Rosé Wine - A Winemakers Perspective

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are on vacation. The sun is shining. You are lounging on a veranda and the countryside around you seems to roll forever into the distance like a daydream. In this instance, when your thoughts fade to the warmth of the sun and simple foods and pleasures, there is no reason to confound your bliss with a wine that requires explanation.

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What your bliss wants is a Rosé. There is no more perfect summer wine than Rosé. Typically smooth and refreshing, “pink/blush” wines occupy a delicate status between crisp white wines and full-bodied red wines that requires a degree in linguistics to describe.

I say ‘delicate’ because Rosé often gets a bad rap for occupying that uncommon ground between red and white wines, and because there are so many variations between producers and regions that the “Rosé” family does not always deliver a sense of vintage or Appalachian like wines made from “The Big Seven” – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc.

Although Rosés are very easy to drink, they are not necessarily easy to make. Because they occupy a delicate place among wines that are increasingly specific displays of varietal character, they require an attention to detail that even the most finicky of winemakers tends to shy away from.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

One common misconception about Rosé is that it is a blend of white and red wines crafted and blended together by the winemaker to satisfy a particular consumer profile. It is not.

What Rosé is however is an amalgam of two winemaking styles – In other words, the juice from red grapes is used to make a whitish wine.

Rosés are typically made from red grapes in one of two ways.

The first and lesser-used way of making Rosé is to crush and press red/black grapes so that a faint pigment (anthocyanin) is infused into or absorbed by the grape juice. The juice is then fermented much the same way it would be if a white wine were being made: at a cool temperature and with or without secondary malolactic fermentation. This style is typically used in Blanc de Noir (white from red) sparkling wines.

A second and the most prevalent way of producing Rosé is to de-stem red / black grapes and collect the juice and skins together in a tank. Over the course of several hours the juice absorbs the pigment (anthocyanin) from the grapes. When the juice has absorbed an appropriate amount of anthocyanin (between 60 / 120 milligrams/Liter) the juice is then drawn off from the tank and fermented in a white wine style, with or without secondary malolactic fermentation.

In the latter of the two methods, greater color is derived from longer contact between the grape skins and the juice (a maximum 12–24 hours). This greatly enhances the visual intensity and potential body of the resulting wine.

Grapes that have greater quantities of anthocyanin in their skins – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache just to name a few – will typically have a lesser soaking time than say a Rosé from Pinot Noir which would usually need more time to fix color into its juice.