In the private dining room of Flour + Water in San Francisco last week, guests dined on a five-course, all-rosé meal that included braised beef shank paired with a smoky, chalky Sicilian Nerello Mascalese rosé. A few days later, Kermit Lynch teamed up with the restaurants Pink Zebra and Namu Gaji for a similarly sophisticated pop-up dinner that also featured solely rosé wines. Fine-wine seller K&L Wine Merchants, with a shop in SoMa, carries 36 domestic rosés and 128 rosés in total — more than double from four years ago.
“We can’t keep rosé in stock,” said Geno Tomko, wine director for the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, which in addition to Flour + Water operates four other restaurants. “For the past month and a half, rosé has been the best seller every single night at every single property.”
“The rosé revolution is here,” proclaims Jeff Morgan, owner of Covenant Wines in Berkeley. The comeback of delicious, refreshing dry rosé — after decades of being haunted by the cloying shadow of white Zin — is one of wine’s greatest success stories.
Will a couple of Instagram celebrities ruin that?
Josh Ostrovsky (@thefatjewish) and brothers Tanner and David Oliver Cohen (@babewalker), followed collectively by about 6 million Instagram users, made a splash this season when they debuted White Girl Rosé, their first effort in wine production. Ostrovsky has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for appropriating other people’s jokes. Now, to some in the wine world, it looks as if Ostrovsky and the Cohens have similarly appropriated — and capitalized on — a decade of work by wine lovers to introduce America to the beauty and versatility of dry rosé.
There was a time — a long time — when sophisticated wine drinkers wouldn’t have dreamed of sipping pink wine in public, especially if they were male. Blush wine was inextricably linked to Sutter Home White Zinfandel, Bob Trinchero’s happy accident — a saccharine, hot-pink result of a stuck fermentation in 1975. By 1984, Sutter Home was producing 1.5 million cases of white Zin a year. Statewide, California produced 14 million cases of white Zin in 1990; by 2000, that figure had ballooned to 21.4 million.
Throughout that period, there was a small but faithful group of defectors in California, including Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Saintsbury and Bonny Doon, who emphasized their distinction from the white Zin phenomenon by calling their rosé wine, made of Pinot Noir, “vin gris.” (“Nobody would buy something called rosé,” Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm said. “Vin gris sounded better.”)
Morgan, who in 2000 founded the rosé-only label SoloRosa, was among the Golden State’s staunch believers in the versatility and high-quality potential of Provencal-style rosé — bone-dry, pale in color and deeply flavorful. “It was inevitable,” Morgan said. “Eventually, people would realize that you can drink anything with a glass of dry rosé and be happy.”
The Provence rosé revolution
Having sold classed-growth Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, in Bordeaux, Sacha Lichine purchases Chateau d’Esclans in Provence, where he plans to revolutionize rosé production. “People in Bordeaux thought we were out of our minds,” Lichine said. He would go on to produce a range of wines, including Garrus ($100), the world’s most expensive rosé, and Whispering Angel ($20), one of the best-selling rosés in the US today.
Then, suddenly and to their delight, rosé happened.
In 2006, Sacha Lichine began producing what remains the world’s most expensive rosé, Chateau d’Esclans Garrus, at $100 a bottle. Lichine had given up an elite Bordeaux winery to make pink wine in Provence — a shocking move that directed considerable attention at the wines of that region. In 2012, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased a rosé winery in Provence, Chateau Miraval. Imports of premium rosé to the United States boomed from 2013 to 2014, increasing by 41 percent. The wine seemed not only classy, but hip.
Rosé burst onto the scene of forward-thinking restaurants: At Ordinaire, the Oakland wine bar, owner Bradford Taylor said his rosé selections, which include funky Loire Valley and Languedoc selections, poured from magnum, have grown from five to 30 in just two years.
And it burst onto the mass market. Suddenly a wine for those in the know —and, as many have pointed out, just great in summertime — dry rosé began showing up in places like the Hamptons, that mainstay of leisure-class pleasure. Visually appealing, feminine, beach-friendly and, importantly, originating from another mainstay of leisure-class pleasure, the French Riviera, rosé became downright fashionable. Like white jeans, it was a must-have summer accessory.
