In the heat of a summer’s evening, sitting out on your back porch, mingling with close friends while the men guard the BBQ, you enjoy a glass of that crisp, fruity, blushing drink we call Rosé. But just how rosy is your rosé? Is it the pretty in pink type? Maybe a lovely aubergine hue? Or perhaps a sunset orange color? The color of your blushing glass reveals how your Rosé was produced and what variety of grape was used.
What makes the drink in your glass a red, white or rosé wine depends on the type of grape used and how long the grape skins and juices co-mingle with each other. The rosy pigment of a Rosé comes from the pigments found in red grape skins but because the skins and other solids are removed in a matter of hours or maybe just a few days, the wine produced becomes a nice pink rosé rather than a red. This process, of course, also affects the flavor of the wine making it lighter on the palate.
There isn’t just one way to make a Rosé, in fact, there are a few different processes that vintners use to produce the pink they are looking for.
Limited Maceration: This method crushes the grapes whereby the grapes produce a must (young wine/freshly pressed juice). The must and remaining solids from the grapes sit together until the desired pink color is achieved. When this occurs, the must is pressed and the juice is fermented to produce the Rosé.
Pressé: This method presses the grapes first until the desired color is reached and then the juice is removed for fermentation.
Saignée: This term comes from the French ‘to bleed’ literally means just that, applied to grapes. Some of the juice from red grapes that are undergoing the process to make red wine is ‘bleeded off’ or removed from a vat of early red wine. This juice is then fermented to make Rosé. The remaining juice that was bled from produces a more intense red wine. Sometimes the term saignée is referred to the process by which juice is extracted from grapes that are crushed by their own weight. When the grapes are piled high in a vat, those on the bottom naturally get crushed and the juices ‘bled’ from them.
Blending: This process simply blends white and red wine together to produce a rosé. However, this method is discouraged in many wine regions and is forbidden by law in France with the exception of making Champagne. Blending = faux pas.
Vin Gris: Although this translates to ‘gray wine,’ the resulting wine from this process is not gray in color. Phew! That doesn’t sound very appealing now, does it? Confusing oui, but the process is simple: red skinned grapes are pressed immediately with no maceration time – or time for the juice and skins to hang out together. The resulting color is a very pale pink, much lighter in color than what the other methods produce.
Decolorization: This method is a little backward whereby red wine is decolorized or bleached by charcoal which absorbs the color from the wine. This method is not readily used to make quality Rosé wines because as it strips the color from the wine, it also strips flavor.
The next time you pick up a bottle of Rosé, why not do a taste comparison? European Rosés are typically dryer and not as sweet. It was in California where these wines grew in popularity when a ‘white zinfandel’ was marketed with gusto by winemaker, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home. He used his red zinfandel grapes to produce a sweet Rosé wine which grew in popularity in the 1980s. White Zinfandels became so favored that old vine Zinfandel plantings were saved from being uprooted entirely and being replaced with more ‘marketable’ grape varieties.
So what does the color in your glass indicate about your drink? Let’s review:
Remember the maceration method? The color of your Rosé really depends on how long the grapes have been in contact with their skins. Longer maceration time = darker color. Before the juice gets too dark, the skins are separated from the juice. Otherwise, you have red wine!
Darker Rosés are likely produced using the saignée method. While red wine is fermenting, 10% of the juice is ‘bled off’ and fermented to produce Rosé. Since this method is directly related to making red wine, the Rosé produced is much more savory and darker in color.
When red grapes are used to make an almost white wine – vin gris, the wine produced is much lighter in color because of the extremely short maceration time. This method also produces lighter red wines such as Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Between the maceration times and the variety of grapes used, and sometimes the combination of different varieties, the color in your glass can be pink, purplish or melon colored.
Dryer Rosé wines are usually a blend of 2 or 3 different grape varieties such as Grenache, Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsault.
Sweet Rosé whereby some of the sugar is kept during fermentation, uses grapes such as Pink Moscato, White Merlot and White Zinfandel.
Typically the lighter the shade of your Rosé, the lighter the flavor and the darker the shade, the more savory and/ or complex the flavor.
Rosé wines do not get better with age, so don’t hold on to a bottle as you would with your favorite port; drink up within a year of purchasing your bottle – or sooner 😉 Enjoy a glass in the Spring or Summertime when the weather is warmer and you want to enjoy a light, cold and refreshing wine with your meal. Lighter dishes of chicken, fish and some Asian foods pair nicely with Rosé.