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Pink Wine Defined by Timothy Buzinski and Mei Ying So

In the U.S., there is perhaps no category of wine more misunderstood than pink wine, known to most as rosé (French term adopted worldwide), but also as blush, rosato (Italian), rosado (Spanish) and weissherbst (German). One can only speculate as to the reasons, but they must certainly be wrapped in our own post-Prohibition zeitgeist. Is it perhaps that we feel rosé is lacking as a wine: not-quite-red? Americans are known to covet the biggest, the best, the most intense. Thus, rosé, with its red-like, but not really red, color, must not cut the mustard. Our prejudices could also have developed from our initial experience with pink wine—domestic white zinfandel—itself a quarry of confusion. At its début, California wineries cannily tacked on the descriptor “white” to this oftentimes sweet blush wine, which is made from the red zinfandel grape, to draw in white wine drinkers. The sweetness would mask deeper layers of flavor found in drier styles, and that has colored Americans’ perception of rosés to this day. It would surprise many to know that most rosés are dry.

How Rosés are Made Perhaps part of the national ambiguity toward rosé comes from not knowing how it is produced. First and foremost, pink wines are produced using red grapes. Grape skins harbor all the color for most grape varieties; grape juice is usually clear. Therefore, pink and even white wines can be produced from red grapes; an evident example of the latter would be blanc de noirs style sparkling wines (“white wine from black grapes”), in which the juice from red grapes is fermented with no skin contact at all. To produce a pink wine, then, it’s a matter of extracting the color from the skins. So once the grapes are harvested, they are brought to the winery, de-stemmed and crushed to release the juice, seeds, pulp, etc. At this point, it’s a matter of how long to macerate the skins with the juice. This may be anywhere from a few hours to an entire day. Now the winemaker simply “bleeds off” the juice from the pulpy mixture of crushed grapes known as the “cap”, as in a lid or cover for the fermenting wine. This pink juice is then fermented as if it were white wine, off the grape solids. This process is known as the saignée method, a term that occasionally even makes it on to the label.

Rosés, More Popular Now Than Ever The saignée method is significant in another way, contributing to increased popularity of rosés in recent years. Some winemakers use the method to intensify the power and color of their red wines; they bleed off some of the free-run juice to increase the skin to juice ratio. That free-run juice is then vinified as a rosé. In a sense, the rosé for these winemakers is a by-product of their main objective, concentrated red wines. That is not to say that it is an inferior product; coming from quality grapes, free-run juice is superbly flavorful and can make outstanding rosés. This practice meant that a market had to be found for rosés, which led to increased marketing of the category. In a study of 52 weeks ending in early February 2008, Nielsen Company reported a 53.2% growth by value and a 49.1% growth by volume in the sales of rosé priced at $8 or above in the U.S. Although rosés still represent just a small percentage of overall wine consumption in the U.S., this reveals a steady climb in awareness and popularity.

Recent Controversy in the EU While saignée is the most common method for making rosé wine, it is not the only means. Some producers simply blend red and white wines to create a rosé. This method is used in many countries, but with the exception of sparkling wines, not in France and other EU countries. A recent proposal to allow this method in the EU was met with an uproar; proponents of the traditional methods insisted that the entire category would be in jeopardy, that blended rosé is no more than white wine with a little red added for color, that all complexity and character would be lost. Although this proposal was recently withdrawn, the passionate debate remains alive, pointing to the continuing significance of this category.

Why Love Rosé? Here’s a wine that’s got the cleansing acidity and minerality of a white wine, with red fruit aromas and flavors reminiscent of a red wine. Moreover, it’s got more weight and intensity than many whites, yet is not nearly as heavy as a red and infinitely more refreshing. All this plus its versatility make it a great food wine, an easy match for an array of foods. Rosés are made in all different styles, from super light to quite robust in flavor, weight and color. There’s a version for almost any food at any time, from grilled seafood and fresh vegetable dishes in the summertime to rich brothy fish stews and crisp-skinned roast chickens in colder months. And later in the year, if you’re looking for the one wine that will go with all the Thanksgiving sides, look to rosé. Here are a few to try, well-chilled:

Domaine Gaujal de Saint Bon Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thau Rosé 2008—From the Languedoc region of France, this darker hued rosé is bone-dry, allowing all the minerals and savoriness to come through. $10-$12

Mas Carlot Costières de Nîmes AOC Rosé 2008—Made from grenache and syrah, this is hearty and robust with plenty of ripe berries. $13-$15

Domaine La Suffrene Bandol AOC 2008—While the 2008 is arriving now, the 2007 is also drinking quite well. Bandol, along with Tavel, produces more robust styles that may be enjoyed with some age. $20-$24

La Flor de Pulenta Malbec Rosé Mendoza 2008—An elegant and easy drinking style that delivers fruit, minerals and plenty of pleasure. $12-$14

Parés Baltà Ros de Pacs Penedès DO Rosado 2008 – Organically Grown—This blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon is dark and rich, but dry with smooth flavors. $10-$12

Copain “Tous Ensemble” Rosé Anderson Valley 2008—Based on pinot noir, Copain is delicate and silky textured, with strawberries, minerals, and a long finish. $15-$18

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