Going Beyond the Bottle with Rosé

Jan. 14, 2019

Rosé header


This isn’t the first time we’ve covered rosé and it likely won’t be the last. We’ve talked trends, reviewed history, shared some facts and suggested some selling tips

But we haven’t covered production. What do the different winemaking techniques mean for the color? Does color indicate sweetness? There are many questions to be answered.

Let’s go beyond the bottle and learn more.

The Methods

There are many techniques that have been perfected over thousands of years to make rosé. Below are the three most commonly used today, but before we get into those, let’s define two keywords:

Maceration means to soften by soaking. In winemaking, the second the skin breaks from the grape, maceration starts. The grape skins sit in their own must, releasing the color, tannins and flavor that ultimately make the wine. 

Fermentation is the process of yeast transforming sugars in the grape into alcohol.

Technique 1: Direct Press

Grapes are crushed, typically as whole clusters, releasing just enough color to create a pale-colored juice. It is then fermented without any additional skin contact.

Technique 2: Partial Maceration

Grapes are crushed, and fermentation takes place on the grape skins anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days until the desired color is achieved. The juice is separated from the skins and the fermentation continues until the right alcohol level is met. 

Technique 3: Saignee - French for “to bleed” 

Similar to the partial maceration method, except this time, two wines are developed: a rosé and a red wine. Grapes are crushed and remain in contact with the skins for several hours, usually without fermentation, during the “cold soak” when the grapes take a chilly bath, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, for up to five days.

Some of the juice bleeds off and will undergo fermentation as a rosé, while the remaining will be fermented as a red wine, picking up more color than it would have had without the rosé wine created from the same batch.

The Color

Rosé maceration meter
Colors can range from a pale, peachy-orange to a very vivid, almost purple color depending on the technique and the grapes used. The longer the juice touches the grape skins, the darker the wine becomes.

The Sweetness

Rosés can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling, and with a wide range of sweetness from highly dry to sweet. Color has nothing to do with the dryness or sweetness when it comes to rosés. It’s all about the thickness/darkness of the grapes used and how long the grape skins are macerated.

The finished product in a rosé is usually dry but can be slightly off-dry. It should always be fruity and refreshing with medium to high acidity. Sweet versions are usually referred to as blushes.

Typically, the alcohol level will also give you a hint. If it’s 12% or higher, it’s technically dry, and If it’s anywhere between 9 to 11% it’s sweet.

Dry Rosé - not sweet, most common style
Pinot Noir 

Sweet Rosé
White Zinfandel 
White Merlot 
Pink Moscato

Geography Breakdown

According to Nielsen data, the top-selling rosé by country is France with 51% of the market, followed by the U.S. with 37% and Italy with 5%.

Here are the most popular rosé-producing regions:

Provence (Southern France)  
Tavel (Southern Rhone Valley, France)

Old World regions: 
Spanish Rosado 
Italian Rosato

New World regions: 
     o Oregon: Pinot Noir-based
     o CA & WA: varying grapes and styles; for dry versions, look for 12.5% alcohol or higher; for sweet 9-11%
Argentina: often Malbec-based
Chile: often Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah-based
New Zealand: Pinot Noir-based

If a rosé is Pinot Noir-based, you can offer that to a faithful red wine drinker and follow the same logic for a faithful white wine drinker. Rosé is a sturdy, beautiful bridge that all wine lovers can enjoy.

Realizing Rosé’s Potential 

One or two rosé options on a wine list or shelf is probably not enough. Take advantage of its popularity and offer a variety of styles from different regions and grapes. According to Nielsen, rosé took the lead in the fastest growth in the wine category with a 59% increase in value from the previous year. Rosé enthusiasts enjoy rotating through different versions, as well as comparing them with their friends.

Develop a rousing rosé section as it’s not a red, nor a white. Rosés are its own category. Consider building a rosé section with 6-15 different styles, or create rosé flights with three or four contrasting options. 

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