Types of Wine: Rosé

In honor of International Rosé day, lets talk about pink wine—that’s what the word means in French, pinkish. In modern times, pink wine has been associated with either cheap and cheerful sparkling wine from Portugal (Mateus) or quite sweet ‘blush’ wines like White Zinfandel, invented in the USA when a Winemaker in California had some pink juice wind up very sweet from a stuck fermentation. He tasted it and decided he could probably sell a lot of it—and he was right. By 1997 22% of all wine sold in the USA was labeled ‘blush’! So much of it was sold that it pretty much saved Zinfandel as a varietal, which was in danger of being pulled out in favor of sexier and cooler grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon.

But Rosé can be a lot more than cheerfully fizzy or sticky-sweet. Because it has the refreshing drinkability of a white wine along with the more complex flavours and aromas that come from red grapeskins, it not only drinks great from the ice bucket on the patio, it also stands up well to a wide variety of foods and flavors.

Rosé in History

Rosé also has a very long history as the ‘original’ red wine. Modern red wines are terrifically red because they are processed with extended skin contact, sometimes with enzymes that help break down the skin material to release colour, and they’re pressed with an efficiency that would astound our winemaking ancestors, who made do with crushing by foot or hand and pressing in sacks or with primitive presses. It was known that extended skin contact and hard pressing would make a darker, more intense wine, but this was considered a flaw, all the way from the ancient Greek winemakers to the middle ages. Indeed, England’s famous love for Claret was for a pale pink wine, and anything darker than that was sold at lower prices!

Even the original Champagne was pink, albeit a very pale shade. It wasn’t until the late 1600’s that truly white Champagne was made.

How Rosé is Made

There are several ways to make pink wine from red grapes. The most common is to crush red grapes and press them after a very short time—less than a day. This allows some of the color, aroma, tannin, and flavour from the skins to infuse the juice, which is pressed off and fermented. With zero skin contact, red grapes that are pressed right away get a pale pink color that the French Call Vin Gris. While the word means ‘grey’, the wines are still pink—just very light.

Rosé can also come from a process called saignée, which is literally the French word for ‘bloodletting’. When a red fermentation looks like it won’t have enough color, a portion of the juice is run off to raise the ratio of skin-to-juice and ensure a dark wine. The saignée portion is sometimes used as topping wine, or distilled as cheap alcohol, but it can be diverted to making a quick-drinking pink wine that can help boost the bottom line for a winery.

Blending is perhaps the easiest way to make a consistently pleasing pink wine. A base white wine, usually one with strong fruit and good acidity is blended with a much darker red. The percentage is usually quite low, less than 10%, but this is enough to give the rosé the backbone of flavour and aroma that set it apart from whites.

Making Your Own Rosé

You can buy a rosé wine kit and they’re quite delicious, although most of them range from sweet to very sweet indeed. There’s nothing wrong with that if you enjoy the richness of a sweet wine, but if you’re looking for something a little firmer and more serious, or if you just don’t have a sweet tooth for wine, blending is the best way to make your own. You’ll get exactly the color and flavour you want, and you can even sweeten it if you like.

The added benefit of making your own rosé from wine is already in your cellar is that you can make as much or as little as you want. If you already have a great candidate white (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or any other fruity, crisp white) you’ll only need a maximum of about 10% of that volume to make up your own pink blend. With wine you have on hand, you can whip up a custom-blended rosé any time you want!

You’ll want to choose a red that has good flavour and color: if you’ve got an extremely oaky red, like an Australian Shiraz or such, it might work out all right, but very heavily oaked notes in a pink wine can be a bit off-putting. Tannins are fine though: they’re just what the white needs.

Note that the wines you’re blending need to be clear, stable, sulfated and bottle-ready: the blend is the final step before corking.

Running a Bench Trial

Bench trials are the process of adjusting small samples of your wine so you can do a whole bunch at once, and then scale it up for the amount you want to make. You can compare any number of adjustments against one another and pick the one that works for you.

If you’re from one of the two countries on earth that doesn’t use the metric system, brace yourself: you really should learn a bit about volume measurements in metric. Not because they’re the standard, but because they make the math ever so much easier to work out in a blend.

Don’t worry though: you don’t need to run out and buy flasks and cylinders marked off in milliliters. You can use your measuring cups and spoons at home and get a decent result. Your measuring cup might be marked off in ml as well as cups. If it is, you’re in. If it isn’t, 1/5 of a cup is 50 ml. Two of those is one hundred ml and you’ve got the basis of your bench trial. Measure up three or four wine glasses with 100 ml of your white wine base in each. Take your red wine, and if you have a syringe or pipette marked off in ml, start off by making five milliliters additions to the white samples, double that in the next one, triple in the next, until you’re at 20 ml in the last glass.

No syringe? A baking teaspoon measure is just about 5 ml. A tablespoon is 15 ml.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be happy with just 5 ml, and almost certain that 20 ml will be too much, but it depends entirely on your red wine. If the sweet spot is somewhere in between two of the wines you’re adjusting, go ahead and split the difference.

Once you have a ratio established, you can now blend up your full batch: if it’s 10 ml per 100, then you’ll need 100 ml of red per liter of wine, or about 75 ml per bottle. Blend up your whole batch and bottle immediately. Let it rest a few days to get over the shock of being agitated and corked, and then go ahead and enjoy the delicious pinkness!