Does the colour of rosé matter?
Two wine experts hold a glass up to the light
'Darker colours really does mean darker flavours and more robust structure'
If you thought colour had nothing to do with taste, consider the following. In 2001, the late, great winemaker Denis Dubourdieu led a now-famous experiment. In his test, Dubourdieu asked a group of wine students at the University of Bordeaux to write notes on a glass of red-coloured wine. Unanimously, the tasters reached for the kind of terms you’d expect them to use: red and black fruits, dried fruits, chocolate. The catch? The wine was in fact a white that had been coloured with a flavourless, odourless red dye.
Colour plays a much more powerful role in shaping our response to flavour and texture than previously thought – has been corroborated in further scientific studies. We are, these suggest, hardwired to assume that the darker or deeper hued a wine is, the heavier it will feel and the more intense its flavour will be.
To apply this to the question in hand – rosés – it does seem that a deep pink rosé will always appear more powerful and darker flavoured than a pale salmon-coloured style, no matter what other qualities they may possess. Our brains wouldn’t let us have it any other way.
Well, not, I suppose, if you happen to enjoy drinking rosé blindfolded, or from one
of those opaque black glasses that professional tasters sometimes use to try to
take colour and appearance out of the equation. Or to put it another way: tasted
without visual prejudice, do darker-coloured rosés actually taste different to
As one wine importer put it:
‘You can make it any colour you want; right
now the colour everyone wants is the pale
pink of the Provence kind.’ He was alluding
to the use of colour-stripping tricks such
as activated carbon filters, which have little
effect on flavour and texture.
For producers not inclined to this kind of presentational trick, however, my own experience is that darker colour really does mean darker flavours and more robust structure for a simple reason: the darker a rosé is, the longer its juice is likely to have spent in contact with the colour, flavour and texture-giving skins. Think of it as like macerating strawberries: the longer you wait, the more flavour and colour you extract.
Compare the different methods of two southern French rosés using similar blends of grape varieties: Côtes de Provence and Tavel in the Rhône Valley
The former generally has up to 12
hours of skin contact, the latter
closer to 48. Dark and bold in
appearance, ever so slightly tannic
in texture, Tavel’s qualities are
almost red wine-like.
Pastel-shaded Côtes de Provence,
meanwhile, behaves more like a
white. The clue to the flavour is in the
colour. And that’s true no matter
where, or under which conditions,
you happen to taste.
'With rosé, we're in danger of
judging with our eyes more than
our taste buds'
A glass of chilled rosé, preferably poolside, is one of my favourite things. But given its distinctly fuss-free feel, it’s funny how the colour of rosé has become such a talking point. Seriously, most of us wouldn’t look at a glass of white and demand something paler before it passes our lips, or send back a red because it wasn’t our preferred shade. Yet when it comes to rosé we’re in danger of judging with our eyes more than our taste buds, making assumptions before sticking our nose in the glass or taking a sip. But just as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so it goes with rosé wine, because the possibilities are endless.
Let’s start with colour
From barely there to something that looks more like a light red, the spectrum of colours of rosé wines is enough to give Farrow & Ball’s paint chart a run for its money. The same goes for where it comes from – pick pretty much any wine-producing region and you’ll find a bunch of rosés to drink. From Australia to Argentina, South Africa to Suffolk, everyone’s at it nowadays.
There are countless other factors affecting the flavour of rosé...
from how long the juice and skins are left in contact with each other, whether it’s been
made by the saignée method (where a portion of juice is ‘bled’ from red grapes – I know, it
sounds so much better in French), to the types of yeasts used for fermentation.
Then there are varying vintage conditions, whether the wine has been anywhere near an oak barrel (some have), how sweet or dry it is, how much alcohol it has. All of these things will affect the resulting flavour and feel of the wine. So to say you know what to expect just by looking at it in the glass might sound impressive. But it’s also unrealistic.
If you want an indication of what a
wine tastes like before reaching for the
corkscrew you could, of course, just look
at the label. At least this will tell you
where it’s from and, often, what grapes
it’s made with.
Otherwise, assume what it tastes
like based on the colour inside the bottle at
your peril. Because when it comes to pink
wine, it’s really not that black and white