Red + white = rosé? 3 methods of rosé wine production

How rosé wine compares to white and red wine production

A few years ago at a bar in Sarajevo, a glass of white wine was served to me in an unwashed glass that had previously contained red wine. When I pointed out the discolouration at the bottom of the glass, the surly bartender merely shrugged and said “rosé”. Now, I may not have known quite as much about wine back then as I do now, but something told me that this was not the traditional method of rosé production. Fast forward to yesterday, when I was working on a short translation on the three actual methods of producing this not-quite-white, not-quite-red wine. In their own way, all of these methods lie somewhere in between the principles of red wine production and white wine production: let’s see how.

Rosé wine production method 1: maceration

The most common method for still rosé wines is maceration. These rosés are made from red wine grapes such as pinot noir, grenache or zinfandel, which have red skins and white flesh. If they were to be made into red wine, these grapes would be crushed and then left to macerate with their skins and seeds for several days or up to several weeks, giving the wine a dark red colour and tannic flavour. If they were to be made into white wine (yes, red grapes can produce white wine!), the juice would be extracted very gently and immediately separated from the skins to prevent any pigment from transferring to the juice. For rosé, the process is somewhere in between: the grape juice is left in contact with the red skins for a short time, in many cases for a matter of hours, giving it just a slight blush of red and a less tannic flavour that’s much closer to white wine than red.

Rosé production method 2: saignée.

So the maceration method can be described as a kind of red wine production ‘lite’, and in many ways the saignée method or “bleeding off” is very similar. Saignée can be used in various ways and for various reasons, but here we’ll discuss its use in rosé production. It begins with a vat of grapes destined for red wine production, but some of the juice is siphoned or “bled” off prematurely from the bottom of the vat while the rest is left to macerate longer. So this method relies on the same physical principles as maceration, because the juice is, technically, macerated for a short time in the same way. However, from the winemaker’s and wine drinker’s perspective, these two types of rosé are very different. You see, rather than an attempt to produce an excellent rosé, the decision to bleed off some juice from the vat is usually a strategic decision in the production of the red wine left behind: it provides a higher skin-to-juice ratio, so the grape must will soak up more pigment and tannins, and the wine will be deeper, darker and bolder. This method is popular in regions that pride themselves on the intensity of their red wines, such as Napa and Sonoma. So while the rosé that’s been bled off is still sold and may still be very tasty, in many cases it hasn’t been designed with a beautifully-balanced rosé in mind, and is more of a by-product of red wine production. This is why many connoisseurs (not to mention dedicated rosé winemakers) consider it inferior to rosés that have been conceived and crafted as rosés from start to finish, although this is not unanimous and, like so much of winemaking, very much a matter of opinion.

Rosé wine production method 3: blending white wine with red wine

Now, if I were to tell you that some rosés really are just red and white wines mixed together, you might think that those would be the least prestigious type of rosé of the three. And if they’re mixed together at the point of sale, for example in a dusty Bosnian bar, you might be right. But in fact, this is actually the most common method of producing rosé Champagne. The méthode traditionnelle that all Champagnes must follow involves a second fermentation in which yeast and sugar are added in the bottle to produce carbon dioxide. Before this second fermentation takes place, a small amount (generally 5-15%) of still red wine such as pinot noir is added to the still white wine. For example, Domaine Carneros’ Brut Rosé sparkling wine is composed of 41% pinot noir and 59% chardonnay, with “part of the pinot noir juice” being converted to red wine early in the winemaking process, while the remainder is separated from the skins immediately, so the wine stays white. What’s more, many white Champagnes also incorporate (or are made entirely from) the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier: the only difference is that none of the juices will macerate in their skins at all. So while the blending method is looked down upon in still rosés has even been prohibited in certain regions, it’s actually the preferred method in the production of sparkling rosés and can produce excellent results.

So any way you cut it, rosé wine does fall somewhere in between red and white wine, whether it’s by a short maceration as opposed to longer or no maceration, or, yes, by straight-up combining red with white. Of course, any of these three methods can produce good or poor wines, but it’s always good to be clued in to what you’re drinking so you can identify your own preferences.

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Capitalising Wine Names: Part 2

When should the names of grape and wine names have capitals?

First things first: a very happy new year to all of my readers! I hope 2017 will be filled with wonderful new culinary discoveries.

As promised, I’ve dug a little deeper into the etymologies of some of the most common grape varieties and wine blends to bring you this quick-reference capitalisation chart. This chart shows which wine grapes and styles should take a capital letter, according to the article by William Safire that I linked to in my last post. This is only one of many valid approaches to capitalisation in wine, and it’s by no means the simplest. But if its Google ranking and the prestige of the publication are anything to go by, it’s certainly one of the most popular approaches, so I’ve decided to expand on it with the chart and explanation below.

PDO wines like Champagne and Rioja must take a capital letter. Other grape varieties like merlot, and styles such as crémant, don't need a capital.

