Mischaracterization and misunderstanding may be the best explanation for the current status of rose wines in America. From the early eighties until the late nineties, rose sales were large in the form of White Zinfandel and Blush wines. These pleasant cocktail wines unfortunately damaged the trajectory of our budding native wine culture by sidetracking our curiosity in other new wine tastes in favor of the sweet pink stuff. And the sweet pink stuff, pleasant as it was, was a far cry from what the category actually represented.
Roses, in all likelihood, are amongst the oldest of wines. If wine originally was made from the stomping or squeezing of grapes, the color that we recognize in red wine today would have been much paler. Our reds today are the result of an extended period of maceration of grapes leeching phenolics including flavors, tannins, and coloring agents from the skins, seeds, and stems. The maceration period of grapes in winemaking is actually a soaking of the grapeskins in the must thereby forming polymeric pigments in the must. Roses are made by a number of methods all of which cut short the lengthy process used to make red wines.
If the truth be known, reds from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and all of the great production regions of Europe were all lighter colored in earlier times. We have blogged about Ripasso Valpolicella, a wine created in the 1950s using the skins of Valpolicella grapes a second time to make a richer red wine than traditional Valpolicella. On April 27th of this year we blogged about Amarone, the great wine made from dried Valpolicella grapes further concentrating the flavors and colors in the wine. In that blog we discovered that Amarone was created accidentally when the light sweet and slightly frizzante Recioto wine was allowed to ferment too long, more evidence of the transition to darker red wines.
The great British wine expert, Hugh Johnson, wrote that in the middle ages the Bordeaux that the British loved was rose with the red wine of the times being considered to be inferior. Conversely, Champagne used to be thoroughly pink in olden times before white became fashionable. In current wine tastings in which tasters are poured wines in black glasses so they can't distinguish color, roses are usually the most popular.