Around the world, rosé wine is loved for its crisp acidity, soft fruity profile, and easy-to-drink nature. Often referred to as vin de soif in France, an expression that means “thirst quencher,” this style of wine is lightweight and well-loved, particularly during the summer months.
Today, rosé is made by the best wineries around the world, including the best winery in St Helena. Each region varies in what grapes are permitted (or selected) to produce rosé, as well as local winemaking traditions. As a result, the character of rosé can vary greatly from place to place. Some rosé is famously pale, while others are salmon or even hot pink.
Rosé is truly a wine that has been around since the dawn of time. But what’s the story behind this delightfully pink-hued elixir? Who started it all? Let’s dive into the fascinating history and production of rosé.
The history of rosé
Rosé is the wine style of ancient times. Many of the first documented wines were rosé—and for good reason. It was the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, who brought grapevines to southern France in the 6th century B.C. They made their wine by blending white and red grapes, stomping them together, then diluting them with water. This resulted in a light, quenchable drink that tasted very different from the rosé we know today.
When the Romans arrived in Provence, where the Greeks were making their rosé, they fell in love with the pink wine of the area. Using their wide, well-connected trade route, they made rosé world famous. Over time, Provence became known for its incredibly pale-hued wines that we still know today.
In Provence and southern France, rosé is most often made from native grapes like Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Syrah, and the rare Tibouren.
Because of limited technology (compared to today), the wines of the ancient world tasted quite different. Bold, red wines were overly tannic and bitter, so it made sense to remove the skins from the juice as soon as possible in order to avoid an unpleasant taste. This resulted in a wine that had a pale, pink hue, and light aromatics. By 121 BC, this style of wine was popular all over the Mediterranean.
The reputation of pink wine takes a turn
In the 19070s and 1980s, rosé wine’s reputation took a hit, experiencing a decline in popularity due to low-quality, overly sweet styles taking over the market. However, a resurgence in the 20th century brought the popularity back in full force, as producers began to focus on high-quality, dry rosé with balanced flavors. Today, most of the rosé you see in the wine aisle is dry and balanced.
How rosé is made
In order to understand how rosé is made, let’s go over how white and red wine are made. As you’ll see, rosé falls somewhere in between the two.
Red wine is made by fermenting red grapes with their skins at warmer temperatures. The color, tannins, and many flavor compounds are found on the grape skins, and fermenting them together at warmer temperatures helps to extract more of these compounds into the wine.
White wine, on the other hand, is fermented without the skins at cooler temperatures. Without the skins, the wine is lightly colored and fruity rather than astringent. Plus, cooler temperatures minimize extraction, which allows the wine to retain subtle aromatics.
Rosé might see a little bit of both of these worlds in the process of fermentation. But in general, rosé is made by fermenting red grapes with their skins for a very brief period. After a little bit of color and flavor has been extracted, winemakers will remove the skins and continue fermenting the wine in the style of white wine—without the skins.
This imparts a light color and the hue often depends on what grapes are used.
Rosé vs. Rosato: what’s the difference?
The term rosé is often used when referring to French wine, but it’s technically correct to refer to any style of pink wine. Rosato, on the other hand, is Italian. But place isn’t the only distinguishing factor here: you can often spot the difference between a rosé and a rosato simply by looking at the bottle.
In France, rosé is made with native grapes like Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Gamay, and Pinot Noir. The wines are often made using the process mentioned above, leaving the skins on the grapes for a few hours before removing them and fermenting them like white wine.
These lightly colored wines make excellent food wines, pairing perfectly with creamy cheese, seafood dishes, and salads.
In Italy, the warm Italian peninsula yields a very different kind of rosé. The style is so different that Italians refer to their pink wine as “rosato.” The warmer climate makes ripe, bold fruit. The native grapes used are more often Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Aglianico, and Negroamaro, among others.
The color, tannins, and flavor compounds tend to be more extracted, leading to a deeper color that leans towards red, bolder flavors like fruit and spice, and tannins that make for an excellent pairing for heavier dishes with red sauce, pasta, and roasted meat.
Book a St Helena wine tasting
Wheeler Farms Wine is the best winery in St Helena to experience the beauty of rosé. In our lineup of four wines, you’ll encounter our rosé made from Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon and is a coveted grape of the Loire Valley in France. Our expression of this classic grape shows a subtle peach color and an aromatic bouquet of spring blossom, fennel pollen, stone fruit, and fresh golden raspberries.
Our tastings are a culinary adventure, accompanied by seasonal savory canapés and a private tour of our extensive estate gardens and state-of-the-art gallery. Book a St Helena wine tasting by making a reservation with us today.
From its ancient roots to its modern-day resurgence, the story behind rosé is a testament to the enduring appeal of this versatile, enchanting pink elixir. Whether enjoyed as an aperitif, with light salads and seafood, or alongside grilled meats and vegetables, rosé continues to captivate wine lovers with its delightful hues and flavors.
It’s a love that we share with ancient civilizations. So, the next time you pour yourself a glass of rosé, take a moment to appreciate the rich history and craftsmanship that goes into creating this beloved style.