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The Many Roads that Lead to Rosé

The Many Roads that Lead to Rosé

Most easily stated, rosés are very light colored (pink) wines made from red grapes.  

Rosé aromas flavors tend toward the headier end of the scale – strawberry, melon, citrus, herbs, flowers, and rhubarb. Many of the grapes used for rosé production are picked early to retain acidity and before their full phenolic maturity when compounds in the skins soften to show roundness and ripeness. Even rosés made from very different grapes tend to have these same bright notes. 

Winemakers arrive at those beautiful hues through a number of means. The process used determines many aspects of the resulting wine. There are three main wine making styles for rosés and two outlying methods, vin gris and ramato, that result in pinks. 

Saignée Method

When making a red wine, the wine maker may remove or "bleeds off" some of the juice from the must of the skins and juice. The resulting bled juice is fermented into a rosé wine. The remaining must has higher concentration of solids to liquid and produces a richer red wine. 

For the winemaker, the byproduct, rosé, is pushed to market quickly (cash flow) and the red wine made is more robust (perceived as more desirable). 

Most saignée rosés tend to have a darker color and a few may have a slight tannin bite on the palate due to having a slightly longer skin contact and a bit more time fermenting as a red wine. 

J. Mourat Fief Vendéens Collection Rosé 2015

This blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Négrette, and Gamay Noir is the same as the Collection Rouge. In order to concentrate the flavors and colors of the red, Jérémie bleeds off some liquid at the beginning of fermentation and finishes vinifying that light colored must into a rosé that expresses strawberry, watermelon, and fresh herbs. 

Intentional Method

Grapes are purposefully picked to make a rosé wine. The fruit is usually picked a bit early to retain acidity and freshness. A very quick, 2 to 20 hour maceration with skins leads to the wine's color. The skins are removed from the juice and fermentation follows in the manner of a white wine. 

Intentional rosés are usually lighter in color than saignée method and they tend to have a etheral, bright palate.  

Matthiasson Rosé 2015

The Syrah, Grenache, Mouvèdre, and Counoise are whole-cluster pressed, allowed to settle in tank for 24 hours (during which the color is extracted), and then fermented and aged sur lees in stainless steel barrels. This wine is über pale and shows crisp mineralty, citrus zest, and peach. 

Blended Rosé

In 2009, after the protestations of winemakers in France and Italy, the EU prohibited making rosés by blending red and white wines. This method is considered a cheap way to produce these wines. The practice is allowed in the US, Australia, and South Africa. 

However, In Europe, the sole exception to this "inexpensive" method is for some of the most expensive of all rosés, sparkling wines. Adding still red to finished sparkling wine makes sense, however, because the méthode traditionelle, or mousse forming secondary fermentation, could lead to an oxided onion skin color if the winemaker started with a rosé base. 

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut Rosé Vintage 2010

Méthode Cap Classique is the South African name for secondary fermentation in bottle. This offering from Beck is a stunner and offers serious bang for the buck. The 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay is co-pressed and co-fermented (an oddity for South Africa). After the first (alcoholic) and the secondary fermentation (pris de mousse) that takes 3 years, a bit of still Pinot Noir wine is added to give the bubbles their blush.  

Vin Gris

To make a vin gris, literally gray wine, the winemaker processes fully ripened red grapes as though they were white grapes. Rather than allowing the grapes to macerate with their skins, the juice is pressed immediately from the grapes and the resultant wine is as pale as possible. 

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2015

Sinskey uses premium Pinot Noir grapes from Los Carneros, whole cluster presses, and begins a white wine vinification with no skin contact. This salmon colored wine is deeply flavored wiwith strawberries and just ripe peaches and nectarines overlayed with a lace of herbs.  


Mentioning Pinot Grigio seldom conjures up images of lightly red grapes, but the Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris grape is exactly that. The grape is a lightly colored genetic mutation of Pinot Noir; its other sibling, Pinot Blanc, is truly a white grape.  Most wine makers treat Pinot Grigio to a white wine making process, but if allowed to macerate with its skins for 24-36 hours, the wine takes on a bit of color and savory notes since it retains some anthocyanins. The Italian term ramato translates as copper or aburn; the French word for the wines made in this style is gris de gris

Cameron Pinot Gris Ramato 2014

This wine is serious business; it needs food. This Pinot Gris leans toward ripe white/gold raspberries and fennel. It is the perfect pairing for scallops with a savory butter sauce, paella, and salty country ham. The grapes are picked in mid to late October in one of the coolest regions of Oregon. The hang time and cool weather creates acids that allow this wine to age. 

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