There are two factors that differentiate Rosé wine from Blush wine. The sweetness and that Rosé wine must be made from red wine only.
Often called Rosato or Rosado wine, the one thing that makes blush and rosé wine the very same is that regardless of what they’re called, they’re all pink. It’s by using just a small amount of the color from the grape skins that gives the wine it’s pink color. The actual darkness or clarity of the color is based on how long the skins are in contact with the juice. There are three ways that this is done, and it’s by direct skin contact with the juice, by blending or using the saignée which is the pink juice that’s removed by the winemaker, usually to provide more tannin and deeper hues to a strong red wine. While most people think of Rosé or Blush wine as the typical “college style” wine from brands like Arbor Mist, in actuality, rosé wine can be very dry and also very expensive such as the $600+ sparkling varieties. My particular favorite is the Provencal rosé wines which are very dry, but the range of blush style wines is expansive and can please a variety of palates.
How it’s Made
The big difference between a rosé and a red wine is the amount of time that the skin is allowed to be in contact with the juice. If you’ve read our red wine guide you know how red wine is produced, and for the most part, blush or rosé is the same, just with less time for the skins to remain present. Once the must is pressed, the skins will usually be discarded, often just one day after the wine begins its production process. Rather than leaving the skin in during the fermentation process, all of the skin is removed which prevents the wine from reaching it’s red color.
To be considered an actual rosé wine, the wine, in its entirety must be derived from red wine grapes. However, for blush wines often it’s a blend of red and white grapes to create the pink. Other methods include using the saignée or simply removing the skins purposefully to create the rosé. In most countries the blending process is discouraged and for the most part, it’s a safe rule that if the wine says “blush” it’s typically “rushed”. In fact, in France it’s prohibited by law, except when making champagne. However, even the top champagne producers still use the saignée method.
The History of Rosé Wine
What’s very interesting to note is that it’s believed that pink styled wines are actually the first types of wine to be produced. The reason for this is because ancient wine making techniques required the pressing of the grapes to be completed almost immediately after harvesting. Since it was done so soon after harvest, the wines of the ancient world probably looked more like a rosé than a red if we judge them by today’s appearances.
Most of the modern winemaking techniques we use to make red wine weren’t adopted in historic times. Therefore, with the low maceration time, even foot pressed juice was light in color. It wasn’t until the creation of new machines and presses that the darker pigmentation was found in wine. To the best of my knowledge, I can’t discern a specific date that Rosé wine was first labeled as such, but it stands to reason that almost all of the first wines were blush in color.
The wines that were left to sit were far too harsh for most people to consume, but the paler claret from Bordeaux was treasured amongst wine aficionados. These pink wines were considered to be of far greater quality and gentlemen with the most discerning palates tended to prefer them over the darker and more poignant reds. Even the first sparkling wines and Champagnes were more of a pink color and to this very day, some of the most expensive sparkling wines on the market are rosé. Marketing to a clientele that preferred the pink wines, even as white wine champagnes became the standard, many winemakers continued to add some red in order to appease their customers.
It really wasn’t until after WWII that rosé wine changed. When they realized the stuck fermentation that caused the yeast to die before the sugar turned to alcohol while producing Zinfandel in the United States. It is here where the world of blush wines was changed forever.
A winemaker named Bob Trinchero had put his, then perceived, failure aside for a few weeks before tasting it. Expecting to have to discard it, he was pleasantly surprised by the sweet, juicy taste of the wine, something he had never seen in the market before. He introduced it as White Zinfandel due to the boom in white wine sales where white had become more popular in North America than red. He put his pink, sweet wine on the market and the world changed forever.
Then in 1976, a man named Charles Kreck became the first winemaker to try and plant Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Sonoma, California. When famed wine writer Jerry D. Mead visited his vineyard that year, Kreck offered Mead his lightly pigmented pink wine. The wine was nowhere near as dark as the rosé wines Mead had previously tried, and he joked that it should be called a “Cabernet Blush”. It is said that Mead called Kreck later that night and said he no longer thought of it as a joke, and the variant of the Cabernet Blush was born.
In 1978 Kreck trademarked the word “Blush” and the name became synonoumous with pink wines. Vineyards began adopting the name as their own and soon the blush name was considered a household name for pale pink wines. While it initially was used to denote the pale pink wine, today it has transformed into a name used to describe sweet rosé wines or wine that has a far lower alcohol content.
Since much of the flavor from wine is derived from the skin, the color of the wine can be a sure sign of what to expect. When choosing a rosé wine, it’s important to look at what grapes were used in the wine as that will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of flavor and aroma.
While it can’t be used as a steadfast rule, I typically find the lighter, or paler wines are drier than the hot pink wines that are often chock full of notes of strawberries, melon and of course, sugar.
