“A bottle of white, a bottle of red. Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead …”
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel
Among the many cringe-worthy aspects of the 1980s — young women donning headbands and Flashdance-inspired, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts with boyfriends sporting bomber jackets and textured hair, Billy Joel crooning from the nearby cassette player — the fad of white zinfandel may have been the low point.
Not too much later white zinfandel, along with every other type of sweet rosé wine, was cast aside along with leg warmers, acid-washed jeans, and cheesy boyfriends. For years, drinking rosé was perceived as a serious lack of refinement, and those foolish enough to order a glass of anything pink in a restaurant were subjected to blatant eye-rolling. Only a substantial red wine paired with a medium-rare steak, or an oaky, buttery chardonnay served solely with fish would do.
But that changed a few years ago. Now the bloom is back on rosé, and this pink libation is currently the beverage of choice among celebrities, jet-setters, and those trend-setting 23 to 38-year-olds known as millennials. It is, in fact, more than just a drink; it is a brand, a state of mind, an entire way of life, and it is currently crowding Instagram with photographs of holiday rosé soirees at The Hamptons, rosé-inspired gadgets and clothing lines, specialty drinks, and that all important hashtag: #roséallday.
As Billy Joel implied, rosé is not a bottle of red, and it’s not a bottle of white but is, in fact, an entity of its own. This blush-colored intoxicant is crafted using a process similar to white wine production, but with red wine grapes. The precious pink color comes not from juice, but from the grape skins. And while rosé can be created from mixing red and white wine together, that process is not the most acceptable way of achieving pinkness and is actually an illegal professional practice in France outside of the Champagne region.
The most common method of rosé creation is called maceration, in which the red wine grapes are pressed and then left to stew in their own skins. If the end result were to be a bottle of red, the skins would stay until the liquid was fully fermented. To make a blush wine, the skins are removed after 12 to 24 hours, the just-pink juice is left to ferment, and another bottle of rosé is born.
Another, more controversial method is one of saignée, which is French for “bleeding.” It is not as violent as it sounds; it simply involves bleeding off some of the juice from pressed red wine grapes. Some claim that wines made using this technique are not true rosés because the procedure is more haphazard, done later in the wine-making process. However, saignée does result in a darker, bolder rosy-colored wine.
While the blending method is discouraged as a means of producing rosé wine, it is a completely acceptable approach to creating rosé Champagne. A small amount of red wine is combined with the white base wine before the secondary fermentation. The result is an elegant, bubbly, celebratory beverage that has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity at formal functions everywhere.
And though some of our millennial comrades might mistakenly believe that their favorite pink drink is a recent invention, rosé is actually one of the oldest types of wines available. It dates back as far 2,600 years ago in the Provence region of France, when the ancient Greeks transported grapes to the south of France. Later, during the Middle Ages, monks produced rosé to generate income for the abbeys in and around the Provence area. Following the invention of the railroad, rosé wines were first transported outside the region, finally allowing wine drinkers around the world to be tickled pink.
Today, the rosé consumption of French wine drinkers exceeds that of white wine, and the production of the blush brew has increased more than 30 percent in the past 10 years. Here in the United States, where we do our own fair share of red, white, and pink drinking, we are the second largest consumer of rosé in the world — just one sip behind France. And while rosé might represent only 1.5 percent of America’s wine market, sales have shown remarkable growth in the past few years, climbing 53 percent by 2018, with the expectation that those sales will continue to rise.
While putting all blush wine under the same pink umbrella is tempting, it is not true that a rosé is a rosé is a rosé. So many varieties are available on the market today, from the drier sorts made from grenache or syrah grapes to sweeter examples such as a white merlot or pink moscato. You no longer need to reach for the white zinfandel of dorm-days-gone-by to get some pink on. In fact, that nostalgic beverage was at its very conception a mistake — not unlike the cheesy boyfriend. Sutter Home vineyard was making a batch of wine in the late 1970s that failed to ferment completely, a phenomenon known as stuck fermentation, and the resulting liquid was left with more sugar than expected. It was bottled and distributed, along with its overtly saccharine taste, its effervescent color, and its markedly low price tag. White zinfandel was extremely successful, not just on college campuses but everywhere casual wine drinkers gathered.
