In recent years there has been an upsurge in interest in Rosé in all parts of the world. Having previously suffered the connotation of being a sweet housewife wine that is only sold in supermarkets, it now features, inter alia, on the wine lists of top Manhattan restaurants. Imports by the British market are steadily increasing. There are several styles of Rosé, with most of the growth occurring in dry Rosé. Rosé is produced in South Africa under a wide variety of brand names and styles. However, the majority of consumers still believe Rosé to be a sweet pink wine costing little; consequently it does not enjoy the same prestige as Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay. A few years ago the perception of "cheap and cheerful" also applied to Chenin blanc. A few dedicated producers and the Chenin Blanc Association managed to change this perception completely and today Chenin blanc occupies its place among Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay on the shelves. The same is currently happening to Rosé in the rest of the world and the purpose of this article is to provide local winemakers with guidelines to produce good quality Rosé that will not only appeal to the sophisticated wine drinker, but also make South African Rosé competitive on the world market.
There are several good reasons why wine cellars might want to focus on the production of good quality Rosé:
- A good dry or off dry Rosé is one of the fruitiest and most pleasant wine sensations imaginable. It is simply the perception that all Rosés are sweet and intended for housewives and students that prevent more people, especially men, from drinking it.
- Many Pinotage vineyards will produce Rosé wines of a quality that is far superior to red wines. This will enable the cultivar to come into its own and Pinotage Rosé is not only incredibly fruity, it is also a unique selling point for South Africa.
- Throughout the world there is an enormous red wine surplus. The same consumer who drinks light fruity dry white wine will also drink light fruity dry Rosés and consequently Rosé might help to alleviate the surplus.
- South Africa has a fair amount of virus infected red vineyards that struggle to achieve the required sugar for premium red production. These vineyards may be used for the production of good quality low alcohol Rosé, rather than attempt the impossible, namely the production of good quality red wine.
- Rosé does not have to be enjoyed in summer only. With good marketing, consumers may be convinced to enjoy a dry rosé with seafood, pasta and antipasta dishes.
Anchor Yeast asked 20 producers of Rosé (and Blanc de noir) how they produced their wines. The 20 cellars produce a wide variety of styles at various price points. The following different styles were identified:
- Single cultivar or blend of more than one cultivar, dry
- Single cultivar off dry or semi sweet
- Blend semi sweet and sweet
Category 1 is the fastest growing market, especially with regard to exports. This category also sells at the highest price points - from R25 to R60 a bottle - and is sold under the producer’s premium label. Category 2 fares second best and sales of these wines, on the domestic market especially, are doing well, but not nearly as well as the single cultivar dry Rosé abroad. Category 3 does not fare very well, with the exception of one or two brands that are doing well on the domestic market. Among the dry Rosés, the more expensive wines under the producers’ premium label fare better than wines that are bottled under a cellar’s second label and sold at below R25 a bottle.
It appears from this preliminary study that there is a growing market in South Africa and abroad for single cultivar, dry Rosé with a premium label and in the price category of Chenin blanc and even Sauvignon blanc. What follows are a few guidelines from successful Rosé producers.
There are basically three ways to produce Rosé: the "blanc de noir" method which is white wine made from red grapes; the saignée method, whereby juice is separated ("bled off") from red wine fermentations, or by blending white and red wine. Top quality Rosé can be produced using the first two methods. Various cultivars are used for the production of Rosé, the most popular being Pinotage, Cabernet and Shiraz. The yield per hectare ranges from six to eleven tonnes, and most of the grapes come from lesser bearing vineyards. It is clear therefore that producers of top quality Rosé place just as much emphasis on the quality of the vineyard than for the production of top quality red grapes. The law stipulates that it may be blended with up to 15% of another cultivar without stating so on the label. One producer of a Pinotage Rosé is of the opinion that 15% Cabernet Franc provides the blend with structure and acid, while the contribution of the Pinotage is mainly that of aroma. Another producer adds 10% Muscat de Frontignan to the Pinotage for additional aroma.
This is where vineyards dedicated to Rosé production enjoy an advantage over the saignée method. Producers with dedicated vineyards press the red grapes from 21 - 23°B. This results in wines with alcohols between 12 - 13.5%, which is exactly what the average consumer and the export market want. At these sugars red grapes have sufficient flavour and the fact that the grapes are not yet ripe phenolically is not important, seeing that the wine, if made correctly, will contain very few phenolic compounds apart from a few anthocyanins. Producers using the saignée method press any time from 24 - 26°B because it is important for the red grapes to be phenolically ripe for red wine production. Rosés made in this way may therefore be higher in alcohol. This is usually the fuller style compared to the light and fruity style.
pH is extremely important in Rosé as it plays an important role in the colour of the wine as well as in the wine’s ability to mature. It is important to adjust pH before fermentation. Grapes picked at 21 - 23°B may have naturally low pH with good acid, depending on the vintage and the location of the vineyard. Combining this with a lower alcohol will also enhance the light, fruity, crisp and at times mineral style. These Rosés usually have the most attractive colour (opinion of the author) i.e. bright pink rather than darker, tending towards red.
