Blush, Blanc, Rose… Here’s the Difference!

“I have seen some of the same grapes used to make ‘blush,’ ‘blanc,’ and ‘rose’ wines. In some cases they are produced by the same winery! Could you tell me what the difference is?”

– Dr. T. R. E.; Bakersfield

I’m not sure I can because there is no code, law or regulation which governs the terminology regarding wine color. Each producer can use the terms interchangeably even though the consumer may be left in the dark as to which is which. Let’s first explain the process.

A wine grape, whether white or red, is composed of skin, pulp and seeds. While the skin is red in merlot, zinfandel and cabernet, the pulp is actually white. The natural pigment in the grape resides in the skin cells. When red grapes are crushed, they are left to ferment on the skins. During fermentation, the skins impart the color to the juice.

If you lightly crush the grapes and draw the unfermented grape juice to another tank, that juice will ferment without the skin contact. This method will make a white wine, or at least as white as the pulp will allow.

Obviously, you have to be fast. Some skins are so dark that even the slightest contact with the juice (say even half an hour) will give the barest “blush” of color. The skin also¬†adds tannins and structure to the wine. Removing them produces a lighter, fruitier product. The seed’s acid, harsh, and sometimes bitter elements, are also removed.

Blanc wines receive little or no skin contact. With very fast and rather expensive equipment, it is possible to make a totally white wine from red grapes.

If one wants a “blush” of color, leaving the grapes on the skins for two or three hours should do it.

Rose wines are left on the skins overnight to give them that pinkish color. They are sometimes referred to as ‘First Night’ wines because the skins are left on during the first night of fermentation.

You see, it is only a matter of degree of color. Conceivably, the “blanc” label would be the lightest color; the “blush” label would be the next level of pink; and the “rose” would be the deepest pink.

Fortunately, most wineries have standardized on using clear bottles so that the consumer can actually see the color of the wine and make their own conclusions.

Once again, since there is no regulations or standards regarding wine color, a wine could be kept on the skins overnight until it is very pink and still be called a blanc, or vice versa. If I were the winemaker, I’d blush at that!

– P.K.

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