Spring signals the arrival of rosé season. Although it has recently become known for its quality and complexity, rosé has long been known for its fresh, fruity flavors, which are best enjoyed in the springtime, when the wine is still young.
In recent years, rosé sales in the U.S. and abroad have increased substantially. This continued in 2020, with an overall shift in wine consumption from restaurants to more casual settings, such as homes and parks, where a well-crafted, affordable bottle of something light pink seems particularly fitting to drink. With the release of newly approved rosé Prosecco (previously not permitted by the Italian government) and more premium canned rosés, I think it’s safe to say that this category will not be cooling down anytime soon.
So what makes rosé, well, rosé? The answer is: grape skins. Almost all grapes responsible for making red wines actually have clear juice and flesh. The color, as well as other key elements of red wines, come from compounds found in the skins. After the grapes are crushed, the skins are then kept in contact with the juice for a certain period of time. In order to obtain the pink color for a rosé, there are a few different methods that winemakers employ.
For decades, the saignée process was popular in many locations. Literally meaning “to bleed,” saignée rosé production entails leaving the crushed skins and grape juice together from anywhere between several hours to several days. Then, a portion of the juice is “bled” off into a separate container to finish fermenting into rosé, ready to head to market. The first tank now holds the same amount of grape skins, but a much smaller amount of juice, thus greatly increasing the skin-to-juice ratio, which will result in a darker, more structured, more robust red wine. Although the saignée method has some great economic benefits for the vintner, rosé that is created this way, merely as a byproduct of red wine production, tends to be coarsely textured with fewer floral aromas.
Limiting the length of time during which the skins are in contact with the juice is the primary way of producing high-quality rosé: “intentional rosé.” Grape varieties such as Pinot Noir and Grenache are both well-suited for this method since they both naturally show a lot of red fruit character and have thin skins with low levels of bitterness. The grapes are harvested slightly earlier than usual as a way of preserving freshness and acidity. Once they are brought to the winery and crushed gently, the juice is pressed away from the skins after a certain number of hours and then fermented into wine.
Common vessels for fermenting and ageing rosé are stainless steel tanks and old neutral barrels. New wooden barrels are avoided as they would impart too much of an oaky influence and distract from the delicate, floral notes that make rosé so great. It’s also important that a winemaker keep the fermenting wine cool, as this too adds to the crisp, bright quality of rosé.
Although rosé has long had a reputation for being sweet, these days wineries around the world have shifted to making dry wines, in line with consumer preferences. Whereas previous versions of blush wine including White Zindandel often showed hefty amounts of residual sugar, rosé winemakers these days take steps to ensure that all of the juice is fully fermented into wine, with no sweetness remaining.
Blending wine from both white and red grapes is another way of creating rosé. Although Champagne is the only major region in Europe that permits this method, winemakers in the United States and the rest of the New World are free to blend. While I could see how this method may seem crude since anyone with a glass of white and a glass of red can experiment and create their own rosé, there are numerous examples of tasty still wines made in the U.S. using this technique, not to mention some of the greatest (and most expensive) Champagnes made each year. The acidity from the high percentage of white wine can make these rosés especially mouthwatering.
No matter which method of production is employed, once a rosé is finished fermenting and possibly blending, it only needs a brief period of time to settle and rest before it can be bottled.
The extended daylight hours of late April mean that there is a little extra time for rosé each day. To celebrate, we’ve put together a special selection of a few of our favorite rosés, representing several styles and regions.