The beginning of summer used to be the time to begin talking about rosé wine. It always has been the perfect marriage of relaxation and a chilled pink beverage that you can sip on the back deck or at a table under a sprawling shade tree or umbrella outside your favorite Pennsylvania winery.
These days, the drinking season for rosé has evolved as much as the numerous styles being produced by winemakers across the state.
You can buy Pennsylvania rosés that run the gamut from light pink to salmon, many of them still wines under screwcap and others in corked bottles that you can drink now or lay down for a few years next to the reds that you want to age. More frequently now, you’ll also find sparkling rosés offered by the state’s wineries that can be saved for a holiday or consumed to make any day feel like an occasion.
How Are Rosés Made?
Rosés often are made by blending several grapes, and much like any excellent wine the quality starts in the vineyard. There are any number of grapes that winemakers use to produce their rosés, and many make several rosés that source different spots in their vineyards. Among the most popular grapes used for a high-quality Pennsylvania-made rosé are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Malbec.
Like white, red and sparkling wines, the best time to pick grapes for rosé wine varies according to geography and climate conditions. Generally, those grapes are picked sooner when they purposefully are being used in a rosé, sometimes as much as a week or two earlier. That’s when the grape has high acidity and more vibrancy. The exact time to pick depends on the style that the winemaker is aiming to achieve.
Limited Skin Maceration
There are several ways to make a rosé; by far the most popular method is a process called limited skin maceration. A winemaker crushes the grapes, and the juice is left in contact with the skins in a manner similar to how a red wine is made, with the juice drawing its color from the skins. They are left to soak for anywhere from several hours to a couple of days, depending on the desired style and color; the longer the maceration the darker and more flavorful it gets. Once the maceration is finished, the juice is then fermented.
There’s also a process called direct pressing, where the winemaker brings the juice into contact with the skins for a much shorter period than described above. Rather than allow the juice much time to soak and add color, the grapes are pressed quickly to remove the skins, much as a white wine would be vinified. That provides just a hint of color in the juice, generally producing the lightest-colored rosés of all the ways to make it. You can expect hints of strawberry and more citrus in these rosés, though the flavors can vary by grape variety.
The Bleeding Method
Another way to make rosé is by the saignée, or “bleeding,” method that also can be used to make red wine. In this process, a winemaker will vinify a red wine according to standard methods but beginning early in the maceration process will remove or “bleed” some of the juice from the tank. That juice is then vinified separately as a rosé, with the remaining juice left to continue vinifying into a more concentrated red since the juice-to-skins ratio has increased. In general, saignée method rosés are likely to be richer in style.
The Blending Method
Finally, there’s the basic process of making a rose by blending juices from different grapes, akin to how so many winemakers across the state produce their white and red blends.
Food Pairing With Rosé
Many rosés are released within 8 to 10 months after the grapes are picked, in time for the increased interest from consumers as summer and its longer, warmer days are approaching. Most are ready to be pulled out of the refrigerator and consumed immediately aside a salad, a charcuterie plate, or hummus and flatbread. Bolder rosés pair well with grilled meats. Many are bone dry, but you will find a variety of styles and types and prices that match what your palate (and wallet) prefer.
But there are a handful of PA-produced rosés that can be cellar-aged for years and gain in character and complexity, just like well-grown white or red wines. Ask your tasting-room server if the winery makes a rosé that can be cellar-aged.
Pour Yourself a Glass This Summer
Bottom line, there’s no season more amenable to rosé than summer, be it a still pink or a sparkling that adds some life to your “party.” Chill it. Pour it. Savor its texture and flavors. And rejoice in the fact that the PA rosés you have come to enjoy or want to sample remain a welcome sipping partner even after the calendar turns to October. It’s a wine that has become a year-round staple, whether it’s partnering with food or resting on a weekend afternoon after finishing some of those chores.