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The Different Styles of Rosé Wine

Who doesn’t love a great glass of rosé wine? It’s the beautiful, elegant and endlessly refreshing halfway-house between red and white, perfect on a summer’s day but equally good in the colder months as a wine to drink alongside your day. Produced in almost every wine country on earth, it has a history which stretches back through the centuries, and is beloved across the globe by those looking for the perfect thirst-quenching drink to share among friends.

However, despite the fact that rosé is once again enjoying its moment in the sun, it’s one of the wine styles which is mostly widely misunderstood. Where does it come from? How is it made? What’s the difference between the classic style of rosé, and those made in the saignée fashion? What foods and ingredients does it most comfortably pair with? All of these are commonly asked questions when it comes to rosé wine, and they’re questions which we’re going to attempt to answer here. So, fill your glasses with your favourite blush-coloured wines, sit back, and learn all about this rather wonderful style of vino.

Where does rosé come from?

Rosé wine is perhaps most commonly associated with the Provence region of France, where it perhaps reaches its zenith of elegance and expression thanks to the wonderful Grenache and Cinsault grapes used. However, highly popular and notable examples of Old World rosé wines can be found in and around the Rioja region of Spain, where Tempranillo is the principal grape, the Sangiovese heartlands of central Italy, and also in the increasingly respected wine regions of Austria and the UK.

As for the New World countries, both California and Australia enormously impress with their pink wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, but superb examples can be unearthed throughout South America, South Africa and in several other places, as well. The spread and influence of rosé across the continents acts as a testament to its popularity, its versatility, and the fact that it can be made from a wide range of indigenous and imported red grapes.

Which foods pair best with rosé?

Thanks to its delicate and refreshing qualities, as well as its relatively high levels of acidity, rosé wines are fantastic for pairing with a wide array of different foods and ingredients, including some which are actually quite difficult to pair with many white and red table wines.

  • Light and dry rosé wines

The most traditional rosé wines, such as those found in Provence, pair with foods in a similar way as would a bright and fruity Pinot Grigio wine, or even a Sauvignon Blanc. As such, they pair beautifully with light salads, simple pasta dishes, and all manner of shellfish (especially lobster and scallops). These will also work magnificently with sushi and sashimi, too!

  • Medium rosé wines

Californian white Zinfandel rosé wines, as well as those from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions are perhaps the most versatile of the rosé wines when it comes to food pairing. These wines can actually stand up against fully-flavoured foods, such as tapas and paella, grilled fowl dishes and tuna, but perhaps work best when paired with spicy South-East Asian cuisine and Indian curries.

  • Full-bodied rosé wines

The more boisterous and fruity rosé wines, such as California Cabernet rosé, Australian Shiraz rosé and examples from South America pair brilliantly with grilled and barbecued meats, as well as strong cheeses and ripe fruit such as peaches (also dishes which combine lamb and fruit, such as a Moroccan tagine).

How is rosé made?

As with almost everything in the world of wine, there’s not one single straightforward answer to this question. In fact, there are two common ways in which rosé wines are produced, and each results in a fairly different product. For now, we’ll not bother looking into the rustic method of blending white and red wines together, as despite the fact the practice is common in some countries where wines are made at home, it’s unlikely you’ll ever come across an example of this at your local wine store.

  • Saignee

The method of rosé production known as Saignee is one which is usually found in regions where top-end red wines are produced. While Saignee rosé wines are the more uncommon of the two popular methods of rosé production, they are becoming slightly more commonplace in the 21st century, as wine-drinkers continue to seek out alternative, unusual and traditionally made wines.

The term ‘Saignee’ comes from the French word for ‘bleeding’, and the method is essentially a by-product of high-end red wine production. Early in the fermentation process, a small quantity of wine will be ‘bled off’ into a separate vat – this is done in order to concentrate the flavour and character of the remaining wine, much in the same way you’d reduce a cooking sauce in order to intensify its taste. Once the vintner has this quantity of bled-off early fermentation red wine, they’re faced with a couple of options: they can either throw it down the drain, use it to top-up another barrel of wine (a process known as ‘ullage’), or they can use it to create a Saignee rosé wine.

Rosé wines made using the Saignee method are typically more intense and deeply flavoured than those made in the classic method. They’ll usually have a more intense pink or scarlet colour, and will feature flavours and aromas more typically found in red wines; bramble fruits, plums, raspberries etc. Fans of Saignee wines claim that these wines are far more expressive of their terroir, and are capable of communicating higher levels of fruit flavour than those made in other ways, although others still see these wines very much as an afterthought of the winemaker, and not to be taken too seriously.

  • Press Maceration

The vast majority of rosé producers will make their wines in the more widely accepted, traditional method of rosé production, which is usually known as the direct press method, or press maceration.

Instead of these wines being a by-product of the red wine industry, as is the case in the Saignee method, grapes are cultivated and grown with the expressed intention of making rosé wine, often in vineyards with a long history associated with this wine style. The grapes will be pressed in whole clusters, and the vintner will carefully cease the pressing when the desired pale colour is achieved. For deeper colours, richer hues and more intense tannic characters, the winemaker will allow the the juices to have contact with the pigment-rich skins of the grapes – often for several hours – which will help impart their colour to the wine.

Press macerated rosé wines are adored worldwide for their wonderful aromatic qualities, as well as for their delicate flavour profiles. Typical tasting notes of rosé wines made in this way range from fresh summer fruits such as strawberries and cherries, to more complex flavours of gooseberry, rhubarb and grassy notes, too.

Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine critic and journalist from Bristol, UK. He is a lover of life's finer things and has a particular fondness for Alsatian and Eastern European wines, which he fell in love with during his three years working in Budapest.

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