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What is Rose Wine?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Rose wines, often referred to as blush wines or written rosé, are wines typically made with red grapes but that have a much lighter color than red wine due to the way the wine is made. The actual hue varies depending on the grapes and winemaking method involved; most of these wines have a pink, purple, or orange color. Rose wines may be produced in a number of different ways, and these wines can be sweet or dry; traditional European varieties tend to be dry, while many produced in the US are on the sweeter side.

The Difference Between Red, White, and Rose

One of the main differences in how wines are made — what makes one red, one white, and another rose — is how long the juice is in contact with the skin of the grape. In most cases, the grapes are different as well; pinot noir is a red wine grape, while chardonnay is used for white wines. The color of the final product, however, is strongly dependent on how long the juice is left in contact with the skin of the grapes. Roses are usually made with red wine grapes, but the skins and other solids are removed from the juice after just a few hours or days, leaving the final product a much lighter color than red wine, and with a less intense flavor.

How Wine Is Made

There are several different ways to make rose wine, and the method used does affect the final product. One of the most common is the limited maceration method, in which the grapes are crushed to make a must, and the juice and other solids stay in contact for some period of time. After the desired color is achieved, the must is pressed and the juice is fermented separately. Another method, called presse or "pressing," presses the grapes first until the juice reaches the appropriate color before being removed for fermentation.

The bleeding method, also called saignée, is another way to make the wine. In this method, some of the juice is removed from a vat of red wine early in the winemaking process. This results in a more intense red wine, while the light-colored juice bled from the vat is used to make rose. In some cases, the term saignée is reserved for those wines that are crushed by their own weight; piled together in the vat, the weight of grapes on top combined with the natural fermentation within the grape crushes those on the bottom, releasing the juice. Wine that is produced when the grapes are crushed mechanically may be referred to as "run off."

Rose wine may also be made by blending red and white wines, but this is relatively rare. Champagne is perhaps the most common wine made with this method, although pink champagne can be made using the limited maceration method as well. Many roses are blended wines, meaning that they are made from more than one type of grape, but the blend is for flavor and character, not simply to make a white wine turn pink.

Drinking Rose

The limited contact with the grape skins tends to give these wines a lighter, fruitier taste with fewer tannins. In general, the wine does not have as complex a flavor as a true heavyweight white or red wine — even if made from the same grapes. Rose wines are also typically at their best within a few years of production. Unlike red wines, this variety should be served chilled, making it a good choice for spring and summer drinking. It often pairs well with lighter dishes as well, such as seafood, chicken, and Asian foods.

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Discussion Comments
By anon146190 — On Jan 25, 2011

I remember fondly a Rose' D'Anjou 1957 and one from Cyprus.

By anon85745 — On May 21, 2010

In 1978 at age 18 my boyfriend's mom served me Lancer's Sparkling Rose and later Mateus Rose and I felt so grown up and loved the taste.

After years of refining my palate, in a fit of melancholy nostalgia, I recently bought two bottles of Rose because I liked the color - so pretty on the shelf (las brisas - Spain and Goats Do Roam - South Africa) and rediscovered a wonderful taste. Aromatic in a different way than reds and not sweet, which I hate.

I'm very color influenced so maybe I just like the color but anyway, I'd recommend. Diane in Wisconsin

By anon52016 — On Nov 10, 2009

Well I made myself the first rose wine from pressed grape juice. but so far the wine is seems so thin from the viscosity point of view. The aroma and the test is great but it lacks the viscosity. I don't think I like the view but I like the taste and the smell. -an333

By anon40399 — On Aug 08, 2009

I enjoy the dry European roses, and would like to try making some along with my usual reds and whites. Any thoughts on what kind(s) of grapes would be suitable for this? Locally available reds are Cabernet Franc, Landot Noir, Chancellor, Chambourcin, and Marechal Foch. I am inclined to use the bleeding method, so there would be some impact on the remaining red as well. Thanks.

By anon38854 — On Jul 28, 2009

Annette, I couldn't agree with you more!! I remember my mom drinking Beringers White Zifandel as far as I can remember. And as an adult I know why. I love it-- it's my favorite wine!

By anon37518 — On Jul 20, 2009

That's a great guide on Rose Wine.

By anon26837 — On Feb 19, 2009

try mateus rose from portugal! chers robothe glen.

By anon22054 — On Nov 26, 2008

I produced an excellent, fruity, clean great acid, flavorful rose Wine this past 2008' Vintage.

It was a blend of Three Grapes. The blend is a secret but I can tell you that I used some white grapes. The wine is off-Dry but very much on the Dry side. The wine is great with food! It is an amazing wine!

By anon20378 — On Oct 29, 2008

I just bought a rose to pair with a dish of chard and mushrooms. What is the correct temperature to serve the wine?

By anon16887 — On Aug 17, 2008

I have never been a fan of the rosé, however, today my friend delivered a Falset Rosé (Spanish, about $10.99 per bottle) to my home. I am surprised how much I enjoyed a glass of this wine. It is dry enough to please my taste buds, yet I can chill it and cool down in the summer heat. As a result, I will probably explore a few more European rosés before summer's end.

By anon1880 — On Jun 18, 2007

why exactly did they stop mixing to get rose? is it bad to mix red and white wines? i guess it seems a little neandratholic, but would it still work for a homw wine maker?

By Dayton — On Jun 15, 2007

I just got to try a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Rose last night--it was lovely! Not too sweet, but as you say, lovely for a warm summer night.

By gaaarp — On Jun 14, 2007

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a wine snob (I'm a beer snob, too, but I'll save that for another post). I prefer dry reds, especially Cabernets and Malbecs.

All that said, I have recently fallen in love with a number of Rose wines. It all started when a friend and I decided to have a summer wine party. We talked about the menu and what wines to serve, and we decided Roses were the perfect summer-evening-on-the-deck wine. I was a bit sceptical, but I agreed to try out a few Roses.

I started with a wine called "Bighouse Pink", which I did not like at all. My next Rose was much better. Then I found a White Merlot, which I absolutely loved. It was much more complex than a White Zinfandel or the Roses I had tried, but it was still very light and crisp.

By the time I found a White Cabernet (again, very complex, yet fruity and crisp), I was hooked. So, the Rose party is on the calendar, and I am looking forward to impressing my other wine-snob friends with a new old treat!

By anon939 — On May 09, 2007

I think there is so much snobbery connected to wine.It seems you have to like whats in vogue even if your tastebuds are telling you yuk! I love Zinfandel, best wine ever, but hardly any pub/restaurant stocks it, or any med/sweet wine for that matter, why is this when so many people i know love it? Its hardly giving people a choice when all the wines are dry or medium dry. Then there are the rose sparkling wines esp Beringer its fabulous. One pub i went to introduced me to it, then stopped doing it so i don't go there any more i buy it at £7ish a bottle & have it at home.Please if you have any influence get more of what i & many others want to drink in our pubs not just what we are told is fashionable. annette

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