As we head into springtime which is universally celebrated with a glass of rosé, let’s take a look at how winemakers make the pink stuff. There are 4 methods of rosé production; limiting skin contact, direct pressing, Saignée method, and more rarely; blending.
Rosé is made almost exclusively from red grapes. Inside 99% of Vitis vinifera grapes, both red and white, the pulp and juice inside a grape is a greyish clear color. Therefore, wine can only get its color from the grape skins. Firstly, let’s take a look at how red wine is made. This will give a clearer picture of how rosé is made.
In order to make red wines, the juice must have extended contact with its skins that hold pigmentation compounds called anthocyanins. The longer the skins soak with the juice, or macerate, the more color that will impart on the wine. Maceration occurs simultaneously with fermentation. As alcohol and heat rise in the solution, the color from the blackish-red skins seeps into the wine. Red wine color from anthocyanins maxes out at around 4 days, meaning after 4 days most of the pigment has made its way into the wine.
To make rosé. skin contact needs to be minimized to only impart a small amount of color. This is done in the following ways.
Limited Skin Contact
Limiting skin contact is the most common way. Simply, the winemaker allows the juice to sit with the skins for a few hours or as long as a couple of days; the longer the maceration the darker pink the wine becomes. Once the winemaker is happy with the shade of pink they have achieved, the juice is pressed away from the skins.
Direct pressing follows the same concept. However with direct pressing, as its name implies, the skins have hardly any time to give off-color. Rosé made by the direct press will have the lightest color as it has the shortest contact with the skins.
Saignée method is also known as bleeding. This method serves two purposes to concentrate colors in red wine and to make rosé. Firstly, winemakers bleed off juice from a fermenting batch of red wine leaving more skins and less juice which concentrates the color in the wine they are making. The juice that bleeds off is not wasted; it’s rosé! The Saignée method will produce the darkest pink colors.
Lastly and most rarely, blending. Blending white wine and red wine would seem to be the easiest way of making rosé. Anyone who went to kindergarten knows that white paint and red paint make pink. However, this isn’t allowed in most wine regions. The most famous exception is rosé Champagne. Even a tiny amount of red wine will change the color to pink.