Tasting Panel – Rosé

January 11, 2018
Tasting Panel – Rosé

Gone are the days of sickly-sweet pink wines – today's examples of rosé are nothing short of sophisticated. Dish drinks writer Yvonne Lorkin shares the evolution, culiminating the country's top 12.

Way back when I was a nipper, there were only three pink wines people used to rave on about here in Godzone and they were pink Chardon, pink Marque Vue and Mateus Rosé. They were lolly-pink and super-sweet and apart from possibly causing more than a few impromptu table-dancing sessions at parties, they were dull as dishwater to drink. Some reluctant blokes most certainly steered clear and it seemed (for a couple of decades anyway) that rosé would likely remain “a European thing”.

Then about seven years ago, a sea change occurred and suddenly “serious” wineries began releasing rosé-style wines that followed a clean, dry, crisp and floral spectrum of flavours. The sweet, blousy styles began to take a back seat and a new wave of pink wines with international appeal began washing up on our wine shop shelves. Clearly winemakers had begun treating it as a serious style and not just an afterthought. Rosés became “purpose-built” and not just something knocked together from the leftovers.

Today, everywhere you look, people are drinking pink and the quality is exponentially more excellent than ever before. “The best wines of our tasting were textbook examples of what New Zealanders (and international aficionados of the style) find so appealing,” urges senior judge Jane Boyle. “This is a style that continues to grow in popularity and to impress with its evolution and focus on freshness, fabulous acidity and fruit purity. The term ‘thirst-quenching’ springs to mind.”

From the 85 entries (that we have at least 85 rosés currently available from New Zealand producers shows the strength of the style) almost 10 per cent were awarded gold-medal status. This is a very healthy statistic for any wine style in a competition. Seventy-five per cent of our top scorers were pinot noir- dominant, the other 25 per cent were mostly merlot – so clearly it’s those two varieties that are creating the big guns.

Looking at the colour spectrum of entries on the table was also interesting for our judges. It’s clear that rosé is moving away from the cartoony-bright pink hue of old and into the more pale, subdued styles, even heading toward the palest of coral/apricot.

While the colour might be dialled down, the flavours are dialled up and into the spicy, crunchy-fresh and dry scale that also appeals to the drinker who may previously have been put off.

Packaging also has a part to play in attracting new fans to rosé. Many labels are more neutral and classic in their use of colour, font and styling, which men, in particular, may feel more comfortable having on their table. I’m not seeing so many bright, gawdy rosé labels of old around much anymore.

So the time is right to indulge in the new breed. “For me, rosé is best enjoyed over the warmer, summer months,” says Jane. “Personally, I consider rosé as a seasonal treat: much as I do asparagus and berries in summer. I like to indulge in it while the weather is at its peak and ideally served lightly chilled with picnic fare, at the beach or around the barbecue. I then go cold turkey for a few months and wait in eager anticipation for the next vintage. It’s not something I want year-round. Call me old-fashioned in that regard.” Jane may feel she’s old-fashioned, but these winning rosés are a modern wonder. From all of us at Dish, enjoy.

Style/varietal: Rosé
Entries: 85
Tasting date: Friday, November 17th 2017

Yvonne Lorkin (Dish drinks writer)
Cameron Douglas MS (Master sommelier and lecturer at AUT)
Jane Boyle (Wine consultant)

Rating System
Gold ★★★★★ – ​Superb. Strongly recommended.
Silver ★★★★ – A cut above the rest in quality.
Bronze ★★★ – A good quality crowd-pleaser.
Best buy – Wines which retail for $20 or less and earned 5 star and Gold medal status.

(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)


1. Isabel Estate
Marlborough Rosé 2017 ($24.99)

★★★★★ Gold Medal – TOP WINE
One hundred per cent Marlborough pinot noir was all that was needed to create the stand-out wine of our tasting. “Gorgeous to look at and scented with delicate maraschino cherry,” commented Jane. “It has excellent acidity and dryness – the perfect summer wine.” Cameron agreed, seeing red cherry and plum concentration, a delicately structured, beautifully balanced palate and excellent length. Yvonne thought it was possibly the best rosé she’d ever experienced, “Ultra-tangy, incredibly pretty, generous in every respect, it’s absolutely stunning.” Isabel are on a roll.

2. Wairau River
Marlborough Rosé 2017 ($20)
★★★★★ Gold Medal – BEST BUY

One word that kept coming up in the judging team’s notes with this was “complex”. One sip and you’ll see why it was a wine they kept going back to over and over. The fact it’s a blend of pinot noir, merlot, syrah and pinot gris most definitely added richness and intensity and wow-factor for sure. The Rose family own Wairau River and it’s lovely they’ve scored gold for their namesake wine. Super pale, with pretty pink diamond colouring, it’s fruit saturated and incredibly juicy. “Fleshy, plump and a fabulous example,” exclaimed Cameron, while Jane loved its vibrancy and drinkability.

