For Rosé Drinkers, Is It Pale Pink or Nothing?

Jameson Fink For Rosé Drinkers, Is It Pale Pink or Nothing?

4 minute Read

America’s well-documented thirst for rosé is expanding, but our sight lines seem to be tapering off.

Sales are robust, particularly for rosés from Provençe. In the decade between 2008 and 2017, the value of rosé exports from Provence to the United States increased by nearly 4,000 percent. It’s an astonishing success story for a category of wine and its place of origin.

For many consumers this side of the Atlantic, rosé is practically synonymous with an idealized Provençal lifestyle — and that ballet-slipper shade of pink emanating from every bottle.

Winemakers in the region are happy to give the people what they want.

“There is an obsession in Provence and, to a lesser degree, Languedoc, with making one’s rosé as pale as possible,” Katherine Cole, author of “Rosé All Day,” says.

Though these wines are widely available and, in many cases, refreshing and delicious, their popularity is causing some drinkers to look askance at other styles of rosé that don’t fit the mold. Will Americans explore the entire spectrum of rosé, embracing producers who make richer, deeper-colored wines? Obstacles are abundant.

Robbie Davis, national sales manager for European Cellars, represents a portfolio strong in Spanish wines. He explains that while Spanish rosé is typically quite dark in color, “We’ve had to tell our producers that we need a lighter color rosé for the U.S. market.”

Davis hopes as the market evolves, people will grow to appreciate the quality and distinctness of these deeper rosés, particularly in cooler months.

For winemakers breaking the pale pink mode, it helps to be a pioneer in your region. Washington’s Barnard Griffin has been producing rosé from Sangiovese since 2001, making it a veteran in the state. A rosé with a large statewide following, it has consistently had a less pale color. Enologist/assistant winemaker Megan Hughes says Washington customers “know what to expect” based on the winery’s long and consistent track record.

“As for current-day consumer awareness and trends,” Hughes says, “we became aware of a tendency for consumers to think darker shades of rosé correlated with sweetness.” While Barnard Griffin’s 2017 rosé is “noticeably lighter,” she says, “the hope is that our customers know and love the brand first and the color second, and luckily that seems to be the case.”

While brand loyalty may be a boon for producers making unique styles of rosé, its seasonality may be keeping people from exploring the variety of wines. This frustrates Derrick Westbrook, wine buyer at Chicago’s 57th Street Wines.

“How can consumers respect [rosé] as a category when it is the only wine people stop selling after the temperature drops?” he says. “You don’t stop selling white wines in the fall, so why do you cut rosé?”

Educating customers is a big part of getting them to try a wider range of rosés. Westbrook says he still fields questions from customers who think rosé is sweet. As does Carly Little, a wine steward at QFC Bellevue Village, a huge grocery store in Bellevue, Washington.

“I think many still equate rosé with white zins or blush. That super-sweet hangover in a bottle,” she says. She finds bolder, darker rosés like Tavel hard to sell to her customers, but reminds them that they are “great food wines.”

Hai Tran, beverage director at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Hotel, took the leap of faith to offer a Tavel by the glass as the weather cooled and found his guests responding positively. “I wondered if I would receive pushback from serving a Tavel, which was more ruby than pale pink,” Tran says. “I got none of that. Actually folks really enjoyed the thought put into selecting a heartier and more robust selection for the fall and winter months.”

Wine pairings offer a great opportunity to get people exploring darker rosés. Tran has served rosé in all shapes and sizes with a variety of dishes, which has “opened up a lot of palates.”

Taking into account not just what’s on the plate but the occasion can be another way to get people to try a  diversity of rosé styles. This is the tactic Ryan Sciara, owner of Underdog Wine Co. in Kansas City, Mo.,  employs. “For rosé, it comes down to asking questions and pairing the wine to the occasion (‘Pool party or dinner party?’) and go from there.”

It’s also about keeping in mind customer preferences. “Some of our customers will let us know that they prefer the softer/lighter versions,” says Sciara, “but we also have some on the other side that are more red wine drinkers and want the bigger/darker examples.”

Just as white wines and red wines run the gamut from light and pale to deep and robust, so do rosés. As Provence ushered in an era of rosé that has everybody thinking, and drinking, pink, take the plunge to explore the diversity of rosés available within the iconic French region and around the world.

Dark(er) Rosés from Somms, Buyers, And Wine Experts

Hai Tran, Rittenhouse Hotel:

Domaine Skouas’ Zoe. “Greece is an area that people continue to sleep on, but if they keep on churning out wines like this, it’s inevitable that Greece will become part of the fine wine conversation,” Tran says.

Some of Tran’s other favorites include Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé (Ore.), Analemma “Atavus” Pinot Noir Rosé (Wash.), Turley White Zinfandel (Calif.), Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc Rosé (Calif.), and Boya Rosé (Chile).

Derrick Westbrook, 57th Street Wines:

“I love vom Boden’s Stein sparkling rosé. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and it has nice weight with some tannins,” Westbrook says.

Westbrook also recommends Ananto Utiel-Requena Bobal Rosé (Spain), Artesana’s Tannat Rosé  (Uruguay), and Huber Zweigelt Rosé (Austria), which he calls “approachable, pairable, and downright yummy.”

Ryan Sciara, Underdog Wine Co.:

Sciara recommends Shane “Ma Fille” Rosé (Calif.), Domaine Lafond Tavel (France), Cardwell Hill Rosé of Pinot Noir (Ore.), and Brick & Mortar Rosé (Calif.).

Katherine Cole, Author:

Frontón de Oro Gran Canaria Rosado. “This gem from the Canary Islands gets a full 30 hours of maceration, but it’s grown at such a high elevation (3,200 feet) that it doesn’t taste extracted. Balanced and savory, with fragrant melon notes as well,” Cole says.

She also recommends Binomio Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Superiore from Italy and Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” Tavel. “This is my go-to Thanksgiving dinner wine!” Cole says.

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