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To put it simply, rosé has been around for a fair while, with its origins dating all the way back to the sixth century BC. It was made by watering down a combination of red and white grapes. Workers would crush the grapes together with their feet, creating a somewhat off-dry and tannic taste from the contact with the grape skins, stems and seeds. This pink diluted juice was considered the civilised way to drink wine in ancient Greek times, compared to the barbarous drunkards who would drink pure red wine or a skin-contact white-grape wine of the type we'd now call "orange". These days rosé has most definitely earned its spot at the table amongst its older siblings of white and red variants.
Nowadays rosé is more than just an offhand afterthought. Instead it is considered one of the most popular beverages worldwide. When it’s done right a good rosé certainly doesn’t taste of sour tannins, but more like a refreshing and zingy concoction of flavours and aromas. So how is rosé made today? And how do they render it so damn delicious?
There are two main factors when it comes to making a quality rosé - the type of grapes used and the timing of the harvest. There are also a few particular ways to make rosé. They include the maceration method, the saignée method and the less commonly practised blend method - all are valid and create slightly different flavour profiles and colours.
To macerate means to ‘soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid’. The maceration process happens when red grapes are left to soak, or macerate, in their own juices, picking up colour from the grape skins. The winemaker will determine the colour of the rosé depending on how long they allow the grapes to soak. Typically, this can be anywhere from two to 24 hours, with the juice deepening in colour and flavour the longer it’s left, thereby producing a darker pink rosé in comparison to a lighter coloured drop. The juice is then removed from the grape skins and the fermentation process takes place in the vat until the young wine is stabilised and bottled. This is by far the most popular and common method of producing rosé. Many different styles can be created depending on the variety of grape and the length of maceration.
The saignée method, otherwise known as the ‘bleed’ method, starts off in a similar way to how red wine is made. The grapes are all blended together, swirling and soaking up goodness, but then some of the juice is ‘bled off’ and separated into a new vat to make rosé. The remaining grapes are left to rest, destined to fulfil their fate and eventually transform into a richer and more concentrated red wine. Meanwhile, the ‘bled off’ juice begins its fermentation process in a different vat. This method isn’t as widely practised but will result in a flavoursome rosé that is notably more full-bodied and fruity.
This method is the least used of the three and is the closest version we have to producing rosé the same as our friends back in the sixth century BC. It’s really quite as simple as it sounds - you guessed it, a blend of white and red grapes. A little bit of red wine is added to a vat of white wine in order to create the pink colour we know and love. This method isn’t very widely practised today as it simply doesn’t make a very tasty rosé. However, it’s still commonly used in the creation of rosé Champagne.
So, there you have it, a little bit of history and a little bit of science that’ll make you all the more knowledgeable when it comes to rosé wine. Next time someone says “I wonder how this beautiful and delicious rosé was made?” or “Damn, how long has this delectable drink been around for?” you can be sure to wow them with your expertise.
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