Much like the grande marque Champagne 15 years ago, rosé’s luxury-item status eclipsed its identity as a wine. Cristal became a fixture of the nightclub; Whispering Angel is now of the yacht club.
Then, as with any token of modern aspirational lifestyle — dogs, scenic outdoor activity, crop tops — rosé found its ultimate expression on social media, in particular Instagram.
There, rosé has been subjected to an endless stream of terrible-pun hashtags. #drinkpink (18,906 posts) was only the beginning. There’s #yeswayrose (9,167) and #yeswayrosé (8,700, suggesting an underutilization of the iPhone’s accent mark function); #roseallday (16,527) and #roséallday (11,862). Lest you assume, as many have, that rosé is only for women, there’s the gender equality-driven sub-movement that galvanizes around #brosé (1,981).
MORE ON ROSÉ
A saint-chinian rose, mas champart, 2014 is poured as Pink Zebra and Kermit Lynch are hosting an all-rose pop-up dinner at Namu Gaji in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. Tasting Notes: The spectrum of rosé wines to recommend (and
Click on one of these hashtags and your screen will be awash in pastels, resplendent with images of yachts, sunsets, beach scenes, sets of manicured hands clinking glasses together and — signs of a new cottage industry — pink T-shirts and tote bags emblazoned with the hashtags.
Party-centric wine brand
Enter @thefatjewish and @babewalker.
“My brother and I knew we wanted to do a product in the alcohol space,” said David Oliver Cohen, one-half of Babe Walker. “We thought about doing a vodka, but the marketplace was flooded. Then one day, over a meal with Josh (Ostrovsky), we were talking about doing an alcohol, and we thought about rosé, based on the fact that there was a shortage last year in the Hamptons.” (“Never again,” Ostrovsky told the New York Post.)
Cohen calls rosé “the least pretentious wine,” and says their mission is to make it even less pretentious. How? By naming it after its target audience and “branding it as more party-centric than a traditional wine brand.”
Through a broker, they found Claudio Basei, winemaker at Cacciatore Fine Wines & Olive Oil, a Central Valley producer of bulk wine and custom-made private labels. The Italian-born Basei, who used to work at Tuscany’s prestigious Ornellaia winery, says that he has had to adapt to “the American taste,” which he perceives as “tending to like more sweeter-style wines.” He showed Ostrovsky and the Cohens several versions of his white Zinfandel, at varying sugar levels, and to his surprise, they chose the dry one.
“We asked Claudio for drinkable, low-sugar, low-alcohol,” Cohen said. “We didn’t want it to linger forever. A not-complex wine.”
The team’s No. 1 enological concern? Ultra-pale color. “We wanted to be a little closer to salmon,” said Cohen, explaining that “a lot of the appeal of rosé is how it looks in the bottle.” Basei ended up blending about 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc into the Zin. All the fruit came from Cacciatore’s Terra Bella estate vineyard, just south of Madera.
Basei, for one, is stunned by the astronomical success that the wine has become. The initial order in May was for 10,000 bottles. Since then, 120,000 bottles of White Girl Rosé have sold, with another 300,000 predicted by the end of the year.
According to Cohen, White Girl Rosé is the most-photographed alcohol product on Instagram this summer — inevitable, perhaps, for a wine born on social media. And perhaps it could proliferate only there, where it resonates so perfectly with the brand rosé had already become — the luxe accessory for those who can’t be bothered with “pretentious” or “traditional” wines.
The Cohens and Ostrovsky have no plans of slowing White Girl Rosé down. As they look to the 2015 vintage, they are amping up production and utilizing new distribution channels to make the wine more widely available.“At this point, the wine business has become our main business,” says Cohen. Magnums, cans and, inevitably, a higher-end version are ahead.
Is this how the rosé revolution ends? Among the incredible bounty of rosé available from around the world — and at such great prices — will the prevailing pink wine of our age be one conceived as a joke and targeted at people, especially women, who eschew “complexity” in their wines?
The silver lining of that cloud is that rosé has a history of perseverance. It survived the first age of white Zin, so maybe it can survive the second.
And, as pink pioneer Randall Grahm pointed out, rosé has always been a wine divided. “There are two categories of people who drink pink wine,” said Grahm. “The terminally hip and the terminally unhip.”
By Esther Mobley