What is rosé?
With Rosé wine gaining in popularity in recent years, the question in many people’s mind is: what is rosé? And how is it made? Before launching into a quick explanation, let’s dispel some myths.
Some people still perceive rosé wines as an inferior product, a sort of indistinct ‘in between’ kind of wine, but this is a misconception. Rosé wines have a long tradition in many wine-producing countries, including France, Italy and Spain. According to some historians, the first wines ever produced could have been rosé!
It’s a matter of style
Rosé wine is a style of wine, just like red, white and orange wines are styles of wine. Wait… what? Surely the colour of the grapes determines the colour of the wine, right? Well… yes, but not really. Clear? Ok, I’ll explain: In wine, the main chemical compounds responsible for the colour -called anthocyanins- are present in the skin of the berries, but not in their flesh. You can see that for yourself every time you eat a grape (varieties with coloured flesh do exist, but they are definitely a minority).
During the red wine-making process, the freshly harvested red grapes are typically crushed (but not completely pressed) and then left to macerate on the skins for a period ranging from a few days to several weeks. During this phase, the anthocyanins and other compounds have the time to seep out of the skins and end up in the juice, imparting it its colour. After maceration, the grapes are typically pressed further to extract all the remaining juice and turn it all into red wine.
However, if the juice is squeezed out by directly pressing the grapes, without any contact time between skins and juice, the liquid will be clear. Once fermented, this will become white wine. This will happen regardless of the colour of the grape variety that we are using. In other words, white wine can be made from red or white grapes, as long as there is no skin contact.
Orange wines, which have also become popular in recent times, are made from white grapes only with a long maceration time, similarly to the way red wines are made. This makes them typically darker in colour than white wines, though still distinct from rosé.
How is rosé wine made, then? I’m glad you ask. Rosé can be made in three different ways:
-By gently crushing the red grapes and allow maceration of the skins in the juice only for a very reduced period of time, measured in hours rather than days or weeks. Then the must is pressed and the resulting juice fermented;
-Using the saignée method. The saignée method, from the French word for ‘bleed’-as in ‘extracting blood’- consists in extracting a part of the grape juice in the early stages of red wine production, and using this reddish juice to make wine. In this process, rosé wine is essentially a by-product of red wine-making;
-By blending red and white together. This method is generally seen as a cheap method, but some notable prestigious wines have been traditionally made this way.
In addition to this, there is also a Spanish method (similar to the Italian Ripasso) called doble pasta where, instead of ‘bleeding’ red wine at an early stage, all the red skins are removed from the juice after only a short contact time (these skins are not discarded, but are added instead to red must to produce more intense red wines).