Several lifetimes ago, I worked at a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan called Becco. (It’s still there, you can still check it out and if you do, may I please recommend the unlimited pasta plate?) Jeremy was the sommelier here. And he was just about the furthest thing from a stuffy sommelier that you could imagine. Jeremy had this crazy mane of curly brown hair, he towered over me at 6’4″ and I never saw him wear a suit. His passion for wine was thrilling and he always had time to teach me a bit about it.
It’s been eight years since he handed me that glass and rosé wines have grown a personal passion of mine. You might already know this about me, if I tried to shove a bottle of pink wine in your hands one day. You might have been protesting “But is it a sweet wine?”.
No. Almost never in my shop. That’s because very little of the rosé produced in the world is sweet. White Zinfandel, which is many peoples reference point, is a very, very small percentage of pink wine and frankly, it shouldn’t even count. That crap is basically simple syrup. Gross.
Pink wines (you might see them called rosé, rosado, or rosato depending on the country of origin) have been produced for centuries. There are two main ways of producing a pink wine.
One method is called “saignée” (French for “bleeding”). This technique is done at the same time as red wine production. Let’s say that you are an Oregon Pinot Noir maker and you would like to make a Pinot Noir rosé as well. You let all your Pinot Noir juice rest with the skins & seeds. (This is where tannin is extracted from the skins into the juice. Most red wines will sit on those skins for days, maybe weeks.) At this point, the winemaker will separate a portion of this seedy, grapeskin-filled juice that is destined to be a pink wine, and they will filter it far earlier than what is intended to be red wine. How much earlier? That’s up to the winemaker. There are many factors to be determined. Do they want a dark, rich rosé or a lighter, less tannic rosé? What was the ripeness of the fruit when picked? The skins (also called pomace) could be filtered off as early as a few hours after the crush. Or perhaps a few days. Depends on the wine, the vintage, the winemaker and whatever other factors that we don’t even know about because winemaking is a very fluid activity. Kind of like a Choose Your Own Winemaking Adventure, really.
The other method of rosé-making is Direct Press. In contrast to this saignée method, where maceration is an important factor, direct press juice is filtered almost immediately after producing juice. This results in a much lighter pink wine. There’s nothing wrong with either method here.
Anyway, all that’s just an explanation about how pink wines are actually made. How do they taste? Texturally, they are quite like a white wine: generally light, crisp and served cold. Pink wines can be made from ANY grape varietal and they can maintain the flavor characteristics that you associate with that varietal. You could have a peppery Cabernet Franc rosé from the Loire. You could have a delicate, cherry & cranberry-like rosé from an Oregon Pinot Noir. With rosé, you can have it all, because these wines are excellent meal pairing wines. BBQ-slathered pork? Try a juicy southern Italian rosato. Grilled fish with lemons? If you don’t buy this Provençal rosé, I will be mad at you.
We’ve come full circle with these pink wines, my friends, because it isn’t that pink wines have been sweet and just now producers are making dry ones. It’s that pink wines have ALWAYS been dry and That Pink Winelike Substance Whose Name We Shall Not Speak bastardized the category for awhile.
I preach from the pulpit of pink wine year-round, but I get especially shouty during the summer. I’ll be reinforcing this Pink Wine Manifesto by pouring rosé tastings on the first Friday of every summer month, starting in June. I’d like to share with you what’s so special about these wines, just as Jeremy did with me.