Ready for Rosé?
Don’t let the color fool you – these versatile wines
demand a serious second look
J. Stephen Casscles
Not quite a red, and not exactly a white, rosé wines
seem to be the most misunderstood and underrated
style of wine in the United States. Fortunately there
has been a slow but profound change in American
attitudes towards rosé wines, and the Hudson Valley’s
wineries are well ahead of the curve.
Rose is the French word for rose-colored, the color pink, and of course, rose-colored wines. Rosés, as the wines are known, owe their color to the fact that they are neither fermented entirely with the grape skins, like all red wines, nor fermented entirely without the skins, as is the case with white wines. These wines have a wide range of colors from blush with tangerine, to coral glass, salmon pink to electric pink, and peppermint to cherry. A rosé wine can range from dry to semi-dry to sweet, and from still to frizzante to sparkling. Rosés serve well as a stand-alone aperitif, are thirst-quenching, and are ideal with a summer meal. Like white wines, they are often served chilled, and as they are not made to age long, they are often drunk while young, crisp and fresh.
In Europe, there are certain regions that specialize solely in the production of rosé wines, such as the Anjou-Saumur (Loire Valley); Côtes de Provence; Marsannay and Beaujolais (Burgundy); Tavel (Rhône Valley); northern Alsace and Pineau des Charentes (Cognac). In Portugal, Mateus and Lancers are large producers of rosé, or rosado, as it is known. A wide variety of grape varieties are used in Europe for rosé wines, including Grenache, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Gamay Noir, Grolleau Noir and Chambourcin.
Europeans have always treated their rosés with respect. The British wine writer, Hugh Johnson, author of Wine: A Life Uncorked, suggests that, “while rosés have no long pedigree, and need no special serving etiquette, they are an all-purpose wine for thirsty people. It is a useful wine that can be a solid fallback wine at any time. They are simple wines that are refreshing and go well with many types of food throughout the year. Rosé reigns supreme at the informal lunch, picnics and kitchen parties. They are often categorized as specialty wines that are consumed by those few who truly appreciate their qualities.”
Unfortunately, in the U.S., unlike in Europe, the production of rosé is generally an afterthought to the production of other still or dessert wines. Here, sadly, rosés have the reputation of not possessing the cachet of a serious red or white wine. Further, rosé wines are not often mentioned in American survey wine books, and continue to be underrated by many wine drinkers. For instance, in the monumental wine text, The Wines of America, by the noted Leon D. Adams, there is little or no mention of rosé wines at all. I find them, however, to be versatile and fun, with the ability to pair well with many different types and styles of food.
Generally speaking, most rosés are easy-going, light and fresh quaffable wines that possess a soft balance of fruit, acidity and alcohol. The flavor profiles range from red berries like raspberry or cherry, to other fruits such as pomegranates, strawberries, watermelons or peaches. Aromas can be fruity like red or black berries, and fragrant like rose petals, violets and other flowers.
But it is wrong to think that all rosé wines are simple, or
lesser quality drinkable wines that cannot be taken seriously.
They can be made into quality firm, but bright, wines
of great elegance. As noted earlier, some of the most
wellknown French rosé wines are from exclusively rosé
appellations: Cabernet d’Anjou, Cabernet de Saumur and
Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire Valley; and Rosé des Riceys in
the south Champagne region. These wines are sometimes
oak-aged; they are firm with a steely finish, but possess
the fruit of raspberries, red currants, pomegranates and
apricots that can stand up to the wine’s high acids.
There two principle, classic ways to vinify a rosé wine. One way is to ferment crushed red grapes on the skins (maceration) for a very short period of time of no more than four to twelve hours. Another popular method called saignée, or bleeding, is used which removes some of the juice while it is going through primary fermation for red wine. This allows the red wine to intensify, as the volume of juice in the must is reduced, and the “pink” juice removed is fermented separately to create a rosé. In both cases, the process extracts some of the color and tannins from the red grape skins, but still leaves the overall flavor profile and acid balance of an acidic fruity white. These rose-colored wines can be fermented dry to make a fruity dry wine, or left with some sugar to produce a semi-dry to semi-sweet wine. The wines can then be aged in stainless steel or glass so that they retain their bright, fruity flavor profile. When made as a semi-dry wine, the sugar masks the high tartaric and malic acids so that the wine tastes soft, round and approachable.
To add complexity, some dry rosé wines are barrel-aged to give them more character. When made in this fashion, they are truly neither a red nor a white wine – they are something completely different. I have made these types of rosés from grape varieties such as Baco Noir, Burdin Noir, Cascade, Chancellor and Chelois, and then barrel-aged them for no more than six months. These barrel-aged rosés have much more complexity, nuance and tannic structure that can stand up to their big and bright fruit, from the nose to the finish. Look for our new barrel-aged Rosé in the spring of 2013, at Hudson-Chatham Winery.
Rosés can be very different in taste based on the grape varieties used. Here in the Hudson Valley, rosé wines are being made with both French-American grape varieties, such as Baco Noir, Cascade, Chambourcin and Chelois, as well as native labrusca grape varieties such as Concord, Catawba, Delaware and Iona. The latter are known as pink labrusca, or “Pink Cats”, and are fermented for only a short period of time. These labrusca rosés taste more like fruit wines that have a grapey, musky taste with spicy undertones, but with a soft grapiness (unlike Concord, which is a much harsher wine). They have a significant presence and are very fruit-forward and perfumey in the nose and taste, with notes of strawberries, guava, pineapples, cherry bubblegum and tutti frutti, but there is an underlying presence of spice. Even if finished sweet, these wines have a firm acid structure with a long, clean enjoyable finish. Examples of this style include Warwick Valley Winery’s Black Dirt Blush, Palaia Vineyards’ Joyful Pink, and Hudson-Chatham Winery’s Ghent Blush.
Those rosés made with French-American hybrid grapes, such as Baco Noir, Burdin Noir, Cascade and Chancellor, taste more like traditional, European-style rosés. They tend to be more subtle in flavor when compared to the labrusca-based “Pink Cats”, but are generally more flavorful than their French counterparts, which can be very light in taste and acid balance. Rosés made in the Hudson Valley have a more integrated nose of rose petals and violets, with fruits of light strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, watermelon and cherry flavors that carry through to the finish. In addition, these wines have more acid to back up the wine’s fruit, hence they tend to be finished semi-dry to balance their high acids.
A third, more controversal way to make a rosé is by blending – adding a small percentage of red wine (no more than five to ten percent) to a white wine. The process is outlawed in Europe and in France (except the Champagne region), but allowed in the U.S. When this method is used, the rosés tend to be more like a pink white wine, in that they usually don’t have the soft integrated tannins found in those fermented on red skins for a short period of time. However, they can still be versatile wines that go well with many types of food. Further, they can be made dry, semi-dry or semi-sweet. The flavor profile of these wines is similar to the labrusca and French-American varietal-based wines.
While rosé wines in the U.S. have often been overlooked these past few decades – the White Zinandel craze which flooded the market didn’t help – consumers are finally beginning to realize that these wines are not the sweet wines of old, but sophisticated wines made from popular varietals. Rosé wine sales are seemingly on the rise, and the Hudson Valley is producing its fair share. Check with your local wine shop, or better yet, visit a Hudson Valley winery. There’s never been a better time to discover the allure of these rose-colored classics.
Articles are adapted from the forthcoming book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley” by J. Stephen Casscles. In future issues of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, we’ll continue to feature additional excerpts from this definitive work on regional varietals culled from decades of the author’s tasting notes and personal experience.