As you can see, most grape varieties and styles are named descriptively, not after a proper noun, and don’t need the upper case. Merlot, for example, is thought to come from the French merle, meaning blackbird: no reason to capitalise there. Sangiovese derives from the Italian for ‘the blood of Jove’ – and while Jove is a proper noun, blood (sangue) is not, so it’s sangiovese, not Sangiovese. Even when speaking of styles of wine such as crémant, the name comes from a mere description of the texture of the wine, and is no more deserving of a capital letter than the word ‘sparkling’ is.

Then there are the wines that are named after geographical locations. This is a slightly greyer area, and I determined three ways in which the name of a wine can coincide with a geographical region.

The first is when the wine itself is named after the same region where it was produced: this is the case for wines such as Champagne, Côtes du Rhône and Rioja. No wine can be described as Champagne unless it comes from Champagne, meaning that there is a clear connection with the proper noun and it should never be written in lower case.

Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône blends are also named after their origins, but these have since travelled the world and it’s possible to find bordeaux blends coming out of California. This is the second possible relationship between geography and wine: the word does refer to the wine region, but its meaning has expanded to refer more generally to the mixture of grape varieties (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec). For this reason, I’ve placed Bordeaux, Burgundy/Bourgogne and Rhône in the centre column; unless the wine in question really does come from its namesake, it’s up to you whether to capitalise or not.

The third category is when a grape is named after the region it comes from, but wines made from this grape can be produced anywhere in the world: this is true of the grapes shiraz, chardonnay and valpolicella. Shiraz, for example, is the name of a town in Iran, and the grape was named after this town (the variant Syrah is simply the French name for the same town). But for the most part, when we refer to a wine as ‘shiraz’, we don’t mean that it came from Shiraz – we mean that it is made from the shiraz grape. In this case, I would argue that it should take a lower case letter, unless it happens to be an Iranian shiraz from Shiraz…

A bit of a minefield then, that’s for sure. It’s worth noting, though, that neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Chicago Style Manual has published any hard and fast rules on how to approach capitalisation in wine. Perhaps one day they will, but until then, it seems every publication and every writer does it differently. This approach makes the most sense to me, but you do you: as long as you are consistent and can justify your use of capitals, I’m sure the grammar police (or Grammar Police?) will leave you in peace. 😉

4 Jan 2017: Edited to correct the origin of Chianti wine (it is named after the region and should always be capitalised) and to clarify the aim of this article: to explain one possible approach to capitalisation in wine, not to maintain that it is the only correct one.

Capitalising wine names: bordeaux or Bordeaux?

When should the names of grape and wine names have capitals?

My last two articles involved quite a lot of wine terminology, and while writing them, I realised that I’m never sure how and when to use the upper case. I would write ‘Pinot Noir’ in the middle of a sentence, and the capitals seemed out of place; then I would switch to lower case, but then ‘champagne’ and ‘burgundy’ looked all wrong. So, when writing about wine grapes, blends and styles, should we use capitals or not?

This post by William Safire for the New York Times goes into great depth on this topic and confirms what my inner grammatical compass was trying to tell me: the names of some grapes and wines should be capitalised, while others should not, and it all depends on where the name comes from. Below, I’ve boiled down the information from Safire’s insightful article into a handy decision-making tool: if you spend a lot of time writing about wines, feel free to download this resource for future reference.

Use upper case for proper nouns - brands and geographical locations
How to decide when to capitalise wine and grape names – a flow chart

Not every publisher follows these rules: The Guardian uses lower case for all wines and grapes, while De Long opts for capitalisation in every instance. But in most sentences (lists, wine labels and other fragments don’t follow the same grammatical rules), all proper nouns should be capitalised, including geographical locations and branded product names, while other nouns should use the lower case.

Of course, this only works if you happen to know the etymology of every grape variety there is… So I’ll be back soon with a list of the most common wine types and how they should be handled, according to this chart.

What Spain is drinking this festive season

Christmas in Spain is a month-long affair, comprising several small celebrations each with their own traditions. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, the 25th of December itself is a relatively laid-back day, with the main Christmas feast taking place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena, and the exchange of gifts on the Epiphany or Día de los Reyes Magos on 6 January. The traditions also vary widely by region, with seafood understandably being more popular in coastal areas than in Madrid. In this post, we will take a quick look at some of the mainstays of the Spanish Christmas dinner table, and some of the wines that go best with them.

The Nochebuena dinner typically begins with a high-quality jamón and some cheeses. In fact, many Spanish organisations reward their employees each Christmas with a juicy ham to serve at the family table. The elevated salt and fat content of the cured meat calls for an acidic, tannic red; but preferably a fruity, light-bodied one with a hint of sweetness to avoid overpowering the subtle flavours of the ham. Sommelier Massimo Leonori recommends a young pinot noir, while jamón aficionado Oriol Balgaguer acknowledges that many reservas can also hold their own, the flavours of both delicacies elevating each other for a rich tasting experience.

