Spring is upon us. I am not sure where you live but here we are having unseasonably warm weather. When I say warm I mean that temperatures here on the beautiful Monterey Bay coast are reaching the mid 70’s! We’re having a heatwaaaaaave, a tropical heatwaaaave. For me, the sunshine and pleasant days mean one thing. PINK WINE.
The sun was out, my mouth was ready, but when I reached in the fridge to grab that bottle of rosé I had in mind, I realized that my better half had taken it with her to Los Angeles to drink with a friend. Thus, I can’t really show you the bottle I had in mind that inspired this whole post.
I have written about rosé wines in both the still and sparkling forms before, (I am not going to link you, grow up, baby birds. I can’t spoon feed you forever) but, before late spring and summer really get rolling and everyone is rolling out their rosés for poolside drunkenness, I wanted to give a brief insight into how pink wines are made and the differences between the styles.
There are a few competing methods for producing rosé wine and some of them are considered an acceptable art form where others are scoffed at by the wine world at large. But first, a little background.
The way things make sense to me when I think about rosé wine is that it is red grapes produced largely in a white winemaking style. Saignée and Vin Gris are the most common methods but there are two others that are sometimes employed when making a pink wine.
Saignée is semi-simple. Basically you bring in red wine fruit, whether its Pinot or Grenache or whatever, and then you start the red winemaking process as normal. The grapes get crushed and the skins and juice go into a big tank and start to hang out and become wine. But, a few days after the grapes are crushed, some juice is, “bled-off” (that’s what Saignée means in French) and that juice is treated in the same winemaking process you would treat a white wine. The short time in contact with the skins produces the pale pink color. The remaining juice and skins hang out together and continue on in the process to become a normal red wine. This is a popular method given that it doesn’t require a different crush than a wine you are already making and can increase the intensity of the flavor of the red wine left behind. Some years the grapes come in fat and happy and juicy, and in some cases that doesn’t make for bold, intense red wine that people expect from a bottle of red wine. So, bleeding off some of the juice, which then makes the remaining juice have more contact with the skins, intensifies the flavor of your red wine and also leaves you a really yummy side product of rosé.
Another popular method is the Vin Gris method which in French means, “gray wine.” Some people argue that this is the preferred method because essentially you bring in the grapes, crush them, let the juice rest with the skins for a very short time and then proceed with white winemaking processes. This method leaves the juice to rest with skins sometimes only for a few hours. The only skin contact the juice gets is basically the amount of time it takes to squeeze all the juice from the fruit. Then white winemaking processes are used. People argue that this preserves the delicate flavor and fresh fruit notes that a good rosé should have. They are usually barely pink or peach colored and are best when made to be dry or near dry (no remaining sugar from the juice).
If you are American, particularly Californian, and remember the 1990’s, you are probably familiar with White Zinfandel. This is technically rosé. Many of the White Zinfandel or Pink Merlot’s are harvested early when the fruit has much lower Brix (basically a measure of sugar content). It is crushed and processed and fortified with sugar later to give it a semi-sweet taste. It is awful. It should never be consumed unless you are a high school boy trying to get your prom date liquored up enough to touch your goodies. This is one of the rosé methods that the wine snobs cringe at. DO NOT DRINK THIS SEWAGE.
The last common method is sort of a hybrid between Saignée, Vin Gris and being a total cheater. Some folks may bleed off some juice after the crush has been in the tank for a while or just separate some juice right after crush as described above in the two main French methods, but then they put a different twist on it. In the case of Saignée, when the rest of the wine goes on to become a full blown red wine, some winemakers will add some of that to the rosé that was made to add a little more color and body to the wine. This method is also really popular when producing a rosé sparkling wine. I will tell you that I don’t really have a problem with this method. I think a lot of times it makes a drinkable, complex wine. In most bottles I have had that are produced this way, the rosé retains all its fresh,berry and melon flavors that people love about rosé, but also has some more acid and darker flavors that can make it much more versatile. Standard rosés I think, hot days, afternoons on the beach, lounging by a pool, summer picnic. With rosés produced by this method I can see them at an evening party to be served with seafood appetizers or even with friends for an evening bonfire.
So now here I sit with an empty glass wishing that I had some rosé to fill it. I guess for now I will have to drink some Chardonnay and enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Cheers, folks. I hope next time you see a bottle of pink wine you have a better understanding on how it’s made