The fruity characteristics of the wine actually come from 3-mercaptohexanol-1-ol and 3-mercaptohenyl acetate which are volatile thiols that are found as flavor precursors in the grape skins. They’re extracted during the maceration where producers use a “cold soak” procedure which limits oxidation and microbial activity. A lot of the flavor has to due with how the wine is made, and during fermentation, other profiles come to light as the esters phenethyl acetate and isoamyl acetate begin to form.
It’s because of these thiols that Rosé has to be consumed fairly quickly, or within a year on average, as they drop to more than half of their normal levels after that time.
Styles of Rosé
Rosé comes in such a wide array of styles it would be difficult to list them all. Here a few of the most common found in the North American market:
Provence is typically a far drier rosé and one of my favorites. They work very well with seafood, light pastas, fish and pork tenderloin. The wine is made in 85 small communities between Nice and Marseille that make up the Cotes de Provence AOC. Using the Grenache grape varietal, it’s a 60% minimal blend with Syrah, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Cab Sauv, Cinsault and Carignan grapes.
Tavel is often noted as being the capital of rosé wine with it being the only legally made wine in the Tavel AOC. Tavel has a rich and illustrious history when it comes to rosé wine and due to its tourism is at least partially responsible for the exportation and popularity of traditional French rosé wine. Again using the grenache grape, the Tavel regulations require rosé wine to be at least 15% cinsault with the remainder Syrah, Bourboulenc, Carignan, Mourvedre and Picpoul.
This is one of the few territories that allows a cofermentation between both red and white grapes, however, it is often made today using the saignée method. Tavel wines are commonly known as heartier and more robust with notes of spice and berries.
Rosé Champagne is often some of the most expensive champagne you can find. Like other wine it ranges in colors from light greyish pink to bright or hot pink. Some are simply clear champagnes colored using Pinot Noir at the last moment to add pink coloring which of course is representative of love and romance. While many believe it hardly alters the taste of the finished product, others say it adds a richness or extra pop to the wine.
White Zinfandel and Blush
As discussed above, White Zinfandel and Blush wine is generally a far sweeter, more juicy wine. Too sweet for my liking, it’s very popular with new consumers turning of age and therefore a staple wine amongst college students in the United States.
Originally, they were actually pale pink wines, but today denote a far sweeter style of wine. The good news is they’re usually very inexpensive.
Italy’s name for Rosé wine, the Rosato changes based on the region and its climate. There are many styles of rosé wine from Italy and it’s important to realize they change in both flavor and aroma. While we won’t cover all of them, we will say that they tend to offer a diverse flavor profile which can mean having to try multiple wines before finding one to your liking.
Like Rosato in Italy, Rosado is the term for Rosé wine in Spain. Again, it’s dependent on region and climate, but in Spain most rosé wine comes from Navarra where it’s made from the Garnacha or Grenache grape as we know it in America. What seperates Spain from France is that they often use other types of grapes such as Merlot and Tempranillo in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, among others.
Some winemakers in Spain will use a reverse form of the saignée method where it’s bled off the red wine. They call it “Doble Pasta” and take the skins and add them to the red wine. It produces a highly concentrated and dark rosé wine.
How to Serve Rosé Wine
Since Rosé wine is usually quite fruit forward with notes of berries, cherries, melon and citrus, they are ideal for summer months and patio parties. To serve, simply chill in the refrigerator and offer in a white wine glass or champagne flute. These wines are particularly refreshing and pare well with most food that’s perfect for warmer climates. They’re very versatile and can often pair well with a variety of foods. They also work exceptionally well on their own.
When local wine merchants DeLuca Fine Wines and Banville & Jones offered me a selection of rosé and blush wines to try, I picked a few of my favorites that I’d like to share with you. If you have a similar palate and are looking for a refreshing new wine, I highly recommend the following three:
Chateau De Lancyre
A Provence wine, this is a fairly robust and dry rosé with hints of raspberry, pear and apple with spice and vinegar. It has some mint on it and holds well with a nice long finish.
Sokol Blosser Estate Cuvee
From Oregon, this is a really texturally beautiful dry wine with hints of strawberry, mint and citrus. It’s wonderfully tart and has a slight taste of watermelon which I love. It’s buttery and offers a really acidic finish which I found powerful and yet refined.
Livia Fontana Rosé Duemilairedici
Light and refreshing, I expected this to be an overtly fruit-forward wine. It turned out to be one of my favorites and my wife loved it as well. Considering that I prefer a really robust, monster of a red and my wife likes chardonnay, the fact that this one was pleasing to both of our palates was a bonus. It’s crisp, light, refreshing and has bursts of melons and mint. Try this one for yourself.
Rosé and blush wines have often been disregarded and considered for the college crowd only. In reality they are some of the most versatile wines in the world. They range in a multitude of flavors and aromas and are definitely worthy of your time and hopefully your praise.