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Shades of Pink: What Determines the Color of a Provence Rosé?

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Grape variety, climate, winemaking processes all play a role

Vins de ProvenceNew York, NY – The rosé boom that has taken hold across the United States has created a new thirst — not just for crisp, food-friendly pink wines, but also for a better understanding of how a dry rosé wine acquires its color and character. In Provence, the birthplace of rosé wine and the world’s fine rosé leader, winemakers take the color of their pink wines very seriously.

Researchers at the Center for Research and Experimentation on Rosé Wine in Vidauban, Provence, have been studying the question of color since 1999, when the center — the world’s only research institute dedicated to pink wine — was founded. Director Gilles Masson and his team have identified four factors that determine what shade of pink a Provence rosé will exhibit — whether it’s lighter or darker, whether it tends toward a purplish hue or leans more toward coral. The first two factors are the grape variety and the climate.  

  • Grape variety. All Provence rosés are made mainly from red grapes, such as Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tibouren, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some varieties naturally contain more pigment in their skins than others, and this greatly affects the amount of color that’s released into the clear juice. Grenache grapes, which are the most prevalent in Provence rosés, are lightly pigmented, resulting in paler pink wines. Rosés with a significant percentage of Syrah grapes in the blend will often have a slightly deeper tint because of Syrah’s more intense pigmentation.
  • Climatic conditions. As a region with varied terrains, Provence sees clear differences in temperature, sun, and soil from place to place. For example, vines growing in view of the Mediterranean Sea experience different conditions than vines planted farther north, in the foothills of the Alps. For five years in a row (1999–2003), the rosé research center made 14 batches of rosé wines from grapes grown in 14 locations throughout Provence. Each batch was made using exactly the same grape varieties and vinification methods — yet the color variations among the samples are striking. And along with differences in the shade of pink came variations in acidity, aroma, and flavor. “We have demonstrated that, like great white and red wines, rosé wines are also ‘wines of terroir,’” said Masson of the research center.

The other two factors influencing the color of Provence rosés have to do with the winemaking process: temperature control throughout vinification and the length of time the skins are in contact with the juice.

  • Temperature control during winemaking. The freshness found in a chilled glass of Provence rosé points to one of the skills of the local winemaking trade: the mastery of cold temperatures to minimize oxidation and coloration. “Controlling the temperature is essential to the production of the pale, aromatic, round rosé wines that are typical of Provence,” Masson said. Provence winemakers were the first to invest in cooling technologies, which are now standard across the region. But temperature control in Provence begins at harvest (conducted at night, when the grapes are their coolest) and includes the use of refrigerated presses, thermo-regulated fermentation tanks, and cold aging facilities — all to preserve the freshness and color of the wine.
  • Skin contact time. The final factor in the paleness of a pink wine is determined by length of time the dark grape skins are in contact with the clear juices. The shorter the time, the paler the wine — which is why Provence’s palest rosés are those made via the direct pressure method: the grapes are pressed right after being picked in order to minimize skin contact and maximize purity and aromas. More deeply shaded rosés are those whose grapes were crushed and then allowed to soak (or macerate), skins and juice together, for a precisely determined amount of time (2 to 20 hours) and at a specific temperature, before the pink juice was released into the fermentation tank.

As the gold standard for rosé wine, Provence remains committed to investing in the art and science of rosé winemaking, including color analysis, for the benefit of all who enjoy their beauty, freshness, and balance.

The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), known in the United States as the Provence Wine Council, is an organization representing more than 600 wine producers and 40 trade companies from the Provence region of France. Its mission is to promote and advance the wines of the region’s principal appellations. The organization’s members together produce 96 percent of Provence’s Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) wines. More information can be found at www.winesofprovence.com and on social media: facebook.com/winesofprovence, twitter.com/winesofprovence, and instagram.com/winesofprovence.

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