As temperatures rise and the sun shines, my thoughts turn to pink wines. Nothing looks more attractive in a stemmed glass, and many pink wines offer a little more ‘body and flavour than a white wine, yet can be chilled right down and treated the same way.
Many of us started our love affair with wine on pink wines. Crowd pleasers like Portugal’s Mateus and Lancers rosés let us show our sophistication at restaurant tables while cleverly avoiding ‘white with fish’ and ‘red with meat’ food matching issues. These wines were aimed at new drinkers as they were made with a hefty dose of sweetness. Both are still available, both with their packaging updated and made a little less sweet for today’s palate.
These pioneers were followed by a flood of Californian wines made from varieties including Zinfandel and Grenache and named ‘blush’ to avoid the awkward accented French ‘rosé’.
Pink wines get their colour from the skins of black grapes because the juice of nearly all grapes is clear. There are three ways to make a pink wine.
First way is to make it the same way as if it was going to be a red wine by fermenting the juice with the skins, but to press out the juice from the skins after just a few hours of fermentation.
Second way is as a by product of making a red wine that has a deeper colour and more intense flavour, which is to draw off some of the fermenting juice to increase the grape skin to juice ratio of the red wine. The technical name for this technique is ‘saignée’, the French word for bleed, referring to bleeding off the juice. This was how Sutter Home winery’s first White Zinfandel came about. They decided to sell the drawn off juice. Over time they made it pinker and sweeter and within a few years it was selling millions of cases and had started a new wine category.
The last way is to blend a little red wine into white wine. This method is not permitted (except for pink Champage) in most old world countries.
Pink wine doesn’t have to be sweet. Bone dry versions are plentiful and many wineries make at least one. But it is the Provence region in the south of France that is famous for producing pink wines. I recall entering a crowded restaurant in Provence and seeing every single table drinking pink wine. Yet the word pink inadequately describes the various colours in diner’s glasses. From the palest delicate off white, through dusty and rose to almost orange, with a few almost neon shocking pinks.
Sweet or dry, still or sparkling, pale or shocking, summer time is the time to think pink and drink pink.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.