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Deconstructing Wine: Rosé

As Gertrude Stein said, “Rosé is rosé is rosé is rosé.” (Who knew she was such a fan?)

Rosé, in a way that no one could ever have predicted, has become a cultural symbol. It represents “the good life.” It embodies vitality, happiness, and a carefree attitude. It’s fashionable. It’s relaxed. It’s not stuffy. And it represents instant gratification—both in the way it’s made and the immediate enjoyment you get after opening the bottle: no need for decanting, contemplating, or savoring. Down that puppy and get onto your second glass, already!

Rosé means social gatherings, a posh lifestyle, and a sense of being part of the “in” crowd. But best of all, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a bottle to feel like you’re part of it all. In this way, this part of the “wine world” is taken down from its lofty pedestal: no longer is it meant only for the upper crust lounging in the Hamptons—it’s a viable option for anyone.

Americans are still learning how to work wine into an “everyday lifestyle.” We don’t yet think of wine as a deep part of our culture or our day-to-day routine. We save it for special occasions, and we’re more apt to drink wine on its own rather than alongside a casual dinner table meal. Rosé meets us in this place, because while it’s one of the most versatile wines out there in terms of food pairing, it’s just fine on its own. It gives the flavor, refreshment, and satisfaction we seek from gastronomical experiences all on its own.

Perhaps in northern lands like Minnesota, rosé holds an especially dear place in wine drinkers’ hearts. Our winters are longs. They’re bone-chillingly cold and dreary, and the natural inclination is for people to hunker down and hibernate until the land starts to thaw. Rosé is vibrant, cheerful, and fresh. It represents the end of winter and the beginning of a warmer season. It’s no wonder our eyes light up and our mouths burst into toothy grins when we see a new slew of bottles hit the shelves.

In this Deconstruction, we’ll be digging into the nuances of this insanely popular wine. Though it might all look like the same shade of pink, there are several different styles and production methods within the world of rosé. In today’s curious and inquisitive wine culture, we realize that there’s more than meets the eye—and palate—in this ever-expanding category.

Of the hundreds of various grapes, regions, and styles rosé is made from and in, there are really only three ways to make it. You can directly press your grapes, you can macerate and bleed them, or you can blend white and red juice together (which isn’t very common, except in sparkling wine). Let’s start off by taking a look at the most common (and some would argue, most popular) place and style for rosé: Provence.

Rosé from Provence retains an extremely similar style year after year. Winemakers use a painter’s palette of different red grapes, which allows them to blend and fashion their wine to their (and the market’s) liking, fairly regardless of how good or bad the growing season was. Grape varieties used include Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, and a slew of other lesser-known southern French grapes. The famous (and expensive) Chateau Simone uses 9 different varieties in their rosé!

Triennes Rose 2016

Provencal Rosé: Triennes Rosé

SIGHT: The first noticeable thing about most Provencal rosé is, well, its lack of color. Think of the palest shade of ballet-slipper-pink you can–that’s the color in your glass. Some call it salmon, some call it peach, but whatever it is, it’s barely there!

SMELL: The smells of this Triennes are almost as delicate as its hue. Shy little notes of strawberry tart, fresh watermelon cut close to the rind, yellow melon, and a slightly steely mineral note are some of what’s detectable on the nose.

TASTE: Freshly picked white peach, lemon zest, barely-ripe strawberry, and a splash of cranberry juice come through on the palate. Take note of the structure of this wine: the body is medium-light, the acidity is medium-high, the alcohol is moderate, and the finish on the wine lingers for a while on your tongue. A perfect example of pink wine from Provence!

Provencal rosé is so light because the grapes used for them come from vineyard plots which ripen much earlier than most others. Winemakers use the direct press method of production. As soon as the grapes come into the winery, they’re dumped into a vat and immediately pressed to release a clear, pale juice that sees very little skin contact and thus, not much coloring. We’re also left with a fresh, light taste and texture from using this method because the pigment, tannin and flavor compounds in the skins aren’t allowed to blend into the juice. Direct press is the most commonly used method for making rosé—it’s easiest, fastest, and is the best way to give consumers the light, fruity style they’ve come to expect from rosé.

Saignée Method Rosé: Spell Rosé

SIGHT: The Spell definitely has more “pink” going on than in the last rosé. It has a slightly electric hue to it, and has a deeper concentration at its core than the Triennes did.

SMELL: Juicy, plump strawberries, candied cherries, and a hint of minerality come through on the nose. This wine is definitely riper and more voluptuous than the Triennes!

TASTE: Ripe raspberries, strawberries, and a slight citrus tang help to enliven the juicy, luscious fruit flavors that would otherwise weigh this wine down. It has a medium body, medium acidity, and we could even give this wine a medium-plus rating on the alcohol level! This is a great example of a New World rosé, where riper grapes are used for making rosé than what you’d normally find in Provence.

The saignée method (“sahn-yay”) for rosé production is where the grapes are crushed, the juice is left to mingle with the grape skins to gain color, flavor, acidity and tannin for anywhere from a few hours to half a day, and then the juice is drawn or filtered off of the skins. Also called maceration, this is a common method for winemakers making full-on red wines, but reserve part of their production for rosé in the process. Rosés made in this method are usually a touch fuller bodied, with more flavor, complexity, and sometimes greater aging potential because of what they gain from skin contact.

Raventos I Blanc De Nit Brut Rose 2014

Blended Rosé: Raventos i Blanc “de Nit” Brut Rosé

SIGHT: The shade of this sprightly wine is almost identical to the Triennes, except for one thing, of course: the bubbles! Its pretty pale pink robe has a long, thin stream of tiny, constant bubbles running through the center of it.

SMELL: Along with fresh fruit notes of red berries, blood orange, and cranberry, this sparkling wine has a beautiful nose of dried flowers and a hint of herbs running around in the background.

TASTE: This rosé Cava is linear, precise, and streamlined. The carbonation (which comes from a traditional secondary bottle fermentation–same as how it’s done in Champagne) helps to lift the already-bright flavors of tangerine, raspberry and orange peel. We’ll say that the acidity on this wine is medium-high, the alcohol is moderate, and the body is medium.

It’s not a very common practice in making still (non-carbonated) rosé wines to blend white and red juice together, although you would think it’d be the easiest. The only time this happens regularly is in the making of sparkling rosé wines—particularly in Champagne and other parts of Europe. In these instances, the winemaker will usually make the sparkling wine from clear juice (from red and/or white grapes), and then add a bit of still red wine to it at the end in order to give it a pink color. Raventos i Blanc, the oldest producers in Spain’s Penedes region, make their base sparkling wine with the usual Cava grapes: Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada. The last step of winemaking for the de Nit is to add about 8% Monastrell, a hearty red wine, for that fresh pink color and a beautiful, rounded, fruit flavor.

Who can say where rosé will be in five years? And to be frank, who cares? The heart and soul of rosé wine is that it’s meant to be drunk in the here and now—it’s a wine of the moment, meant for immediate enjoyment. Some have said that rosé is the “Beaujolais nouveau” of the new millennium, meaning that it’s not a wine of a serious nature. But is it meant to be? There are definitely a few rosés out there that are made with a more serious, contemplative tone—but the style the world has fallen in love with is that of a joyous, indulgent, gratifying nature.

Every wine has their time and place, and it’s clear that rosé’s time is now… and the place? In your glass, of course.