Wine 101: Decoding the Pink Drink

It just so happens to be National Wine Day. And being Memorial Day Weekend, we're also coming into high season for rosé. So, it's only appropriate to kick-off the long weekend and summer season with a post about the pink drink.

Over the past five years or so, it's evident that there's been a continuous and exponential growth of rosé consumption in the US. And while most people would think this is just a fad, the rise of rosé is actually a resurgence--years back rosé's reputation was completely ruined by White Zin (produced by doctoring up the byproduct of a red wine).

Mary McAuley is the founder and producer of Ripe Life Wines, a small batch craft wine company that produces its single vineyard Chardonnay and Rosé from grapes grown organically in Mendocino, California. As a certified sommelier, Mary knows a thing or two about grape growing and wine production, as well as wine and food pairing. So, she filled me in on the three categories of rosé (spoiler: not all rosé is created equal!):

Blended Rosé

Just as the name suggests, a blended rosé is made by combining excess red and white wine from the bulk market, oftentimes making use of the juice that wasn't good enough to stand on its own--remnants. Overall, they tend to be bitter, jammy, sugary, unbalanced, or, at best, bland or unimpressive. This is a result of the producers' need to alter the juice by adding acids, sugars, and artificial flavoring to mask flaws in the original red or white wines.

Saignée Rosé (sawn-yay!)

This category is for those rosé wines developed from "bleeding the tank," so they say. And it's the most common kind of rosé on the market. When producing a red wine, the grape juice ferments in the tanks or barrels along with the skins--from which red wines gain their tannin, color and structure. If a winemaker wants to make their red more tannic or bold, they'll drain some of the liquid from those tanks or barrels in an effort of increasing the ratio of skin-to-juice--give it more umph. Ergo the phrase bleeding the tanks. And that "runoff" juice is pink. So, rather than throwing it away, producers turn a profit on it by creating a rosé. If the red wine being made is of high quality, the Saignée Rosé can be quite lovely, in Mary's opinion. But, nonetheless, it's still a byproduct and the juice tends to need a bit of doctoring up to make the final product more crisp and clean (what you look for in a rosé), which can lead to some structural flaws, like a "bite" on the finish.

 
 

Designate Rosé

The holy grail. The most divine and uncommon category of rosé. Designate Rosés are produced from red grapes that've been predestined to become rosé from the get-go. That means, these grapes are farmed, harvested, crushed, and fermented with the intention of becoming rosé. Mary happens to be a Designate Rosé producer herself (and it's so worth a try!), giving her full control over its craftsmanship from grape to bottle. She has the freedom to choose the specific grape varietal (the current batch is a Carignan Rosé) and decide when to pick the grapes at peak ripeness--the balance between sweetness and acidity--for her rosé, which tends to be less ripe than red wine grapes. Why is this method so rare? Well, producers making red wines are using that same fruit, at the same buying price, but rosé retails at a lower price point than red, making margins smaller and less appealing business-wise. Also, since harvest happens but once a year, producers have only that one opportunity to source grapes to make a Designate Rosé in that given year, whereas the other two classifications of rosé can be made "on the fly." Case in point, quality-wise, Designate Rosés are the best of the best: complex, yet delicate.

 

Here's to a long weekend well-spent with a heavy pour in-hand. Cheers!