As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, nothing is more appealing than sitting out in the sunshine with a glass of your favourite refreshing drop in hand.
Synonymous with hot, hazy days and perfect for picnics, outdoor parties and long brunches, rosé is this season’s biggest trend. Its vibrant colour and hallmark flavours of strawberries and cream make it the ideal accompaniment to spring and summer afternoons spent relaxing with friends.
So where does this pretty pink drop come from and how is it made?
Despite the French name, the origins of this varietal are believed to stretch all the way back to the ancient Greeks. After founding a settlement in Marseille in 600 BC, the Greeks started to utilise their extensive knowledge of viticulture to create a red wine that was pale in colour. Following the Roman takeover of the region in 125 BC, much darker wines began to be produced in the region, yet Grecian ‘rosé’ remained popular.
Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, and the monks of Marseille continued the tradition of crafting ‘rosé’ style wines as a source of revenue for the abbeys. Outside of France, ‘rosé’ started to become popular in the 1800s, as the British market preferred paler wines from Bordeaux made with cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. Therefore, although the exact date that the first bottle of rosé was given this name is unknown, the style of wine is likely one of the earliest in existence.
Although the image that comes to mind when talking about rosé is of a translucent, dusty pink hue, the colour of the drop can actually range from a pale orange to a vivid almost purple colour. This variation comes from the four different vinification processes: maceration, direct pressing, the Saignée method and blending.
The maceration process is used for most commercial rosés. Once harvested, washed and destemmed, the grapes are pressed and left to soak in their skins for two to 20 hours at a cool temperature. The amount of time the grapes are left to sit with their skins is dependent on the grape variety. For example, Grenache grapes can take 24 hours whilst darker varieties rest for only a few hours. Once the winemaker is satisfied with the rosé colour, they separate the skins from the juice by opening up a filter at the bottom of the tank to drain, or ‘bleed’, the juice into the fermentation tank.
In direct pressing, vin gris or ‘grey wine’ is produced as the skins of the red grapes have shorter contact time with the juice. Straight after the harvesting, cleaning and de-stemming process, the grapes are pressed, and the juice moved into the fermentation chamber. The resulting rosé is a nearly white colour.
The Saignée method is used to create a much darker rosé that is often more savoury than the wines produced by the two other methods. This style of rosé production is not without its controversy, with then president of the Provence Wine Council in 2012, François Millo, labelling Saignée method rosés as ‘not true rosé’ and a ‘bad way of making’ the drop. Regardless, many enjoy the wines produced via this method, as they are often bolder than other rosé styles.
Saignée rosés are actually the byproduct of red winemaking. During the red wine fermentation process, about ten per cent of the juice is ‘bled’ off. This leftover juice is collected and then fermented to produce rosé.
Finally, the blending method is the most common style used to craft sparkling rosés. The blush wine is created by adding a little
bit of red wine to a vat of white wine. Because it doesn’t take much red wine to colour a white wine pink, winemakers usually only add in around 5 – 15 per cent of red wine. One brand known to use this technique for their Champagne rosé is Champagne Taittinger. The blending process is more complex and costly to produce due to the use of high- quality grapes for this delicate, finely balanced Champagne that underpins Taittinger’s signature style. To give the cuveé its intense shimmering hue, a quantity of red wine (15%) produced from the best Pinot Noirs from Montagne de Reims and Les Riceys is added to the final blend. The high proportion of Chardonnay (30%) that completes the blend is key for producing wines of great elegance and nesse.