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Jun 1, 2009 10:57 AM

Rosé wines: what a mess! ( Or: my ignorance, like entropy, can only increase)

I always thought rosés are obtained by just mixing reds & whites. Right? Wrong!

An article in today's Le Monde talks about French rosé producers from the southwest complaining bitterly about the "rosé-coupé" project to be voted by the EC later this month (June '09). It seems the EC will decide to label as "Rosé" the red-white mixes, while (French)wines grown specifically as rosé will get an entirely different denomination.

"Ce n'est plus du vin, c'est de la chimie. Et ça décrédibilise le terroir" [ That's no longer wine, that's chemistry, and that makes our terroir loose credibility ] says Gilles Mouisset, producer who sells Frontonnais AOC rosés in Fronton, made from negrette, a grape (according to the article) brought to the region in the XII century by the Knights of Malta.

Here's an (older) article in English on the same subject:

A line in the article clarifies a little this murky subject:

"French winegrowers fear such a move would lead to thousands of job losses in France and endanger their traditional rose, made by the more costly method of leaving crushed red grapes to soak with macerating white grapes."

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  1. I'm not entirely certain, but this might be happening already anyway without the "rose" word appearing on the label.

    Even so, and I can't believe I'm even writing this, I don't think the French have much to complain about with the chemistry v. terroir argument. How really different is blending red barrels and white barrels from blending multiple red barrels or multiple white barrels? How different is it from blending Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which can legally contain 13 different grape varieties, some of them white? Yes, I understand that the CdP AOC protects terroir in theory, so then how different is this rose thing v. bottling wines out of appellation (vin de table, vin de pays) that still command high prices?

    The purist in me doesn't like this. The realist in me says big deal.

    1. have been reading about this for a month or so and my reaction was pretty much summed up by Brad. I should note that we also drink a fair bit of rose in our house as well, primarily french and then to lesser degrees, spanish, italian and from right here in the usofa

      1. I think that rosé Champagne (even the very good ones) can be made by mixing red wine with the white.

        Anyway, As other said, no big deal.


        5 Replies
        1. re: Maximilien

          «rosé Champagne (even the very good ones) can be made by mixing red wine with the white»

          That's the case for most pink Champagnes but a few houses, most notably Krug, make rosé by letting the juice macerate on the skins a short while.

          1. re: carswell

            one of my favorites and beautifully colored rose champanges is produced by Larmandier-Bernier and I believe they use the "contact" method; "saignee" - I think is the term.

            1. re: ibstatguy

              Yep, though the "contact" method is not exactly equivalent to the "saignée" method. In the former, the juice is left on the skins for a few hours or days, then pressed and made into pink wine. In the latter, some of the juice is "bled" off after a few hours or days and used to make rosé; the rest is left on the skins for considerably longer and used to make still red wine, a Coteaux Champenois in Larmandier-Bernier's case, I believe. Duval-Leroy (and I'm sure a few others) also makes a rosé de saignée.

              1. re: carswell

                That means there is at least 4 methods?
                1) Mix of finished wines
                2) Contact
                3) Saignée
                4) The one described in the OP's article, that is: "leaving crushed red grapes to soak with macerating white grapes"

                1. re: RicRios

                  5) No maceration. Used to make blush wines from dark-skinned grapes like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon and rosés from teinturier (red-fleshed) grapes like De Chaunac.
                  6) "Pink wines may also be made by using charcoal treatments to remove the colour from red wines which are for some reason not saleable as reds" (Oxford Companion), though I have trouble imagining they'd be any good.

        2. Sacrebleu!!! Someone needs to tell Jancis Robinson that she needs a much longer section
          on this subject in the Oxford Companion. Personally, except for Champagne, I'm much happier with only the 'maceration' (skin contact) method. Seems to be a more predictable palate descriptor when based on a designated grape variety(s). Otherwise, isn't it just a 'blend' of sorts?

          33 Replies
          1. re: Midlife

            So, using this logic (and stirring the pot), white zinfandel made via maceration is a wine of higher integrity than a blend of finished wines no matter what either wine tastes like?

            Why is it okay to add still red wine to Champagne to make a rose, but not add still red wine to any other type of wine to make a rose. Because it's been legal in Champagne for years?

