La vie en rose

What kind of wine has dominated in recent years? What type has been most fashionable?

There’s not an atom of doubt: it’s rosé. Rosé is everywhere. It fills the pages of trade magazines; it tints the portfolios of countless wineries; and famous consortia launch it as their latest thing. Whether still or sparkling, cherry red or pale Provençal, a symbol of urbanity or a simple aperitif, rosé is the wine that everybody’s talking about.

But was it always the case?

In truth, the rosé explosion is something very recent. For years, it was relegated to a marginal role on the market. Only small, localized clusters of people drank it, along with a few maverick connoisseurs. Until only a decade ago, you would constantly hear the line that “Wine is red or white! Rosé’s not really wine.”

It’s not quite clear where rosé came from. Of course, there are popular legends. In Carmignano, back in more feudal days, the peasants had to pay for the rent of their land by giving up half of their produce to their landlord. One year, so the story goes, the grape harvest had just been completed and evening was setting in: the farmers said they would deliver the rest of the grapes in the morning. The must had as yet colored only slightly, having spent so little time in contact with the skins, and so it was this pale must that the farmers siphoned out of the bottom of the vats and kept for themselves. Hence the creation of Vin Ruspo, from the verb ruspare, meaning to “steal” in the sense of “skimming off”. This is one of the first references to what we know as rosé wine.

Leaving folklore aside, the official creation story of rosé goes back to two forward-thinking wineries: Leone de Castris and Ruffino. At the start of the 1950s, when no one had even entertained the concept of rosé, these wineries were the first to believe in a project that would change the world of Italian wine.

Rosé can be produced in three different ways. You can do the simple and banal thing of just mixing red and white wine, a practice that blights many a national market but which is outlawed in Italy, at least where still wines are concerned. Moving onto more respectable methods, light rosés can be produced through a technique known as “bleeding” (or saignée). As was the case with Vin Ruspo, this involves skimming off part of the red must during maceration while it still has a weak color and letting it complete its fermentation in steel vats. In this case, rosé is no more than a by-product of structured, concentrated reds.

 

Last but not least is the short maceration method, which is used to make the highest-quality rosés. The grapes are picked and treated with the utmost care, as if they were going into a white wine. They are softly pressed in a process that can last from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the desired color, aromas and structure of the wine. This is how the best rosés are born. There’s nothing to distinguish them from the great whites in terms of how they mature in both bottle and barrel. Some quality rosés are produced just from one brief round of pressing, taking a tiny part of the grapes’ color just from that. This is how one creates those pale, elegant rosés typical of the Provençal style.

The areas where rosé making thrives include Provence, the homeland of the pink. In Italy, Puglia does a very fine line in it, but today we find examples of superb rosés all over the place, from Lake Garda to Abruzzo, from Calabria to our own beloved Tuscany.