Words by Victoria Kwok, Commercial Strategy Lead, DipWSET student
A gentle ocean breeze, pink wine in hand, admiring the view over the coast of the French Riviera (or the Italian, we don’t discriminate!) – the idyllic mental image that a glass of rosé conjures is undoubtedly one of joie de vivre. It is hence no surprise that rosé is often the drink of choice in the summer; so much so that every fourth Friday in June has been designated International Rosé Day, a celebration that started in Provence in 2018 .
Among the growing roster of celebrity wines that have entered the market in recent years, rosé has been the clear front runner in terms of name value and consumer appeal. We look to Kylie Minogue’s Château Sainte Roseline, Post Malone’s Maison No.9, Cameron Diaz’s Avaline, and of course Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Miraval (jury’s still out on future brand ownership). Besides its distinctive pink hue, what is it about rosé wine as a category that has captured the hearts and wallets of millennials and more? Is there more to rosé than its Instagram appeal? What is the difference between mass and premium rosé, and how much of it is purely branding versus a result of grape growing and winemaking?
How is rosé made?
I remember being at a Spanish restaurant several years ago, a few glasses of wine in, trying to mix white and red sangria in order to make rosé sangria. Laugh and scoff all you will, that is indeed how some mass market rosé wines are made – by blending a small portion of red wine with a larger volume of white wine. Blending is one of the three most common methods to make rosé. Besides being simple and inexpensive, blending wines that are already fermented (and hence not at risk of colour softening during the fermentation process) allows winemakers greater control over the pink hues that we know and love. In some cases, blending with aromatic whites also allows for added aroma and flavour complexity. However, this method is not allowed in many appellations, particularly in the Old World, and produces styles that are sometimes considered less desirable, complex, or premium.
In fact, most of the rosé that we drink obtains its colour from the skin of red grapes. Direct pressing produces the lightest coloured rosé, and is made similarly to white winemaking, in that black grapes are pressed and juices are drawn off almost immediately with limited maceration time. This method produces a very pale pink, light rosé, and is sometimes referred to as the vin gris method, quite popular for Provençal rosé.
For a deeper colour and more pronounced flavour found in the likes of Spanish Navarra or Rioja rosé or Tavel rosé from the Rhône, winemakers may leave the grapes in contact with juices for a period of short maceration before drawing off. The increased tannins and structures make these wines more suitable for ageing compared to its lighter counterparts. These may be referred to as “intentional rosé”, with the grapes being grown specifically for rosé production, which may include harvesting earlier to preserve acidity and fresh fruit flavour.
By contrast, some rosé production can kill two birds with one stone, as a by-product of red wine production called must concentration, in that some of the juice is drawn off just after crushing and before the start of fermentation. Through the process called Saignée (French for bleeding), the juice is bled off and then fermented separately. This results in a rosé wine that is lighter in colour, flavour, and tannin than a red wine, but is often bolder, deeper, and fuller bodied than a rosé made by other methods, as a result of grape-growing intended for red wine production. This style and production method of rosé is usually in smaller production, but well-known examples can be found made from Cabernet Franc in the Loire (Chinon), Cabernet Sauvignon varietals or blends in Napa Valley, Syrah and GSM blends across South Australia and the Southern Rhône . Some producers will also choose to age their Saignée in oak for additional complexity and softening of tannins.
Why do people love rosé?
One cannot discuss the appeal of rosé without mentioning its appearance. While I am by no means a social media expert, I am certain that if one were to run an analysis on the colour profile of content featuring wine on Instagram, the palette would spike more pink in the summer months. According to consumer studies, 1 in 10 consumers across the Americas, Europe, and Australia is driven by social media in their food and drink purchases, with the number increasing to 1 in 5 in China and India. Any lifestyle blogger or influencer worth their followership will know the importance of aesthetics in appealing to their audience, and its resulting power on influencing a positive purchase. It is therefore no surprise that rosé wines are presented in some of the most attractive wine bottles, such as square, embossed, with large punts, and unique curvature. As much as I too appreciate the elegance of a bespoke rosé glass wine bottle, I feel the need to point out the additional carbon footprint contribution from these often heavy-weight custom glass bottles.
Knowing the importance that colour has on rosé’s attractiveness, winemakers pay painstaking attention to their rosé winemaking and blending to ensure that the house style is not only consistent in aroma and flavour profile but also visually consistent year on year. It is no coincidence, for example, that one of the best-known rosé Champagne houses, Billecart-Salmon, perfectly colour-matches its labels with the wine’s distinctive salmon pink hue.
As for why rosé seems to be the drink of the summer, the fruit-forward, refreshing character of most styles of rosé indeed lend themselves well to a chilled summer drink by the coast (or on the sofa, where many of us ended up during lockdown these days). That said, the fuller bodied styles of oak-aged, Saignée rosé or those made from grape varieties that tend to produce intense, deeper, full-bodied wines (such as Tempranillo, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon), can be equally pleasant in all seasons – either alone or increasingly popularly as a food pairing. As with all food pairings, this depends on the style of rosé served: a light, dry, Provençal rosé might pair well with charcuterie or seafood; a fruity rosé I’ve found to be a great companion to spicy cuisine such as Thai, Indian, or Chinese; whereas a robust rosé could certainly stand its own against a hearty meat dish like beef, lamb or duck.
What’s next for rosé?
So, what’s next for rosé? Is rosé going to be a passing fad until consumers find the next Instagrammable drink, or is it developing into an enduring wine category? In part exacerbated by lockdown but also indicative of rising demand, rosé wine consumption grew 22% by volume from 2019 and six-fold since 2016, to reach more than 113 million bottles in 2020. One of the trends that has recently emerged is rosé Prosecco, which combines and maximises the growing popularity of both wines, following a change to Prosecco DOC regulations that allows up to 15% Pinot Noir. The first rosé Prosecco products entered the UK market in November 2020 and have unsurprisingly taken the supermarket aisles by storm, selling 1 million and 840k bottles in Lidl and M&S, respectively. While it is always hard to predict where the winds of the fickle wine consumer blow next, it’s probably safe to say that rosé is here for at least a few more years to come. I certainly plan to continue enjoying it, or as influencers have dubbed on Instagram - “Yes way, rosé!”
 Spearheaded by Valérie Rouselle of Château Roubine and Château Sainte-Béatrice
 Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre is a popular red wine blend in South Australia and in the Southern Rhône