A rosé (from French: rosé also known as rosado in Portugal and Spanish-speaking countries or rosato in Italy) is a type of wine that incorporates some of the color from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. It may be the oldest known type of wine, as it is the most straightforward to make with the skin contact method. The pink color can range from a pale “onion“-skin orange to a vivid near-purple, depending on the grape varieties used and winemaking techniques. There are three major ways to produce rosé wine: skin contact, saignée and blending. Rosé wines can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling and with a wide range of sweetness levels from bone-dry Provençal rosé to sweet White Zinfandels and blushes. Rosé wines are made from a wide variety of grapes and can be found all across the globe.
When rosé wine is the primary product, it is produced with the skin contact method. Black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, typically one to three days. The must is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the more intense the color of the final wine.
When a winemaker desires to impart more tannin and color to a red wine, some of the pink juice from the must can be removed at an early stage in what is known as the Saignée (from French bleeding) method. The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding, because the volume of juice in the must is reduced, and the must involved in the maceration becomes more concentrated. The pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce rosé.
In other parts of the world, blending, the simple mixing of red wine to a white to impart color, is not uncommon. This method is discouraged in most wine growing regions, especially in France, where it is forbidden by law, except for Champagne. Even in Champagne, several high-end producers do not use this method but rather the saignée method.
When the first wine labeled as rosé was produced is not known but it is very likely that many of the earliest red wines made were closer in appearance to today’s rosés than they would be to modern red wines. This is because many of the winemaking techniques used to make todays darker, more tannic red wines (such as extended maceration and harder pressing) were not widely practiced in ancient winemaking. Both red and white wine grapes were often pressed soon after harvest, with very little maceration time, by hand, feet or even sack cloth creating juice that was only lightly pigmented.
Even after the development of newer, more efficient wine presses, many ancient and early winemakers still preferred making the lighter colored and fruitier style of wines. There was an understanding, as early as the time of the Ancient Greeks and Roman winemakers, that harder pressing and lettings the juice “sit” for a period with the skins would make darker, heartier wines but the resulting wines were often considered too harsh and less desirable. This sentiment lasted well into the Middle Ages, when the pale clarets from Bordeaux were starting to gain the world’s attention. To the powerful English market the most prized clarets were, according to wine historian Hugh Johnson, the vin d’une nuit or “wine of one night” which were pale-rosé colored wines made from juice that was allowed only a single night of skin contact. The darker wine produced from must that had longer skin contact were known as the vin vermeilh (or pinpin to the English) was considered to be of much lesser quality.
Similarly, in the early history of Champagne the wines produced from this region during the Middle Ages were nothing like the sparkling white wines associated with the region today. Instead they were pale red and even pinkish with some Champenois winemakers using elderberries to add more red color to the wines as they competed with the wines of Burgundy for the lucrative Flemish wine trade. In the 16th and 17th century, the region achieved some acclaim for their “white” wines made from Pinot noir grapes but rather than actually being white these wines were instead a pale “greyish pink” that was reminiscent of the a “partridge‘s eye” and earned the nickname Œil de Perdrix—a style of rosé still being produced in Switzerland. In the late 17th century, the Champenois learned how to better separate the skins from the must and produce truly white wine from red wine grapes.
Even as Champenois moved towards producing sparkling wines, they continued to produce both sparkling and still rosés often by means of blending a small amount of red wine to “color up” an already made white wine. The depth of color was dependent on the amount red wine added with the red wine having more influence on the resulting flavor of the wine if added in larger volumes.
AFTER WORLD WAR II
The history of rosé would take a dramatic turn following the conclusion of World War II when two Portuguese wine producer families both released sweet, slightly sparkling rosés to the European and American markets. These wines, Mateus and Lancers, would go to set record sales in Europe and the US and dominate the Portuguese wine industry for most of the 20th century but their popularity has declined in the recent years of the 21st century. While they still have a presence in the European and US markets, the trend towards traditional, drier rosés as well as the development of American “blush” wines like White Zinfandel have cut into their market shares.
