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5 things to know about rosé, plus our favorite bottles under $20

By Dave McIntyre Special to the Washington Post

If you’ve been to a wine store lately, you may have noticed it’s rosé season. As our gardens burst out in various shades of pink each spring, so too do the shelves at our local shops sprout bottles, boxes and cans of pink wine. Here are a few things to know – and a few misconceptions to avoid – about rosé.

Rosé is the ideal summertime wine

Rosé is light-bodied, fresh and fruity, with moderate alcohol. It’s a thirst quencher – though don’t forget water! – for the end of a long hot day. It’s a scene-setter, too. That first sip of cold rosé on the patio, as the day’s heat begins to wane and the sun slides down to the west, can brighten a mood and ignite a joyful evening. Rosé is also a great partner for the lighter foods we eat in summer (more on that below).

Rosé is also affordable. We can still find delicious rosés under $20, though spending a few dollars more can be rewarding in quality and excitement. As rosé has become increasingly popular over the past decade (remember “Brosé” and “Rosé All Day”?), producers have put more effort into these wines, and we reap the benefits of higher quality. Some of these wines are quite serious – rosé is more than just a cheap thrill.

It also doesn’t expire on Labor Day. Yes, rosé is a summer wine, but it works well throughout the year. Those slightly more expensive, substantial examples will happily grace your Thanksgiving table and might even lend a summery note to your Valentine’s Day dinner.

Rosé is not a one-year wonder

A decade ago, the previous year’s rosés would arrive in the U.S. market in May. Spanish rosados used to be sold two years after the vintage – in other words, we’d be buying 2022s now. But an idea has taken hold of rosé as a fragile wine that must be consumed the year after the vintage. Today they start showing up in February in a rush to grab coveted shelf space in stores, and any that come to market later in the year find those shelves too crowded for more.

That gives us an opportunity to comb closeout bins in the fall for extra bargains on rosés the stores have given up on. Those can be deep discounts on wines to last us through the winter – at least until the next crop comes in.

Rosé is mood friendly and food friendly

Rosé is a great partner for the lighter foods of summer, such as salads and grilled vegetables. It’s a famous match for garlicky aioli or bouillabaisse from its spiritual homeland in Provence. And its fruitiness and acidity can lead to some surprising and very personal matches. Karen MacNeil, in her seminal reference, “The Wine Bible,” pairs rosé with grilled cheese sandwiches. My unicorn rosé pairing was chef Peter Chang’s signature appetizer: dry-fried eggplant. The fruitiness of the wine captured the heat of the dish in suspended animation while amplifying the citrusy notes of the Sichuan peppercorns.

Paler isn’t better

Many wine lovers prize the palest of pinks, but color is an indication of style more than quality. Rosé is made from red grapes, with the juice drained off the skins shortly after pressing. (Some producers do blend in some white wine.) The longer the juice is left on the skins, the darker the rosé. Grape skins also contribute tannin and extract. Deeper-colored rosés, such as the wines of Tavel in the Rhone Valley, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo from Italy and Schilcher from Austria’s Styria, have more weight and structure than paler pinks from Provence and can match heartier foods. Paler rosés offer red berries (strawberries or raspberries) or melons (watermelon, cantaloupe) and sometimes both. Darker ones taste of cherries and spice, more toward the flavors of red wines. Both styles can be delicious.

Rosé is global

Its homeland may be Provence, where its mystique conjures sunny days on the French Riviera, but quality rosé is now made wherever wine grapes prosper. The best from Sonoma, Oregon or other regions may be pricier than the standards from France, but they can be delicious and worth the splurge. Go for it.

Here are nine rosés, each under $20, and each a great value, to kick-start your summer.

Bertani Velante Bertarose 2023

4 stars

Verona, Italy, $16

Bertani is famous for amarone, the sturdy, powerful red wine of northern Italy. This rosé, made with the same grapes, is starkly different in style. Racy with refreshing acidity, bursting with flavors of raspberries, cranberries and wild strawberries, and with a hint of baking spice – it’s nimble on the palate and an absolute delight. If you’re keeping track of grape varieties, the blend is corvina, molinara, corvinone and rondinella. Alcohol by volume: 12.5 percent. Bottle weight: 515 grams (Average).

Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2023

3.5 stars

IGP Méditerranée, France, $16

This wine is consistently a great value rosé. Strawberries and cantaloupe are seasoned with wild herbs and sea salt for a refreshing, savory treat. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 390 grams (Light).

La Vieille Ferme Rosé 2023

3 stars

France, $12

The widely available La Vielle Ferme is one of the top-selling rosés in the United States. Year after year, it defies expectations for such an affordable wine: The 2023 is on the melon side of rosé – cantaloupe, watermelon and wild herbs grace the palate. La Vieille Ferme is a label of the Perrin family, a leading producer in the Rhone Valley. This wine is also available in 1.5-liter bottles and 3-liter boxes for even greater value. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 415 grams (Light).

Plaimont Rosé d’Enfer 2023

3 stars

Saint-Mont, France, $15

The label boasts “one hell of a rosé,” and I can’t disagree. This one hails from the Pyrenees foothills of southwestern France and blends a local grape called pinenc with cabernet sauvignon. The result is flavors with more spice than fruit, and a long, refreshing finish. Certified sustainable. ABV: 12 percent. BW: 550 grams (Average).

Louis Jadot Rosé 2023

3 stars

Côteaux Bourguignons, France, $16

The storied Burgundy producer makes this tasty rosé from gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Look for flavors of melon and cherries. The wine is a bit austere, suggesting that it might soften a little with another few months in bottle. So I might hold a few bottles until September for a warm early-autumn evening. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 420 grams (Light).

Pigoudet Première Rosé 2023

3 stars

Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France, $16

Here is a textbook Provence rosé, offering strawberry flavors with garrigue hints of sage and thyme. It’s so good, it almost made a gloomy day feel like a sunny afternoon on the patio. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 535 grams (Average).

Vignobles François Ravel Château Montaud 2023

2.5 stars

Côtes de Provence, France, $15

Tart berries yield to ripe honeydew melon on this inexpensive charmer in an elegant traditional Provencal bottle. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 515 grams (Average).

Klinker Brick Bricks & Roses Rosé 2023

2.5 stars

Mokelumne River, Lodi, California, $16

This Rhone-style blend of grenache, mourvedre, carignane and syrah adds some warm Lodi spice for a California accent. Certified sustainable. ABV: 12.6 percent. BW: 545 grams (Average).

Mont Gravet Rosé 2023

2 stars

France, $12

Strawberry and cantaloupe, with a hint of thyme, make this inexpensive rosé a great value for the price. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 400 grams (Light).

Prices are approximate. For availability, check, and the websites and social media feeds of the wineries, importers, distributors, and your favorite local wine store. You can also ask your local retailer to order wines from the distributors listed. Bottle weight is included, because this is the single most important contributor to wine’s carbon footprint.