Before we even start to explain how rosé wines are made, we need to dispel a myth:
ROSÉ WINES ARE NOT MADE BY MIXING RED AND WHITE WINES.
Rosé wines are made of red grape varieties.
Most quality red grape varieties have red skins and white flesh.
In the Loire Valley the most usual varietal used for rosé wine is Cabernet, followed closely by Gamay. There are some varietals which are used just for rosé wines such as Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau.
The traditional way of making rosé wine in France came about with the need to “bleed” the red wines by removing the surplus juice just after bringing in the harvest. Say, about 24 hours after bringing in the harvest depending on the varietal and the year.
Once this surplus juice is removed the red wine remaining in the tank becomes more deeply coloured, stronger flavoured, and fuller-bodied.
The surplus juice is not deep enough in colour to be called a red wine so the name rosé wine became predominant.
There you have your rosé wine.
An alternative, modern way of making rosé is by putting the red grapes through the grape-press, just like white wines, and pressing them until there is just enough colour to put a blush on the wine.
Rosé wine made in this manner is called “gris” wine. The word “gris” in French means grey. This is not really considered to be “rosé” wine.
A second myth to be dispelled is that rosé wine is easy to make.
It is not.
It is probably the hardest wine to make of all.
It is extremely fragile.
Therefore, lots of things can go wrong.
As a general rule of thumb, rosé wines are generally not put through the malolactic fermentation. (The 2nd fermentation usually reserved for red wines).
However, rosé wine loves to catch the wine-maker out and do the malolactic fermentation all by itself before it can be stopped.
Another fragility is the wine turning the residual sugar into alcohol.
In many regions, Anjou being one, a small amount of residual sugar is left in the wine to make it softer on the palate. Rosé wines love turning this residual sugar into alcohol once the wines have been bottled and there is nothing you can do about it other than uncork all the bottles and wait until the wine settles down again.
In both cases, the wine-maker just sits it out.
However, the wines will never be top quality again. They will be “flat”.
When rosé wine is successfully made it is light on the palate and very easy to digest in hot climates. It is generally consumed relatively young.
For this reason, it is the main wine to accompany barbecues and grills, cold cuts, and salads. In fact, all summer dishes.
It goes down well in the autumn too with roast chestnuts.
First published September 2008