Is rosé made by mixing red and white wine together?
I was in the middle of typing a travel-related opener to this article when it hit me that a disproportionate number of my posts begin in exactly that way (case in point: my most recent blog article). I hope it is merely a coincidence and not an indication that the most exciting moments of my life take place in dingy airports or on cramped aeroplanes.
Speaking of which…
On my flight from Shanghai to London last week, the chap next to me was guzzling his fifth glass of chardonnay (yes, I was counting, and yes, that makes me a little weird) when he leaned over and asked the passing stewardess for a refill. She took his glass containing remnants of white wine and mistakenly began to pour red wine into it – at which point he and I simultaneously winced.
When the air hostess noticed her harrowing error, a look of wide-eyed embarrassment spread across her face and she squealed. Barely managing to stifle a giggle, she turned to her colleague and whispered audibly, “look, I made rosé!”.
I would have perhaps found that comment mildly amusing if (1) I wasn’t engaging in a serious game of arm rest wars with the booze-filled man next to me, (2) it wasn’t factually incorrect. Since, quite frankly, nobody wants to read about my delicate yet ferocious battle for occupancy of the seat divider, I’ll focus on the other point: the inaccuracy of her statement.
One commonly held misconception is that our favourite pink juice is made by mixing red and white wine together. In reality, this practice is illegal in the European Union and is generally frowned upon in the wine world. The notable exception to the rule is the Champagne region, where a dash of red wine (usually pinot noir) is sometimes added to sparkling wine to give pink bubbly its gorgeous hue.
So, if not by blending, how is rosé produced?
1. The maceration method
Think of this as handling red grape varieties in the way you would white grapes, but with one small step added. Once the red grapes are crushed, the juice and skin are kept in contact with each other for a short period of time, which in turn enables the skin to impart some of its colour to the otherwise clear juice. The longer the two are in contact with each other, the deeper the colour of the final product. The juice is than separated from the skin and is fermented in the same way as a typical white wine. If you’ve ever wondered why there is so much variation in the colour of rosé (some are so light that they’re barely pink, whilst others are an almost headache-inducing fuchsia), you can thank the maceration method.
2. The bleeding method
In the process above, the winemaker sets out with an unwavering objective to make rosé. However, in the bleeding (also known as saignée) method, rosé is actually a by-product of red wine production. During the early stages of red wine fermentation, when the juice has had some contact with the skins, some of the juice is run off and put into a separate vat to make rosé. The main reason winemakers do this is to increase the intensity and flavour of the red wine that is being produced – the rosé is an added bonus. And what a bonus it is.
So, given that blending red and white wine together could actually land you in a lot of trouble in Europe, you can hopefully understand why I did not laugh at the air hostess’s joke. I’ll admit that in the moment, the wine geek part of my brain thought about commenting on the incorrectness of her statement but, when my more rational side realised that being sassy to the gatekeeper of food and wine for the ensuing eleven hours could only hurt me, I kept my mouth shut.
Now that the weather is actually quite pleasant, I’ve seen more and more Londoners slurp rosé during glorious moments of sunshine in the capital. I heard it referred to as “summer water” the other day. I quite like that – don’t you?
If you’re interested in reading more about rosé, check out my previous posts:
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