Rosé – skin contact or blending?

In the UK wine world we are taught, as a fact, that the only decent rosé wines are made by skin contact – extracting a dash of colour from the skins of black/purple grapes, just as you do a red. Champagne that is made pink by the addition of still Pinot Noir, we are told, is an exotic exception.

Of course in recent months there have been moves in the EU to open up the rules, so that European winemakers can make a rosé by adding red wine to white, just as they can for home consumption outside Europe. I well remember listening to the radio when that story was in the news and feeling that it was wrong.

I always assumed that the old ways were the best. Getting the colour from the skins seemed more natural to me and just, well – right! What is more, until recently the only still Rosé that I had ever tasted, that I knew categorically to be made by blending red and white wine was a pretty dire affair – really dilute and lacking any substance at all. It was a South African wine made for domestic consumption that had been shipped by mistake.

However, recent experiences have made me question my unswerving loyalty to the skin contact method.

I went to a tasting of grower Champagnes recently and amongst some lovely wines I was able to taste two rosé Champagnes side by side. One was made by skin contact and one by the addition of still red Pinot Noir. It made me realise why the addition method had caught on – although I know there are technical reasons about colour stabilisation too – the addition of the Pinot gives a richness, a fragrance, a touch of red fruit and an aromatic lift that just makes the Champagne more attractive on the nose. The palate is made that little softer too with the red wine balancing the acidity and introducing red fruit elements that give the impression of the wine being a tad sweeter. All this generally makes for a more enjoyable rosé Champagne on the evidence of what I had there and of my memory. I am sure that there are exceptions, but generally I think this is true.

The first time I queried my traditional view was last summer in South Africa when I visited the beautiful Diemersdal Estate in Durbanville. Diemersdal are something of Sauvignon Blanc specialists and we had a superb tasting of five different Sauvignon Blancs from the estate and then a bit of a shock as we were presented with:

Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé 2009
W.O. Durbanville, South Africa

This is a blend of 97% Sauvignon Blanc with 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The colour was a lovely and lively coral pink.
The nose was fresh and grassy – very true to its varietal.
The palate was dry, delicious and clean with good acidity and balance, slightly softened and almost sweetened by the red wine.

I loved this wine it was a superb rosé, long, refined and elegant – 91/100 points.

Sadly this wine is not available in the UK, but other Diemersdal wines are available from Jeroboams.

However, what actually made me think this all through was a wine that I tried just the other day:

Southbank Estate Sauvignon Blanc Rosé 2009
Marlborough, New Zealand

This is a more wacky combination of 97% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with 3% Hawkes Bay Syrah that spent 12 months in oak.

Apparently they decided not to co-ferment the grapes, but to blend the finished wine as that can cause bitterness.

Again the colour is lovely and appealing, but not too dark.
The nose was vivid and appealing with bright strawberry notes and hints of rose petal followed by wafts of gooseberry and lime.
The palate was dry, but quite rich and textured with freshness and red fruit in perfect balance and the finish was long and lively.

£7.99 a bottle from Majestic.

Another lovely wine made in a way that seems odd, but works very well indeed – 89/100 points.

What both these wines have in common is balance and elegance, they are dry and have good acidity. They have none of these hot, jammy, sickly boiled sweet characters that afflict so many rosés. I suppose that is because, like rosé Champagne they have a very acidic base wine – Sauvignon in these instances.

So, two wines made by a process that I automatically disapproved of have shown themselves to be amongst the very best rosés that I have tasted recently. I have tried good rosés made by the skin contact method too, but at the moment these remain amongst my favourites.

It all just goes to show that perhaps after all there is no right or wrong way to make a rosé wine. All that matters is how good the wine is, not how it is made.

8 thoughts on “Rosé – skin contact or blending?

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  3. Hello, this is a very good read. Thank you. I’m thinking for Rose Champagne, red wine is added and then there is second fermentation and this helps to make the blend more integrated. This may be the reason why Rose Champagne can be good even if it is produced by using blending. For the Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé 2009 that you like, can you tell from the glass that the wine is made by blending? Does it smell and taste different from those rose produced by skin contact?

    • Thank you. The odd thing is that it does actually smell & taste of Sauvignon Blanc, but like with rosé Champagne the little dash of red just softens the acidity and adds fruit, so a I suppose you can tell in a way. Cheaper ones you definitely can tell, they seem thin and not quite integrated and have a watery character. Good ones though, like the Sauvignons seem to work well. So it might just be when there is a high acid style of WO e, like Sauvignon and Champagne.

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