The origin of most wines is usually pretty murky. For example, it is likely that the ancient Greeks drank rosé wine, as records show they had a practice of diluting red wine with water. But was it really rosé, or just watery red wine?
What we do know is that by 125 BC, when the Romans reached the French town of Marseille, the region had a reputation across the Mediterranean for producing outstanding rosé wine. During the middle ages, rosé was a significant revenue source for the region’s monasteries.
The first rosé Champagne was created in 1775 at Veuve Clicquot, and it was the same house that developed a method for making the wine by macerating black grapes in white wine – essentially blending red and white wine to make pink.
Despite this seemingly prestigious history, rosé never gained traction as a sophisticated wine. In his 1967 book Champagne: The Wine, The Land and The People, Patrick Forbes writes, “The firms that do make pink Champagne seldom serve it to their guests…. Indeed, pink Champagne, in the Champagne district, is considered somewhat of a question délicate, and is best avoided.”
Though rosé was made in California in the 19th century, it didn’t catch on in America either until the post-World War II era – and it did so with a twist.
Until this time, most rosé was crafted in a dry style, but in the mass-market frenzy of thetime, semi-sweet rosé became the toast of the town. This was fueled further in the 1960s and 70s, when Mateus and Lancers – sweet pink wines from Portugal with distinctive bottles – became fashionable.
For American winemakers at this time, consumer demand for white wine exceeded the grape supply, and Sutter Home saw an opportunity in this passion for pink.
The winery used a technique called saignée, or bleeding, to siphon off some juice from their red zinfandel wine and use it to make what they dubbed “White Zinfandel.”
Interestingly, this was a dry wine. The sweet version was accidentally created in the mid-70s, when a batch of it experienced a stuck fermentation, where the yeast died before consuming all the sugars and was put aside. Shortly thereafter, the winemaker gave it a taste and decided it was even better than the dry style.
Needless to say, the wine became hugely popular, spawning numerous other versions and a rebranding as “blush” wine.
Today, blush generally refers to a sweet pink wine made in America (with its inference of lower quality) while rosé is considered a dry or sweet wine that, though still relatively simple, is more sophisticated.
The most important rosé wine regions are in Europe, though this style is crafted throughout the world.
There are three ways to make rosé.
The first is through skin contact and is used when a pink wine is the primary goal. The juice and skin are macerated together for a very short time – generally two to three days – so that the wine has just a hint of color, not the full-on red of a longer maceration. This mixture is then pressed and the juice fermented into wine.
The second method is saignée, implemented when the rosé wine is simply a by-product of red wine making. You see, when winemaker wants to concentrate the color and tannins in a red wine, she can siphon off some juice at an early stage in maceration. This offers a greater juice-to-skin ratio for the red wine, and the juice drained from the tank can be fermented separately into rosé wine.
Finally, a rosé can be made by blending red wine with white. This method used to be relatively common, but is now discouraged in most wine regions. The exception is Champagne, though some high-end producers prefer the saignée method.
By dint of the fact that rosé wines don’t absorb the color, tannin or extract of their darker counterparts, they are actually very pleasurable wines. They have a combination of fruitiness, bright acidity and (usually) low alcohol that helps stimulate the appetite, refresh the palate and quench thirst.