A good dry rosé, served lightly chilled, combines the refreshing qualities of a white wine and the richness of a red. It will complement a vast range of foods—everything from sautéed sea bass to herb-roasted leg of lamb—and even the best tend to be great buys. Most of the wines here are $15 or less.
Rather than by simply blending red and white wines, most top rosés are made with the saignée method. After crushing red grapes, winemakers let them rest on their skins for a short time, then draw off the now pink (or salmon-orange, or fuschia, or the delicate pale red the French call oeil de perdrix, or "eye of the partridge") juice and allow it to ferment. In southern France, the Mediterranean stronghold of rosé, the grapes most often used are Grenache and Cinsaut. Today, winemakers around the world are using a host of varieties, including such obscure ones as Agiorgitiko, Bourboulenc, Bovale Sardo and Lagrein.
In an F&W tasting of some 57 rosés—from France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.—the 10 on the following page were standouts.
Stellar Rosés from the F&W Tasting
2004 Château d'Aquéria Tavel Rosé ($16) The tiny French appellation of Tavel—roughly 2,300 acres in total—produces rosés and nothing else. Grapes have been grown at Château d'Aquéria since 1595, making it one of the oldest producers in the region. Its 2004 is elegant and bone-dry.
2003 La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux Rosé ($8) The Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame makes this vivacious Cinsaut-based rosé from windswept vineyards on the south side of France's Mont Ventoux, on the border between the Rhône and Provence.
2003 Argiolas SerraLori Rosato ($15) Sardinia's most acclaimed winery uses handpicked grapes—Cannonau, Monica, Carignano and Bovale Sardo—from hillside vineyards for this floral, creamy rosé. Part of the wine is fermented in sealed tanks without exposure to the air, which helps keep aromas fresh and lively.
2004 Cantina Bolzano "Pischl" Lagrein Rosato ($12) Cellar master Stephan Filippi of Cantina Bolzano—a cooperative of 150 growers in Italy's Alto Adige—uses native Lagrein grapes solely from the early-ripening Pischl vineyard for this soft, dry, cherry-flavored wine.
2004 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) California's Etude, founded by Pinot Noir great Tony Soter, is known for its impressive reds. But this pale ruby wine from Etude's estate vineyards is equally complex and actually improves with a little air, turning silky and lush an hour or two after the bottle's opened.
2004 Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Mourvèdre Rosé ($14) This producer in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley made its name on powerful old-vine Zinfandels. So it's not surprising that this spicy rosé gets intensity from a small percentage of red Zinfandel (14 percent) added just before the wine is ready to be bottled.
2004 Charles Melton Rose ($16) Barossa Valley legend Charles Melton blends this flamboyant Australian rosé from Grenache, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Pinot Meunier. Its citrusy acidity and wild-berry flavors seem as Aussie in spirit as its bold ruby-pink color.
2004 Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec ($12) This boisterous, fruity rosé made by Argentine star Susana Balbo comes from Malbec grown at the foot of the Andes. Balbo bottles her more affordable selections under the Crios name: This one is rich and full of ripe strawberry fruit, with a hint of sweetness on the finish.
2004 Castaño Monastrell Rosado ($9) Dry-farmed, old-vine Monastrell—the Spanish name for Mourvèdre—from mountain vineyards near Valencia makes for a brawny, dense rosé. It's more akin to the robust rosés from France's Bandol than it is to most Spanish rosés.
2004 Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d'Aix en Provence Rosé ($15) This pale pink Provençal wine, a classic blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah, is the definition of a great dry French rosé: It's a wine of thrilling acidity with notes of fresh strawberry and watermelon—light in texture but full of flavor.