There is much variation with regard to skin contact. The cultivar that is being used will in most instances determine the duration of the skin contact. In general longer skin contact takes place when the sugar of the grapes is lower. In cultivars such as Cabernet, Cabernet franc and Pinotage skin contact is usually very short to avoid too many phenolic compounds. Some cultivars such as Gamay noir and Pinot noir are not very phenolic and skin contact may be longer. Skin contact is a function of cultivar, the ripeness of the grapes, temperature, enzyme dosage and the desired style of the Rosé. It is therefore very difficult to give precise guidelines. What is important, however, is that a red colour extraction enzyme should be used, in view of the fact that white enzymes may sometimes entail a side activity of glycosidase. Glycosidase activity has a positive effect on the aroma of white wine, but may have a negative effect on colour, and for that very reason it is also known as anthocyanase. The same applies to the Rosé sediment after pressing, although many producers use white sediment enzyme and do not encounter any problems with colour.
Different markets require different colours. European Rosés look like the wines that we have come to know as Blanc de noir. The Wine and Spirit Board have specific guidelines for classification of a wine as Blanc de noir and as Rosé. A wine can therefore be too light or too dark for the Board and consequently not be certified. This leaves little room for the production of "white" Shiraz or Cabernet, an interesting and very successful new concept that has been attempted by a Breedekloof producer. This concept entails the production of a "blanc de noir" without the intention of extracting any colour. The wine will in fact have a tinge of colour - almost like a wine that has undergone pinking, but the target market is the sophisticated wine consumer and the price point of the wine is higher than Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay and slightly lower than premium red. It is therefore not certain in which category this kind of wine will fall in future if more producers start making it.
One of the ways in which winemakers add colour to their (saignée) Rosé is by extending the skin contact. However, if this means that there will be more tannins, they separate the majority of the juice and allow the rest of the juice to ferment a little longer before bleeding off another little bit which is then darker. One producer blends in a certain percentage of thermovinification wine to obtain the correct colour for Rosé and others add a little bit of red wine to the final product - less than 15%. One producer does a test of the final colour of the Rosé wine by diluting the juice half and half with water in a wine glass. This compensates for the colour that is lost in fermentation. This procedure is used to determine the duration of skin contact.
Yeasts and fermentation temperature
The most commonly used yeast is VIN 13 followed by VIN 7. A few individuals also fermented with CKS 102, K 7, NT 116, QA 23, VL 3 and SC 22. The first six yeasts are able to ferment cold and since Rosé juice is handled like white wine after pressing, the winemaker usually opts for cold fermentation with aromatic yeasts. As with white wine production it goes without saying that winemakers will have different preferences for yeasts. The fermentation temperatures range mainly from 13 - 16°C. Rosés can have many different aromas, but by selecting specific yeasts, certain aromas may be enhanced. For example VIN 7 on Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz is able to emphasise "Sauvignon blanc" type aromas because all three cultivars contain thiols. The strawberry, raspberry, plum and cherry aromas of many red wines and therefore also Rosés, are esters and may be enhanced by ester forming yeasts such as VIN 13 and CKS 102. NT 116 may be used on any red grapes except Pinotage. NT 116 forms high concentrations of iso-amyl acetate which has a pleasant smell in all wines except Pinotage, where it may occur in excessively high concentrations. It should preferably not be used for Pinotage Rosé therefore. It is used with great success for Pinotage red wine in view of the fact that ester formation is much less at high temperatures.
Stabilisation and filtration
Most producers who have dedicated vineyards for Rosé or those who use the saignée method for production find it unnecessary to reduce phenolic compounds with fining agents such as gelatine and eggwhite. This is because little to no fermentation takes place on the skins. Only the usual protein and tartrate stabilisation take place before bottling. Most producers do sterile filtration even when the wine is dry. A few of the dry Rosé producers only do sheet filtrations.
Cork, Synthetic cork, screw cap
At present there are only a few top Rosés in screw cap, the reason being that the SA market is not very amenable yet to this type of packaging. Some producers also have special bottles on which the screw cap will not fit. In general the good quality dry Rosés have a screw cap or cork. Diam cork is increasingly popular as it cannot possibly get cork faults.
Future of Rosé?
Some of the producers who were interviewed are convinced that Rosé has a very good future. They have to produce increasing volumes for the US market each year. This market prefers mainly high quality dry, single cultivar Rosé. Producers with good domestic sales are those with strong brands and aggressive marketing campaigns.
Anchor Yeast would like to express its thanks to the following cellars for their participation in this study: Nederburg, Lanzerac, Van Loveren, Bon Courage, Rietvallei, Koelenhof, Allée Blue, Swartland, Darling Cellars, Delheim, Fairview, Slaley, Avondale, Bernheim, Asara, Mulderbosch, Morgenhof, Wellington Cooperative Cellar, Rooiberg and Môreson.
1. Jeff Morgan: Rosé, a guide to the world’s most versatile wine.
2. South African wine industry: Personal communications.