Food & DrinkJK Wine

What Grapes Make Rosé Wine?

It takes a red grape, sometimes the most robust of them, to make rosé

Bottles of rose wine in the middle of food from Midwood Smokehouse
Kara and Jerry paired two rosé wines, Pico Maccario Lavignone Piemonte and Rosato di Caparsa, with food from Midwood Smokehouse. (Photo by Kara Daly)

Question for Charlotte wine drinkers: Are you of the opinion that rosé is dainty? More metaphorically worded, do you see this beverage as a damsel in distress, in need of a fainting couch and smelling salts?

More technical follow up: Did you know that it takes a red grape, sometimes the most robust of them, to make rosé? Wine grapes that make rosé include grenache, malbec, cabernet franc, Montepulciano, and sangiovese. This month we’re going with two Italian varietals: sangiovese and barbera.

The two are quite different. Our barbera was called Pico Maccario Lavignone Piemonte, and we found it at The Wine Vault on the corner of East 7th Street and Hawthorne Lane in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

From Piemonte — or the Piedmont, if you’re looking for local parallels — this one was giving us banana candy, pink bubblegum, pear, barely ripened strawberries and white flowers. The color is bubblegum pink.

Our second selection was a ruby Rosato di Caparsa made from sangiovese grapes that we picked up from Bond Street Wines in the Eastover neighborhood. This one had a lot to say. Stewed strawberries and plum tart, followed by black cherry, cranberry and earth.

And we have to talk about these tannins. A rosé with tannins could arguably be treated as a red wine, and it will satisfy your meatball heart, warm you on a cold night, and bloom in the glass over time. Dare you decant your rosé, this is a pantsuit with shoulder pads on a businesswoman getting off the L Train circa 1987.

And if so, then that makes the barbera Jess from New Girl — heart of gold, hair parted down the middle, thick glasses sliding down her nose.

Rosé is perhaps the most feminized of wines, but feminine energy can really do it all. This rosato — the Italian word for rosé — tells us just that she can change a tire, pay her rent, and has a high-end vibrator at home. This is a don’t-need-no man kinda rosé.

In other words: it’s structured enough to go with the smoked meatballs, spicy nachos and BBQ pork platter we picked up from Midwood Smokehouse. When paired with these flavors, the wine becomes juicy and fruity, soft in a way that it wasn’t before.

And doesn’t every rosato love, from time to time, a smokey meatball to make her feel like the divine feminine she is?

The nachos don’t pair as well with our Piemonte bubblegum dream. The subtle aromas are easily drowned out by strong flavors, and the heat makes the wine sting a bit. But the hush puppies? Chef’s kiss. The smoked meatballs? You bet your bottom dollar.

Rosé isn’t an afterthought in winemaking, so don’t let it be an afterthought in your choosing. Intention is present every step of the way in its making, and there are a couple of different ways to make it. One method presses the red grapes gently at cool temperatures before separating the juice swiftly from the skins, which keeps the most subtle aromas intact. This method was used to make our lighter rosé from Piemonte.

But there is another way.

In France, it’s called rosé de saignée, also known as the “bleeding method.” It involves a longer fermentation with the skins, which contain complex flavor compounds and tannins. The longer the fermentation, the more robust the wine and the closer to red we find ourselves. After resting on the skins, the winemaker “bleeds” the juice off, leading to a more structured rosé, i.e. our Tuscan-made Rosato di Caparsa.

Moral of the story: Rosé is not your pumpkin spice latte. Rather, it’s the stuff of the ancient world; this wine is destined for a front-row bloodbath at the coliseum, and there’s nothing dainty about that.

Kara Daly is a wine writer and educator who hosts private wine tastings for Charlotte residents. Jerry Chandler is a beverage program consultant for local restaurants by day and a wine bartender by night. JK Wine is the duo’s new Queen City Nerve column, in which they’ll seek out hidden gems in Charlotte’s wine scene and the food that pairs well with each bottle. Follow Kara on IG @wineisconfusing and Jerry @runswithbottles.

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