Sounds more exciting than “vinified pink”, don’t you think? As promised, it’s time to talk about winemaking and I thought rosé would be a fun place to start.
Let’s back up for a moment, though. Whether you start with grapes that look like this:
Or like this:
The juice and pulp of all grapes are clear, meaning the color in wine comes from the skins of the grapes.
If this is a new concept to you, it might be helpful to think about Champagne. The pink stuff aside, most of the Champagne we see on the market is white. Two of the three permitted grapes for Champagne production, however, are red (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). The winemakers are careful to quickly separate the liquid from the grape skins, preventing any color from being imparted into the juice.
So, what to do when you want wine whose color falls somewhere between a white and a red? Here are a few options:
1. A short maceration of the juice with the skins. For our purposes, you can think of maceration as skin contact. Technically speaking, it’s the extraction of phenolics (think tannins and flavoring compounds) from the grape skins, seeds and stem fragments into the juice and it’s affected by temperature, agitation and time. The soak usually lasts 2-3 days, depending on the style the winemaker is going for – the longer the skin contact, the more darkly colored the rosé will be. The skins are then discarded and fermentation proceeds as for a white wine.
2. The Saignée method – French for bled or bleeding the vats. In this process the winemaker will collect free-run juice from just-pressed dark-skinned grapes after a short, prefermenation maceration. Coincidentally, this concentrates the remaining red wine, imparting more tannin and color because the ratio of liquid to grape solids has been reduced through bleeding the vats.
3. Blending. This is just as it sounds – blending finished red wine into finished white wine. You’ll get a pink wine, but you won’t get the nuances achieved through maceration. Believe it or not, Champagne is one of the few controlled appellations where this is allowed. I guess the thought is that the second fermentation and resulting carbonation will provide enough interesting character to the rosé.
I’ve also read that pink wines can be made by using charcoal treatments to remove the color from red wine. This makes me a little suspicious – if the winery doesn’t want to sell it as red wine, why would I want to drink it pink?