If you are relatively new to the world of wine then you will probably have come across white Zinfandel wines and Rose wines. The common misconception is that these wines are the same as they are roughly the same colour and some were called “Zinfandel” as a way to make them appear a bit more upmarket. The fact is they have different names because they are different.
It is made using the same grapes – ie red, purple and black- as red wine. When these grapes are crushed the juice produced is actually clear, and it is the pigments in the skin which give the wine it’s colour. With rose wine the skin has very little contact with the juice, being removed very early in the fermentation process, between a few hours to a few days, so that the liquid is only lightly coloured. The skin is left in for much longer when making red wine, anything from several weeks to a few months. This also helps explain why red wine is supposedly better for you as most of the life-saving qualities are in the skin.
So what of Zinfandel? Well to begin with, Zinfandel isn’t just a fancy name for a type of rose, it’s actually the name of the grape used. Zinfandel grapes are red and were used to make red wine in Napa Valley, California, but in the 70’s this particular wine became unpopular (white wine was becoming the trendy drink at that time). So as not to waste the Zinfandel grapes that were already growing the Sutter Home wine company decided to use the grapes to make their own brand of rose. Sweet white grapes such as Muscat are also added and give the wine an almost punch-like flavour.
So then, the real differences between rose and Zinfandel are that rose can be made from any grape used to make red wine and it still retains some of the varietal flavour peculiar to that specific grape.
Zinfandel wine almost exclusively comes from Napa Valley, is made with the Zinfandel grape plus some white grapes and is very sweet compared to the dryness of a good rose. It doesn’t retain it’s varietal flavours the way a traditional rose does.
The bottom line then, is that Zinfandel could technically be called a rose, a rose is not Zinfandel.
And just a footnote to anyone who thought rose was a mixture of red and white wines (as I once did, I admit). Try making some in this way. It will be neither rose nor very drinkable!