Step up your rosé list with pink food-matching powerhouses

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

29 June 2018

Is your rosé offering a bit middle of the road? A bit 1970s soft rock? Time to seek out those safety pins and rock the casbah, says Elizabeth Gabay MW

The word ‘pink’ barely begins to cover it. Rosés can range from blush white to pale red, with grape variety, length of skin contact, yeasts, fermentation temperature and vessels used all contributing to a wide range of styles.

Given this variety, it’s puzzling just how under-exploited rosé remains in restaurants. Gentle sipping, yes. But when it comes to food-matching, it’s a source of untapped potential. It’s all the more surprising given that pinks have been the most popular still-wine style over much of the last decade.

With so many taste profiles, the choice of which rosé to go with food is rich and varied. Tom George at Som Saa claims that for rosé, any previous lists or ‘go-to’ wines get thrown out the window.

‘You need to really work from the heart and figure out what excites you,’ he says.

So where to start to find that excitement? In this article, we’ll look at the key stylistic elements that define rosé, and talk about how they can interact with food.

Fruit and acidity

The weight of fruit and levels of acidity are vital in matching with food, and a key difference between cool-climate rosés and those from the Mediterranean.

At a primary level, fresh acidity (like white wine) and red fruit (like red wine, but without tannin) make rosé the in-between wine for diners choosing both meat and fish. And certainly, that ‘in-between character’ allows the category to match well with dishes that combine meat and fish ingredients.

Victoria Roberts at Le Cochon Aveugle and wine bar Cave du Cochon in York has a core list of rosés from Italy, Provence and Corsica. As a rule of thumb, she initially matches them with food inspired by tastes from the same region of origin. The strong garrigue notes which used to be identified with Provence rosés are now somewhat muted, but many rosés do seem to show hints of herbs, pepper, turmeric and saffron, which make good starting points for food-matching. Paella is a frequently cited rosé food (and also has that fish and meat combination).

Provence rosés have minimal skin contact, resulting not only in paler colour, but also more restrained red-fruit character, to go with round, ripe fruit and moderate acidity. This style, according to Sonal Clare of Purnell’s restaurant in Birmingham, is a good balance to the oiliness found in Asian cuisine.

Fresh, vibrant fruit and higher acidity, often found in wines from cooler climates such as Bordeaux, the Loire, Germany and England, can be used to cut through, or balance, stronger flavours.

‘Austere and delicate wines tend to get rattled by the acidity, spice and heat of Thai food, so a good deal of our list has big aromas and generous residual sugar and textures,’ says George.

Gavin Quinney of Château Bauduc in Bordeaux agrees, noting that the fresh crispness of his cooler-climate, Cabernet-based rosé seems to have an affinity with Thai cuisine. This was something picked up by chef Rick Stein when choosing rosés to go with his more piquantly flavoured fish dishes, as well as with the strong flavours of grilled sardines.

Jeff Harding of The Waverly Inn in New York City successfully matches a Bordeaux rosé with scallop crudo, noting that he was looking for a fresh, vibrant wine to pair with the acidity of the dish.

These cool-climate, zingy rosés also match well with cheese that is high in lactic acid, such as the tangy notes of fresh goat’s cheese, while the gentler Provence rosés pair better with slightly milder cheese.

Residual sugar

Rosés with higher acidity also have the ability to balance higher amounts of residual sugar, creating some fascinating flavours. Rosé d’Anjou, starting at 7g/l of residual sugar, often appears dry, but with heightened fruit character.

Cabernet- or Gamay-dominant blends, with their red fruit character, can be the match for fresh, tomato-based dishes, while the creamier Grolleau-based wines can take on richer flavours.

Cabernet d’Anjou can match a range of flavours, from spicy Thai food through to a sweet fruit dessert. Château La Tomaze (Yapp Bros), with over 20g/l residual sugar, high acidity and moderately lower alcohol (around 10-11% abv) is a good example.

