Techniques for Making Rosé Wine
by Mike Potashnik, PhD
What is rosé wine and how is it made? How do winemakers get that attractive pink color typical of rosé wines? Why are some rosé wines fruity and sweet while others are bone dry? What are the main challenges in making top quality rosé?
Rosé wine isn’t simply defined by color, according to Emile Peynaud, France’s famed enologist. It is an intermediate style of wine between red and white. From red wine rosé takes the original grape variety or varieties (e.g. Grenache, Syrah, Cinsalut, Mouvedre, Agiorgitiko) and a small amount of color or anthocyanins from the grape skin. From white wine, it gets its light character, fruitiness, and vinification techniques. Thus, some rose wines are similar to reds in terms of color and body in having a high concentration of anthocyanins and body resulting from malolactic fermentation. Others are more like white wines, having undergone less extraction, have more freshness and retain their malic acid.
Winemakers use two main techniques in producing rosé wine:
Maceration: In this technique, red-skinned grapes are essentially produced like white wine. The grapes are crushed and the juice and skin are macerated (kept in contact with each other) for a period long enough to extract the desired amount of color or anthocyanins. The juice is then separated from the skins (usually by pressing and draining) and is fermented like white wine. Fermentation usually takes place in stainless steel tanks in cold temperature to maintain freshness. Fermentation is done to total dryness or some residual sugar retained for a semi-dry style in most instances malolactic fermentation is avoided, or only partially done. In a few instances winemakers will store rosé wine in neutral barrels for a brief period to gain added roundness, but this technique is relatively rare.
Saignée: In this technique a portion of free run pink juice is run off or bled from just-crushed red grapes after a short partial or pre-fermentation maceration (usually 12 to 24 hours) to extract primary aromas and color. The juice is then separated from the skins, fermented in tank in cold temperature and bottled. This process is often a bi-product of winemaking that attempts to increase the concentration of phenolics and flavor compounds of red wine that results from the bleeding of juice from the tank.
There is a third method used in making rosé champagne which is called blending.
This method involves adding a small portion of finished red wine to a white base wine to make a pink colored wine. This method is outlawed in France and other countries for making rosé still wine, however.
What are the main challenges in making top notch rosé? They are much the same as producing a fine white wine. First, the winemaker needs to have a light touch, handling the fruit gently, pressing lightly shortly after harvest searching for rich bright flavors and nuances of spicy notes, and achieving balance between freshness and complexity. Winemakers serious about producing top flight rosé give attention to all of these challenges and their wines show it.