Anna Lee Iijima for the Chicago Tribune
The season of #yeswayrosé descends each summer onto Instagram feeds and retail stores in a dramatic wave of pink.
Rosé is, after all, more than just a tipple. In every shade of blush and salmon, rosé represents a rallying call for the beachy, aspirational laissez-faire of St. Tropez or the Hamptons (even if you’re just wading in a kiddie pool on the back lawn).
But if you’ve noticed a chill in rosé’s popularity these past few summers, you’re not alone. After nearly two decades of explosive growth, global consumption of rosé has slowed in the past few years.
Is this sudden sluggishness evidence of #lavieenrosé fatigue? Or more indelibly, has #roséallday simply jumped the shark?
With so much emphasis on the lifestyle of rosé, “things got a little chaotic out there with rosé culture,” says Alex Cuper, beverage director of El Che Steakhouse & Bar in the West Loop. Pale pink, summer-water styles of rosé have been enormously successful from a commercial perspective. But with an increasing glut of mediocre rosé — pretty in the glass but often watery and ubiquitous — it’s often difficult for consumers to find compelling expressions of rosé that will withstand the fad.
“Rosé is probably the least understood category of wines,” says Jelena Prodan, service and wine director at S.K.Y., Apolonia and Valhalla restaurants in Chicago. “People know what they like to drink when it comes to white and red wine,” she says, but whether grenache from Provence or zweigelt from Austria, there’s a lot less familiarity with the range of rosé available.
Much of rosé’s problems stem from public misconceptions. Rosé, unlike any other category of wine, is still marketed as a seasonal wine best enjoyed at picnics or poolside as an aperitif. Erroneous notions associating pale color with quality contribute to vast quantities of rosé stripped of their color — along with aroma, flavor and complexity — via fining and filtration to meet consumer expectations. Despite a wide spectrum of rosé produced in nearly every wine-producing region and from a variety of grapes, most Americans are only familiar with dry, pale-pink or orange-hued styles of rosé from Provence.
But the slowdown in growth suggests a certain revaluation might be underway, Cuper says. “People are starting to look for more than just those rosé-all-day, frozé styles of pink wine,” he says. “Rosé can be a lot more than that. It can offer bold, unique flavors: everything from summer-sweet strawberries and cherries to more herbal, savory complexities.”
Sampling rosé made from different grape varieties and in different regions can help identify distinctions in the category. Rosé made from blends of cinsault, Grenache, syrah or mourvèdre from Provence are popular for their delicate peach and blood-orange flavors and refreshingly mineral style. “Rosé made from pinot noir can offer beautifully floral aromatics and refreshingly high acidity in a similarly delicate style,” Cuper says.
The intensely concentrated, almost ruby-hued wines of Tavel or Bandol offer a depth of rich, ripe berry and cherry flavors accented with hints of smoke, earth and peppery spice. Meanwhile, “Austrian and German rosés,” Prodan suggests, “are definitely on the more savory, herbaceous side of the spectrum.”
“There’s also a surprising amount of rosé from places like South America made from grape varieties you don’t typically think of for rosé,” Cuper says. Rosé made from tannat, a black-fruited, spicy red grape from Uruguay, or malbec from Argentina can offer a little bit more weight than Provençal rosé, Cuper says. Beautifully fruit-driven but also textured and heftier on the palate, they drink well even in a steakhouse setting, he says.
Seasonal pressures to launch new vintages of rosé by early spring also contribute to thin, hollow rosé. Rosé is too often made from grapes that are “picked too early, bottled and shipped way earlier than it should and then sold and drunk way before it’s supposed to,” Prodan says.
Such seasonal pressure is a pity, particularly because many well-made rosé drink beautifully year round and often improve after six months or even a year or two of maturation in the bottle. Those intensely concentrated rosé from Tavel and Bandol are ideal candidates for aging a few years, but “rosé made from malbec also has great ageability,” Cuper says, “because malbec itself is a really ageworthy grape.”
“With a little bit of age, you’ll find the fruit stays very fresh,” he says. “But you start to get those classic herbal notes — savory characteristics that can make a rosé wine really special.”
A few expressions of rosé to seek out this summer:
“This is a beautifully bright pinot noir rosé from Uruguay with a coastal element — you get a lot of sunlight and ocean breeze from it,” says Cuper, “but it pairs well with steak and other meat too.” $20. Garfield’s Beverage, multiple locations, garfieldsbeverage.com
Pais grapes, known as Mission in California, were brought to the Americas by Spanish missionaries. The penetrating red-cherry flavor and firm tannins yield juicy but structured wines. Cuper recommends this bright pink, unfiltered rosé made with organically grown grapes fermented with indigenous yeast and no added sulfites. $16. 57th Street Wines, 1448 E. 57th St., 773-966-4883, wines57.com
“Tibouren was a nearly extinct grape that hundreds of years ago, was used almost exclusively to make rosé,” Prodan says. “The Clos Cibonne is an homage to that history.” Made with 90% organically grown tibouren augmented by 10% grenache, it’s a deeply mineral, savory rosé matured 12-18 months in centenarian casks under a layer of flor, a thin layer of yeast, that lends a hint of salty, tangy complexity. $42. wine.com
Made by one of the best pinot noir producers in Marsannay, Prodan says, this is a “deeper, darker rosé — almost purple in color — that has layers and layers of aroma and flavor that keep developing in the glass. “It’s a very fragrant, savory wine that pairs beautifully with even bigger dishes without overwhelming flavors in food.” $52. wine.com
This pick is a fantastic value for such a deeply concentrated, ageable rosé from the only appellation in France devoted entirely to rosé production. Nearly ruby-hued in the glass, it’s a gorgeously blackberried wine marked by veins of granite and dried rosemary, smoke and anise. It’s a wine that drinks as well in the autumn with duck or pork as it does in the summer alongside quiche or pasta. $20. Binny’s, multiple locations, binnys.com
Anna Lee Iijima is a freelance writer.