“I have red and I have white,” she said. “What do I need pink for?”
My wife was responding to my insistent call for her to try a terrific new rosé from Acquiesce. When did she become a rosé snubber? I thought. I remembered a time when we put away a lot rosé together at the poolside.
Her proclamation reminded me of a British wine snob who once said, “Rosé is wine’s answer to belly-button fluff, baffling in origin, purposeless in deployment.” Elegant, yet brutal.
“Because it is good,” said one. “Because you need variety in your life,” quipped another. “Life is not complete without it.” Larry Johansen, the Wiz himself, considered rosé an indispensable element of the overall wine experience.
Rosé hatred used to be a popular sport, but it is now passé. We are in the midst of a major rosé resurgence.
Consumption of this easy-drinker is increasing dramatically. Bev Mo used to offer around fifteen brands of rosé; now it’s offering over fifty. Locally, Wine Wizard’s always sold classic Tavel and Bandol rosé from Provence, and hidden secrets like cheap Grignolino rosé from Heitz in Napa - better known for its pricy Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. Larry is now also offering a larger variety, French stalwarts, Italian rosatos, Spanish rosados and domestics, including Acquiesce, the Lodi rosé I mentioned to my wife, from a winery well on its way to local cult status.
In the meanwhile rosé has also conquered upper echelons of society. In the sheik Hamptons of Long Island, New York, sales of Wölffler Estate rosé, a local concoction, has enjoyed an explosion from eighty-some cases in the 1990s, to twenty-thousand plus currently. It is nowadays known as “Hampton’s Gatoraid.”
To begin with, rosé has finally emerged from the dark shadow of White Zinfandel that cast a cloud on it. White Zin was as serendipitous a discovery as Penicillin, though not as useful. In the early 1970s, a Napa winemaker, Bob Trinchero, set aside a failed batch of grape juice with prematurely arrested fermentation. The yeast had died before the sugar was consumed. When he later tasted it he discovered a sweet, fruity flavor that he thought was marketable. Sutter Home White Zinfandel was thus born.
It went on to make a fortune for Trinchero, and touched off a White Zin craze in the 1980s and 90s that smeared rosé wines in its swirl. White Zin was not real rosé, but rather a “blush” wine. For drinkers it made no difference. They were both pink. So what?
While White Zin was extracting a toll, rosé had another, more intransigent opponent: macho males. They wouldn’t be caught dead drinking anything pink, wine or otherwise. Now White Zin is old history and machismo has acquired a softer side. We are in the midst of a more touchy-feely Bro-sé phenomenon. According to Chris Schonberger, editor-in-chief of firstwefeast.com, as of 2014, “it finally became cool for men to drink pink (up 39% by volume),” rosé making a transition from “baby showers to backyard barbeques, poker nights and tailgate parties,” with New York leading the way. “A search for the #brosé hashtag on Instagram reveals a treasure trove of shirtless homoeroticism,” adds Schonberger.
Contrary to common misperception, rosé is not made by mixing white and red wine, nor is it a product of incomplete fermentation – as in Sutter Home White Zin. It is created by keeping the skins of red-wine grapes in shorter contact with the juice, during a process called maceration. Thus rosé can be made of any red varietal grape and therefore carries diversity in styles, Old World versions dryer, New World sweeter.
It is thought that ancient winemaking techniques favored rosé. In those days longer maceration periods resulted in harsh red wines that were too hard to drink. Shortened maceration times meant easier drinkers – and pale colors. The English who bought boatloads – literally – of claret from Bordeaux at one time, preferred pinkish clarets for this very same reason.
Modern techniques subsequently refined wines, red and white alike, to an extent that made pink inferior.
The current rosé resurgence is in part fueled by endorsements from celebrities such as Beyoncé and the now defunct Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), the latter touting their own rosé label: Miraval, from Provence. Famed movie director Francis Coppola, a Sonoma winemaker, has a best-seller rosé: Sophia, named after his daughter. Print media has joined the fray, touting the virtues of rosé wine, while unlikely social media stars such as The Fat Jew (Josh Ostrowsky) are spreading rosé-love on Instagram.
To be sure, rosé is easy to love. It is friendly both on the palate and wallet. “You do not need to pay more than $15 for a bottle,” says Rachel Sanders of BuzzFeed. It is also agreeable with and array of foods: barbecued meats (fish, chicken, red meat), veggies, potato chips or even cookies. It is versatile, drinkable at a barbecue, the beach or at the TV couch, with or without food, and can be mixed into cocktails. Just don’t age them. Rosé is a buy-and-drink wine. Within a year most rosé is undrinkable.
Rosé resurgence was long overdue. Contrary to the British bloke who compared rosé with belly-button fluff, its origins have always been well known and its deployment is no longer uncertain.
Now if I can only convince my wife to join in. I think I’ll buy a bottle or two and sneak some into Julie’s poolside glass this summer.