            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              this is going to get me started on my rant about changing the geographic boundaries of Champagne relative to the concept of terroir... ;-)

              1. re: Brad Ballinger

                >>> Why is it okay to add still red wine to Champagne to make a rose, but not add still red wine to any other type of wine to make a rose. Because it's been legal in Champagne for years? <<<

                In short, Brad, yes. Tradition is a powerful thing. OTOH, I have found over the years a (slight) preference for Champagnes make using "l'addition". Any tannins provided by the addition of Bouzy rouge don't seem to come into play in the finished wine, so that isn't an issue . . . whereas it can be if one blends, say, Petite Sirah into Chardonnay to make a proprietary rosé.


              2. re: Midlife

                Can anyone name a V. vinifera STILL wine (as opposed to sparkling) that is produced by blending a red and a white together?

                1. re: zin1953

                  Cattail Creek's Serendipity Rosé. 85% Riesling, 15% Cabernet Franc.

                  "The Riesling grapes underwent a gentle pressing after which the juice, or must, was cold settled. The juice underwent a long, cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks in order to capture many of the delicate aromas which are characteristic of Riesling wines. Meanwhile, the Cabernet Franc underwent skin contact after which it was gently pressed and transferred into a stainless steel tank to complete fermentation. Once completed, the Riesling and Cabernet Franc were blended together to create this rosé." -

                  1. re: carswell

                    You know, I did this very same blend once in the Santa Cruz Mountains back in the early 1980s.

                    It doesn't surprise me that there *are* some, but I confess I wasn't thinking of Canada. Any from California? Oregon? Washington? France? Spain? Portugal? Australia? Chile? Argentina? . . .


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Definitely not France (not allowed--except in Champagne). I suppose Martini Rosato Vermouth doesn't count.

                      But there are some Italian DOC Rosato wines that allow a mix of red and white grapes (Nettuno DOC Rosato allows sangiovese and trebbiano; Sant'Anna di Isola Capo Rizzuto DOC is rosato only and legally can include malviasia bianca and/or greco bianco, but white grapes are limited at 35%).

                      So they are out there.

                      1. re: zin1953

                        The articles also state or imply that the practice exists in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia and South Africa. Here's one South African example: Robert's Rock Cinsault/Chenin Blanc

                        1. re: carswell

                          Why am I not surprised?

                          It does sort of defeat the concept of a *varietal* rosé though, doesn't it? ;^)

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Assuming "varietal rose" is somehow superior, yes. :o)

                        2. re: zin1953

                          Looks like Folie à Deux Winery's Ménage à Trois rosé is a blend of separately fermented juice from red and white grapes.

                          "This 2007 is a madcap blend of Merlot, Syrah and Gewürztraminer. The two red grapes received as 24-hour cold soak on the skins to give the wine its suggestive pinkness and luscious body. The Gewürztraminer was cold fermented to preserve the exotic spice and naked fruit. No malolactic fermentation here -- just crisp acidity."

                          1. re: carswell

                            Nothing on their website explais whether the juices were co-fermented, or whether the finished wines were blended later. Certainly a possibility, but . . .

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Huh? While I agree that the website doesn't come out and state it baldly, the above quote, which is taken from the site's fact sheet for the wine, clearly implies that the Gewurz is fermented separately. It also refers to the wine as a blend.

                              Edit: Have just emailed a query to the winery. We'll see what their customer service is like.

                              1. re: carswell

                                My money's on Carswell here. The Gewurz is fermented separately but the Merlot and Syrah could be co-fermented or not.

                                However they make it, this wine is one of the sweetest rosés I've ever tasted.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  «this wine is one of the sweetest rosés I've ever tasted»

                                  Thanks for the heads-up. The wine was brought to my attention by a local wine reviewer (not one very in tune with my tastes) who declared it the best in the latest wave of rosés to wash over the SAQ and scored it 89 out of 100 points (his rating system, like his palate, is *très parkerisé*). He admits that it has "un brin de sucre" (a touch of sugar) but says it's just enough to "lui confère de la rondeur" (give the wine some roundness). He concludes the note by writing "particulièrement savoureux et persistant, cet excellent pinard accompagnera à merveille le filet de porc mariné à l'ail et à la sauce tamari, cuit sur le gril" (remarkably flavourful and long, an excellent quaffer that would pair wonderfully with pork tenderloin marinated with garlic and tamari and grilled). From what you say, I guess not...

