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Short Stories for Teachers

Rose Wine History
By:Marika Josephson

Rosé, whose French name means "pink" or "reddish," is a light red wine whose popularity with wine connoisseurs in the United States has always been tenuous due to its apparent similarity to sweet pink wines like white zinfandel. However, rosé wine is delicate and complex when made in the style of its European progenitors, and recently has once again become popular in the United States as a wine of elegance and versatility.


Rosés get their color in the same way red wines do--by putting the juice from the grapes in contact with the red skins during fermentation. The difference between the two, however, is that the contact is shorter for rosés. Another method, called "saignée" (or "bleeding"), removes some wine while it is going through a primary fermentation for reds. This makes the red wine redder, while retaining some wine at an early contact stage, while it is pink. This is the way that many white zinfandels are produced in the United States. A third method, and one that is highly disputed, is that of combining red and white wines to make pink. The European Union has proposed making this a legal method for obtaining rosé, but it was handily defeated by individual European countries with a long history of rosé winemaking, which argued that this substandard method would endanger the craft behind true rosé winemaking. No wine bearing the name rosé from Europe is thus made by combining red and white wines, although the method is allowed in the United States.

Early History

It is purely for us to speculate about how the first rosés were made. Likely, the Greeks drank a wine that was pink in hue because of a mythological practice in which they diluted red wine with water. In America, rosé wines may have been produced as early as the mid-19th century, as we are led to infer from a letter sent by the father of a man who became a large wine producer in California, Agoston Haraszthy.

Recent History

The fad for rosé wines didn't hit the United States until the 1960s and '70s, when two Portuguese imports became popular. Lancers and Mateus were considered romantic wines because of their soft, sweet flavors, and both had unique bottles that made them quickly recognizable by Americans. Their sales spurred greater production of American pink wines (many of which are, however, only rose in color and often called "blush"), which took over a greater part of the American market. These wines were much sweeter than many of their European counterparts, and during the decades that followed the introduction of these wines, Americans began to associate rosé with a wine that was often cloyingly sweet in character. With those wines a distant memory today, however, rosé wine sales have skyrocketed, and are the fastest growing sector of the American wine market.

Important Rosé Regions

Almost all of the world's wine-producing regions make rosés. A few, however, are notable due to their long-standing tradition of rosé making. The first, and arguably, the most important rosé producer is France. Rosés can be found there primarily in the south in Tavel (which one could call the capital of French rosé) and Provence; and north in the Loire Valley in Anjou, where three types of rosé are produced. Other important regions are Piedmont in Italy, Rioja in Spain, and Styria in Austria.

Rosé Champagnes

Rosé champagnes are the most difficult to produce but are often regarded as the best-of-the-best champagnes. The old method of making these special wines was to let the juice of pinot noir grapes ferment with the skins, but newer methods prefer adding a small amount of (still) pinot noir to the champagne before the second fermentation. While there is a ban on blending for all other rosés, the Champagne region is the only region where blending is permissible in the process of making rosé champagne.

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