Welcome to More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Rosé
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If there’s nothing else that you’re able to take away from all the very many words below, may we request that just THIS makes it: the majority of Rosé is DRY. Not Sweet. Seriously, of the 25-30 rosés we stock in the shop each summer, only 1 or 2 has any residual sugar (and sometimes not enough for anyone to notice). Yet this remains, surprisingly, the most-asked question we get about picking out a pink wine. “Which of these is dry?” And, when we answer “all but this one” we get skeptical looks.
Perhaps a little science would help?
There are 3 methods of making rosé:
The Maceration Method, wherein the winemaker crushes the grapes and lets the juice sit on the skins for a short period of time, several hours as opposed to the few days/weeks when making red and white wines. Color and oftentimes a touch of tannin (biomolecules found in the skins of red grapes) are imparted to the rosé, as suits the winemaker’s preference. Sometimes they’ll let the juice run off right away, as the grapes are pressed, for an even lighter version (this option is called Direct Press).
Of less common use is the Saignée (sahn-yay) Method, where a winemaker bleeds a little juice off a vat of crushed red grapes in the first few hours of ferment, in order to concentrate flavor in the eventual finished wine. With this method rosé can be seen as a sort of by-product of winemaking, rather than the main attraction. Saignée is mostly used in California, where they like their reds big and beefy.
Lastly, and only used in the Champagne region really, is the Blending Method. Just like it sounds, a small amount of red wine is blended into a white wine base. Most fancy sparkling rosés from France use a Chardonnay base with Pinot Noir blended in.
All of these methods however rely on a universal fact. If the fruit isn’t quality, the wine won’t be either. Rosé isn’t a “cheaper” wine to make, or something for the winemaker to do with their bad juice that will somehow make it drinkable. Bad wine comes from poorly grown and handled grapes. Making it pink won’t magically solve that. It follows then that huge wineries who make industrial-tasting red and white wines, are also going to make an industrial-tasting rosé. In your glass this will taste thin, without complexity or fruit or mouthfeel. It will taste out of balance or just plain boring. Precisely the way a poorly made red or white wine will.
What we love about rosé is that it offers us the best of both worlds. It’s crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but can have the texture and complexity of the red grapes that it comes from. We’ve seen juicy Mencia, spicy Sangiovese, salty Gamay, and earthy Pinot Noir. The expressions are as vast as the juice vinified to be red or white wine.
Additionally, rosé offers winemakers a chance to start earning from their yield as soon as 6 months after harvest, as rosés don’t need to stabilize or age as long as reds and whites (yes, I’m suggesting that you drink rosé as a means to support small farmers). As buyers we start seeing tank samples as early as February, with snow still on the ground. We can decide which rosés we want to dedicate our shelf space to each year. They aren’t made in huge, age-able quantities, so we have to commit early on to which ones we think are going to really shine. Our options are as reliant on grape varietal, terroir, and vintage as any other wine choices we make. While the style has come to be known by its French name “rosé,” it’s made in all wine-making regions from all kinds of grapes. Whether it’s rosé, Rosato, or Rosado though, the quantities are limited. Hence the abundance starting to fade from shelves and restaurant lists sometime in late fall, the frenzy calming to a gentle pink simmer.
That said, if you find a rosé you really love, grab an extra bottle and hang on to it until the depths of winter, or even the next season. We’ve had a couple of 2019 bottles that we’ve actually enjoyed more at the beginning of this summer than last. Sometimes their acidity will stay tightly coiled until a little more time in the bottle. Then when they finally unfurl it’s like a fireworks show on your palate. Watch (by which we mean taste) how a rosé changes as it bottle-ages, and revel in the fact that you stashed away a little twinkle of summer for your coldest day. Pro-tip: Mary takes a bottle of her favorite rosé from the season up to her cottage at the end of summer and leaves it there. So when the next rolls around and they’re bringing out the beach chairs again, they have a little time capsule of last year’s sunshine waiting for them.