                                2. re: carswell


                                  I read the website. And while I, too, would PRESUME that the Gewürztraminer juice was fermented separately from the Merlot and Syrah, the site merely specifies"

                                  1) "The two red grapes received as 24-hour cold soak on the skins." That means NO fermentation.

                                  2) "The Gewürztraminer was cold fermented." So, too, I'll bet was the Merlot and Syrah -- either together or separately.

                                  * * * * *

                                  Let me make this clear. I've already stated I was thinking about varietal rosés when I made my earlier statement. And while most *non-varietal* rosés are NOT blends of red and white grapes, there certainly are some . . .

                                  1. re: carswell

                                    Note from the MÀT winemaker: "The wines are fermented separately and blended to perfection. More flexibility that way."

                                    You're welcome.

                          2. re: zin1953

                            Here's a Wine Library video review or several Shiraz/Viognier blends:

                            1. re: Midlife

                              With the admonition that Gary Vaynerchuk drives me up a wall, keep in mind that:

                              a) there is nothing new about Syrah-Viognier blends; they have produced in the Rhône Valley for generations, as well as in California, Washington, Australia, and elsewhere;

                              b) there's nothing rosé-like about them . . . .

                              1. re: zin1953

                                So..... now I'm confused.

                                Isn't a Shiraz/Viognier blend a "V. vinifera STILL wine (as opposed to sparkling) that is produced by blending a red and a white together"? Your question didn't say to name one that was either 'new' or ' rose-like'. ??????

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  Lots of still wines are produced by blending small amounts of white wine into red -- a Côte-Rôtie, for example, is permitted to have up to 20 percent Viognier added to the Syrah, IIRC off the top of my head; an Hermitage rouge can contain up to 15 percent Marsanne/Roussanne; and, of course, a red Chäteauneuf-du-Pape combines up to 13 diferent varieties, five of which are white . . . but that's the key: all these are red.

                                  Given the title of the thread, I presumed we were discussing rosés.

                            2. re: zin1953

                              Ha! Today's Wines of the Times column -- -- features rosés and mentions a Basque wine, the 2008 Txakolina from Ameztoi, one of the tasting panel's top ten. Azimov writes, "The Txakolina was made by blending the red hondarrabi beltza grape with white hondarrabi zuri grapes, a method that may be ancient in the Basque region but is prohibited in much of Europe. Otherwise, all of our favorites were made in the traditional manner of crushing red grapes only and allowing the juice to macerate only briefly with the pigment-bearing skins."

                              The ambiguous wording left me wondering whether the wine was made by co-fermenting red and white grapes or blending red and white wines. Google to the rescue... NOT! Ameztoi's website -- -- provided no answer, nor did any of the 50-odd tasting notes and wine store blurbs I looked at. Then, on about page 10 of the Google results, I found a link to a recent entry on Azimov's wine blog -- -- that mentions both the EU kerfuffle and Ameztoi's rosé. Surely the answer was at hand?

                              "But that technique [blending red and white wine to make rosé] is not prohibited ... in the Basque region of Spain, where the rosé Txakolina we tasted, the 2008 Rubentis from Ameztoi, is made by blending red hondarrabi beltza grapes with white hondarrabi zuri grapes.

                              "To be honest, I’m not clear on the technique used in the Basque region. I don’t know if juice from the red and white grapes is fermented together, or whether the red and white wines are made separately and blended later. "

                              Drat! Does anyone know the answer?

                              1. re: carswell

                                "The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation." — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

                                1. re: RicRios

                                  "He sat in the window thinking. Man has a tropism for order. Keys in one pocket, change in another. Mandolins are tuned G D A E. The physical world has a tropism for disorder, entropy. Man against Nature... the battle of the centuries. Keys yearn to mix with change. Mandolins strive to get out of tune. Every order has within it the germ of destruction. All order is doomed, yet the battle is worthwhile." — Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

                                2. re: carswell

                                  I don't know the answer, but I've had that wine and it's *delicious* Here are my tasting notes:

                                  Delicious and very interesting rosado. Nose is fresh and a bit salty, like the ocean, with a hint of perfume. Very zippy and fun wine that's surprisingly fizzy and has great minerality and acidity. Dominant notes of lemon, blood orange and sweet raspberries. Backed up by some herbs and flowers. Beautiful bright pink color. Like most rosés, this one's meant to be drunk now, so don't delay.

