Growing up in the ‘80s, it was fairly common to spy a glass jug of off-red White Zinfandel in our refrigerator. Sometimes it was a box of blush wine with an easy-pour spout. Either way, it seemed like something was always there to help the moms on our street take the edge off for having to contend with our ragtag crew of kids. Sure, the wine was sweet, but suffice to say, it was a favorite of my mom’s — especially when accompanied by a few ice cubes. What can I say? The woman loves her sweet wines and she likes ‘em cold.
So at a pool party sometime around 15 years ago, a friend who ran a restaurant asked if I wanted a glass of rosé. “That sweet pink wine?” I inquired, skeptically. She assured me this was not White Zin and that it would be cool, crisp — even dry. It was all of that… and delicious! That day started a long personal journey of discovery and love affair with rosé wine. This was not my mother’s boxed wine.
Long gone are the days of pink wine being associated with White Zinfandel, which is considered more of a blush wine than the premium rosé that has enjoyed a spike in popularity over the last decade. Thanks to the ubiquity of Instagram influencers toasting to “rosé all day!” or perhaps a gaggle of real housewives drinking the pink juice while yachting in the Mediterranean, American drinkers have increasingly taken to drinking rosé and the numbers continue to reflect that.
Sure, this isn’t a new trend, and media interest hit peak pink around 2018, but that hasn’t slowed people from drinking rosé. Yes, the pandemic and high tariffs imposed on imports of French wine may have impacted sales since then, and the explosion of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages and hard seltzers has gnawed into wine, beer, and spirits’ sales. None of this, it seems, has turned people off of rosé. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Case in point: Off-premise, retail rosé sales soared more than 1,400 percent between 2010 and 2020, with volumes jumping from just under 150,000 9-liter cases annually to an eye popping 2.3 million, according to beverage alcohol advisory firm bw166. (That’s all for rosé priced above $7 per 750-milliliter bottle — not the cheap blush jugs.)
Meanwhile, between October 2021 and the same period a year later, on-premise rosé sales at bars, restaurants, hotels, and beyond increased 27 percent to $904 million, according to data released by market research firm CGA Strategy.
“When I first moved to Texas (nearly 20 years ago), rosé was something we all liked, but trying to serve it in restaurants was a total failure,” says Austin-based sommelier Paul Ozbirn, who recently left his post as general manager of upscale wine shop The Neighborhood Vintner. “These big ol’ Texas guys with cowboy hats wouldn’t drink it and it was an uphill battle to sell it,” Ozbirn says. “Fast-forward to today and pink is in vogue.”
Whether it was the rise of “millennial pink” in the mid-2010s, headline-grabbing news around that same time that New York’s Hamptons, where the rich and famous (and those who want to be) play all summer, was — gasp! — scarily close to running out of rosé, or that people realized just how darn refreshing it is, selling rosé these days is easy. Rosé, Ozbirn says, went from having a negative stigma to being super chic almost overnight — and even those “guys in cowboy hats will share a bottle.”
Colorful labels, attractive bottles and the sometimes whimsical packaging have all contributed to rosé being a lifestyle or occasion beverage, says Allegra Angelo, co-founder and partner at Vinya Wine & Market in Miami. That lends itself well to pool parties, afternoons on a boat, tossing some canned rosé into a backpack for a picnic or outdoor concert. And where it was once looked at as more of a women’s drink, the rise of “brosé,” with releases from the likes of singer Post Malone (who debuted Maison No. 9 in 2020) have opened the floodgates for everyone to drink rosé.
That celebrity connection also drives interest in and recognition of a category. Regardless of how you feel about A-lister brands — whether Brad Pitt’s Miraval, Jon Bon Jovi’s Hampton Water, Cameron Diaz’s Avaline or Wines by Kylie Minogue (one of the best-selling rosés in the U.K.) — celebrities sell products. In this case, however, they also tend to be passionate about the wine.
“Years ago, this industry saw a lot of dumb endorsement deals,” says Michael Osborn, Wine.com founder and executive vice president. “That’s one extreme, but the people who are engaged in this are making a difference. These aren’t hobbies or endorsement deals. They’re serious about their projects and these are really good wines.”
The Versatility and Value of Rosé
It doesn’t hurt that rosé is incredibly versatile and also of good value. Sure, you can spend $30 and up for a bottle, but many rosés clock in under $25 for a quality bottle of wine. That’s attractive to consumers.
“People are finding good value sources for rosé,” says Brent Kroll, sommelier and proprietor of Maxwell Park Wine Bar in Washington, D.C. “It’s easier with $20 in hand to go out and get a really good bottle of rosé versus white or red.”
