Ever Wonder How Rosé is Made?

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Spring-time is a great time to start enjoying Rosé. It’s bright fruit flavors and wonderful acidity makes a nice chilled rosé very thirst quenching. And its bright pink hue just seems to go with all the beautiful blooms of the season. But, you may wonder how the color of this wine is achieved.

Rosé is made from red wine grapes.  But, it's made in the traditional white wine making process. Hence, the process can be a bit confusing. 

So, first, realize that all juice from wine grapes, whether from red grapes or white grape, is nearly clear. And, all the color in a finished wine comes from the skin of the grapes, not from the juice.

With that in mind, rosé wines are made in a couple different ways.

Maceration is the most common method used. The word 'Maceration' literally means to soften by soaking. And in the case of rosé production, it means to allow the grape skins to soak in the grape's juice. For rosé, the red wine grape skins spend limited time (2-24 hours) soaking with the juice. Just enough to give it its pink color.

The Saignèe ("San-yay") method allows the grapes to be crushed under their own weight and the 'free run' juice is collected.  Since this juice spends such little time in contact with the red grape skins, the resulting color is light pink.

Regardless of the method used, rosés can be dry or sweet. Typically, rosés with alcohol levels around 8 or 9 percent are going to be quite sweet.  In the 11 to 12 percent range, they will be mid-range between sweet and dry. And, above 12 percent it's going to be dry. So, check the label. The alcohol level must always be shown.

And, remember, with rosé wines they should be enjoyed young (within two years of its vintage) while they still have their bright fruit flavors and crisp acidity, and they should be served cold.


How are Rosé Wines Made?

There seems to be a lot of information and some misinformation out there about the production of rosé wine. I'm not sure why this topic is so complicated or confusing. Rosé is quite simple and such a simple pleasure. So, let's take a look at how rosé is made.

Rosé is made from red wine grapes.  But, it's made in the traditional white wine making process. Hence the confusion.  So, first, realize that all juice from wine grapes, whether from red grapes or white grape, is nearly clear. And, all the color in a finished wine comes from the skin of the grapes, not from the juice.

So with that in mind, rosé wines are made in one of the following ways:

  • Maceration -- This process is the most common method used in the production of rosé wines. The word 'Maceration' literally means to soften by soaking. And in the case of wine production, it means to allow the grape skins to soak in the grape's juice. With red wine, the juice spends a lot of time (weeks) soaking with the grape's dark purple skin that gives red wine its deep color.  In the production of white wines, maceration is avoided. But for rosé, the red wine grape skins spend some limited time soaking with the juice, but not to the extent of red wine production. As a matter of fact, the juice gets very little time in contact with the grape skins. Usually a matter of 2 to 24 hours.  Once the winemaker achieves the desired color they are looking for, the juice is separated from the grape skins and allowed to ferment in a separate tank. For rosé, this is typically a stainless steel tank that is chilled in order to maintain the freshness of the juice.
  • Saignèe ("San-yay") -- While somewhat similar to maceration, this method allows the grapes to be crushed under their own weight and the 'free run' juice is collected.  Since this juice spends little time in contact with the red grape skins, the resulting color is light pink.  Some argue that this is the highest quality rosé because it is the most pure.  Others consider this just a bi-product of red wine production since the remaining grapes and juice go on to become a more highly concentrated red wine.  Regardless, the rosé juice yielded from this process is separated, fermented in stainless steel tanks and kept at cool temperatures to preserve its freshness.
  • Blending -- While this is a process that yields pink wine, it is highly frowned upon and outlawed in France and several other countries.  This method uses mostly white wine that is blended with just a touch of red wine, resulting in a pink wine.  This method is certainly not used in most rosés.

Regardless of the method used, rosés can be dry or sweet. As previously mentioned, one key to finding a dry rosé is the alcohol level. But, rosés can also vary by grape type:

  • Dry Rosés -- Below are listed some of the most common dry rosé wine varieties, used alone or in a blend:
    • Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, Pinot Noir
  • Sweet Rosés -- Like any wine, rosé wine can be made sweet by not fermenting all the natural sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. So, if you are looking for a sweet rosé, these are typical examples:
    • White Zinfandel, White Merlot, Pink Moscato

Always remember with rosé wines that they should be enjoyed young (within two years of its vintage) while they still have their bright fruit flavors and crisp acidity, and they should be served cold.

One way or the other, give rosé wines another try. Cheers!


Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Sobon Estate Rosé ($12)

This is a nice dry rosé from Amador County, Ca.  This rosé is made from 96% Grenache grapes and 4% Syrah. It is crisp, fruity and refreshing with a nice dry finish. Chill it and enjoy!