When people think of the Italian wine industry, they tend to think about the many red and white varieties that make up such an important part of its history.
And it’s true. Red and white wines are a huge part of the industry. But that doesn’t mean that the proper respect shouldn’t be afforded to Italian Rosé wines. In fact, these types of wine often act as a perfect introduction into the world of Italian wines because they provide a nice middle ground between the refreshing taste of a white and the complexity of a red.
So, with this article we aim to take a look at the history of Rosé. It may not have been around as long as the more traditional types of wine, but it’s an interesting drink to discover all the same.
What is a Rosé Wine?
There are likely a few of you that have never tried a Rosé wine. Many more of you will have drunk one, but you don’t really know what makes it so different from other types of wine.
Rosé, like many wines, finds its origins in France. That’s certainly the country that gave it the name. It’s actually commonly known as a Rosato wine in Italy.
This type of wine has a unique production method that centres on the impartment of colour. As a really basic explanation, a Rosé is usually a red wine that doesn’t make use of the skin of the grape during the fermentation process. As a result, the wine that comes from the production tends not to have the intense flavours that these skins produce.
There’s also a myth that it’s a newer type of wine. In fact, we perpetuated that myth during the introduction to this article. But many experts believe that Rosé may actually be the oldest type of wine known to man.
Now, it didn’t carry the same label back during the ancient times. But some believe that the simple skin contact method made to use the wine was likely used by those who were first working out how to extract wine from grapes. This is just a theory at the moment, but if it’s proven true it may lead to Rosé earning more respect than it currently does from many connoisseurs.
Most Rosé wines are made using something called the skin contact method. This involves the crushing of red grape varieties. These skins are left in contact with their juices for at least two hours. Some producers may leave them in this position for an entire day. It really depends on the producer’s methods and personal winemaking philosophy. After this period, the must is pressed and the producer discards the skins. This leads to a wine that has a lighter colouration that traditional reds, as well as a less intense flavour.
There are other production methods besides this, with some being so controversial that they’re banned in some countries. This goes for the simple mixing of red and white wines to create wines of a different colour. This is a practice that is completely banned in France, outside of the production of Champagne. Many other countries frown upon this practice, which is why it’s rare to see an Italian Rosé made using this method.
The Early History
As mentioned, we don’t know when the first wine to carry the Rosé label was actually made. However, it’s likely that winemakers were using the basic production method for many years before it got given an official title.
It’s likely that the need to press grapes using hands and feet led to many producers preferring the Rosé method over others. In fact, deep and dark red wines were often seen as undesirable, even during the eras of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. As a result, the grape juice was rarely allowed to sit for extended periods of time. This resulted in the production of primitive forms of Rosé.
But, as palates developed, the major wine producing countries started focusing on developing stronger and more powerful red wines. The advent of mechanical wine presses also took much of the physical labour out of grape pressing, which meant more producers were inclined to allow the juice to sit for wine.
In fact, it was likely not until Bordeaux began to gain popularity that the Rosé production method started to fall out of favour.
However, the simple fact is that Rosé wines were seen as superior to other types of wines right up until the Middle Ages, which is when popular opinion began to move away from that idea. By the 19th century, Rosé wine has practically lost any reputation that it had for high quality. It was instead replaced with the many red and white varieties that we love today.
The Post World War II Era
This generally unfavourable opinion of Rosé continued until well into the 20th century. Producers and consumers just preferred red and white wines, which means that few producers used the old methods.
That all changed upon the conclusion of World War II. A pair of winemakers in Portugal coincidentally made sweet and sparkling Rosé wines. Importantly, they released them to both the European and American markets. Named Lancers and Mateus, these two wines set sales records all over the world and ushered in a new era of Rosé wine production.
Today, the general taste for Rosé has moved away from the sweet wines that led to its revival. Instead, most now prefer dryer wines, particularly in the European and American markets.
Still, Rosé is more popular now than it had been for hundreds of years following the shift towards regular red and white wines. While it’s perhaps never going to reach the same levels of respect and infamy of red wine, an Italian Rosé deserves a lot more respect than may give it. Moreover, it was likely made using a production technique that is as old as the wine industry itself. As a result, that bottle of Rosé that you’re thinking about buying has a much deeper history that you may have expected.