Those in the know will tell you that rosé is “white wine made with red-skinned grapes,” but that’s not the whole story. Rosé satisfies several useful functions for winemakers.
Making red wine in the cooler winemaking regions of the world is a challenge. When sunshine is at a premium and the summer is characterized by poor weather, winemakers at harvest time will find they have too much juice, and not enough depth in the skins to impart the color and flavor red wine demands. The fix will be to remove some of the juice before fermentation to rebalance the red wine’s components. This is the saignée (pronounced “sohn-yay”) method of rosé production, and the juice that is bled off will have an appealing pink color. It’ll not go to waste—and form the basis of the winery’s rosé.
In warmer winemaking regions, most of the grapes are red wine varieties, probably because of the photoprotection qualities offered by the pigmentation. A key feature of red wine making is that the grape juice is fermented in the presence of the grape skins whereas for white wine, the skins are removed before fermentation. Fermentation derives from the Latin word meaning fever; the process of fermentation produces two solvents, heat and alcohol, which act on the cellular structure of the grape skins. Heat and alcohol will extract from the grape skins color, tannins and other components that are welcome in red wine. If the skins are removed from the juice before fermentation begins, the wine, whether pink or not, will smell, feel and taste like white wine.
Grapes are now grown with this crisp, fresh style of the rosé in mind. They are picked early to retain the acidity in the fruit, to make the wine thirst-quenching, and to moderate alcoholic strength. After fermentation, winemakers will stabilize and clarify the wine, bottle it and put it on sale just as summer comes into view.
And that’s the third service rosé performs for the winery. Unlike red wine, which will need to be aged, possibly in expensive wooden barrels for a period of up to three years, rosé goes on sale immediately. Rosé is the wine the bank manager likes: It’s the wine that drives cashflow.
Wine Challenge No.3
Take three wine glasses, and with a sharpie—it’ll wash off—number each glass on the base. Pour a glass of your favorite rosé into glass No.1 and place it in the refrigerator. After two hours, pour the rosé into glass No.2 and place it in the refrigerator. After another hour, pour glass No.3 and remove the others from the refrigerator. Taste all three side-by-side. How does temperature affect the character of the wine?
In saratoga living‘s 20th Anniversary issue, we introduced you to native Londoner William Roach, the Wine Director at Putnam Market’s Wine Room on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, who provided you with 20 incredible pieces of wine knowledge that he learned throughout his 20 years in the business—and has taught many a connoisseur-in-the-making (he holds a level four diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust). This is his weekly column. (Read last week’s here.)