Structure and skin contact

The typical red-fruit character of rosé is further enhanced by longer skin contact, although this style sometimes results in a darker pink. Le Cochon Aveugle’s Roberts is a big fan of prolonged maceration/skin-contact wines, finding them ‘so interesting, particularly as a pairing, as you can instantly identify the effect fatty or rich foods have with the tannins.’ A more pronounced fruit character and a touch of tannic structure often allows them to better match with meat dishes.

Roberts matches flavours such as the garlic, saffron and fish notes of bouillabaisse with a more robust Provence rosé, such as those from Bandol. Mourvèdre-based Domaine Tempier (Lea & Sandeman), with a small percentage bled off the red wine (saignée), is a prime example of a ‘foodie’ rosé. And of course, Mourvèdre’s structure means that it copes well with stronger flavours such as anchovy and olives.

Tavel rosés, with their long skin contact (some up to three or four days), are similar to those from Bandol in weight and texture, although, being Grenache-based, they have a slightly softer, almost floral charm. Locally they are matched with both fish and meats such as lamb.

Parma ham finds its match with darker sparkling pinks such as Mayfield Midnight Brut Dry Dark Rosé from Sussex Vineyards, with lots of fruit and spice and a hint of sweetness, or rosé Lambrusco, with its combination of fresh acidity, red fruits, and a hint of tannin lifted by a gentle fizz.

Rosé in oak

Since rosé made its name as a fresh wine relying on fruit and acidity, it’s no surprise that oaked rosé is possibly the most controversial style. Personally, I like the interesting flavours of rosé and careful use of oak. Large barrels, old oak and neutral oak flavours seem to work particularly well, sometimes bringing out the spice flavours. Gassier’s Pas de Moine (Great Western Wines) is a good example.

Some producers ferment or age their rosé in old oak to give no more than a touch of extra weight and structure, such as Clos Cibonne from Provence, which makes a rosé from almost 100% Tibouren; a variety usually showing fresh, floral character.

Some classic wine regions are making serious oaked rosés with all the gravitas of their red siblings

Clos Cibonne ages the wine in large old foudres, where it develops a hint of flor that imparts a savoury structure, accentuated by a saline minerality. The oak is not evident in the flavour, and many might not even be aware that it is used, but it gives the wine an extra complexity.

A number of classic wine regions are making serious oaked rosés that have all the gravitas of their red siblings. Chivite’s Colección 125 rosado (Enotria) is a barrel-fermented Tempranillo rosé with ripe, creamy cherry fruit and extra weight and roundness from the oak. Quinta do Noval’s Reserva rosé (Gonzalez Byass UK), is fermented and aged in oak and is elegant, but with enough power and flavour to accompany the local Portuguese speciality bacalhau (salt cod stew). Château Brown from Bordeaux (Ellis Wines) is aged for four months in second-use oak barrels with some lees stirring for extra texture and complexity. The weight of fruit and use of oak combine to make rosés that age well, changing from oak-driven wines to ones with mellowed complexity.

Simplified classifications of rosé, such as oaked or extended maceration, come unstuck when a number of methods are combined. Often, rosés with more powerful use of oak have had slightly longer skin contact or a percentage bled off the red wine in order to provide enough fruit structure to support the oak.

Antica Terra’s Angelicall Pinot Noir rosé from Oregon is made in the same way as some of the traditional Rosé de Riceys in Champagne, with prolonged skin contact of up to a week. It starts fermentation on the skins as if a red wine, but is then taken off the skins, and finishes fermentation in barrel, before being aged on the lees in barrel for a year. The tannins allow for better matching with meat.

Even more unusual is Ceci n’Est Pas un Rosé Scaramouche, from Ivo Varbanov in Bulgaria. Made with Marselan and Syrah, it is fermented and aged in wood and is decidedly spicy. It makes an exotic accompaniment to cheese, charcuterie and Moroccan tagines.

André Jacquart’s Rosé de Saignée Champagne combines extended skin contact, oak and fizz to make a highly distinctive rosé that is almost Burgundian in complexity; the slightly lighter, fruity character of a rosé matching well with game and charcuterie.

