Popular in pink: how to make rosé


Rosé starts from red grapes: here being pumped over as they begin their fermentation. Photograph: Jason Lowe.

Rosé starts from red grapes: here being pumped over as they begin their fermentation. Photograph: Jason Lowe.

Interesting wines, still and sparkling, have led to a resurgence of rosé on wine lists. In an extract from our Wine School’s introductory book, Exploring & Tasting Wine, Anne McHale MW looks at how rosé is made.

Pink wine has become much more popular in recent years. Gone are the days when the sole association with the word “rosé” was a certain mass-market, semi-sweet, gently fizzy, pink drink. These days, high-quality rosé is made all over the world and in a range of styles. So how exactly is it produced? There are two key methods.

The most obvious way – though this is generally not permitted in Europe – is to add a very small amount of red wine to a white wine. The exception to the ban is traditional-method sparkling wines (most notably Champagne). There was a proposal to make this method legal for still wines too, but it was hotly contested by producers in rosé’s spiritual home, southern France; they felt that this would undermine their own traditional method – the second way of making rosé.

This can be described most simply as a shortened version of red winemaking: the “skin contact” method. In red wine production, the skins and juice are left in contact with each other throughout the fermentation process: this extracts colour and tannin. Grape juice, even from red grapes, is colourless – hence the ability to use red grapes in Champagne.

In rosé production red grapes are also used, but there will only be one or two days’ skin contact, to give a small amount of colour and virtually no tannin (this tends to be extracted later on in the red-wine process). After this short period of contact, skins and juice are separated and fermentation continues as for a white wine.

A sub-type of the skin-contact method is known as “saignée” (the French saigner means “to bleed”). Rosé produced in this way could be described as a by-product of red winemaking. Sometimes winemakers wish to increase the skin:juice ratio in their red wine fermentations to augment the colour and tannin levels, so they remove a small amount of juice in the initial stages of the fermentation. This, having had only a short period of skin contact, is pink and so will be fermented separately to make a rosé. A classic example is pink Sancerre, typically a by-product of red Sancerre production where winemakers want to bump up the colour and tannin levels of wine from the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape.


  • Provence: the long-standing home of dry, pale rosés to match seafood
  • Sancerre Rosé: crisp, light, mineral
  • Navarra Rosado: Spanish pink made from Garnacha (Grenache)
  • New World pink wine: from many different grapes; look out for Shiraz ones from Australia or Malbecs from Argentina

Browse our range of rosé on bbr.com.