Welcome to Shelf Stars, The Growler’s cheap wine column in which we discover the best under-$15 bottles in town. This edition of Shelf Stars is brought to you with underwriting support from Central Avenue Liquors.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be maddening to find the right rosé.
Wine stores often lump all the rosé together in a pink wine section, the bottles all mixed up in every shade from salmon to ruby, made with every kind of grape and from every different country. They all look the same, but can taste wildly different. So where to start?
Generally speaking, rosé wine will taste drier (that is, less sweet) the closer to the equator it was grown. The archetypical rosé—the one that tastes good in summer, on a picnic with leftover fried chicken and potato salad, with a little bit of fruit sweetness and a dry finish—comes from the spiritual home of pink wine, Southern France.
To be more precise, we’re talking about the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, a slim crescent of warm, beach-filled districts that hug the Mediterranean Sea. This part of France churns out wine by the tanker—it produces more by volume than the entire United States.
It’s there that classic southern French grapes like mourvèdre, grenache, syrah, cinsault, and carignan get thrown into regional rosé blends labeled as Vin de Pays d’Oc, of which one of my current favorites is the Milou Rosé ($13). Sporting a beautiful pale salmon color with a faint fruity nose, the sip is bawdy and luscious, with flavors of tart raspberry, then stewed strawberry and pink Starbursts, before drying out completely by the finish. This is wine to be drunk with someone over a plate of cheeses and unabashed flirting.
A closer look at the label on the Milou Rosé reveals an address in the town of Sommières, which is in the middle of the district of Gard, the easternmost department in Languedoc-Roussillon. I’ve found that Gard, specifically, is home to some of the best rosé in France. They taste more fruit-forward and balanced—closer to the storied southern Rhone blends in their immediate vicinity, and less like the sun-bleached, austere, no-fruit-flavor-whatsoever rosés that come from further south along the Roussillon coast.
Gard is home to the legendary rosé of Lirac AOC and Tavel AOC (neither of which you’ll find on the bottom shelf) but also more budget-friendly designations of Costières de Nîmes AOC and the district’s catchall, Gard IGP—of which an absolute stunner I’ve found under $10 a few times is the Reserve de la Saurine Rosé ($10). It’s all floral aromas and tart strawberries on the sip. It’s minerally, stony, and oh so easygoing. Drink it with Samin Nosrat’s buttermilk-brined roasted chicken and a side salad for the easiest, classiest Tuesday night you’ve had all summer.
For Those That Like: pink lemonade, Fresca, sangria, strawberry pie
Grapes: grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre, carignan
ABV: Easily in the “Sunday Funday” range of 13–14%.
Price Range: $10–15
Find It: Among all the other roses in the pink wine section, or in the France aisle, next to wines from Provence and the Rhone Valley.
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