3. Villa Maria
Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Rosé ($17.99) 

★★★★★ Gold Medal – BEST BUY
With its darker salmon pink colour, this looks super sexy from the get-go. “It’s a very full, rich style, with hints of pepper and spice,” noted Yvonne. “The mouthfeel has delicious texture and generosity and it boasts a mouthwatering finish.” Cameron agreed, marvelling at the crunchy-fresh acidity and mix of peach, red apple and cranberry on the palate. A stunner that’ll carry you right through the season.

4. Opawa
Marlborough Rosé 2017 ($19.95)
★★★★★ Gold Medal – BEST BUY

Brett Birmingham is the man charged with creating the Opawa range of wines for Nautilus Estate, and we’ll be backing him for a payrise after this most excellent effort. “Beautifully juicy and packed with strawberry and floral aromatics,” noted Jane, while Yvonne raved about its personality and feistiness. Solid mid-palate fruit concentration, fleshiness and a great acid line makes this an impressive, crowd-pleaser of a rosé for any occasion.

5. Waipara Hills
Waipara Rosé 2017 ($21.90)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

“Apples, raspberries and a touch of quartzy minerality gives this a lovely bouquet and palate,” commented Cameron. Yvonne agreed, adding it was bursting with cherry and berry, while Jane found masses of strawberries and cream, adding, “Crisp, refreshing, with excellent concentration, it’s fuller flavoured and lifted”.

Central Otago Rosé 2017 ($24)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

“Beautifully crimson-pink in the glass and boasting a splash of savoury, almost meaty, notes cloaking the fresh berries,” offered Yvonne. “Robust, fruity and spicy-clean.” Cameron announced it was lively, engaging, concentrated and packed with raspberries, and plums. Jane loved the watermelon and fuchsia colour and the candy floss and berry elements. It’s big, bold and bursting with personality.

7. O:TU
Hawke’s Bay Merlot Rosé 2017 ($22.99)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

It’s as if you’ve taken a bite of red apple dusted with crushed candy and soaked in cranberry and strawberry each time you sip this wine. “Very drinkable,” announced Jane, adding how full and concentrated it was. “It’s a very serious style,” she said. Yvonne was seduced by the rich colour, pink peppercorn nuances and its juicy mouthfeel.

8. Mission Estate
Hawke’s Bay Rosé 2017 ($16)
★★★★★ Gold Medal – BEST BUY

This is a superbly constructed blend of merlot, malbec, syrah and cabernet franc that is exceptional value for money. Super-pretty in the glass and bursting with cherry blossom aromatics, fresh spices, raspberry and all manner of red fruits, it’s a definite crowd-pleaser according to Yvonne. “Plush, fruity and engaging,” added Cameron.

9. Te Kano Estate
Central Otago Rosé 2017 ($27)
★★★★½ Silver Medal

Te Kano (Māori for seed) celebrates the lone surviving kowhai tree known as “Old Man Kowhai’ on the Northburn slopes above Lake Dunstan. Hundred per cent pinot noir has provided soft watermelon, raspberry and creaming soda characters. It’s rich and delicious, sultry and satisfying. A fruity newcomer with serious finesse.

10. Ti Point ‘Ruby’
Hawke’s Bay Merlot Rosé 2017 ($18.99)
★★★★½ Silver Medal – BEST BUY

This wine, named after the eldest daughter of Ti Point's founder Tracy Mason, straight away had colour impact in the glass. “Zippy acidity, pure and refreshing, fruity and engaging,” commented Cameron, while Yvonne declared her love immediately. “Elegantly crafted, fresh berry and cherry flavours, satisfying, succulent and beautifully balanced – more please!”

11. Wooing Tree
Central Otago Rosé 2017 ($27)
★★★★½ Silver Medal

Lovely fresh aromas of berries and cherries and punchy acidity accentuate the red-fruited core of this wine, making it an impressive sip indeed. “Beautifully balanced and long on flavour,” noted Yvonne. “Wimbledon anyone?” announced Jane with her description of strawberries and cream. “It’s vibrant, clean, crisp and sweetly fruited.”

12. Three Miners Vineyard
Central Otago Rosé 2017 ($26)
★★★★ Silver Medal

Perfectly pale, like the skin on a kewpie doll, this rosé absolutely rocks the red fruits alongside masses of melon and nectarine – even a twang of delicate creaming soda and spice make themselves known too. Crisp, crunchy and long, long, long, Jane also announced it was a gorgeous explosion of fragrant fruit – crisp, refreshing and perfect for summer sipping. Full, rich and fabulous.




Look for the Dish Tasting Panel selection sticker, which can be worn by our top wines. 

With thanks to Janet Blackman from the Professional Wine Studies Department and the AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism. For more on the programmes in hospitality, food and beverage, and hotel management, visit aut.ac.nz. Water kindly supplied by Antipodes and glasses by Spiegelau.