                                  1. re: oolah

                                    Thanks, oolah. The ocean analogy's interesting as the vineyard overlooks the Atlantic (see the winemaker's website for some gorgeous pics and video clips).

                                    After reading this and some of the other notes during my Google search, I'm salivating. Will have to see if it's brought into Quebec on a private import basis. If not, will wait until the next time I or friends are in the States.

                                  2. re: carswell

                                    I don't know the answer but I've been trying to track down the still red Txakolina as well as the rose. Have enjoyed the white.

                                    1. re: ibstatguy

                                      Do you know anything about the estate's farming and winemaking practices? Are they organic? Minimal interventionists? Do they use native yeasts? Etc. The website's not very helpful.

                                      Google turned up a video clip of some pre-phylloxera vines that were about to be ripped out so a highway could be widened (!).

                                      1. re: carswell

                                        alas, my knowledge on these issues is no greater than yours. I will guess, at least as to yeasts, that they use native yeasts.

                                      2. re: ibstatguy

                                        If you can't find them locally, Woodland Hills Wine Company has one still red ( Gorrondona Bizkaiko Txakolina 2007 at $23.99) and and two roses ( Ameztoi Getariako Txokalina Rubentis Rosé 2008 and Gurrutxaga Txakoli Bizkaiko Rosado 2008 both at $18.99). I have not tried any of these but their description of the Gurrutxaga sounds interesting. I may pick it up to try. Like you, I have only had the white before.


                                        1. re: scrappydog

                                          Thanks Scrappy - the Rubentis is what I've been looking for. I think Steve Timko has posted on CH and elsewhere about these wines.

                                          1. re: scrappydog

                                            I've had both the Ameztoi (2007 last year and 2008 this year) and the Gurrutxaga. Both are EASILY my favorites for this summer's drinking. Each has a bit of effervescence, and a solid mineral core. Good floral character.

                                            1. re: Brad Ballinger

                                              I agree. I was able to pick up and try both wines. I slightly favor the Ameztoi, but both are great. The effervescence is comparable to the level in Vino Verde in my opinion. Both are fun wines.

                                  3. Ric, can I change your opening line for a moment?

                                    >>> Q: I always thought rosés are obtained by just mixing reds & whites. Right? Or wrong? <<<

                                    Answer: Yes.

                                    The overwhelming majority of grapes of the genus-and-species Vitis vinifera (aka "wine grapes") have colorless juice regardless of the skin color -- that is, except for the **less than 2% of the cultivars known as "teinturier," the pigment is found only in the skin.

                                    Thus, to make a RED wine, you must ferment the colorless juice in contact with the dark colored, pigment-filled skins.

                                    In making a rosé, you *generally* ferment the colorless juice with the skins for a short period of time (anywhere from, say, 8-24 hours), and then drain off the now-rosé colored juice to finish fermenting by itself (thus ensuring it will not pick up any additional color from the now-absent skins).

                                    This is true with V. vinifera EXCEPT in producing Champagne. There, one can either produce a rosé Champagne by using saingée ("bleeding off" the juice; see above) OR, more traditionally, by "l'addition" -- the addition of a red wine (typically Bouzy rouge) into the white wine.

                                    * * * * *

                                    If one is using the native North American species of grapes, V. labrusca, to produce a rosé, the ONLY way to do that is to blend red and white together, as the pigment in found not only in the skins of the grape, but also in its juice.


                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Consequently, I must infer the line in the article is incorrect.
                                      Where it says:

                                      "traditional rose, made by the more costly method of leaving crushed red grapes to soak with macerating white grapes"

                                      should it read:

                                      "traditional rose, made by the more costly method of leaving crushed red grapes to soak with their skins" ?

                                      1. re: RicRios

                                        should it read:

                                        "traditional rose, made by the more costly method of leaving crushed red grapes to soak with their skins" ?