With the summer heat upon us and the “Rosé All Day” promotion in full force, it seems fitting to discuss a very common yet misunderstood category of wines, rosé. Clearly, rosé suffers from nothing more than an erroneous negative reputation because when speaking to folks in the wine industry, there is only praise and appreciation for the class; however, the regrettable era of White Zin lingers, clouding the casual wine drinker’s opinion of the entire group of wines to this day. Sommeliers around the country lull themselves to sleep at night repeating the refrains: No, rosés are not made from pink grapes; no, rosés are not red and white wines mixed together; no, rosés are not all sweet; no, rosés are not considered entry level wines for the uninitiated. Henceforth, it is helpful to note what exactly rosés are and to debunk these misnomers one by one.
Simply put, rosés are pink-hued wines made from red grapes. Rosés differ from red wines because during the production process, the extracted grape juice is in contact with the red grape skins for a only short amount of time, thus limiting the rosé wine’s ability to acquire the vibrant red color of their red wine brethren whose juice is in contact with the red grape skins for an extended period of time. Even casual rosé drinkers are likely to note the variety of shades in which the wine presents itself. From pale baby pink through burnt sunset orange to cherry soda red, the tints are determined by the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the grape skins, the grape variety that comprises the wine and the winemaker’s preferences.
It is important to note that very low-end bulk wine producers employ numerous blasphemous methods of production that are not allowed in standard quality wine production. These dastardly practices encompass wines of all types, including rosés, and are not covered by this article. That being said, quality rosés, even value-driven economical ones, are made with one of three very specific methods of production – Vin Gris, Saignée or Direct Pass. Vin Gris is the most common approach. In it, the wines are made just like red wines (grapes are crushed, juice is fermented, wine is filtered to remove skins, wine is bottled) except that the juice spends significantly less time fermenting on the grape skins than the juice of red wines does. The fermentation for a rosé made in this manner can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few days. The next avenue for making a rosé is called Saignée, which is the French word for “bleed.” This involves crushing the red grapes, allowing them to ferment for a few hours to a few days and then bleeding off a small portion to bottle as a rosé while leaving the remainder of the wine to continue fermenting to produce a quality red wine. Saignée is frowned upon by traditionalist winemakers as it positions the rosé as an afterthought to move some product to market for cash flow while waiting for a red wine to age. Finally, there is the Direct Pass technique, which follows that the red grapes are crushed, pressed and the skins are removed immediately. The wine is then fermented and bottled the way a basic white wine would be produced.
In all wines, including rosés, the winemaker determines the sweetness of the wine by stopping fermentation when the wine has reached the desired level of residual sugar. During the process of fermentation, yeast continually consumes sugar and produces alcohol until the sugar is completely depleted or until the winemaker halts the process to leave some amount of sugar to balance the resulting wine. This means that rosés, like all other wines, come in versions ranging from very sweet to very dry. If a rosé is sweet, it can be called blush. It is helpful to remember, though, that blush is not a synonym for rosé because even though all blushes are rosés, not all rosés are blushes.
Rosé is arguably the oldest type of wine made. It is produced around the world with a wide variety of quality grapes and it is protected by the same laws and restrictions that govern red and white wines in prestigious wine-making regions spanning the globe. Vintners are dedicated to perfecting their rosé wines just as they are their reds and whites and wine lovers everywhere are enjoying the results of those efforts. So, if you shudder thinking about the White Zin craze and haven’t even glanced at a rosé since, please reconsider. This is the season to try a light, fruity, fun, summer alternative to the usual lineup of bubblies and cocktails. You will be so glad you did, you’ll say Hooray for Rosé!
By: MaryJane Baker Vu