Summer’s here, embracing the days of wine and roses – and rosés. Actually, I have just imbibed a glass of rosé whilst sat next to my prized rose bush, listening to birds singing and insects buzzing. Delightful taste, beautiful scent, breathtaking view, calming sounds. All the senses satisfied – the best of all possible worlds. And then the moment shattered, like a full-blown rose disintegrating, because I started thinking in earnest about the wine.
Rosé wines have enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity over recent years, and I too, have tasted a number of rosés of different hues, diverse styles, some made from a single varietal to others with more than five, and from various regions – some very good, and some which, after the first sip, went straight down the sink.
So let’s delve a little more deeply into the rosé world. The first thing to say is that rosé wine is made from a huge range of black grape varieties – unless it is blended with white wine, of course. Let’s look at that method first.
Surely the easiest way to make a rosé wine is to blend a small amount of red wine with white wine: red + white = rosé. Simple. However – and it’s a big however – with the exception of rosé Champagne, this method is not allowed for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) wines in the EU.
Other sparkling rosé wines, especially those made by the traditional (Champagne) method, are also made by blending. But it isn’t confined to traditional method fizz – a relatively recent introduction, Prosecco Rosé, is made by blending the Glera grape variety (which all Prosecco has to be made from) with red wine made from Pinot Noir – that’s one that didn’t end up down the sink.
Elsewhere in the world where vinification rules are sometimes less strict, some excellent, and not so excellent still rosés are made like this – including one from the USA that I tried that did end up down the sink!
Putting blending aside, there are other methods of creating a rosé wine – maceration, direct pressing, and saignée – and they all start with black grapes.
This is a popular method of producing good quality rosé. It involves crushing the grapes and then leaving them in contact with the skins to macerate, or soak, to extract the colour. This is what happens when red wine is made. However, unlike red wine, maceration takes place for a much shorter time. How long depends on the style of rosé that the winemaker wishes to create – sometimes it’s a matter of a few hours but it could also be a couple of days: the longer the maceration, the darker the wine.
In addition, the variety of grape will also affect the outcome. Grapes with thicker skins, like Grenache, will produce more colour in the wine than thin-skinned varieties like Pinot Noir even though they may be macerated for the same length of time.
At the optimum moment, the rose-tinted juice is drained from the skins, and then fermented.
Because the juice has been in contact with the skins, some of the characteristics of red wine may also present, but in a diluted form. For example, you may find more body and complexity than you might have expected, particularly from deeper hued rosés.
It’s a shame that some people are put off by darker rosés. There’s the expectation that because they look a bit like Ribena they will taste like it too – too sweet and too much like
blackcurrants. Which is a pity because one of the most interesting, and enjoyable rosés I have ever tasted did actually look like Ribena, but the aromas and flavours were exceptional.
With this method the grapes are crushed and pressed leaving no time for maceration – much like white wine. However, because black grapes are used, there will still be some colouration from the skins, albeit often just a hint. Fermentation then takes place.
Direct pressing produces the palest coloured rosés, with crisper, often less complex flavours than those made by maceration. You could categorise the majority of direct press rosés, such as many of those from the south of France, as ‘easy-drinking’, just right for summer – but there are some out there that are more multifaceted than you might give them credit for.
Mmm. The saignée, or ‘bleeding’, method (no, I’m not being rude) seems to stir up a good deal of controversy in wine circles – not quite pistols at dawn, but not far off.
Some say it’s not a true rosé because it’s a ‘by-product’ of making red wine: others hold it up as a legitimate, viable method in its own right.
With this method, the winemaker sets about making red wine. Early in the maceration process, though, a portion of juice will be ‘bled’ from the vessel and vinified separately to produce a rosé wine. The rest of the juice will be turned into a more concentrated red wine, because there is now less juice to the volume of skins. You can see how those who disparage making rosé wine in this way struggle to call it a proper method.
Be that as it may, more winemakers, particularly those in the New World, are adopting this method – and creating some surprisingly good results.
What’s the ‘best’ method, then? Who’s to say? Not me, certainly – I just enjoy the end result, particularly the one I’m drinking now – an organic rosé from Chateau La Mascaronne, available from The Wine Shed.
By Maureen Little