Forget the Rose-Colored Glasses, Bring On the Rose-Colored Bubbles
A Rosé By Any Other Way
A sparkling rosé from Veritas Vineyard in Afton, Virginia
Vintage floral tablecloth belonging to my beloved grandmother, Lois McManaway Rieley
Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and sparkling rosé wines are showing up on displays in many grocery stores and wine shops, I thought it would be helpful to share a bit more about these pretty pink bubbles.
There are two main ways to make Champagne in a rosé style. First, there’s “rosé d’assemblage” which simply means a tiny amount of red wine (about 10%) has been added to the white wine before continuing on with the normal Champagne-making process—kind of like adding a dash of red cordial to water to get a pink drink. This typically makes a lighter style sparkling rosé. And, Champagne is the only region in France that permits rosé to be made in this way. This method allows for consistent color, year after year, which matters for Champagne, which predominantly contains a blend of vintages to maintain a traditional house style.
The other way, is known as “rosé de saignée,” a winemaking process commonly used around the world to create still rosés. In this method, which means “bled” in French, the winemaker draws liquid from the must while red wine is fermenting in the fermentation tank. As must creates wine, the alcohol level rises. Alcohol is an extracting agent, so as it increases it draws more color and flavor from the skins, resulting in a more deeply colored wine. Usually, the juice is left to extract only a small amount of color from the skins–the longer the contact, the stronger the color extracted; generally, this is only a couple of hours. This minimal maceration allows the must to develop stronger aromas and flavor profiles while slightly deepening the color.
Okay, now that we understand how sparkling rosé gets its delightful color, let’s learn a bit about the bubbles.
Traditional Method: Called méthode Champenoise in Champagne only, méthode traditionelle or classique elsewhere in France, and método tradicional in Spain for cava–this is also he method used in Champagne and for Champagne-style sparkling wines. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle itself. Winemakers add sugar and yeast to the base wine and seal it with a temporary cap, which traps the new carbon dioxide inside the bottle. The longer the wine stays in the bottle, the smaller the bubbles become. For non-vintage Champagne, the minimum is 15 months in bottle and 12 months on lees (dead yeast cells, which contribute to fine bubbles), and three years for vintage Champagnes. The smallest bubbles create the finest texture, resulting in the highest-quality sparklers.
Charmat Method: The second fermentation for this method takes place in giant steel vats, which trap the carbon dioxide and force it into the wine. This technique creates larger bubbles than the traditional method but smaller than with carbonation. Winemakers can create extremely large volumes of sparkling wine this way, which allows them to market the final wines at more affordable price points. Most Prosecco is made this way.
Carbonation Method: Just as with soda, winemakers inject the base wine with carbon dioxide gas under high pressure. The resulting bubbles are fairly large and don’t last as long as other methods; however, it gets the job done.
Here’s the thing: No matter what hue of pink or size of bubbles, everyone can enjoy this delicious, varied, food-friendly sparkling wine. A few of my favorite pairings are salmon, duck, tuna, turkey, grilled lobster, and game. Plus, sparkling rosé wines are often perfect with light salads and pastas. So, here’s wishing you a Valentine’s Day that’s pretty in pink!