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Why is pink wine pink?

Our wine editor uncovers a few myths about how rosé wine is made.

by: Cathy Marston | 26 Aug 2014

(image: iStock)

There must be more misconceptions around rosé wines than almost any other category of wine - and we’ll come to those in a second. But firstly – what makes a wine rosé in the first place and why is there such a wide variety of pink colours available?

Pretty in pink

Here’s a quick multiple-choice quiz for you:

Pink wine is pink because

a) The winemaker is a woman

b) Someone made a mistake and mixed two lots of wine together

c) Cochineal beetles love grapes and get mixed up in the crushers, adding the colour

Actually – it’s none of those. I was just messing with you. All the colour in wine comes from the skins of the grapes, so red grape juice starts out in life as white grape juice and then gradually the colour is leached from the skins to turn it red. En route to being a red wine, it obviously goes through ever-deepening shades of pink, so if a winemaker is making a rosé wine, then as soon as he is happy with the colour, all he has to do is pull out the skins and hey presto! Pink wine.

The colour

In Europe, pink wine can only be made from black grapes (except Champagne) but here in SA, you could actually have got away with answering ‘b)’ in the quiz above because sometimes that is exactly what people do – mix some red wine into a larger volume of white wine to make it pink. It doesn’t happen all that often for the most part, although it’s not uncommon to hear of wines being ‘colour-adjusted’ before bottling.

Blanc de Noirs – this is a term that you’ll often see on rosé wine labels and translated from French, it means ‘white from black’. In reality, this mostly means a very pale rosé (so hardly any contact with the grapeskins, which means it is virtually a white wine), made from black grapes. Nowadays, most people are using the name of the black grape instead (Merlot Rosé, Pinotage Rosé), particularly if their wine is dry because Blanc de Noirs do have a bit of a reputation for being on the sweeter side of life.

Myths and misconceptions about rosé wines

Right – let’s slay a few of these shall we?

Myth 1 – all rosé is sweet
This is just twisted logic because colour and sweetness have absolutely zero in common, it’s just that in the past MOST rosé has had a healthy dose of sugar to help it go down. The trend nowadays is more towards drier styles, particularly from the posher producers. How can you tell if it’s dry? Well, if you’re lucky, they’ll tell you on the label but otherwise, here is my VERY rough rule of thumb – if it’s in a clear bottle, with a white label and a silver screwcap – chances are it’s dry!

Myth 2 – pink wine is for girls
Actually, I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time answering this myth. Unlike the irritating sexism of a ‘Ladies Steak’ (and quite apart from the awful punctuation), there is no such thing as a ‘Ladies Wine’.  Real men eat quiche and real men definitely drink rosé wine, it’s as simple as that. But if you still need convincing, ask yourself this – if Brad Pitt can make a pink wine, then how much more macho do you want it to be?! I rest my case.

Myth 3 – pink wine is only for an apéritif
If you suggested this to a Frenchman or a Spaniard, they would laugh like drains. All around the Mediterranean, the drink of choice is rosé and particularly with food. All the flavours of the Med – garlic, herbs, olives, lush salads, fresh seafood – are perfect with pink wine so don’t just sip it beforehand, give it a go with your meal as well and see what I mean.

Here are a couple of off-dry pinks to try if you like ‘em a touch on the sweeter side. These are still fresh and crisp and both are wicked with food.

Knorhoek Two Cubs Rosé
Cheery quaffer with sweet red berries and cherries ending in a clean fresh finish. Perfect with spicy Chinese food.

Lanzerac Alma Mater Rosé
This has been newly re-launched, still in the now-famous teardrop Lanzerac bottle and is sweet but not sticky, fresh but not bitter. A great food wine.

Food with off-dry rosé wine
Similarly to the sweet/off-dry whites you can look at pairing your pink with spicy food. A spicy tuna steak is a good match as is a fruity Moroccan Chicken salad.

Extract from the book ‘Love Your Wine’ by Food24 wine editor, Cathy Marston.


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Read more on: wine  |  cathy marston

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