A History of Rosé Wine

Rosé has a long history as a much loved and often preferred choice of wine. Indeed, there’s reason to believe that the earliest red wines were closer in appearance to today’s modern rosé than we would think of as modern red wine.

The result of a lighter pressing process, this preference lasted well into the Middle Ages. Even as clarets from Bordeaux were starting to gain the world's attention, pale rosé-coloured wines remained most prized, known as the vin d'une nuit or "wine of one night”. 

The story of champagne is similar. Naturally pale red or pink, winemakers were even known to add elderberries to produce more vivid colours to stand out. It wasn’t until the late 17th century that the Champenois–aided by the efforts of Dom Perignon–learned to produce truly white sparkling wines.

Pressing grapes to extract the juice can be done using a wine press, by hand or even by the weight of the grapes themselves. Most wineries first crush the grapes to remove the berries from the stems, except in the case of champagne in which the grapes are whole-cluster pressed to produce a lighter juice. Then a period of fermentation and pressing begins. For red wine, the grapes are left to ferment first to allow maximum skin contact between the juice and grapes. For white wine, fermentation is done afterwards. It is this difference in the process that gives wines their colour and taste. In the case of rosé, the time left to ferment can last anywhere from 6 to 48 hours, depending on the desired style, as opposed to red wines which are left for weeks or even months.

Following the end of World War II, demand for newly released Mateus rosé from Portugal set sales records across Europe and the US, winning the hearts and palates of wine lovers. Production grew rapidly in the 1950s and 60s, and by the late 1980s over 3 million cases were sold worldwide. The English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton affectionately noted, “the great transformation that our generation underwent when the Portuguese brand called Mateus rosé burst on the scene.” It’s even reported to be a preferred wine of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, rosé is undergoing a renaissance, becoming increasingly popular around the world and a must-have bottle in the cellar of any connoisseur.

In particular, French rosé from the sunny regions of Provence and the Rhône Valley are a clear favourite the world over, accounting for around 30% of all rosé producing countries. Some of the world’s most famous celebrities enjoy–and produce–rosé wine too. In 2008, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt leased and then later bought Château Miraval in Côtes de Provence to produce the exquisite, award-winning Miraval rosé. With its champagne-style bottle, it stands out from the crowd. No doubt that’s why its initial 6,000-bottle run sold out within 5 hours.

Deep in the English countryside of Kent, there’s an exciting wine region emerging led by Chapel Down winemakers, which looks set to take British rosé and British wines in general to all-new heights. Just recently, their Rosé Brut won the Platinum award in the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards and the company is currently undergoing a funding campaign to raise £7 million to expand its exports. 

With its breadth of history and versatility alongside a wide range of dishes from smoked salmon to chargrilled aubergine, rosé has found its place as the best alcoholic beverage to enjoy through the warm summer months or under the cold winter sunshine. So, as we’ve affectionately coined the phrase, make every day a rosé day–starting today.


This blog was written by Daniel J Scott on behalf of Rose-wine.com