Digging Deeper: Rosé

This weekend’s rosé festival got us thinking about the history of our favorite seasonal wine.  It’s such a fun style that it’s easy to just gulp away without much thought (not that we discourage this, by the way), but the story of rosé is actually pretty interesting!

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One of our favorite things about the beginning of rosé season is admiring its many different shades of pink.  Grape varietal accounts for some of this, but a lot of the color variation comes from the winemaking method used.  There are three main methods.  In the Skin contact method, the juice sits with the skins of the red grapes for 1-3 days before it’s pressed and the skins are removed, is usually used when the grapes are only being used for rosé.  In the saignée method (From the French “to bleed”), pale pink juice is ‘bled’ from the grapes before they go into tanks.  This method produces both rosé, and makes a more concentrated, darker red wine from the remaining juice.  The third method is blending, which is pretty self-explanatory: a small amount of red wine is blended into white wine to give it a pink color.  Most wine regions don’t allow this practice, but it is allowed in Champagne.  Here are a few other fun facts to help you think pink!

Ancient Roots.  Though rosé, especially dry rosé, is relatively new in terms of popularity here in the US, it’s actually one of the more ancient styles of wine.  Back before more powerful presses were created and grapes were stomped by foot (or hand), the resulting wines were pretty light, and looked more like what we think of as a rosé color.  Even after better presses were invented, in Ancient Greece and Rome, lighter wines were considered more desirable.  Bordeaux’s wines done in this style were especially prized, while darker, more robust wines were considered coarse and inferior.

A Happy Accident.  We all know about the White Zinfandel craze – but whose bright idea was it?  Like chocolate chip cookies, White Zin was invented by accident.  In 1975 Sutter Home’s Bob Trinchero had been making a White Zinfandel that really did look and taste almost like a white wine.  One year, while making this still “blanc de noirs,” if you will, he had a stuck fermentation that he just couldn’t fix.  He set the wine aside, and upon tasting it later, decided to sell it, even though it was sweeter and pinker than he intended.

This cellar disaster took off in a big way, and White Zinfandel and the various off-dry ‘blush’ styles it inspired are still popular, although not as popular as they once were.  As much as we like to roll our eyes at White Zinfandel, its popularity did get a lot of people drinking wine who might not have otherwise tried it, and at least some of those people probably ended up being wine lovers and graduating to more classic styles.  The White Zinfandel craze also preserved old, bush-trained Zinfandel vines that date back to the 19th century and would have otherwise been ripped up to plant Cabernet or Merlot.

The Classic.  Ah, Provence.  Just the name makes you want to hop on a plane and turn your life into a passage from a Peter Mayle novel in which the most strenuous part of your day is throwing on a linen blazer to head down to the local cafe on your scooter and enjoy a glass of pale pink, crisp, refreshing Provençal rosé.  These fantasies always involve linen and designer sunglasses in my mind…

Wine was first made in France in Provence, and today over 75 percent of its output is rosé.  Most is made under the Cotes de Provence AOC, and the approved grapes for making this classic style are Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and a local variety called Tibouren.  Rosé can be made either in the saignée method or by merely pressing whole grapes to make an extremely light, salmon-colored wine.  Provençal roses tend to be very light pink compared to roses from other regions, and have a wonderful combination of fairly full body and crisp, refreshing acids.  Sometime it’s best not to mess with the classics!

What’s Your Style?  Whether you’re a fan of a classic Provençal style rose, a fuller, fruitier Spanish, or something in between, rosé goes with just about anything.  Lighter styles will taste almost like a white wine at first, but can be deceptively full-bodied, making them a great partner to a wide variety of foods.  Darker rosés, like the ones often made from Garnacha in Spain, will have more red fruit flavors, and can be very ripe, so that they almost taste sweet for a moment before they finish crisp and dry.  Wines like this are great with barbecue and other pork dishes.  Most importantly, rose is almost always good by itself on a sunny day, making it the perfect partner to spring and summer!

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