Gorgeously photogenic, rosé gets a lot of attention on social media with images of beautifully pink glasses of wine in a variety of settings, and with hashtags such as #yeswayrosé and #roséallday. But what is rosé wine and why is it so hot?
Rosé wine is typically made from red grapes, but without the days or sometimes weeks of skin contact that red wine requires to gain its dark colour and chewy tannins. It gets just enough to colour the wine anything from pale onion skin to bright, dazzling pink.
Most of the best rosés are simply made like red wines, but with shorter maceration times whereby the juice is removed from the skins sooner, normally between 1-2 days. To make a darker rosé, or rosés from very pale-skinned grapes, maceration time can be closer to 48 hours. To make a very pale rosé, particularly from darker skinned grapes, then eight hours is enough.
The very lightest, palest rosés are called blush or vin gris, and they are made by directly pressing the juice off the skins with very little skin contact whatsoever. Other rosés from France are named Rosé d’une Nuit, “rosé of one night” to reflect the single overnight skin contact. Think of it like the difference between steeping white tea for a minute or two to make a very delicate cup, compared to brewing a robust Oolong for five minutes.
Winemakers tend to practise saignée mostly to increase the skin to juice ratio of their red wines, thus concentrating colour, flavour and tannin.
Similar results can be achieved with the saignée method. Saignée means to ‘bleed’ in French and denotes the draining of a portion of juice part way through a red wine fermentation. Winemakers tend to practise saignée mostly to increase the skin to juice ratio of their red wines, thus concentrating colour, flavour and tannin. The fact that the bled juice can be fermented to make a delicious rosé is simply a bonus.
Legendary Bandol, Provence winery Domaine Tempier takes rosé very seriously. Twenty-year-old Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan vines grown especially for making exceptional rosé are hand harvested, the bunches then hand selected in the cellar, gently crushed, macerated, then gently pressed. In most years, there is also a portion of saignée from the famous red wine of the estate. These parcels are fermented cool, blended and matured for eight months to produce a fresh, crisp, salmon-pink coloured wine with flavours of wild berries and Provencal herbs.
The finest and most expensive rosés in the world come from Champagne. Ironically, they are almost all made using what is considered the lowliest technique for still rosé winemaking – blending red wine with white. However, in the case of Champagne, because the white wine is so delicate, and the red wines do not contain much in the way of tannin, exceptional rosés are made by blending around 10 per cent red wine with the pale white base wine to add pretty salmon colours and raspberry and strawberry flavours.
The quality of rosé Champagne is driven primarily by the villages and sites from whence the grapes come, gentle handling of the grapes, ages of base wines and length of time on lees in bottle, called tirage in Champagne.
Only a tiny minority of rosé Champagnes are made using what they call ‘saignée method’, but is in essence the short maceration method. Outstanding examples are made from both methods, the choice of method being more about style than quality. The quality of rosé Champagne is driven primarily by the villages and sites from whence the grapes come, gentle handling of the grapes, ages of base wines and length of time on lees in bottle, called tirage in Champagne.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon makes one of the most celebrated “everyday” rosé Champagnes, thanks to family ownership and meticulous control of the full winemaking process. At the very top, Dom Perignon crafts a vintage dated rosé that in the current 2005 vintage includes 27 per cent red wine and is typically released at twelve years old and takes rosé to new levels of complexity and depth.
With the heightened global interest in rosé, today there is a rich diversity of styles from all four corners of the globe.
From the elegant, chalky, pale styles of Provence, brighter, more berryish, herbier styles of Tavel and the Rhone, the blackberry-leaf styles of Bordeaux and Loire, lively, funky Rosatos and darker Cerasuolos of Italy, the richer Garnacha based wines of Spain, to a variety of ambitious wines from as far afield as California, South Africa and Chile. Not to mention, the elegant, ethereal rosés of Champagne. From wherever they come, rosé is an exciting colour to explore.
Matt Deller is one of just 47 Masters of Wine in the US and an internationally respected wine judge, panelist and speaker