Is Saignée Real Rosé?
I don’t want to pay $$$ for your byproduct! Or do I?
Even just a few years ago the concept of discussing what is “real” rosé would have seemed stunningly foreign to most wine people. Sure there was Tavel and Bandol, the twin peaks of pink greatness, but for the most part it wasn’t a wine that attracted a lot of critical eyes—it was just too much fun to drink.
But as we all know those days are long past. Rosé is the wine trend that won’t stop. Production is increasing almost everywhere in the world and while we, as drinkers, can’t get enough of it for the most part we have no idea how it’s actually made. The most common method—the one used in Bandol and Tavel and most of the rest of France—involves letting the grape skins stay in contact with the grape juice during maceration long enough to impart some colour on the clear juice (removing the skins makes the wine rosé, keep ’em in there and you’ll ultimately have red wine).
But then there’s the less used and newer Saignée method, which despite its French name, has become associated with New World wineries who, while making red wine, “bleed” a little pink juice off to help their wine be more concentrated. On the one hand you’re often getting better quality grapes, as the types of wineries that can bleed off some juice are the ones who have enough money to either grow or buy very high quality grapes. But on the other it’s a bit of cheat. Let’s use BC’s Painted Rock as an example (solely because an email from them just pinged in my inbox). They make big, concentrated red wines that win medals all over the place. One of the ways they make wines that have such expression, is to bleed off a little juice, and that forms the basis (although not all) of their rosé. I think it’s fair to say the grape breakdown for their rosé—41% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc—is nobody’s idea for a classic, or even remotely conventional rosé. And why should it be? It’s actually the recipe for their bold reds. So why should I have to pay $25 (definitely on the high end for BC rosés) for a byproduct?
It’s a reasonable question but here’s the answer: because it’s good. Saignée makes rosés that have a deep hue, often bigger structure and more aggressive fruit than your typical salmon-hued offering from the South of France. If I want a wine to sip on a patio and pair it with oysters then give me Provence. A flank steak? Saignée, s’il vous plait.
And for those of you who can’t get past the seeming contradictions in the process, I feel you. But let me offer you this: Rosé Champagne is almost always made by adding red wine to white wine to make pink wine—the ultimate hillbilly move. And then sells at a serious premium. Ridiculous? Yep. Delicious, oh yeah.
And when it comes to rosé, delicious always wins.