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  • 20 May 2020
  • Wine 101 Guides

Rosé Wine 101

Pink wine! Pink wine in every shade of pink imaginable… from such a pale pink that it verges on beige or grey… to such a dark colour that you wonder… isn’t this actually red wine?

White? Pink? Grey? Black? All of them? What colour are the grapes in my glass?

There is no simple answer.

With rosé wine, there is no generic recipe. It is perhaps more of a minefield than any other category of wine. There are many rules and regulations in each country, as well as cultures and traditions. However, what is certain is that rosé should not just be seen as an easy summer drink or a pre-dinner drink. Rosé should be considered as seriously as its sibling red and white categories. Winemakers across the world are producing fine rosés that sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the myriad of other wines. Without rosé, the rainbow of wine would be incomplete.



Rules & Regs within Europe

European laws for the production of labelling rosé are strict, and it is forbidden by law to blend red and white finished wines together for the production of “rosé”. However, it is a common misconception that this means that no white grapes make their way into rosé. 

White grapes may still find their way into rosé production if they are co-fermented (made in the same batch together with the black grapes… imagine all the grapes swimming together) or blended as must (raw juice). Only certain percentages of these white grapes are permitted according to local laws.

Local production laws (for example AOCs - appellation d'origine contrôlée in France, and DOCs - Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Italy) state which grape varieties may be used in the area. These come in the form of both mandatory grapes (which must compose part of the wine), as well as secondary grapes (may be used for smaller percentages). Often white grape varieties exist in this secondary category. An example would be for Côtes-du-Rhône rosé - where Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Syrah (black grapes) must make up 70% of the blend, whereas Clairette Blanche or Bourboulenc and sixteen other white grapes and black grapes may make 30%, 20% of which maximum may be white or “grey/pink” (e.g. Grenache Gris) grapes. Laws like this exist across Europe. 

The key exception to the rule is Champagne, where you find the white grape Chardonnay blended with the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in varying percentages, as well as a small increase in the ancient and often overlooked other white grape varieties of the region, such as Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

In Spain, if you drink a rosado, this means direct-pressed black grapes to create a traditional rosé. However, if a Clarete appears on a wine list, this is a traditional blend of red and white grapes. 

Other traditional black and white grape blends exist, such as Switzerland’s tradition of Schiller, which can be a blend of many different white and black grapes, but must be harvested from the same vineyard and pressed together. This is not to be confused with Schilcher; a tradition in southern Austria's Styria region of direct-pressing the ancient Blauer-Wildbacher black grape (not a black and white grape blend).

Domaine Mythopia crafts an ethereal example of Schiller wine, composed of Pinot Noir and Chasselas.  

Outside of Europe

Countries outside of the EU tend to have more lax laws with regards to winemaking, so here you may well find black and white grapes together in equal measure. 

Historically, it’s worth noting that bulk wine produced by blending red and white wine together has resulted in low quality rosé, but the lack of laws is a gift for producers who focus on quality and creative winemaking, such as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz who made us laugh recently when he said,

“Luckily we in California do not have to worry about the legality of blending in white grapes into pink wines. I have been very happy with Grenache Blanc & Gris together in our Vin Gris de Cigare… I'm convinced if I lived in Europe incarceration would likely occur before vinous maceration.” 

Direct Press/Vin Gris

Yes, Randall references grey wine. No, it’s not actually grey, and no, it doesn’t have to come from “grey” grapes (Grenache Gris or Semillon Gris for example). In France, vin gris is simply another word for an extremely pale rosé from predominantly black grapes. 

As outlined in the White Wine 101 Guide, white wine can come from black grapes only. The resulting wine is such a pale colour due to no time on the skins. The wine is pressed, the skins are put to one side, and the clear juice (almost all black grapes have clear flesh) is drained into its vessel to ferment. This will either result in white wine, or very pale rosé, which may be labelled vin gris. 

Macerating Cinsault before pressing to produce a rosé


The length of time that the juice stays with its skins defines the eventual colour of the rosé. This can be everything from a couple of hours to several days or even months. In a sense, it is like making tea - the longer you leave your tea bag in your glass of water, the more intense the tea becomes and the darker it becomes. 

Dark Rosé Does Not Equal Sweet Rosé

Dark rosé has a notoriously bad reputation that was born from mass market darker rosé, predominantly found in supermarkets at lower price points, which often have residual sugar. It is the curse of old-style White Zinfandel and Spanish plonk. It is an incredibly unfortunate hangover for the other dark rosés of the world, the shimmering and enticing ones, of which there are many.

While there may be no clear marker between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, one must keep an open mind and trust the wine shop advisor or sommelier; there are often wonders lying beneath the surface of these bronze liquids. 

Some of the finest rosés in the world are also the darkest, such as Viña Tondonia’s rosé, which has become a true unicorn wine - almost impossible to find. 

Rosé de Saignée. Help. Is there blood in my rosé?!

“Saigner” means “to bleed” in French, and sometimes you will find a rosé marked as a rosé de saignée. This sounds pretty dramatic, but fear not - all it means is that some juice from the production of red wine is taken away to concentrate the resulting red either blended away with wine, or turned into a rosé. This tends to be darker as it was originally destined for a red wine. Traditionally, it was considered a “by-product” of winemaking, but these days more and more producers are using this method to create delicious, concentrated examples of rosé; wines that arguably fall somewhere on the spectrum between rosé and red. 

Pink wine from pink grapes? 

This seems so logical that you might find yourself gazing into the distance, scratching your head, confused. The wine world has many pinky-grey skinned grape varieties. These are technically classified as “white grapes,” so wine made from them is classified as white wine, even though it might be donning a hue of pink. These pink-skinned friends are often mutations from white or red grape varieties; Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon Gris and Grenache Gris are examples of these.

Rare Rosé from Rare Grapes 

There are many growers around the world who make serious rosé, treating rosé on par with how they treat a white wine; rosés that can be aged and enjoyed with food. 

This means that not all of the "best" grapes go into white or red production. Often some of the best are preserved for rosé production too; like the Mondeuse grapes Jaimee Motley made her inaugural Mondeuse rosé from in 2017. 

The grapes are farmed by Matthew Rorick. She says,

“Matthew is an incredible person, he has become a close friend. He’s also a wonderful farmer and winemaker. The first time I went to the vineyard, well… Wow. It’s just stunning. It’s kind of like a beautiful giant bowl, and the Mondeuse sits at 610m elevation, at the highest point of the vineyard. I’m just captivated by it. It’s such a pleasure to go there and to have such close relationships with the people that you buy fruit from. It’s an honour for me to work with them.”

It speaks for itself that she chose to make rosé from this special fruit: the rosé she made from it has been considered one of the most exciting new wave California rosés produced. 

Twiddling With Colour: It's Not Always Natural

Colour doesn’t always come from what nature gives the grower. Many pale rosés these days are made to be the colour they are, not simply by pressing at the same time or by macerating for the right amount of time, but also from additions and manipulation. All sorts of enzymes can be used to help the juice to settle, to make it clearer faster, and harsh fining agents like carbon can be used to strip the colour out again. So don’t be fooled; your pale rosé wasn’t necessarily that pale to start with. 

Our Stance?

We love colour, in all its forms. Cloud grey, salmon pink, Barbie pink, rust orange, you name it. We want them just as they are. Featuring growers who feel the same is our goal: they'll tell you exactly what’s in that bottle, why it's that colour and how it came to be there.

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