Natural rosés

A further style, still small and not easily classified, is the more natural style. Yeast selection plays a prominent role in most commercial rosés, giving fresh fruit character such as strawberry or raspberry or even more mineral grapefruit notes. But rosés made using natural, ambient yeast often result in a more ‘winey’ style and show a more pronounced varietal and terroir character.

Château Revelette and Château Roquefort (both from H2Vin), produce slightly atypical Provence rosés in this more winey style, with firm red-berry fruit, fresh acidity and a light tannic finish. Mark Barnett of Koji in London describes them as ‘happy, energetic wines that go well with oysters, steak tartare, salmon carpaccio, nigiri, sashimi and prawn dishes’.

These rosés’ robust characters match well with stronger fish flavours without being overwhelming, handily filling the gap when neither white nor red wines will work.

Aged rosés

Most rosés of greater weight and complexity do age remarkably well, but these are rarely (if ever) sold as aged rosés and do require cellaring on behalf of the buyer. Clos Cibonne and many Bandol rosés hold frequent tastings to demonstrate how they can take on extra depth and richness with time.

After five years, many Provence rosés start to acquire delicate bitter-orange and nutty notes, which continue to develop, making them lovely partners for cheese and quince, nuts and even a classic game and fruit combination.

Colour and theatre

Serving rosés with a meal has an element of theatre. And there is no denying the initial attraction that the pretty range of colours adds to any table. A glass of shell pink or darker rose red looks rather beautiful in candlelight.

Harding admits that sometimes, matching food with these wines can be influenced by the colour: rosé looks good with pink and red shellfish, charcuterie, red spice, tomato or pepper garnish. Mark Barnett has a magnum on display from which he pours for carafe and by the glass.

Listing a wide range of different styles is still in its infancy, but rosé’s unique flavours and structure, bridging white and red wines, seem to have inspired a number of chefs to create some interesting food matches. Fish remains a dominant ingredient, but a growing interest in slightly weightier rosés suggests that more food combinations will continue to evolve.

Either way, it’s a hot area that consumers are interested in and one that can only be worth further exploration.

Acidity in the UK
Food and pink matches to stop your list from being pretty vacant

Fruit and Acidity

Victoria Roberts
Le Cochon Aveugle and Cave Cochon, York
The wine: Domaine Pieretti 2016, Corsica
Dish: Veal tartare, sauce tonnato and smoked bonito flakes
12.5% abv, £13.95, Yapp Bros, 01747 860423


Sonal Clare
Purnell’s, Birmingham
The wine: Clos Mireille
Domaine Ott 2016, Provence
The match: Poached egg, smoked haddock and curry oil
14% abv, £9.41, Maison Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

Helen Howe
Lumiere, Cheltenham
The wine: Massaya Rosé 2016, Lebanon
The match: English mozzarella sorbet, chorizo and smoked watermelon
13.5% abv, £11.86, Tanners Wines, 01743 234455

Mario Sposito
Bedales of Borough
The wine: Montenidoli Canaiuolo Rosato 2016, Tuscany
The match: Burrata and jamon iberico
13.5% abv, RRP only £17.95 , Don Veeto, 020 3488 2683

Weight, Structure and Skin Contact

Jules Coppier
Galvin at Windows
The wine: Marqués de Murrieta Primer 2017, Rioja
The match: Asian steak tartare with crispy lotus root, pear, radish and chilli
13% abv, £19.04, Maison Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

Victoria Roberts
Le Cochon Aveugle and Cave Cochon, York
The wine: Domaine Tempier 2017, Bandol
The match: Bouillabaisse
14% abv, £19.15, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522


Harry Lobek
The London Shell Company
The wine: Clos Cibonne 2016, Côtes de Provence
The match: Poached Cornish rainbow trout with homemade soda bread and an oriental touch of pickled mouli
13% abv, £13.65, Red Squirrel Wines, 020 3490 1210

Elizabeth Gabay MW is a specialist on the wines of Provence and the author of Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution (Classic Wine Library)

Catch me at Imbibe Live: Rosé expert Elizabeth Gabay MW will be conducting a masterclass on rosé styles and how to match them with food in the Wine Sessions theatre at 12.45pm on Monday 2 July.

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