Sparkling Rosé

The New Trend

By Diego Meraviglia

Diego Meraviglia
Photo:Simona Maffei

Rosé wine, never to be called “pink”, has been traditionally produced for centuries in specific regions of the old world (Europe). Various regions in the continent boast an antiquity with this style of wine, amongst which the Italian regions of Puglia in the South, Lombardia in the North, Abruzzo with the traditional “cerasuolo” and the French powerhouse regions of Provence and Rhone as the main rosé colored wine producers.

The French say rosé, the Italians say rosato, the Spanish say rosado, and the Germans call it weissherbst. Historically, the creation of rosé can most likely be attributed to the poor and rustic winemaking techniques that resulted in little extraction from red grape skins, hence providing little coloration to the wines. Originally, these wines were never produced sparkling and were simply very light body and low color red wines that were generally far darker than purposely made rosé today.

The History of Rosé
Although this category of wine possesses a long history in some cases, it has only been in the last decade that we have seen an explosion in rosé-producing regions around the globe, as well as a massive interest and market trend pushing on the “rosé all day” motto. Why has this been the case? When American consumers think of rosé, they tend to think of the ubiquitous and dubious quality, sweet White Zinfandel, but in fact most of the world’s rosés are bone dry.

It is fundamental to analyze the intrinsic characteristics of rosé. As technology in the cellars improved with temperature controlled fermentation tanks, improved know-how in maceration, selected yeasts and a growing marketplace for these types of wines, rosé is being developed better than ever, lighter than ever and more versatile than ever.

Rosé is indeed a hybrid between a white wine and a red. it is the most technical of all wines made, meaning that the process is highly determined by man’s techniques in the cellar. It possesses the drinkable, thirst quenching and approachable character of a white wine with the added structure, food pairing versatility and red fruit aromatics of a red wine.

Rosé is normally categorized by its structure, which is correlated to the darkness of its color. In most cases, the darker a rosé, the bolder and more structured the wine will be. This is a direct result of extended maceration or winemaking techniques that produce a denser wine, closer to a proper red, or closer to a white wine in the case of very subtle, light-colored rosé wines the likes that are produced in Provence, France.

There are fundamentally 3 main techniques for the production of rosé wine:

Method #1:

A rosé de saignee can be the by-product of making red wine, or an end product in itself. Red wines are made by crushing grapes and fermenting their juice in contact with their skins in order to extract color, flavor and tannin. Sometime between 12 and 24 hours of skin contact, a winemaker may “bleed off” some of the juice that becomes a rosé de saignee (from the French verb saigner, “to bleed”). This is the most popular method (especially in Southern France) and these wines are meant to be consumed within 2-4 years.

Method #2:

White wines are made by crushing and gently pressing white grapes. The juice is quickly separated from the skins and fermented by itself. Making a rosé involves a few changes to this process. Red or black grapes are used instead of white, and to extract color, flavor and tannin. The pressing is more intense and the juice may be allowed to sit in contact with the skins for 1-4 hours, so it has a shorter lifespan and should be consumed within 1-3 years. The French region of Provence is famous for making rosé wines using this method.

Method #3:

White wine and red wine can be mixed to create a rosé wine. Most winemaking regions do not use this method, but Champagne is a famous exception. Classical method sparklers like Champagne are made by fermenting still (non-sparkling) wines from different grapes (the “base” wines), then blending these base wines, then fermenting a second time in the bottle to create the bubbles (the Methode Champenoise, pinpointed and devised by Dom Pérignon, Dom Ruinart and Madame Clicquot centuries ago).

Rosé Champagne is usually dry. The concept of blending a white and a red wine creates the result of a ‘perfect hybrid’. Indeed, rosé wines produced in this method tend to be the most structured and have aromatics, characteristics and even tannins that resemble a red wine, with the capability of pairing even with steak, duck or dishes that are normally served with full blown reds.

In most cases, rosé is not a wine intended for cellaring or aging, as approachability, freshness and fragrance are the prime intentions of these wines. With blended rosé, the likes of Champagne, this proves not the case. Indeed, many great rosé sparkling wines (only if produced with the traditional classical method of refermentation in the bottle) can age for decades and provide us with amazing taste-olfactory sensorial experiences.

It was never the historical intention of wine regions to produce rosé with bubbles, until in the 1950s, the French region of Champagne had the brilliant idea to begin production of lightly colored Champagne wines. The motivation behind this was the lack of red wines in the region. Indeed, the AOC Champagne (Champagne denomination) does not account for red wines and no wine produced with the word “Champagne” on the label can be a red. The pioneering maisons in Champagne resorted to blending red wines from Pinot Noir grapes with white wines made with Chardonnay, to create a hybrid capable to present itself and qualifiable by law, as a Champagne. Pop culture gobbled it up. Songs the like of “Hotel California” by the Eagles even mention “pink Champagne on ice” and the product soon became a smash hit.

Bubbles and More Bubbles
Bubbles not only reinforce the acidity of the wine, providing for an extra layer of freshness, drinkability and food pairing capabilities, but also act as catalysts for the lift of aromatics and smells in a wine’s complexity. It is a winning combination and for the vast majority of experts, properly produced and quality driven rosé sparkling wines are at the top of the rosé wine category, some bottles selling for hundreds of dollars.

The percentage of rosé wine consumed in the United States has grown by double digits every year for the past nine years. Time, technology and know-how have brought us the best quality rosé humanity has ever seen. With a variety of styles, dry and sweet, fuller and lighter, rosés can please nearly any palate…add bubbles into the mix and you’ve got yourself an incredible experience that no respectable cellar or wine list should lack.

Sparkling Rosé