The perfect middleman, rosé is an alluring option for those who bounce between the desire for a white and a red. Covering a broad range of grapes, production techniques and tastes, rosé is a far more diverse style of wine than many give it credit for.

You don’t feel like a red. Nor do you feel like a white. You feel like something in the middle. You feel like a rosé. 

While not a varietal (rosés can be made from almost any grape), rosé wines are nonetheless treated as their own category, and it’s a category that encapsulates a surprisingly broad range of tastes, textures and regions.

A rosé by any other name…

The term “rosé” is French for ‘pink’. In Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries the wine is referred to as “rosada” while in Italy it is known as “rosato”. Rosés are simply defined as a style of wine that obtains some colour from the skins of the grape, but not enough to qualify as red wine. 

It’s a broad definition that allows rosé wines to be produced in still, semi-sparkling and sparkling forms, in a range of colour intensities from grapefruit to blackberry, from grapes that vary from white zinfandel to shiraz, and from wineries that hail from every corner of the globe.

How rosé came to bloom

Most wine historians agree that rosé could well be the oldest wine style of all, such is the comparative simplicity of its production when compared to the likes of red wine and sparkling. Ancient wines were hand- or foot-pressed, leading to grape skin contact that would have likely been similar to that used to make the rosé wines of today. 

Pale reds were in fact the predominant wine style up until only a few centuries ago. As inter-European trade routes opened up during the Middle Ages the wines of Bordeaux and Champagne (before their famous sparkling wine was invented) were famed for their light pink complexion, described variously as ‘partridge’s eye’ for their colour, or “vin d'une nui”’ (wine of one night) for the fact that the wine was given a single night of grape skin contact to imbue it with colour. 

While the taste for rosé faded slightly through the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th century as heavier reds came to the fore, winemakers soon found a new market for the style. This was pioneered by two Portuguese families who offered up the Mateus and Lancers wines – far sweeter than the rosés that came before them. They were crafted to appeal to the burgeoning European and North American markets, and the gamble paid off. Just three decades after its creation, Mateus made up no less than 40% of Portugal’s total table wine exports. 

Since the 1950s rosés have been offered in both sweet and dry forms, with the styles happily coexisting and drawing equal amounts of attention. While occupying a smaller segment of the market than still whites, still reds and sparklings, rosés have nonetheless steadily grown in popularity over the last few decades; a trend that doesn’t appear to be slowing.

''Most wine historians agree that rosé could well be the oldest wine style of all, such is the comparative simplicity of its production when compared to the likes of red wine and sparkling.'' 

Rosé production techniques 

There are three main techniques that are employed to produce rosé wines: 

Skin contact: the wine is left in contact with the skins of red grapes for a short period of time – usually 12-24 hours – which imbues the liquid varying degrees of pigmentation.  

Saignée: French for “bleed”, the saignée method makes use of some of the “bled off” wine removed from the barrels of full-bodied reds in order to make them more concentrated. Saignée rosés are thus much darker and traditionally drier than most other rosés. 

Blending: Finally, a blended rosé is simply a rosé wine made by mixing a white and a red.

Palate perceptions 

Because rosé is a style of wine rather than a particular varietal it can encompass an almost endless amount of tastes. Pink moscato is known for its intense sweetness, while a grenache- or malbec-based rosé will offer a far more full-bodied and drier experience.

Rosé titbits

  • It’s likely that the first wine ever created was a rosé, and if that’s the case then this style is around 9000 years old, predating recorded history by over 3000 years.

  • While most winemaking regions produce rosés as an afterthought, this is not the case for the Provence region in France. If you’re looking to try a world-beating rosé, start your search there.

  • Rosés aren’t meant to be aged. Save your cellar space for fine red wines, and enjoy some nice rosés while your shirazes and cabernet sauvignons age. Because they are relatively simple to make and don’t require aging, rosés are generally far cheaper than reds!

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