Rosé is a wine with surprising nuance that encompasses impressive traditions in some of Europe’s great appellations. However, it’s not so complex that it’s intimidating to learn the basics. Rosé is the fastest-growing category in America, as consumption grew roughly 50% in 2017. Consequently, you’ll likely see more choices on shelves as summer nears.
- How Rosé is Made
Many believe that all rosé is a blend of white and red wine, but most bottles are the result of skin contact, or as a “Saignée.” Blending red wine into white is only common in rosé Champagne. Another misconception left over from America’s white Zinfandel days is that rosé is off-dry or even sweet. Most quality-driven European rosés are dry, as are offerings from an increasing number of New World producers.
- Skin Contact
Have you ever heard the phrase “intentional rosé? It refers to grapes grown and harvested to explicitly make rosé wine. It features an early harvest to preserve the grape’s vibrant acidity and bright fruit flavours, followed by a limited maceration.
The maceration process is the same that winemakers follow for red wine, where they crush grapes and allow the juice time on the skins. But for rosé that time is far less, ranging from a few hours to a week. The shorter the period, the lighter the colour. After maceration, the wine is drawn off and fermented to full dryness.
Direct press is a variation that helps make very pale rosés from darker skinned berries, though the style is more akin to white winemaking than red. Rather than allow a maceration period, the grapes are pressed and the juice is immediately drawn off the skins. However, as the skins break during pressing, the juice will take on a hint of colour and flavour. This method yields a delicate rosé, one that’s faint in colour and favours citrus flavours over red fruits.
French for “to bleed,” Saignée is often a by product of red winemaking, rather than an intentionally made rosé wine. This technique is common in regions where winemakers seek to produce concentrated, bold reds with big flavour.
Bleeding some wine off early in the maceration process helps concentrate the remaining juice. The lighter juice that’s bled off is vinified separately as rosé, resulting a more deeply coloured style of wine. Saignée is great for those who prefer a richer, fruitier style of rosé.
Except for perhaps during the late stages of a raucous party, fine wine producers don’t blend red and white wine to make rosé. French appellations don’t allow it, except for Champagne. For rosé Champagne, producers may add still Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier for hue and flavour. Outside of Europe, a few New World producers might blend white and red, but it’s not the norm for quality wine production.