A rosé (from French: rosé (also used in Brazil), also known as rosado in Portugal and the 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 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 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.
Many of the earliest red wines produced in such notable wine regions as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne were “rosé-style” wines made from juice that had only brief periods of skin contact during winemaking. But even as the trend in these regions evolved towards more modern ideas of “red wines”, rosés still hold a prominent place in many of France’s major wine regions. Today rosé is produced throughout France from the cooler climate rosé Champagnes and Loire Valley wines to the warm Mediterranean influence climates of Provence and the southern Rhone Valley.
Rosés account for vast majority of Provence’s wine production, ranging from half to almost two thirds of all the wine produced in the region. The rosés of Provence are often known for their food and wine pairing matches with the local Mediterranean cuisine of the region, particularly the garlicky aioli sauces and tangy bouillabaisse stews that are the hallmark of Provencal cuisine.
Roses are also produced in Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal and a few other countries.
While there have been rosés made in the European style throughout the American winemaking history, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that “pink wines” became a truly significant segment of the American wine market. In what has been described by wine experts such as Jancis Robinson as a “marketing triumph”, California winemaker Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home salvaged a stuck fermentation of his 1972 red Zinfandel wine by releasing a paler, sweeter rosé colored wine that he labeled as “White Zinfandel”. Though he wasn’t the first Californian winemaker to make a white wine out of Zinfandel, he was the first to aggressively market it as a new wine style and Sutter Home saw sales of “White Zin” soar from 25,000 cases in 1980 to more than 1.5 million in 1986. The wine became so popular that it actually saved old vine Zinfandel plantings that were in danger of being uprooted and replanted with more “marketable” international varieties and even encouraged newer plantings.
The term “blush” also originated in the 1970s when wine writer Jerry Mead visited the Sonoma County winery Mill Creek Vineyards and sampled a pale, pinkish wine that the winery made from Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemaker was thinking of calling the wine “White Cabernet” but Mead suggested the term “blush” instead. However by the 1980s, white wines were still extremely popular among American consumers. Seizing on this interest, makers of sweeter “blush” style rosés began affixing the terms “white” or “blanc” to the varietal name on their wine labels anyways–White Zinfandel, Cabernet Blanc, White Merlot, etc. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, these sweeter blush wines saw tremendous popularity among American consumers but their numbers had started to decline by the turn of the 21st century falling from represent 22% of all the wines consumed in the US market in 1997 to 15% in 2003.
Today, White Zinfandels are considered part of the “blush wine” category of noticeably sweet, pale pink wines that often have very slight carbonation to give the wine a balance of acidity and some “liveliness”. Very often winemakers will blend aromatic varierties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Muscat to add to the fruity nose of the wine.