The story of white zinfandel began in 1972 when Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery was experimenting with a harvest of Zinfandel grapes. He wanted to increase the concentration of his red wine by removing some of the juice during the early phase of fermentation.
In 1975, a fortunate event occurred when 1,000 gallons of juice that were bled off failed to ferment completely dry. To his surprise, the result was a lightly tinted, sweet and refreshing wine.
Subsequent product development and sales created a sensation among a large segment of the American public, especially non-wine drinkers. Anecdotally, that success might have saved the winery from financial demise.
There are several methods of making rosé wine:
- Removing juice from a partially fermented red wine (saignee or bleeding technique)
- Crushing all the fruit and then removing a portion prior to fermentation (vin gris method)
- Limiting juice exposure to the must and fermenting a drawn-down portion (limited maceration)
- Adding white wine to a red wine after fermentation (wine blending)
Limited maceration is most commonly used, while the wine blending technique has become uncommon. Rosés of a deeper color are the result of the saignee technique and are generally more savory.
I remember enjoying mateus and lancers, both sweet pink wines from Portugal, in the late 1960s, but the history of rosés actually dates back to pre-Roman times. There is evidence that Provence had been producing outstanding rosés when the Romans reached Marseille in 125 B.C.
It was in the south of France that Spanish vines were planted by Greek merchants to grow grenache. The blending of grenache with the indigenous cinsault has long been the benchmark of the light, dry French rosés.
In the United States, a record 2005 California crop resulted in a proliferation of varietals used for rosés, as winemakers chose to make rosé rather than leave their reds unsold.
Rosés are made on a spectrum from bone dry to sweet. Herein lies the dilemma: How do you know what you are getting?
In general, European rosés tend to be dry and American rosés might be less dry to sweet. When in doubt and not having an opportunity to taste, check the label (which might indicate dry or sweet) or consult your store’s wine staff.
As a category of wine, rosés are generally lower in alcohol, have refreshing acidity, are fruitier and less tannic, are served chilled and are perfect for light summer dishes or sipping on the deck. Earlier this week, I had a cabernet franc rosé with barbecued ribs.
Without defined standards, rosé, blush and pink are terms frequently used interchangeably. There are some who use blush to identify a sweet pink wine made in America.
White Zinfandel is one style of rosé that has its place. No matter your opinion, it has contributed to the United States, becoming the largest wine drinking country in the world, surpassing France in 2013.
I cannot agree more with Rachel Sanders who wrote “There’s no shame in drinking pink wine.”
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