Skin Contact, Part One: Pink Wines
It’s rose season and no one is more excited about it than ME! Pink wines are DELICIOUS Y'ALL. They’re refreshingly acidic, easy to pair with just about any food, and brilliantly unpretentious. As demand for rose grows, many winemakers are dedicating as much effort to their roses as their reds, and for that, we thank them. But where does this magical nectar come from? WHAT THE HELL IS ROSE?
It’s winemaking magic, also known as SKIN CONTACT BABY. These wines are made a few different ways, but the key to each is red grape skins.
[Grenache grapes I mean just look at those JUICY BABIES YAWL]
Both red and white grapes, when squished, release juice that is clear. The color in red wines comes from letting the juice of the grapes sit in contact with the skins for a period of time - called a maceration. The longer the maceration the more tannins and color are extracted from the skins. A powerful Italian Nebbiolo might steep with its grape skins for 50+ days, resulting in a wine that is harsh and astringent when young. A rose will steep with its skins for a much shorter time, usually between two and twenty hours, extracting a much smaller amount of tannin and color and resulting in a light and fresh style of the same grape. The winemaker simply drains the wine off the skins when it has reached the desired color and bottles it as precious pink goodness.
This is the most common style available and is used in the famous south France regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. These wines come in a full spectrum of shades from pale salmon to vibrant magenta. The color depends on the varietal and the length of maceration.
Some winemakers skip the maceration altogether and make roses using the “Direct Pressing” method, in which red grapes, sometimes mixed with white grapes, are loaded into a tank and squished together, draining immediately into a separate tank for fermentation. Contact with the skins lasts for only a few minutes, but a few minutes is all it takes! One of my favorite roses of all time, Ameztoi’s “Rubentis” Txakolina Rose, is made this way. It’s fresh and lively, with notes of ripe strawberry, limestone, and sea spray.
The third method for rose production is called “Saignee,” which translates to “bled” in French and is exactly as wild as it sounds. In the process of making their best red wine, some winemakers will bleed off a bit of the juice from the tank in which the red wine is fermenting and ferment this juice in a separate tank. The juice bled from the red wine produces a lovely wine on its own and serves the secondary purpose of concentrating the original red wine’s intensity, as a higher skin to juice ratio translates to a more structured and deeply colored wine. This method used to be common, especially in regions that make high quality, bold, extracted wines. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Loire Valley Cabernet Franc are perfect examples. Wines made in this way have always been limited, as only around 10% of the original juice was turned into rose, but these days they’re rarely made at all. We do not currently carry any wines made in this style at Denver Wine Merchant.
The final way to produce rose is, in standard wine fashion, the exception to the rule! Blending red and white wines is not common in the winemaking world, and is generally frowned upon by winemakers, EXCEPT when it comes to sparkling wines! It only takes a small amount of red wine to make a vat of white wine pink, so these wines generally only have around 5% red wine added. We happen to have one of the greatest examples of this style currently in the shop, Ruinart’s Rose Champagne, in which a tiny amount of Pinot Noir is blended with Chardonnay.
[Ruinart Champagne Rose, $99. You're worth it, honey!]
There’s a whole giant world of pink wines but fear not! We've done the hard part of tasting hundreds of them and selecting for you only the most incredible ones at every price point. See for yourself how pretty life in pink can be and try some of our favorites!
We LOVE Benanti’s Etna Rosato, with a firm structure, and flavors of ripe cherry, orange zest, and minerals that evolve dramatically in the glass as you drink. From a 12-hour maceration of Nerello Mascalese grown on the dramatic slopes of active volcano Mount Etna in Sicily.
[Overcoming Obstacles, $24]
Lioco’s “Indica” Rose is another not to miss. These 50-year-old Carignan vines have survived year after year of California wildfires and lightning storms, and 2020 was the worst yet. From a truly disastrous growing season comes a truly remarkable wine. It’s somehow silky and crisp at the same time and tastes like watermelon, fresh herbs, and strawberry yogurt.
Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure where to start at all? We got you covered there too. No place in the world is more synonymous with quality rose production at every possible price than Provence, France. We’ve got a few from this region, and Clos Cibonne’s “Tentations” blend is an excellent place to begin. This bottle is made from a mixture of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Tibouren, the grape that made this winery famous, grown almost nowhere else in the world. Expect a luscious, sexy texture, and flavors of honeydew melon, strawberry, and celery.
Thanks for reading! Check in next week for "Skin Contact, Part Two: Orange Wines."
Still thirsty for more? Come visit us at our shop on Fox Island, where we’ve got over 40 bottles of skin-contact wines and nothing but time to talk to you about them. Cheers!