The world of rose wine:
Some people think of rose as a breakfast wine, flirty and fresh. But the truth is, most people don’t really understand that rose is not your grandmother’s white zinfandel of the eighties. Dry rose used to be a one to two bottle max display, hidden off with the German Riesling at your local grocery store, and most likely French. I never understood this shelf placement, but I suppose it was just an exotic wine and sought to live by itself in enigma. Those in the industry and wine lovers have been enjoying dry rose for decades. Europeans have been consuming gallons of rose for generations, but here in the U.S. it was like our own secret society of oenophiles. What was unknown by most is now being enjoyed by everyone; the proverbial cat is out of the bag, and we couldn’t be happier to share it with the world.
The Short history of Rose Wine:
It’s true that rose was considered a sweet wine, White Zinfandel created the category in America, and it was sweet, and wow the headache you’d get from imbibing too much. Lancers and Mateus drove the category from across the pond in the United States. These Spanish producers really paved the way for most families to enjoy rose at traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas but didn’t really make it into Friday night festivities like White Zin did. True they were real rose, but still on the slightly “off dry” pallet of flavors; dark and full bodied with bright fruit, like Bing cherry without the sugar. And the bottles they came in were so traditional and pushed the notion of being imported, think clay or ceramic pot.
Fast forward to today, there are full aisles at your local large wine store showcasing rose from all over the world, and they’re pretty fantastic. Some of the world’s best regions to produce dry rose tend to be agreed upon by most wine professionals. Places like Spain, New Zealand, California, and of course the mother land of France. But keep in mind regions in South Africa, and Argentina are putting together some pretty solid attempts and are creating very enjoyable rose. One of the places I have been enjoying recently is in Oregon, they are creating delicious high acid rose from the Pinot Noir grape.
This seems like a good spot to break into the informative section of this blog post. I’ll touch on how rose is made, where it’s made, regional differences and what varietals are typical in your rose, all of which will educate you beyond your friends at the dinner party. Rose is not magic, but there is a science behind it.
Three ways to create rose: blending, bleed off or Saignee, and maceration.
All rose wine should come from predominately red grapes, and in fact most do, although there may be some white in your bottle which is where blending rose comes from; simply adding red wine to white wine to create a light pink to dark pink color depending on what the wine maker is looking to create in terms of color and flavor. It’s not common but it is a creative technique. Second would be the Saignee method, which is really more creating rose as a biproduct. What I am saying here, is if the wine maker is looking to create a deeper more rich red wine, they will bleed off, or dump out some juice during the maceration process, when the red grapes skins are in the unfinished wine juice soaking to create the red color we see.
There are times when grapes are too juicy when the vintner presses them, and if they left too much juice in the tank, it would create a flabby red wine in the end. So you pour off some juice, which adversely is pink in color, and rather than pour it down the drain from the expensive grapes you just spent months growing, the wine maker will bottle this rose wine and sell it off to boost profits. Again, its common, but not really considered fine rose, a term that is debatable. True rose should come from grapes that were grown to create rose, and only rose. And the method to create this rose, is allowing the red grape skins from the press to remain in the juice for a time that allows enough red color to create the lovely pink hue that we’ve come to recognize and then filter out the skins and allow the wine to ferment. Keep in mind all wine starts as white wine when they grapes are pressed, the color comes from the maceration during skin contact with the juice, and only a well experienced wine maker knows exactly how long to allow the skins to sit in the unfinished juice to create the product they’re looking to produce, clearly the darker the wine or richer the wine, you can deduce they left the skins on for a longer time, maybe weeks. But light pink rose, maybe 17-28 hours tops.
Rose Regional Variance:
Different regions have different desired affects during this process and the variety of grape also tends to make its own style of rose, you know, thick skins versus thin skinned grapes and such. In France for instance, a very light and pale rose from Provence made from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre and is by many considerations the category standard. Its light and fruity, with a good high acid and refreshing characteristic. Within Bordeaux France you’ll find lovely roses made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, they tend to be a little darker in color and carry a denser flavor. In Spain you’ll typically find darker roses, or pink/violet made from Tempranillo grapes, the same varietal you’d find in your favorite Rioja, but Grenache grapes are very common also in Spanish rose.
In Oregon and New Zealand you’ll find both Pinot Noir and Syrah rose. Both of which tend to be fresh and fruity, but again as with all good rose, a very dry and high acid profile is desirable.
California is also very much on the world’s stage for fine rose. They tend to vary considerably from deep rose color to very light Provencal in style and flavor. The classic varietal here would be Pinot Noir and Syrah also, but you will find some from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In places like Argentina, you may find rose made from Malbec grapes, and Chile tends to use Pinot Noir and Syrah.
The world of rose is vast and exciting, but all people tend to agree that dry and light fruitful flavor tends to be the most enjoyable to consume. In all seriousness you can make rose from almost any red grape, if the skins sit in the pressed juice for a determined amount of time, you’ll get rose color. It’s really up to the vintner what style of rose they want to create, and up to the individual what type they want to drink. Get out and try multiple different regions and color hues to see what appeals to your own palette. Remember to chill it down to a crispy 49-53 degrees; I find the colder the more refreshing, but as it warms, you’ll start to notice other fruit flavors and nuances that a good rose will begin to release. This makes it a wine that deserves to be front and center in the conversation of fine wine, and not just a great cooler wine to enjoy at the beach. Cheers!