In the early 1970s, demand for white wine exceeded the availability of white wine grapes, so many California producers made “white” wine from red grapes, in a form of saignée production with minimal skin contact, the “whiter” the better. In 1975, Sutter Home’s “White Zinfandel” wine experienced a stuck fermentation, a problem in which the yeast dies off before all the sugar is turned to alcohol. Winemaker Bob Trinchero put it aside for two weeks, then upon tasting it he decided to sell this pinker, sweeter wine.
In 1976, wine writer Jerry D. Mead visited Mill Creek Vineyards in Sonoma County, California. Charles Kreck had been one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon vines in California, and offered Mead a wine made from Cabernet that was a pale pink and as yet unnamed. Kreck would not call it “White Cabernet” as it was much darker in color than red grape “white” wines of the time, yet it was not as dark as the rosés he had known. Mead jokingly suggested the name “Cabernet Blush”, then that evening phoned Kreck to say that he no longer thought the name a joke. In 1978 Kreck trademarked the word “Blush”.The name caught on as a marketing name for the semi-sweet wines from producers such as Sutter Home and Beringer. Today, Blush wine appears on wine lists more often as a category, rather than a specific wine. In 2010 Mill Creek produced a rosé wine for the first time in years, although Jeremy Kreck (Charles’ grandson and current winemaker) chose not to use the Blush name.
Although “blush” originally referred to a color (pale pink), it now tends to indicate a relatively sweet pink wine, typically with 2.5% residual sugar; in North America dry pink wines are usually marketed as rosé but sometimes as blush. In Europe, almost all pink wines are referred to as rosé regardless of sugar levels, even semi-sweet ones from California. As the term rosé regain popularity in the US market, shares of wine labeled “blush” declined from 22% of all wines consumed in the US in 1997 to 15% in 2003.
In the United States a record 2005 California crop has resulted in an increased production and proliferation of varietals used for rosés, as winemakers chose to make rosé rather than leave their reds unsold.
Rosés can be produced in a variety of ways with the most common method being early pressing of red grape varieties after a very short period, usually 12–24 hours, of skin-contact (maceration). During maceration, phenolics such as the anthocyanins and tannins that contribute to color as well as many flavor components are leached from the skins, seeds and any stems left in contact with the must. In addition to adding color and flavor, these phenolics also serve as antioxidants, protecting the wine from degradation of oxygen exposure. While red wines will often have maceration last several days to even several weeks, the very limited maceration of rosés means that these wines will have less stable color, potential flavor components and oxygen protection. This contributes to wines with shorter shelf-life that are meant to be consumed soon after release.
The saignée (French for “bleed”) method is the practice of removing (“bleeding off”) some of the juice from the must in order to more deeply concentrate the phenolics, color and flavor the red wine. It has a long history of use in the French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy but wasn’t always used for rosé production. For some red winemakers, the juice bleed off is simply poured down the drain or used as “topping wine” to fill the ullage (the headspace of barrels and tanks) during storage. Its use in rosé production is sometimes considered an after-thought, as a way to increase cash-flow by producing a second wine to a primary red wine that can be released much sooner and available to market. While many wineries have been able to produce critically acclaimed rosé using the saignée method, its use has provoked criticism from wine personalities such as François Millo, president of the Provence Wine Council (CIVP) who claim that saignée method rosés are “not true rosés.”
