Rosé wines are typically made by pressing red grapes (be they Shiraz or Pinotage or any of the grapes that you know as your favorite red wines) and allowing the juice to remain in contact with the skins for a few hours before separating them from the fermenting pink juice. This method is referred to as saignée, which means bleeding as the colour seeps or bleeds from the skins (in which all the colour compounds are found) into the juice. The degree of pink relates in most part to the red grape variety in question as well as to the length of skin contact. Judging the desired colour of the finished wine before it has fermented requires some skill.
Of course, rosés can be made by simply blending white wine with red wine, but these are rarely of high quality and this method is banned in all of Europe besides the Champagne region of France where it can be used to make Rosé Champagne. Interestingly, many of the earliest red wines were closer in appearance to today's rosés. Both red and white wine grapes were pressed by hand, feet or even sack cloth creating juice that was only lightly pigmented. Even after the development of newer, more efficient wine presses, many winemakers still preferred making the lighter coloured and fruitier style of wines. To the important English market the most prized clarets (red wines from Bordeaux) were, according to wine historian Hugh Johnson, the vin d'une nuit or "wine of one night" which were pink wines made from juice that was allowed only a single night of skin contact.
A rosé’s colour does not directly correlate with its taste. Darker rosés may have more body, which could appeal to those who prefer red wines, but paler ones can have surprisingly complex aromas and flavours. In both styles, sweetness varies. Some bottles are bonedry, while others have a slightly sweet finish. Sweetness is revealed only by tasting or by asking the salesperson. The combination of the bright berry fruit flavour and the ever so subtle tannin (which is experienced more as texture than the drying effect on the palate as we know from red wines) is the reason why rosés are so refreshing making them the ideal wine for summer. They are generally made for earlier drinking. A large part of the joy of drinking pink is their vibrancy, the brightness of hue - indeed the youth of them. So choose the current vintage wherever possible.
Today, we embrace rosés all year round as their stylistic diversity makes for anytime enjoyment. They are also extremely foodfriendly. Their versatility is due to their fruity flavour, bright acidity and texture. Dry rosés work best with lighter dishes, like fish, grilled chicken and vegetables, charcuterie, and salads. Off-dry and semi-sweet rosés work with a wider range of foods. Sweetness helps to put out the fire in spicy food, de-emphasise saltiness and balance smoky flavors which means that these wines are great for curries, braais and for sticky ribs. However rosés don’t pair with desserts as the sweetness of the pudding overpowers the wine, merely highlighting the alcohol and making it taste flat.
And yes, one can drink rosé and still be badass!
CityLife columnist Ginette de Fleuriot is a Cape Wine Master.