Last week we posted about Goria's Law and its impact on Italian wine history. Thank you James Pratt and Evan Selby for chiming in with great responses!
This week: Pink wine
Name and describe the various methods for rosé production.
Very important in rosé production is the presence or absence of skin contact.
The 'gris de gris' style is made by putting pink-skinned grapes (especially Pinot Gris) through skin contact. Many more rosés are made by pressing black-skinned grapes (for example Pinot Noir in Marsannay or Grenache Noir in Tavel), and then greatly reducing the length of time the must spends in contact with the skins. Also important here is the 'saignée' method, where a portion of the must is 'bled' off early in the maceration period. This changes the ratio of skins-to-must in the maceration tank, producing a more tannic, extracted red wine, while the 'bled' must is separately fermented into rosé.
Also key in rosé is the role of blending.
For example, in Tavel winemakers may leave a few lots of the must in contact with the skins for longer period of time, creating a small portion of darker wine that is then blended back into the lighter lots that were drained off the skins earlier. And finally, in Champagne the custom of rosé production is to make some still dry red wine with the Meunier and Pinot Noir, then blend those wines with the Chardonnay before the wine goes into secondary fermentation.
My favorite Rose' Wines are from the Provence region of France. Fruity and Lean in flavor, after having been largely ignored outside of France for decades, dry rosé is being rediscovered worldwide as a modern, versatile wine that complements many types of modern-day cuisine, from Bouillabase to Chicken Roulade with Goat Cheese and Herb Stuffing...need I mention Chicken Provencale?
Touted as "the birthplace of rose' wine", Provence is the oldest wine-making region in France, with the Greeks bringing vines to the region in approximately 600 BCE. It is surmised that the red wines at that time were indeed similar in color to today's modern rose' wine, due to the crude pressing and maceration techniques of the era. The Romans arrived in approximately 125 BCE, to find rose' wines of the region were already known for their quality and elegance.
As Red Wines became darker and more concentrated due to refinements in pressing and maceration, the techniques of producing rose' in the region evolved into the method by which they are produced today - either by Direct Pressing or Saignee Method. All Provence AOP rosés are estate bottled – made and bottled by the grower under AOP rules.
Direct Pressing (considered "Gris de Gris" when implemented with certain varietals), which is used by the majority of Provence producers, yields a rosé that's light in color, because the dark skins stay in contact with the clear juice for a very short period of time. In direct pressing, the grapes – either destemmed or in clusters – are immediately pressed in a wine press (pressoir) to release the juice. The pale pink juice is then delivered to the fermentation tank.
The Saignee' Method, which is less common in the region, is a steeping-and-draining process. During maceration, the crushed grapes soak in a tank for between two and 20 hours at a cool, tightly controlled temperature (usually ranging from 60° to 68°F). As the juice and skins co-mingle, the skins release their pigments and delicate aromas. The winemaker tests for color and, determining that the maceration period is complete, opens a filter in the bottom of the vat to drain – or bleed – the juice into the fermentation tank using the force of gravity. Exactly how long the vatting time should last is one of the questions that make rose' wine-making so delicate. It must be long enough for the red pigments to give the wine its pink color. But it mustn't be so long that the tannins in the skins begin to detract from the wine's lively elegance.
As the history of Provence progressed, so did wine-making techniques and stylistic additions and evolution, however Rose' remained and still remains the style the region is known for. In this era of modern wine-making, Provence is home to the world's only research institute dedicated to rosé wine, the Center for Rosé Research (Centre de Recherche et d'Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé), established in 1999.
The Cotes de Provence AOC includes 85 communes between the towns of Nice and Marseille and is responsible for nearly 75% of all Provençal wine with rosés alone accounting for 80% of that total. Grenache is the dominant grape of the region, comprising at least 60% of the blend. Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon are common varietals used as blending grapes. Tibouren (tee BOO rhin), is a blending grape that is unique to Provence, known for it's delicate, aromatic properties that enrich the bouquet of the finished wine.
The Coteaux d'Aix en Provence AOC is the second largest AOC in Provence, covering 50 communes in the west and northwestern part of the region. Here rosé accounts for around 35% of the AOC's production with Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre being the dominant varieties and Counoise, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon being used in the blends.
The Bandol AOC in southwest Provence is dominated by the Mourvedre grape which produces well in the limestone and silicon rich stony soils of the region. While the AOC produces mostly red wines, at least 33% of its yearly production is made up of rosé wines with Mourvedre as the primary varietal. Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Carignan are used in the blends.
The Coteaux Varois AOC is located in the hilly central region of Provence. Rosés account for almost two-thirds of the production there. The wines are blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre accounting for at least 80% of the wine with Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan permitted to fill in the remainder
Around the city of Nice in southeast Provence is Bellet AOC. In this region, the hot summer is tempered by the cooling sea coast breeze off the Mediterranean. Here rosé is made in roughly equal proportions with the red wines made from Braquet, Folle Noire, Grenache and Cinsault.
In North America, some consumers still equate pink with sweet, based on past encounters with sugary White Zinfandel. Yet, as rosé experiences a rebirth with a generation of more knowledgeable wine consumers, North American wine drinkers are discarding the misconception that dry rosé wines are the same as sweet blush wines. To that, I raise a glass of Chateau d'Esclans 2013 Rose (Cotes de Provence AOC). Cheers!