They may call it “Hamptons water,” but Sacha Lichine warns to watch your intake of his ubiquitous rosé, Whispering Angel, this summer.
“People have a feeling that it’s much lighter in alcohol. It’s not,” says Lichine. “In Hong Kong … their nickname for Whispering Angel is Screaming Bitch. [Distributors] give it to their wives, and they drink a bottle of it, and they either start screaming at them or take their clothes off.”
Angry spouses aside, the 55-year-old winemaker has transformed pink wine’s reputation from déclassé sweet plonk to chic sip since he launched Whispering Angel 10 years ago. It’s now a summertime staple, and Whispering Angel is the It label, beloved by Hamptons ladies who lunch, status-conscious Instagrammers and A-listers such as Sarah Jessica Parker and David Beckham.
“It wasn’t considered a real wine,” says Lichine, a Manhattan native now based in Miami, of rosé’s past. “It was always sort of cheap and cheerful.”
In 2006, Lichine changed that when he purchased the 667-acre Château d’Esclans, a sprawling estate in Provence, France, and started producing Whispering Angel with former Rothschild winemaker Patrick Léon. Their goal: Make a dry rosé that would be well-respected by the snobbiest wine connoisseurs.
In his first year, Lichine produced nearly 10,000 cases of Whispering Angel, which retails for $22 a bottle. This year, he will make 415,000 cases of rosé that will be distributed in 102 countries. He estimates nearly 25,000 cases of Whispering Angel will be sold in the Hamptons alone. And Lichine promises he will do everything in his power to prevent a rosé shortage like last year, when restaurants and markets struggled to keep pink wine in stock.
“We are prepared for the onslaught,” says the winemaker, who has additional rosé labels, including Garrus, which, at about $100 per bottle, is the most expensive rosé on the market.
It’s “the Dom Pérignon of rosé,” says Lichine.
When he first tried selling Garrus — a fuller-bodied, “much more serious” rosé that’s suitable for aging — vendors laughed him out of their shops.
“One man said, ‘Are you out of your F-ing mind?,’ ” says Lichine. “Then he put it in his mouth and looked up at me and said, ‘Look I can’t sell it, but I’ll take two cases for myself.’”
Viticulture is in Lichine’s blood. His father was the late Alexis Lichine, author of “Wines of France” and the man largely credited with bringing French wines to the United States in the 1950s. The family had a vineyard in Bordeaux that Lichine sold in 1999, 10 years after his father passed away, to produce high-end rosé with grapes grown in Provence.
“My father would have probably thought that I was out of my mind,” admits Lichine, who drinks a bottle of rosé a day.
But he says there’s nothing to be ashamed of: “Real men wear pink and drink pink.”
By Dana Schuster