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Mommy, Where Does Pink Wine Come From?

Every once in awhile, we get emails and calls from customers who have basic wine questions. When should I decant? What’s the perfect temperature setting on a wine fridge? Are screw caps really ok? (Yes, in fact they’re often better than corks!) One question we’re asked all the time during the warmer months is: How does rosé get its pink, Barbie-convertible color? Well, believe it or not, there’s more than one way to skin that grape. First thing’s first: It helps to know how red wine is made. Dark-skinned grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah actually all have clear juice inside the berries – you could make them as white wines if you wanted to. But these wines are red because when a load of grapes is crushed, the berries are macerated together in big tanks, sitting for several weeks or even months. During this time, the color from the skins of the grapes oozes into the wine. By contrast, light-skinned green grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are made by pressing the grapes right after they’re picked, so only the juice is fermented. The skins are thrown away. Now that you know why red wine is red, here are the two main ways to make rosé. The first is called the saignée method, which is French for “bleed.” Imagine you have a big tank of crushed red grapes because you’re making red wine. But after the first few days in the tank, as the juice is fermenting into wine, you take a taste and notice that the wine could really use more power, concentration and tannins – more oomph, basically. The way you add these things is by increasing the ratio of skins to wine, by bleeding off some of the wine in the tank. You’d open the spout on the tank and pump a small percentage of the wine into a separate tank. That little bit of wine that ferments in this new tank won’t gain more color since it’s no longer sitting with the red grape skins. You’ll end up with a more concentrated red wine in the first tank – and a little bit of rosé in the other. A winery that specializes in rosé might use the saignée method, only the tanks will be completely drained after just a few days of maceration with the grape skins. The skins will then be thrown away, and the pink juice fermented. The other method for making rosé is called vin gris. This method basically involves treating red-wine grapes as if they’re white-wine grapes, by pressing them shortly after they’re picked. Just the short hour or two that several tons of grapes spend in a large, mechanical press will extract enough light-pink color from the grape skins to result in a tasty, lightly pink rosé. So here’s the part where we blow your mind a little: Did you know that Pinot Grigio is actually a dark pink, almost purple Kool-Aid color when the grapes are first crushed? That’s because Pinot Grigio isn’t a green grape – its skin is purple. But after the juice ferments into wine, the purple color drops out over time. The winemaker can then use one of several other methods to remove the pink color completely, thus turning Pinot Grigio from a funky-looking rosé into a white wine. Lastly, have you ever had a pink sparkling wine such as a rosé Champagne? Those are often produced using the saignée method, as Champagne is usually made from any combination of grapes, two of the most common – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – being purple-skinned. But sometimes a sparkling-wine producer will make a sparkling wine pink in a much easier way: just add a dash of red wine for color. Now that we’ve satisfied your thirst for a little pink-wine knowledge, take a look at this value-priced pink wine, or this special one from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (seriously!). And don't be shy about getting in touch with us if there’s another wine topic you'd like to learn more about. Just leave a comment below.