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Rosé Rules

It may have been around for centuries, but it has never been more popular than it is today. Rosé has come of age.

No longer just the sugary, simple wine-with-training wheels of the past (think blush wine), rosé wines now come in a dazzling array of styles, from bone crunchingly dry, to boldly fruity, slightly tannic and of course, fizzy.  This flavour and style kaleidoscope has helped rosé vault to wine stardom, shattering widely held stereotypes along the way.

The stats are truly impressive:  a recent study suggests that rosé defies gender, age, geography and price, and it’s the fastest growing segment in the wine world.  In 2014 global rosé production represented almost 10% of all still wine made, topping 24 million hectolitres, which is a whopping 266 million cases, or 3.1 billion bottles.  That’s 15.9 billion glasses of pink wine guzzled world-wide.  Rosé has become a lifestyle.

Even though it might seem like the new and popular kid on the block, pink wines have a long and colourful history.  It’s highly probable that reds made by Egyptians, Romans and Greeks were a dark rosé colour simply because in early winemaking the skin contact times were brief.  The colour of red wines comes from anthocyanins in grape skins, so the shorter the soaking time, the lighter the colour. In medieval times Bordeaux made a pale red called Clairette (giving us the word ‘claret’), and both Burgundy and Champagne made much-admired wines poetically called oeil de perdrix - eye of the partridge.

rose rules glass

Even if it’s impossible to know when the first pale pink wine was deliberately made, the Provençal who now largely dedicate themselves to making rosé, were early exponents.  Since 125 BC pale pink, dry and refreshing wine has been the signature of this hot and scrubby southern French region. Provence’s seven appellations sprawl over 65,000 acres and rosé wine is the focus. The style is defined by stringent rules that stipulate Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre, plus a handful of lesser-known local grape varieties.  But most importantly the production rules ensure that the wines taste dry.  This style has become the accepted archetype for proper rosé which means that, world-wide, pink is becoming more serious, structured, dry and crisp. The last few years have seen four countries dominate the pink-hued world: France, Spain, USA, and Italy.

There are three ways to make rosé wines:

  1. Blending: Rosé wines are typically made from red grapes, but blending red and white wine to get the right hue is one technique.  It takes a just a little red added to a lot of white (the proportion is about 5% of the total), and it’s not common for any wine except sparkling wines.  Some classic champagnes have a little non-bubbly pinot noir added until the perfect hue is achieved.  Try de Venoge or Ruinart rosé champagnes.
  1. Bleeding off some lightly coloured juice when making reds is called the saignée method (say san-yay). This allows you to make two wines from one batch of grapes. Say you are making pinot noir, and you want to kick up the colour and flavour concentration of that pinot. If you bleed off some juice after a few hours of skin contact, then you change the ratio of skin to juice and pulp, and thus intensify that wine. The ‘bled’ off juice is run into a tank and fermented as rosé, and voila, two wines from the same batch of grapes.
  1. Maceration (short duration skin contact), where red grapes soak for 1-3 days before the juice alone is fermented. The best pinks of the world are made from purpose-grown fruit with minimal skin contact, just a few hours is needed to achieve a powder puff-pink hue like Provence Rosé.

British Columbia’s winemakers have leapt into the fray with gusto, making rosé wines with grapes from Cabernet to Zweigelt.  By the way, any red grape will do, but the classic choices for pinks are Grenache and Syrah, Pinot Noir, Gamay and, in a nod to rosés from Anjou, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Consider joining rosé fans – like Drake, Brangelina and Jay-Z – and drink rosé year round. It’s a global trend that’s been building for several years, and keeping up with it offers untold pleasure.

*Cover image by Megan Cole via Flickr. Image cropped for style.

*Rosé glass image by Iamdogjunkie via Flickr.

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