Each summer, America’s love affair with rosé is rekindled. From New York to Oregon, devotees celebrate the pink-hued wine at festivals, while branded slogans such as “Yes Way Rosé” and even rosé-flavored gummy bears bolster the buzz. While the drink is hardly new, with a history stretching back to ancient Rome, tracing the recent trend leads to the Hamptons circa 2008, when people started quaffing rosé from Sagaponack’s Wölffer Estate by the case.
Though this tiny Long Island winery introduced its first rosé in 1992, it took more than a decade for connoisseurs to recognize its pedigree. During that time, the vineyard’s founder, Christian Wölffer, became an ambassador for the drink, hosting chic dinner parties touting the rosé lifestyle, as well as gifting bottles to influential friends like Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin and sponsoring upscale events such as The Hampton Classic. “The seed was planted,” recalls Roman Roth, Wölffer Estate’s winemaker and partner, “but the movement started very small. A Bentley would drive up and buy two cases of rosé, for example. Customers did a backwards somersault because they expected a sweet White Zinfandel.”
Perception was a familiar stumbling block for vintners, who had to compete with an inferior blush wine of the kind produced in California. “People would enjoy rosé in Saint-Tropez, but then they would get back home and the only rosé would be in a box,” notes Paul Chevalier, national fine wine director for Shaw-Ross, which imports Château d’Esclans’ portfolio of wine to America, including Whispering Angel. “Rosé in America wasn’t that good. The sweet ones looked like Kool-Aid, dark red and punchy. But all of a sudden, wineries started making really good rosé and people were surprised.”
While Château d’Esclans produces four rosé wines in the Provence region of France, Whispering Angel is the one that caught on in America. “We created a new style of rosé,” he says of the wine’s launch in 2006. “It had a little bit more body and fruit through very modern winemaking techniques, but we kept it dry.”
Buoyed by the success of Whispering Angel, more brands began marketing to Americans, such as Château Miraval, a winery in Provence that is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and once housed a recording studio where Pink Floyd, Sade and Sting created music).
Another selling point is rosé’s versatility. “You can serve it with any type of food, for any occasion,” says Roth. “It’s refreshing, elegant and fashionable, not heavy or oaky. And young people have really embraced rosé.”
In America, Whispering Angel maintains the dominant market share, outselling competitors by a factor of four-to-one, but Chevalier points out there is plenty of growth left in the category: “Less than five percent of Americans drink rosé, so there’s still a lot of word of mouth that needs to get out there. That will continue to happen.”
A NOUVELLE APPROACH
Rosé Gummy Bears
Sugarfina co-founder Rosie O’Neill had already introduced Dom Pérignon-flavored gummy bears, when, last year, inspiration struck to create a rosé variety with the help of winemaker Château d’Esclans. “We put real rosé in them. It’s about a bottle of Whispering Angel for every 500 pounds. The alcohol burns off so they are nonalcoholic, but they have a very light, refreshing rosé taste with a tiny hint of strawberry at the end.”
While Bar Primi didn’t coin the phrase “frosé,” the New York City restaurant did perfect the frozen libation with a mix of rosé, rosé vermouth and strawberry purée. The drink happened serendipitously last July: While experimenting with their slushy machine (first with Negronis), they created frosé. “Rosé is crushing it in the beverage scene for summer,” says general manager Justin Sievers. “We wondered if you could freeze it. It became an instant hit.” At the height of the frenzy, they were selling 1,000 glasses a day (this year they have added more machines).