Winemaking Practices
IS ROSÈ RED OR WHITE WINE?
Written by Martin Kohn

Rosè is hugely popular right now. Especially, in the summer months in New Zealand, it’s a refreshing, fruity burst, perfect for New Zealand’s outdoor lifestyle, al fresco dining and social occasions. But what is rosè and how is it made. Is it a red wine or a white wine? 

Most wine styles are named after the region where they originate. Burgundy and Champagne, both in France are classic examples. Many of the traditional wine growing areas of the old world have become famous for a specific varietal or blend. Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir and Champagne is famous for its sparkling wines made in a time honoured way.

New world regions like those in California, Australia and New Zealand can no longer use these regional names. We refer to the varietal by the name of the grape. So – what the French would call Burgundy, we market as Pinot Noir. Champagne is referred here to as Sparkling, Methode Champenoise, or simply Bubbles.

Rosè is neither a region nor a grape variety, but rather, a style of wine which spans the space between red and white. These wines are usually made from red wine grapes, although there are exceptions. As the juice from all grapes is clear, the pink colour in rosè comes from the skin. 

In the past, rosè has had a reputation for not being serious wine.  It could be made cheaply, with left-over grapes, often just to fill a gap in the market. Usually made from the predominant red varietal/s in a given region, in Central Otago that means Pinot, and that also means very fruity, quite dry, refreshing wines currently gaining huge popularity.

So how is it made? The answer is not that simple. There are actually three methods. You always start in the way you would if making a red wine. Rosè wines are only in contact with their skins and seeds for a short time –  from as little as a couple of hours to two days. In this time colour leeches from the skins into the juice. With less skin exposure it’s just colour that infuses the wine. Longer times add flavour and tannin. Essentially, therefore, rosè is white white with colour from the red skin. They can vary from wines with the meerest, elegant blush of pink to robust, bright reds that shout “drink me now”.

The most common method for making rosè is the maceration method. While red wine are is made by allowing crushed grapes to ferment in their juice for three weeks or so, in rosè they sit together for a short time, from 2 hours to 2 days. The “must” – the grape solids – is removed and the remaining juice is fermented into wine.

Rosè is also made by the Saignée (“San-yay”) or “Bled” Method. Here the crushed grapes are added to tanks as you would in making a red wine. After a short time – enough to achieve the desired colour –  the juice, or some of it is bled off and fermented separately to make rose. This method is less common and has the added benefit of concentrating the red wine that is left behind. 

Lastly, rose can be made by blending a small amount of red into a white wine. If it sounds a little like cheating, it’s not. Just an addition of around 5% red wine is enough to make a rosè.  This method is less used in still wines, but common in the production sparkling rosè or pink champagne.

While Central Otago is gaining a reputation for its world beating pinot noirs, rosè has been winning awards, taste buds and hearts too. Pinot is difficult and expensive to produce and rosè is only made in this part of the world because of demand. It makes sense then, to put effort, craft and love into these wines. While a good pinot can take up to two years to make, a rosè can be brought to market within a few months of harvest, helping winemakes and growers with cash flow.

Now that you know something about these wonderful wines, grab a bottle or two, fire up the barby and enjoy!