let's talk about saignée
Back in March, I was hunting around for a locally produced rosé and found the bottle in the photo above. Two questions immediately came to mind:
1) Is the 2014 still drinkable? (It was.)
2) Who would be so foolish as to put the word "saignée" on his label?
"Saignée" means "bleeding." It is most commonly used in winemaking to refer to a method of making red wine... and rosé as a byproduct.
If the winemaker is looking for more color concentration and tannins in his red, he "bleeds off" some liquid before the skins have had a chance to impart much pigment. The juice that flows out of the tank is pink... and the winemaker turns this into rosé. Meanwhile, the increased skin-to-liquid ratio in the must that remains in the tank makes for a darker, denser red wine.
All well and good in cool-climate growing zones where winemakers can't always achieve the depth of color their customers expect from a grape like Pinot Noir without a bit of bleeding. But in regions like Provence, it's seen as déclassé to make rosé as a byproduct of red. Rosé should be made for rosé's sake! (Of course, Provence boasts a much warmer climate, and I've never heard anyone complaining that their inky Mourvèdre from Bandol is too pale, but I digress.)
It is said that saignée rosés are a weaker species of pink, less equipped for cellar age. So why was this 2014 still drinkable? I reached out to Cameron Winery owner and winemaker John Paul. In typical Oregonian fashion, he responded that, oh, well, the 2014 wasn't a saignée rosé at all... he just hadn't bothered changing the label from the previous vintage.
When I inquired if he wasn't a bit, er, embarrassed to have that word printed front and center on his label, Paul replied over e-mail, "Yes, I know that's the current feeling about saignée in some regions, but when you're making small quantities of something and distributing it all locally, it really doesn't matter."
Right. Mystery solved regarding the longevity of that 2014. It's still tasty because it ain't saignée.
But this got me thinking about saignée. Many times, I had heard southern French winemakers toss around the term "saignée," to my great confusion, when I was researching Rosé All Day. "But saignée is a bad word, isn't it?" I would ask. And they'd respond, "Oh, I don't mean saignée like THAT."
Like what, then?
I was totally perplexed. And I was even more befuddled when I read that the rosés from the distinguished Château Simone in the Provençal micro-region of Palette were produced half from direct-press juice and half from saignée... say what?
Ch. Simone's rosés are like no other pink wines! These wines are made for cellar age! These are not wimpy rosés! And like I said, pigment is not lacking in Provençal reds. This must have been a typo. NO WAY could Ch. Simone rosé be half saignée.
Neil Rosen, Producer Liaison for the import firm Rosenthal Wine Merchant, finally cleared things up for me. Turns out that saignée goes both ways. That is, just as you can make rosé as a byproduct of red wine, you can make red wine as a byproduct of pink.
"'Saignée really just means you are drawing juice off a vat," explained Rosen. "The problem with most saignée rosé is that the goal is to make red wine. So the winemaker is picking grapes not for rosé but for red, and thus is going for greater ripeness and lower acidity." Which makes for a blah rosé.
A winemaker vinifying rosé for its own sake harvests his fruit much earlier, going for tart, fresh flavor and bright acidity. If it looks like his red wine is going to turn out flabby, he does a backwards saignée with his rosé: He presses most of the fresh, brisk, early-harvest rosé juice off the skins, leaving some liquid behind on the skins to soak up pigment. He then adds this remainder juice to his vat of riper red, which perks up thanks to the dose of acidity. "It’s just a blending technique to create balance within their red wines," Rosen explained.