In the Pink
Several summers ago, rosé wines suddenly got hot. In the Hamptons and other posh hangouts, pink wines became the obligatory cocktail-hour quaffers, and interest in rosés quickly spread elsewhere. Wine writers, no less beholden to trends than other journalists, began devoting more space to rosés, which only added to their appeal.
But even as we extolled the pleasures of good rosés, most of us figured the fad would flame out just as quickly as it ignited. Rosés, which get their tint from being macerated briefly with the skins of red wine grapes, had never been taken very seriously—in fact, “blush” wines used to be considered the lowest of the low—and it stood to reason that sales would decline along with the novelty. Instead, the rosé phenomenon is accelerating—so much so that some eminent Bordeaux châteaux have entered the market and a producer in Provence is offering the world’s first luxury rosé, with a price tag of $100.
The boom is luring serious players. Traditionally, the most ambitious rosés came from Provence—Domaines Ott (the rosé that caught the fancy of the Hamptons crowd) has always made one of the best, along with another producer from the Bandol appellation, Domaine Tempier. But they are now competing for shelf space with rosés from some of the most esteemed names in Bordeaux. Pichon-Baron, Pavie, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Pavie-Macquin, and Calon-Ségur are among the châteaux turning out pink wines—making or seriously marketing them for the first time. Port producers are jumping in too: Croft recently unveiled Croft Pink, the first-ever rosé port (poolside sippers may be in for a surprise—like regular port, it is a fortified wine that tips the scale at 20 percent alcohol).
“I saw serious players entering the sector and they were clearly doing so because they saw consumer demand,” says Adrian Bridge, the managing director of the Fladgate Partnership, which owns Croft and several other venerable port houses. “I have a strong conviction that rosé wines are here to stay and that they will continue to enjoy above-average growth in the coming years.”
Provence continues to be the rosé pacesetter, in terms of both quality and price. With the help of the former head winemaker at Mouton Rothschild, a Provençal estate called Château d’Esclans is offering a $100 rose that has evidently proven to be a smash with the glitterati along the Riviera.
However, d’Esclans is an exception to the norm: Most rosés are still fairly inexpensive— prices haven’t caught up with their newfound cachet. Mark Wessels of MacArthur Beverages, one of the Washington area’s leading wine shops, says that with the economy flagging, the value that rosés offer is one reason for their current appeal.
“People are not drinking less, but they are drinking cheaper,” he says. “In the $25 to $70 range, sales are definitely off, but in the $10 to $25 range, they are still strong, and 95 to 99 percent of the rosés we sell fit that price point.” According to Wessels, demand is also being driven by the growing number of people who drink red wines only and completely eschew whites. He has noted a significant increase in these monochromatic tipplers and says that they are turning to rosés when they want lighter, crisper alternatives to red wines.
Brian Zucker, the vice president of K&L Wine Merchants, a major retailer in the San Francisco Bay area, thinks the high quality of the rosés now on the market, both foreign and domestic, has helped erase the stigma that was traditionally associated with blush wines and that the outpouring of interest in rosés speaks to the continued maturation of the American wine market. “Like a lot of people, I was skeptical about the category, but it has become a serious player; we are pleasantly surprised,” he says. “Wine drinkers today are open to all types of wines from all over the world,” Zucker says. Significantly, he also says that rosés are no longer seen as summer-only wines but are now being drunk irrespective of the season.
Richard Betts, the sommelier at the Little Nell in Aspen and a part-time winemaker, has seen a big spike in demand for rosés; last summer, the famed resort went through 50 cases of just one rosé, the Bieler Père et Fils from Provence, and sales are every bit as robust this year. Betts hasn’t gone so far as to come up with specific food pairings—”part of the cheer of rosé is that it pairs so well with everything; to over-intellectualize it is to really sap it of much of the fun”—but thinks the fact that rosés are winning a place at the dinner table is indicative of how deep their appeal now runs.
“So many more people are drinking wine and experimenting with different wines,” says Betts. “The momentum is only growing, and I think that with so much new consumption there will continue to be additional room for all kinds of fun things—be them pink or otherwise.”