Other traditional options include oysters (see previous post for pairings) and angulas, baby European eels that are very popular in Spain but highly scarce, a supply/demand ratio that has earned them a price tag of a whopping €1,000 per kilo: that’s more than a kilo of truffles and a kilo of caviar put together! Unsurprisingly, then, I’ve never actually tasted an angula, nor could I find a single site that would recommend a wine worthy of them; the best I could do was Maridaje y Vino‘s list of wines tagged ‘angulas‘, which consists of two 100% albariños from Rias Baixas: this one from Pepa A Loba, with sharp, citrusy notes underpinned by a mineral hint of seafoam, and this other one from Paco y Lola, which has a more savoury, herbaceous character with pear and apple aromas. Both of these are very affordable (€9-€12 RRP in Spain), which is just as well since you’ll just have emptied your bank account for the angulas themselves!

The course where Spain truly stands out, though, is in its desserts, the most classic of which is no doubt turrón. This mixture of almonds, honey and egg whites is similar to nougat, and Spain produces two versions: the smooth, chewy variety that originated in Jijona/Xixona, and its crunchier counterpart from Alicante. Both towns are located in the province of Alicante in the Comunitat Valenciana, a major almond-growing region. And while both turrones tend to be enjoyed alongside either cava or brandy, Cata del Vino suggests a unique alternative: fondillón, a sweet red wine produced exclusively in Alicante from mouvèdre grapes, or as they are known locally, monastrell. The grapes are left on the vine until over-ripe, then dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and madeirised in oak casks exposed to sunlight to accelerate oxidation. Comer Sin Milongas is less enthusiastic about the pairing, saying it is inferior to the sum of its parts; but if you subscribe to the old sommelier motto, “If it grows together, it goes together”, you’ll have no choice but to pair turrón with fondillón and see for yourself!

ICYMI, I posted last week about wine pairings for a French Christmas dinner; and I’ll be back soon with a similar post focusing on Italy. ¡Hasta entonces!

What France is drinking this festive season

As plans for the Christmas season are being finalised, the question on the world’s collective lips begins to form: what’s for dinner? What delights will be awaiting us on our plates and in our glasses? I know that this question is forming because I see it crop up in my blog feeds and newsletters from France, Spain and Italy, so I thought it would be interesting to take a comparative look at what our neighbours are eating and drinking this Christmas. Let’s start with France, where the traditional feast or reveillon is served on Christmas Eve: rich, indulgent appetisers like foie gras, caviar or oysters, usually followed by a game bird, then a multitude of desserts.

If serving pan-fried foie gras as a starter, Sauternes is considered a classic harmonious pairing, but beware of overindulging the palate with too sweet a bottle. On the other hand, Le Figaro sommelier Enrico Bernardo recommends contrasting the richness of the foie gras with a crisp late-harvest riesling from Alsace. As for caviar, Champagne is a sound favourite: its bubbles go wonderfully with the texture of the fish eggs, and its crisp, mineral character complements the oily, iodine-rich caviar. If opting for raw oysters, however, a bright, crisp muscadet will complement the mollusc much as lemon juice does, with a minerality that will elevate the brininess of the oysters.

The classic main course at a French reveillon is capon, a fatty game bird that can be paired with either red or white. Bernardo recommends a fruity and peppery Alsatian pinot noir, or else a punchy, apricot-heavy white from Châteauneuf du Pape. Alternatively, roast goose may be served, calling for a bold, youthful and preferably tannic red to hold its own against the powerful gamey flavours and unctuous texture of the bird. My Englishlanguage sources recommended pairing goose with Bordeaux, barolo or aged Rioja, or even a crisp riesling or gewürztraminer if serving with an apple stuffing; on the other hand, Bernardo recommends a tannat or a malbec for the chestnut-stuffed French version.

The penultimate course of the epic French Christmas dinner is Les Treize Desserts: the thirteen desserts. Originating in Provence, this generous spread of sweets represents Christ and the twelve apostles. Among its best-known components is the calisson d’Aix, a soft almond paste scented with candied melon which, according to Enrico Bernardo, pairs best with a muscat: occupying the space between dry and sweet, it neither overpowers nor is dominated by the sweet treat.

And so we arrive at the cheese plate, the signal that the feast is drawing to a close. The fruity, fatty richness of the cheese can pose a challenge for pairing, so use caution and plan carefully. Overly tannic and full-bodied reds are out of the question, as they will distort the flavour of the cheeses, accentuating their bitter notes: rather, fruity and floral gamays and pinot noirs are safer bets in the red camp. If you do opt for a white, it should be rich and fruit-forward on the nose: a nice chardonnay, perhaps.

Can you imagine surviving such an onslaught of food and drink? I feel ready to slip into a food-induced slumber just writing about it. Once I’ve recovered, I’ll be back next time with some more insight into what the world is eating and drinking at this special time of year.

Thanks to California sommelier Gian Pablo Nelson for his help in composing this post. Links to all other sources are included in the text.