Rosé wines are making a gallant come back after decades of banishment (to Mantua?) from the theater of excellence. They are slowly creeping back to the shelves, in lovely shades of pinks and peaches, like a crayola skin tone box. I love to peruse the variance in colors extracted in a rosé, usually displayed in a flint bottle. But color alone does not make a rosé!
The process used to make a rosé is every bit an influence on the eventual product as in a red wine. There are three primary ways to produce a rosé; intentionally making a white wine style from red grapes, a saignée, or a white wine colored with a small red wine addition.
The first way to make a rosé is my personal favorite. I like to make intentional rosé’s. This requires harvesting red grapes earlier than they would be picked if they were made into a red wine. The phenolics of the fruit is less developed, the fruit is more acidic and the pH is much lower than in riper fruit. In short, the grapes resemble a white wine grape at harvest. The fruit is processed with a short skin contact, or maceration, to extract a small amount of anthocyanins, or color molecules. Then the juice is pressed and treated much like a white wine for fermentation.
The second way to make a rosé is a saignée. Saignée, which literally means “to bleed” in french, is a bi-product of red wine making. Grapes are allowed to ripen fully, and are processed as red wine fruit. Usually the fruit is crushed as well as destemmed, so that a free flow of juice can be siphoned from the tank. A small amount of wine is strained off of the must into another tank. The color extracted during crushing is already in the juice for the saignée, leaving the juice pinkish. No more than 1/3 of the free run juice is usually removed for a saignée. Any more would render the red wine too thick for punchdowns during active ferment. Thus, two wines are created from the bleed off of juice. One is a pink saignée. The other is, hopefully, a more intensely extracted red wine due to the ratio of skins to juice.
The last version of a rosé, is a white wine with a small addition of a red wine to create a pink wine. I have never made one of these wines before, but I imagine they are more common than we know! These might be found in a non varietal rosé. However, I find these kinds of wines to be in the weird category (Frankenwein!) and I imagine that a wine maker willing to venture so far from tradition may not be squeamish about putting other unsavory business in a pink creation. However, they might be a purist on chemical additions but not be traditional in blends, in which case I would be frightfully wrong.
Personally, I find that rosé’s are white wines for red wine drinkers. They offer less cloying qualities than most white wines, especially when they are not too phenolically extracted. They can be sweet or dry. And most compellingly, they are served cold!