To rosé or not to rosé?

Rosé: a study in pink

It’s hot. That means rosé for a lot of people.

But how does wine get pink? There aren’t pink grapes. There’s red. There’s white.

This happens several ways. The first, and the most unlikely, is blending of a white wine and a red wine. I had a really cool one of these from the Jura recently by Chateau D’Arlay. Called “Corail”, this wine is a blend of all five primary grapes of the Jura (the reds are plousard (poulsard), trousseau, and pinot noir; the whites, savignin and chardonnay) vinified separately, then blended and barrel aged for three years. I assume the oak was old and neutral, because there was no evidence of wood on the wine, just fresh, massive, and mineral with crushing acid. A really neat wine from an unheralded region.

The other two routes to rosé involve a partial maceration. Maceration follows the crushing, and is essentially the period in which the grape juice is in contact in the grape skins, which impart flavor, color, and tannin. Most dry red table wines get a maceration of 5 to 10 days, but possibly 40 or more, as is the case in wines like old-school, traditional Barolo. Yum. Nebbiolo.

Red grapes, when pressed will run out white juice if they have no skin contact. See the example of blanc-de-noir champagne. Two red grapes, one white wine.

In order to impart color, you need to have skin-to-juice contact. Rosés can also be partially macerated red grapes, where the maceration is only 8-hours to 1 day (approximately). The juice is then “racked” or moved off the grape skins and stems into another container, leaving you with a lot of pink juice.

This plays into a technique called saignée. A process used by wine makers to increase the power and concentration of their final red table wine, saignée literally translates as “to bleed”. At some point, determined by the winemaker, into the initial maceration (again, usually 8-24 hours in) he siphons some of the grape juice off, thus raising the skin/stem-to-juice ratio for the finished red table wine. The rosé that results from this is a bi-product of the red wine production process, and no worse off for it. The winemaker wants to use everything in the production process and so he bottles the rosé as well.

Also, for my sake, don’t write off rosé as pink swill. Some of it is excellent. If it’s made bone-dry from a responsible producer, pretty much anyone who likes white wine should be able to get into rosé. Start with the wines of South-Eastern France. Provence and the surrounding area are an excellent place to commence a rosé adventure. Bandol! Tavel!

That’s what I know. I’m sure there’s some other crazy ways to make rosé. Let me know what you know. Also, remember: friends don’t let friends drink white Zinfandel.

About Morgan

Liquid enthusiast. Sommelier and wine communicator living and working in New York City.
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