Even for those of you new to wine, we've all probably had the pleasure of indulging in at least one rosé wine. It comes in all shades of pink and hues of salmon, boasting sweet flavors, sometimes dry character, and other times, its flavor falls in-between both. For those of you who follow any wine trends, you may have become more familiar with rosé this past summer, as it was all the rage for a perfect summer sipper.
I have to agree. Though it is not a style of wine you want to have everyday, it is versatile. The acidity of a rosé has the affinity to cut through and balance out fatty foods like our favorite picnic charcuterie or even a great quiche for brunch. While these are big-flavored foods, the characteristics and structure of a great rosé have the ability to match up with the richness and complexity of some of these items. Of course, you can better understand rosé wine if you know a little more about it and how it's made. This is how rosé comes to be…
The History of Rosé
The history of rosé might have begun many generations ago in France. Some of the world’s most famous rosé wines come from the Rhone Valley. It is here that both red varietals and white varietals are blended to create a rosé wine. Some rosés in the region can contain up to thirteen different grape varietals. Classic Rhone-style rosé often has a blend of the red grapes of Grenache and Syrah and the white grapes of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. These are just to name a few. Blending both red and white grapes to make rosé is still in practice, however, there is one more method that is commonly used today to create rosé wine.
The method widely used in many parts of the world today to make rosé was first adopted in the region of Champagne, France called saignee. This is the French word for "bleeding". Champagne wines are made from the grapes of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are red wine grapes, but in Champagne, they manage to create white wines or rosé wines from these grapes via saignee. To avoid imparting the color, which comes from the skins of the grapes, into the wine, the grapes must be immediately pressed to extract their juices. The skins are then discarded, and the juice is fermented on its own without skin contact. Any color which might exist from pressing are suspended in the wine as solids, and eventually, they fall out or are fined out of the wine following fermentation.
How Rosé gets its Color
When it is the desire of the winemaker to make a rosé wine, the grapes are crushed and kept in contact with the skins and fermented together. Depending on how much color, flavor and structure the winemaker wishes to impart into the juice, will vary by how long they allow the skins to be in contact with the juice. It could be a matter of hours or days. Once the winemaker is satisfied with the length of skin contact, the method of saignee comes into play.
The Method of Saignee
When grapes are crushed and pumped to their designated fermentation vessel, it takes 24 hours for the skins to separate from the juice and float to the top. The skins, which have formed a "cake" atop the juice, are now referred to as a "cap". Once fermentation has been initialized, the juices are pumped from a lower valve in a tank and poured over the skins. Or simply, if it is a small batch, the skins are simply pressed into the juice. This allows for even impartation of color, flavor and structure and makes for an even fermentation.
When the winemaker decides to create a rosé, the juice is separated from the skins by "bleeding" it off, which can be done simply by allowing the skins to float to the top once again and opening a valve where the juices can be sent to another vessel, or it is carefully syphoned from the skins from smaller batches. At this point, the juice will be pink or some variation of the color, depending on how long it was in contact with the skins. Once the juice is in its own separate vessel, fermentation can begin or be finished.
The Styles of Rosé
We mentioned that there are some rosé wines which are sweet and some which are dry or in between. First, let’s address the term "dry". This means that the all the sugars in the wine have been fermented into alcohol. These styles (both for rosé and white wines) typically are of lighter body, have a good presence of fresh acidity and are ones you would pair with lighter foods, such as fish, some charcuterie, salads and fresh cheeses. Anything in between or sweeter have various degrees of residual sugar. The sweetest, however, would be used as a dessert wine, and rather than pairing it with a sweet dessert, it is best to offset the sweet wine with something salty. So do as the French do, and make a nice cheese platter of blue cheeses and soft-aged cheeses with some toasty nuts and dried fruits.
Sweeter wines have a wide variety of dishes they can match up with, even a rich dish of slow-roasted pork, curry dishes and more. Once you really start trying a variety of rosé wines, you will enjoy its versatility. Our pairing article can help with food and wine pairing questions you may have.