Unlike the maceration method which gives some, albeit very brief, time for the juice to be in contact with the skins vin gris are wines made from the immediate pressing of red skin grapes without any maceration time. Despite the name vin gris, the resulting juice is actually not grey but rather a very pale pink that is usually much lighter than traditionally made rosés using the limited maceration and saignée methods. Under French wine laws, wines labelled gris de gris must only be made from lightly tinted grape varieties such as Cinsault,Gamay and Grenache gris. The style is a specialty of the Lorraine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Côtes de Toul made from Gamay and in Morocco where the orange-pink wine is made from a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Another method of producing rosé that is to severely decolorize a red wine using absorbent charcoal such as activated carbon. This purer form of charcoal obtained by the dry distillation of carbon compounds (such as wood or peat) has a high ratio of surface area to weight that absorbs color compounds as well as other phenolics and colloids in a wine. While it can be used to decolorize a wine, often much more than just color is stripped from the wine which makes this method very rarely used in the production of quality rosés.
With the exception of very few varieties, known as teinturiers, most wine grapes produce clear or colorless juice. This includes such well known red wine grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir. The color in red wine comes from phenolics in the skin called anthocyanins that react with other components in wine (such as tannins, acetaldehyde and pyruvic acid) to form polymeric pigments. The anthocyanins are extracted from the skin during the process of maceration which can last from a few hours in the case of some rosés (which usually only have 20–50 mg/l of anthocyanins) to several days in the case of most red wines (which often have in excess of 250 mg/l of anthocyanins).
Anthocyanins have the ability to change into three different forms—colorless, red and blue—depending on the pH/acidity levels of the solution they are in. At wine pH (typically 2.9-4.0), most of the grape anythocyanins are in the colorless form unless they have reacted with tannins or other molecules (such as tannins also extracted from the skin as well as grape seeds, stems and from oak wine barrels) to form a stabilized pigment. So producers wishing to make rosé work to not only limit the amount of anthocyanins extracted into the wine but also limit the wines exposure to tannins (either by less maceration time, gentle pressing of the grapes or use only stainless tanks instead of oak) as well as protective anti-oxidative winemaking techniques that limit the development of acetaldehyde and other browning pigments that could add color to the wine.
According to Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence in France, rosés in Provence display one of the different colors below:
Many studies have shown that the color of wine influences consumer’s perceptions about the wine. While these studies have shown that consumers tend to prefer on visual inspection the darker rosés, in blind taste test where color could not be visually discern (such as using black wine glasses), often consumers preferred the lighter-colored rosés.
For these reasons many rosé winemakers are mindful of the color quality of their rosé and make winemaking decisions based on this factor. This includes the extent of maceration, whether or not to do a saignee from a darker red wine and even to do a color adjustment by blending in some finished red wine in order to reach the desired color.
AROMAS AND FLAVORS
The aromas and flavor of rosés are primarily influenced by the particular grape varieties used to produce the wine but the method of production also plays an important part. The light, fruity character of many rosés come from volatile thiols that are found as flavor precursors in the grape skins. The most prominent of these is 3-mercaptohexanol-1-ol and 3-mercaptohenyl acetate. These are extracted from the grapes skin during maceration but are less likely to be extracted at temperatures before 20°C (68°F). So producers doing a “cold soak” maceration (with much lower temperature) to limit microbial and oxidative activity may extract less of these compounds. During fermentation, other flavor components such as the esters phenethyl acetate and isoamyl acetate also form and contribute to wine’s aromas.
The stability of these aromas is very dependent on the amount of anthocyanins and other phenolics that protect these compounds from oxidation. One of the reasons why rosés have such a very limited shelf-life is because of their low phenolic levels due to the very limited skin contact and extraction time. Usually within a year of production the levels of 3-mercaptohexanol-1-ol in the wine have dropped to half its fermentation levels with the presence of 3-mercaptohenyl acetate undetectable in most wines. This is why most wine experts recommend that rosés are consumed as soon after release as possible.
An orange wine, also commonly known as amber wine, is a type of wine made from white wine grape varieties that have spent some maceration time in contact with the grape skins. Orange wines get their name from the darker, slightly orange tinge that the white wines receive due to their contact with the coloring pigments of the grape skins. This winemaking style is essentially the opposite of rosé production which involves getting red wine grapes quickly off their skins, leaving the wine with a slightly pinkish hue.
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