Rose wine may not be a popular choice compared to red or white wine, but it has been building its name recently. Best served chilled, rose gives you savoury flavours resembling fruits like blackberries, plums and cherries. 

Friends drinking rose wine in a restaurant

Neither a white nor of the red variety, the rose is a pink wine produced from red grapes with minimal skins contact, almost similar to the white wine process. It’s a common assumption that rose is simply a blend of white and red wine, made from pressing white and blue grapes together. As a matter of fact, winemakers are not allowed to produce it that way – not if the wine is to be labelled as rose.

So what exactly is rose wine?

Rose wine is, in fact, made exclusively from the same blue grapes as the red wines are made of. These blue grapes almost always have a light, often colourless juice and so the obvious question arises: Where does the dark red colour come from? The big reveal: it is because the blue and red pigments are derived from the grape skins not the juice.

Let’s take a closer look at red and white wine production to have a clearer understanding of the rose winemaking process. In red wine production, the grape skins are simply fermented together with the juice, this is called the “mash” fermentation which in the process releases the red colour. For white wine production, the skin is removed which leaves only the juice and this process is also known as the “must” fermentation.

The release of the pigments from the mash during red winemaking typically occurs over a few weeks and, if this process is interrupted after just a few hours, only a little colouring will have been released from the grape skins. The rose winemaker takes advantage of this and assumes total control over the colour of the wine. Once the juice has taken on a slight red hue, it is pressed and transferred to another tank where it continues to ferment without the skins. It will eventually be bottled as rose wine. So, in the strict sense, rose wines are fermented red wines that have had only minimal contact with the grape skins.

Bottles of rose wine stacked in a wine cellar

Can rose wine be a blend of red and white wine?

Of course! This method does exist: a little red wine is added to a container of white wine. Pink coloured wines are made using this blending technique, but the resultant wines cannot be labelled as a rose. In Germany, such pink wines are known as “Rotling” wines, and famous examples include Schillerwein (a speciality from Württemberg) and Rotgold (from Baden).

However, there is one exception to this rule, and that’s rose champagne. With champagne, the description ‘rose’ can be applied even if the wine is derived from a blend of red and white wines. Certainly, many rose champagnes have been produced exclusively from white chardonnay grapes with a small percentage of red wine added for colouring, and to round off the taste. Having said that, some high-end producers still favour a process that’s based on grape skin contact for their rose champagne.

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