Normally we split still wine into three categories: Red, White and Rosé. A few years ago, though, a new category came along – Orange. Also known as ‘skin-fermented whites’, or ‘amber wines’, these are white wines that have been fermented in contact with skins just as red wines are. This creates a wine with a distinct orange/amber hue and a bit of tannic structure, as well as extra aromatics from compounds found in the grape skins. These are aromas that normally wouldn’t make it into white wines, as they are normally separated from their skins before fermentation.
But now we are also seeing a fifth category of wines, which I’m dubbing the ‘in-between land’. These are not red wines, but they aren’t rosé wines either. Instead, they are intensely coloured rosés that could also pass as pale red wines, but generally sit somewhere in between light pink rosés and full, coloured red wines. Here I’m going to highlight a few of my favourites.
I should make it clear that I’m not criticising rosé here because it is a great category that is doing exceptionally well. It’s just that we’ve seen a trend towards increasingly paler and paler rosés, that are also lighter in flavour. Most of these are bottled in clear glass so when you see the bottle it looks like the wine has a pretty, pale pink hue. Yet, when it’s in your glass, it’s often hard to tell that it has much colour at all.
To make these trendy, pale pink wines is technically quite difficult. Usually, it requires taking red grapes and pressing them without any skin contact, to get as little colour from the skins as possible. What this also means, is that the winemaker is taking very little of the flavour that comes from the skins, so the wine can often taste fairly neutral. In some cases, this quick pressing can backfire and produce too much colour. From here, the wine has to be treated with activated carbon, to remove colour and inevitably some flavour too.
Yet we are starting to see a slow move, in a few small, winemaking circles, to rosé production with more extraction and colour, and hence a lot more flavour. These can be beautiful wines. One of the most interesting examples is the revival of an old traditional style, which goes under the name of ‘palhete’ or ‘clarete’. These wines are made using a blend of red and white grape varieties, fermented together. There are several permutations on how these wines are made, but often they are whole cluster ferments. The results can be fabulous: vivid red/pink colours, though never as dense as traditional red wines, and lovely aromatics.
These ‘in-between land’ wines are often very fresh, with modest alcohol. In the past, they would’ve been daily fare for those working in the fields, who’d bring wine to slake their thirst as they laboured. Spain and Portugal are leading the way with this style of wine, and a brilliant example is the ‘Picaro’ Clarete from Dominio del Aguila, in Ribera del Duero. This is a deep pink colour, and it is a striking wine with a nice savoury, spicy edge to the sweet cherry and cranberry fruit. It has some lovely complexity.
In Portugal’s Douro, Folias de Baco’s ‘Uivo Renegado’ is a great example of ‘palhete’. It’s a 50:50 blend of red and white grapes from many native varieties. These are old vines planted on a plateau in the Douro at 550-700 m above sea level, with clay, granite and schist soils. The grapes are fermented in whole clusters in a lagar and then aged in a mix of old oak and cement. The resulting wine is bright pink/red in colour and has lovely elegance and more than a touch of seriousness.
As well as mixing red and white grapes together, another way to create deeper coloured ‘in-between land’ wines, is to skin-ferment grape varieties that have a ‘gris’ or pink skin, resulting in a similarly pink tone to the wine. If you see Pinot Gris in the vineyard, for example, it has a vivid pink colour once it has ripened (aka gone through ‘veraison’). There are three great examples of this kind of ‘in-between land’ wine on The Sourcing Table shop.
The first is from California: Pinot Gris from Jolie-Laide in Sonoma. This is what Pinot Gris does best. It’s a remarkable skin-contact expression, with a beautiful onion skin/coral colour. There’s a lovely rose petal edge to the nose which also shows some earl grey tea and a touch of red cherry. The palate is fresh with watermelon, spice, orange peel and a touch of mandarin, as well as some sweet cherry.
Then we have the remarkable ‘Graue Freyheit’ from Heinrich in Austria’s Burgenland. Packaged in a distinctive ceramic bottle, this is a skin-fermented blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. It has a wonderful colour – a sort of combination of coral pink and bronze – with lovely notes of pure sweet cherry, redcurrant, and lemon fruit on the nose and just a hint of wax and quince jelly. The palate is fine, juicy and expressive with bright citrus fruit as well as redcurrant and a touch of pear.
And then there’s the Malvasia Rosada from Suertes del Marques in Tenerife. This is a synonym of the Malvasia di Sardegna Rosada variety and has a pink skin. Fermented on the skins, the result is an intriguing deeply orange-pink wine. This is a very rare variety with limited plantings, making the final wines from Suertes del Marques highly sought after and produced in tiny quantities.
Finally, we have more traditional, darker-coloured rosé which undergo even longer skin-contact fermentation. The most celebrated of these currently is the Viña Tondonia Reserva Rosé from Lopez de Heredia, but this has escalated rapidly in price of late and is pretty much impossible to get your hands on. But don’t despair! We have the Ripa Rioja Rosado on The Sourcing Table shop. And there’s a connection here: the man behind Ripa is José Luis Ripa Sáenz de Navarrete, who is married to Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia. He makes just one wine, this aged rosé from a hectare of vines in the Najerilla Valley, in Rioja Alta. It’s 85% Garnacha and 15% Tempranillo. 24 hours of skin maceration in stainless steel is followed by 18 months ageing in 500 litre barrels, and the resulting wine is complex and spicy with marmalade, and red apple. This is such a textural and rich rosé that defines this category perfectly.
Explore our full range of ‘in-between land’ wines in the shop now and get to grips with these fantastic expressions this summer. They are all perfect to chill in the fridge and have wonderful versatility, whether you wish to enjoy them on their own or paired with a range of food.