent value.

New Zealand’s Top Ten Rosé

1st Neudorf 2011 Pinot Rosé Nelson $23

Cherry and spice and all things nice. Robust, flavoursome Rosé in an off/dry style. Just the thing for a summer picnic. – view on

2nd Woollaston 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé Nelson $19

Cherry, plum and floral flavours with a suggestion of spice. Quite a concentrated wine that delivers plenty of bang for the buck. – view on

3rd Tussock 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé Nelson $17

Wollaston’s second label was the only gold medal winner at the Air NZ Wine Awards. I put it only marginally behind its big sister. – view on

4th Martinborough Vineyard 2011 Rosé Martinborough (500ml) $20

Pretty wine with pure, lifted strawberry and raspberry aromas and an ethereal texture that’s about as good as it gets. – view on

5th Cambridge Road 2011 Papillon Rosé Martinborough $23

Pinot Noir with a dash of Syrah has resulted in an intense and weighty wine that’s nearly dry with a dash of fizz for extra freshness. – view on

6th Amisfield 2011 Saignee Rosé Central Otago $30

Seductive strawberry and light red cherry flavours with a smooth texture and a lingering and slightly sweet finish. – view on

7th The Hay Paddock 2011 Silk Rosé Waiheke Island $33

Dry Rose with an intriguing and very subtle suggestion of sweetness. Charming wine – simple and satisfying. – view on

8th Lawson’s Dry Hills 2011 Pinot Rosé Marlborough $19

Moderately sweet Rosé but perfectly balanced with pure strawberry flavours and a super-smooth texture. – view on

9th Rockburn 2011 Stolen Kiss Central Otago $23

Soft and delicately fruity wine with good purity and an ethereal texture. Pretty wine – an attractive example of the style. – view on

10th Framingham 2011 Montepulciano Rosato Marlborough $24.95

And now for something slightly different … Made from the Italian Montepulciano grape it’s a dry(ish), complex and spicy wine. – view on

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Jan 2012.

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