On February 14th St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the world as the day of love and pink wines, still and sparkling, are often the drinks to consume to celebrate with. However, the colour of pink only slowly metamorphosed over time into the colour which today implies femininity and romanticism. This perhaps began in the 18th C in the Rococo period of art when the eminent French artists of the time portrayed women dressed in pink, for example the girl depicted in ‘The Swing’ by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. In addition, in this period Madame de Pompadour also helped to popularise bright pink by frequently wearing pink dresses. More recently, feminine icons such as the actress Marilyn Munro often wore pink clothes, on and off screen, and notably in the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ in which she was attired in a bright pink dress. In 1984, Madonna, was all in pink in her video accompanying her performance of the song ‘Material Girl’ and just in the last months the design house Valentino labelled pink as the colour to wear in its Fall/Winter 2022/2023 ‘Hot Pink’ collection. So, by a process of repeated exposure, persuasive advertising and general conditioning, the colour pink has become associated with women and femininity, certainly in Western society, in the 21st C.
Over time too, St. Valentine’s Day and the colour pink have become linked, and this is readily demonstrated by the plethora of pink coloured gifts on display in shops prior to 14th February (although this statement implies men are choosing the Valentine’s gifts and women are the recipients!). Similarly, there has been a pronounced increase in the choices offered and corresponding sales of pink (rosé) wine, still and sparkling, for drinking on 14th February. In the case of these rosé wines their colour of pink can vary from very pale pink to the colour of poached salmon, to almost orange, depending on the variety of grapes used and methods of production. The colour in all shades of rosé wines derives from the skins of black grapes containing red pigments (‘black’ used in this context is a generic term used to describe grapes with skin colours ranging from pale pink to deep black); the juice of a grape is yellow/grey/green and it is only the skins with their pigments which can impart colour to the finished wine. So how is this achieved for rosé wine?
There are four methods of making ‘pink’ or rosé wine:
Black grapes have their stems removed and the grapes are crushed and the resultant mixture is fermented in wooden, stainless steel or cement tanks at 12 - 22 ̊C for a time to extract the red skin pigments for the desired depth of pink colour required in the final wine, usually 12 - 36 hours. The skins are then removed to prevent further colouration of the pink fermenting juice which is then fermented further to the desired alcohol level. This final made wine is filtered and bottled and ideally drunk soon after production since rosé wine does not improve with storage and its fresh fruit flavours can deteriorate with time.
In a slightly different version of this process called saignée (in French, ‘bled’ in English), black grapes are crushed and the skins and juice of the mix are chilled and allowed to macerate between 12 and 48 hours for the partial colour extraction from the skins before some of the juice is drawn off by gravity (rather than pressing) and this free run juice is fermented at cold temperatures as similar to the white wine making process, but now the resultant wine is ‘pink’. The original remaining macerated grape skins and juice are processed further to give a concentrated red wine (the extra skin and juice contact in the crushed grape mix is increased allowing for the complete extraction of red pigments).
Another variation is found in France for the production of pale coloured pink-grey, ‘vin gris’ wine in which whole bunches of black grapes are pressed and the free run, lightly coloured juice is cool fermented to make wine.
Finally, for sparkling rosé wines (even in Champagne) still red wine is blended with white wine to the desired colouration as the starting point for the subsequent sparkling wine making processes – it should be noted that this is generally not permitted for the manufacture of still rosé wines.
The Grenache grape is very popular for making rosé wine because of its thin red skin (allowing for easy colour extraction), high sugar content (for achieving sufficient alcohol levels) and high acidity with light red fruit flavours (for refreshing, fruity flavours) and not surprisingly much rosé wine is made in Southern France where this grape variety thrives in the hot, dry climate. The Tavel appellation in the French southern Rhône Valley still produces some of the best rosé wines while its near neighbour, Provence, produces equal quality rosés. Further afield in Navarra, Spain the Garnacha grape again makes excellent quality ‘rosada’ pink, wines and back in France, Anjou makes excellent rosés, this time from Cabernet Franc grapes. Rosé wines still and sparkling are made all over the world from different black grape varieties to produce rosé wines in varying hues of pink: in California so called ‘Blush’ from the Zinfandel grape is very pale pink while other rosés, also from California and elsewhere, can range from pale pink to intense pink or even orange/pink from a host of different black grape varieties.
The ‘Drinks Business’ magazine runs an annual competition entitled the ‘Global Rosé Masters’ competition, in which rosé wines from all over the world are put to the test and compete for medals for their quality. In 2020 they identified hundreds of different rosé wines and stated then that there is a growing demand in terms of volume of sales for this wine category, not just driven by St. Valentine’s Day but throughout the year. So, whether it is a romantic tipple of wine you wish to drink on 14th February, or any other day of the year, you are assured a variety of rosé wines to choose from.