Vinya’s Angelo agreed, adding the market for quality rosés priced at $25 and under is vast, which helps when pairing with food. “They’re great food wines,” Angelo says. “They’re great for pizza, pasta, Asian — especially for takeout.”
While Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are two of the most popular wine varieties in the U.S., that doesn’t mean they go well with varied cuisines. Rosé, often made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese, checks many more boxes, especially for today’s more curious diners.
“Younger consumers are vegetarian, they’re eating Asian food, Latin food — it’s more diverse,” says Jon Moramarco, managing partner of bw166 and co-owner of wine data firm Gomberg, Frederickson & Associates. “Those foods don’t pair as well with Chardonnay or Cab, but rosés pair better with more trendy food styles.”
And the wines out in the market most often reflect that, with a diversity of grape varieties being blended to capture this global flavor profile — even if most seem like they’re coming from one place: France.
France Rules… for Now
Now no matter if you go to a high-end wine shop, a favorite neighborhood bistro, or even a convenience store, you’re going to find rosé. The majority being sold hails from France, according to Moramarco. He says about 1 million cases of French rosé were being sold in the U.S. in the beginning of 2015 and by the end of 2019 that increased to 4.75 million cases. That temporarily slipped to 3 million, due to high tariffs imposed on French wine in 2019, but has since rebounded to 4.25 million cases today, Moramarco says.
Even on Wine.com, one of the largest online wine retailers, where rosé comprises just 2.5 percent of total sales value, French rosé accounted for 71 percent of the category in 2022.
“Every region of the world has an entry in this category, but not everyone does it well,” Osborn says. “When our customers think of rosé, they’re thinking of the South of France.”
To that point, of the top 10 rosé brands sold on Wine.com, Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel from Provence is No. 1 — as it is on Drizly.com — followed by Hampton Water, which is made in partnership with legendary French winemaker Gerard Bertrand, who also has two other brands in the top 10. Miraval, La Vieille Ferme, Château Minuty, The Palm By Whispering Angel Rosé, and Avaline rosé round out the category. The only specifically non-French rosé in that list? Wölffer Estate rosé from — where else? — The Hamptons. (Wölffer does make a Provence-based wine, so there’s that.)
Sure, rosé’s carefree essence is associated with that Mediterranean lifestyle, but since rosé can be made from virtually any red grape, its color, depth, and body range from super light and refreshing to bold, dark, and savory. It allows winemakers across the world to experiment and gives drinkers more options.
“France was really big and now we’re seeing different regions, like Greece, Texas, and elsewhere,” says Brad Parker, owner of the Hampton Social restaurants with eight locations that feature an Instagrammable pink neon “Rosé All Day” sign. “People are open to drinking rosé from other places.”
Lately, Angelo is looking toward Italy for fuller-bodied Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo made from Montepulciano, and copper-hued, skin-contact Ramato, produced in Friuli-Venezia Giulia with Pinot Grigio. Lebanon, she says, with its Mediterranean climate, produces some fantastic rosés comprising Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, where Austrian producers capitalize on indigenous grapes like Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt to make rosé.
Frankly, anywhere that has wine production — Spain, South Africa, Chile, Germany, Australia, Argentina — you’ll find good-quality rosé. That’s why for a month each spring Kroll crafts a list of 20 rosés by the glass to offer at Maxwell Park
“We really get behind it,” Kroll says. “We try to do different shades of rosé and cover all different regions.”
Is Rosé Starting to Plateau?
Even though people are drinking more rosé when they go out to dinner or at a bar, evidence shows a slowdown when it comes to picking up a bottle — or three — from a store. New data from NielsenIQ points to a decrease in rosé sales at retail outlets. For the 52 weeks ending Oct. 8, 2022, off-premise sales were just under $675 million, showing a decline of 6.3 percent from the previous year.
“Demand has increased over the past decade, but more recently we’ve seen rosé wine hit a plateau,” says Jon Berg, vice president of beverage alcohol thought leadership at NielsenIQ. “Total wine is facing declines and rosé is facing greater declines than the overall category in off-premise.”
Moramarco offers some analysis for why this might be the case. “Over the last year, as we’ve seen a shift from off- to on-premise, you’re seeing a decline in numbers,” he says. “People are dining out more and not shopping as much.”
That could merely be due to changing habits following two years of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions. People were holed up at home with — and let’s be honest — not a lot to do but drink. So sales off-premise were higher than at bars and restaurants.
“It being this lifestyle communal beverage,” Vinya’s Angelo says, “someone always wants rosé.”