- Melani Harding, Owner/winemaker at Bon Niche Cellars
Gone are the days of "White Zinfandel," which was a sweet rosé made of the Zinfandel grape. This was American's first exposure to rosé, and it has tainted our palates ever since. Fortunately for us, we are seeing an emergence of rosé over the last few years, many following the historical Provence style, which is light, fruity, but dry - not sweet. Many of the wineries along the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail have followed in this style, creating amazing and delicious pink wines.
"Pink" wine is made from red wine grapes - white wine grapes mature to a light green, almost translucent color, which imparts little color into the wine. Red wine grapes have a red skin, and some rare varieties also have red pulp. The color and most of the tannins in red wine comes from the skin, and it requires time "on the skins" to absorb this color. The darker the grape, the thicker the skin, or the smaller the berry (more skin compared to juice) all make a difference in how "red" your red wine becomes. The time the juice spends "on skins" contributes to the color of the finished rosé.
Once the red grapes for rosé are picked and processed, the juice spends just a small amount of time in contact with the red skins, making it very light in color and tannins. It's the winemaker's preference as to how long contact is
maintained, and may also depend on the grape varietal being used. For instance, Petite Sirah is a very dark-skinned grape, and makes a very dark rosé with only minutes on the skin, as seen with Tackitt Family Vineyard’s Sparkling Rosé. Grenache, on the other hand, is a light-skinned grape, and even after a full day on the skins may only make a light pink wine. My first estate Malbec rosé was an experiment, and we were so tired from bringing all the fruit in, I let it sit on the skins overnight. It was watermelon pink that year!
There are two commonly used methods to remove the juice from the skins. "Pressing" is the process that separates the juice from the skins and other solids. For our Bon Niche Cellars 2022 "Brava" Malbec Rosé, we pick the grapes early in the season, and then process and press within a few hours. I feel this is what gives our "Brava" rosé a little more body, as it gets some structure from the skins.
The process at this point then becomes very much like white wine, where fermentation most commonly takes place in a stainless steel tank, and the wine is ready to drink in a few months, rather than years. Traditional Provence rosés were made to drink right away, and meant to be enjoyed right away. Rosés today are light, fruity, crisp - and not sweet! They are ideal food-pairing wines, as they are usually acidic enough, like white wines, but the structure that the red skins contribute, even if just a little, can allow the wine to stand up to more foods. These are not the wines to lay down - open one on a hot summer day and enjoy!