Thinking Pink: With Rosé Wines, Tint Matters

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For the past couple of years, the stigma surrounding rosé has been evaporating like a glass of wine left out overnight after a party. Its status as the blot of the uninitiated probably had something to do with how rosé is often made.

Other than in Champagne, where red and white is blended to become rosé, the wine generally acquires its pink hue in one of two ways: from being in contact with red grape skins or from a method as brutal as it sounds, bleeding, in which the wine is nothing but a by-product of a process used to achieve a more concentrated red wine, with more color and tannins. (Usually the French term, saignée, is employed.) Juice is removed from the red wine fermentation tank, and rather than discarding it the winemakers ferment it separately to make rosé. The drinking of rosé, even in this era of acceptance, is still done without giving the wine much thought. It's meant to be enjoyed without effort or reflection, simply because it's pretty, pink, and refreshing.

It has great acidity but feels lush, which some might attribute to the hot pink color. So, does color have a flavor?

But when it comes to color, the winemakers themselves take their rosés seriously. Both rosé-making processes can result in wine that is the shade of coral or salmon, soft ballerina pink, or even deep fuchsia. Some spend years developing the perfect shade of pink for their wine. Others are bound by the tradition of their forebears. And some believe that the color of a wine can even affect how the drinker perceives its taste.

On one end of the spectrum is rosé from the south of France, specifically Côtes de Provence, which is easy to recognize, usually erring on the peachy side of pink, sometimes downright persimmon. At Cave de Cairanne, a cooperative of 100 small growers spread out around the town of Orange, winemaker Thierry Caymaris goes for a deeper coral color, but doesn't stray too far from the standard shade. While the cave's production is dominated by red, 10 percent of its wine is rosé, and that amount is growing in response to demand, both in France and abroad. Caymaris even makes a reserve edition, using grapes that are handpicked from the best plots of rough, rocky terrain dominated by limestone pebbles. A hint of stone can be detected in the Reserve de Camille Cayran 2009, amid the requisite notes of strawberry and citrus peel.

On the other end is your typical Rioja rosé—or rosado, in Spanish. These wines tend to boast a deep blush, such as Dinastia Vivanco's Rosado, which is cranberry in color and made of mostly Tempranillo, the region's principal grape, and some Garnacha. It's full of raspberry, rose petal, and toasted vanilla notes, and fruit that manages to be ripe and refreshing at once. It has great acidity but feels lush, which some might attribute to the hot pink color. So, does color have a flavor?


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In Burgundy some years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in an experiment that revealed something interesting if sinister—not only about rosé, but about the act of tasting itself. The experiment was held at a museum called, rather loftily, Imaginarium, owned by Maison Jean-Claude Boisset, a large producer in the region, and involved sampling two sparkling wines in an odor-neutral laboratory. The first was a rosé, which the participants—seasoned tasters, all —agreed was sweeter, carrying notes of strawberry and vanilla. The second, a white, was said to be drier, more herbaceous and citrusy. After comparing tasting notes, the leader of the experiment disclosed the zinger: the two were, in fact, the same wine, one simply dosed with a flavorless pink food coloring. The point: when we are served wine, especially rosé, we have already anticipated what it will taste like before it reaches the tongue. The color, for one, sets off memories and synapses that inform our taste buds. Studies show that the price tag can do the same.

This may account for many winemakers' calculated approach when it comes to color, such as that found at Long Island's Croteaux, which distinguishes itself as the only winery in America dedicated exclusively to rosé. "We are very aware of the color of our wines and the perception of the taste that is created by color," says owner Michael Croteau. "We have several wines that are very light, and one called Ruby, which is more full bodied and cranberry in color."

The Ruby Cabernet Franc Rosé is cranberry in flavor, too, and feels more fruit-forward than Croteaux's softer salmon rosés. Whether it's the Cab Franc or the hot pink that is responsible, however, is unclear. So, can we ever truly trust our tongues? When it comes to rosé, the answer may be no. But rosé isn't about trust or love or commitment. It's just a summer fling. And that's okay.

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Chantal Martineau covers food, wine, and spirits for such titles as Saveur, Imbibe, and The Village Voice. More

Chantal Martineau is a Montreal native now based in New York who writes about food, wine, and spirits for such titles as Saveur, Imbibe, and The Village Voice.
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