Unfortunately, the sweet, sweet cheapness of white zinfandel eventually left a bad taste in the mouths of American wine drinkers, who turned up their collective noses to the pink and immersed themselves in more stylish and sophisticated red and white wine choices. Rosé sales plummeted, and from early 1990s to 2011, blush wines lay dormant and unappreciated, relegated to the bottom of the cheap wine aisles where no serious wine aficionado would ever roam.
Enter the millennials. Less than a decade ago, younger wine drinkers went to the pink side and discovered a wine that was much less pretentious than what their parents were drinking. It was also considerably more affordable, averaging $30 per bottle, which made it that much more appealing. With their rallying cry of “rosé all day,” millennials rescued blush wines from the bargain bins of liquor stores, teaching America that a pink wine was more than just white zinfandel and that a rosé by any other name doesn’t have to taste as sweet.
The popularity of social media platforms helped to further propel the pink wine movement. Instagram’s “Yes Way Rosé” account has more than 50,000 followers and is dedicated entirely to “spreading rosé vibes.” Countless images are posted daily on the internet, primarily because rosé is just so darn photogenic. It screams fun, sun, carefree summertime happiness. It’s a rosé all day, poolside lounging, Sunday-Funday party phenomenon. It’s a drink that just looks pretty in pink.
The rosé-loving world does not shackle its favorite beverage to the traditional confines of a wine glass either. There are rosé gummy bears, frozen rosé slushies (called frosés), rosé candles, rosé popsicles, and even a rosé deodorant on the market. To ensure that men are not excluded from the plethora of blush-colored merchandise or inspired events, the term brosé was invented, allowing them to enjoy the pink drink craze without taking hits to their masculinity.
Along with traditional wineries, celebrities are also capitalizing on America’s current obsession with all things pink. Drew Barrymore has come out with Carmel Road Rosé of Pinot Noir; John Legend’s LVE Rosé is his fourth to release; and while Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt may be divorced, they have joint custody of Miraval Cotes de Provence Rosé, which is produced on their own French vineyard. Even rapper Jay-Z mentions the pink drink in his song “30 Something.”
Now that America is no longer giving rosé the pink slip, it seems to be everywhere. Most wineries still ship current releases during the first half of the year, but, unlike those white shoes, many bust out the rosé long after Labor Day and enjoy its perky pinkness all year long.
It is worth noting that rosé regained its popularity precisely because it is not proper. The pink drink is often meant to be frivolous and giddy, so a party on the beach with rosé in a red solo cup is perfectly acceptable. If, however, a picture is to be posted of a beautiful shimmering pink-nectar-filled wine glass sitting on a beach deck as the sun sets behind it, that glass should have a wide bowl and flared lip. It should also be stemmed, because rosé is best served at 50 degrees F, and the stem will keep the temperature from changing too quickly. Social protocol aside, as long as it’s pink and pretty, no one on the beach will care.
Creamy cheeses, spiced meats, and seafood all couple nicely with rosé. Dry rosés typically fare better with stronger flavors, such as heavy pastas or barbequed meats. Sweeter varieties complement spicy foods, and lighter versions taste great with salads, fruits and vegetables, or grilled salmon. Rosé Champagne is always a lovely choice when serving any sort of dessert dish. And, if it’s a beach party, rosé even pairs well with Cheetos, bite-sized Snickers, and bean dip.
Rosé is plagued with its own set of rumors in need of debunking. For example, blush wine is not always cheap, with some labels selling for well over $100 per bottle. A darker color does not always indicate a sweeter rosé; the Hamptons did not — horrors! — run out of rosé this past summer; and yes, some good white zinfandels are actually on the market.
So run for the rosés. No longer considered gauche to order or old-school to enjoy, the popular pink drink is delightfully bubbly, pretty, and just plain fun. Take it from Billy Joel: perhaps a bottle of rosé would be perfect tonight.