Pink and white umbrellas shade the seven tables in the Rosé Garden at Whaley’s. Majesty palms wave in the breeze. A textile printed with banana leaves decorates the bar.
This is pink-wine heaven, where every glass is filled with wine in shades from ballet slipper to salmon, poured from bottles hailing from France to California to New Zealand.
“I can’t say there was a demographic we were going after,” says Whaley’s co-owner Nick Wiseman, judiciously skirting a reporter’s questions about just who drinks rosé. “But the demographic, yes, it’s clear.”
The demographic is America, where we have reached peak pink, the moment when rosé is no longer a perfectly ordinary and agreeable summer wine but a lifestyle bevvie. A hashtag (#roséallday). A pop-culture icon.
In time for summer, you can now buy a giant pink shell-shaped pool float with accessory floaties for your rosé glasses.
You can slather your underarms with a rosé-scented deodorant, drink straight from a bottle of pink wine cheekily packaged like a forty of malt liquor or buy a peachy-hued pinot noir peddled by actress Drew Barrymore. There's even a minor clamor about a totally made-up musical genre called Roséwave.
So how did pink wine, only recently purchased from the bottom shelves of the Safeway wine aisle, become the only acceptable drink of summer, a meme and a rallying cry?
Rosé is populist. It is a wine of the people.
There’s no need to know whether you prefer pitch-purple Syrah or an ethereal, brick-red Nebbiolo. It’s so easy to gleefully shout, “Rosé all day!”
Millennials' rejection of gender norms has also contributed to the rosé bump. If this moment has a color, after all, it's millennial pink, and just as many men appreciate it as women.
“Even eight years ago, you wouldn’t have seen as many men sitting there drinking pink wine,” says Swati Bose, who with her husband owns Washington’s Flight Wine Bar. Now, if a table orders a red wine and a rosé, she says, “you don’t necessarily know who’s ordered what.”
There is a name for the wine preferred by the modern man: brosé.
And if it is frozen, friends, that is frosé.
The curse of zin
Rosé can be a grenache. A bubbly pinot. A saucy little txakolina. Gamay, even.
But the first rosé most Americans encountered was probably Sutter Home. White zinfandel, specifically.
Zin, a sweet, whisper-pink wine, was a phenomenon born of an accident, or so goes the lore. When Sutter Home winemaker Bob Trinchero made a batch of wine in 1975 that he'd hoped would be a pale, dry, pink wine — blush, as it was then called — it failed to ferment completely, leaving behind a wine with more sugar than he'd hoped.
But the dinner-party set bought up the bum batch like it was an elixir of the gods. And then continued to buy it for decades.
Zin “used to be one of the most popular wines by the glass in the world,” says Liz Thach, a professor of wine and management at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.
Blame the embarrassment that was the American palate at the time. We liked things fruitier then, says Patrick Cappiello, a respected New York sommelier.
But the sugar rush wore off, and we didn’t just lose our taste for it. We soured on it.
Thanks to zin, we started to think pink wine came out of a box and that only our mothers could drink it with abandon.
Red wines such as cabernet sauvignon fit our new, more sophisticated tastes. Blush wine became a punchline.
“A lot of people make comments like, ‘Isn’t rosé just cheap crap wine?’ Which it’s not,” says Cappiello. “But there was a period of time where it had that reputation.”
Adam Bernbach, beverage director for the wine bar Proof and restaurants including Estadio in Washington, suspects that a perfect storm of events led to the current rosé bubble. But chief among them, he says, are “influencers, for lack of a better term.”
The Provence Wine Council, which represents hundreds of French rosé producers, made a whirlwind promotional tour of the United States a few years ago to talk up pink wines to distributors, who decide what stores and bars will carry.
Magazine articles declared rosé the next big thing.
Hip early adopters had already picked up on the coming, er, rosé wave. In 2006, Jay-Z rapped about it in the song “30 Something,” heckling younger rhymers for their behind-the-times drinking habits.
“Y’all drink Dom,” he rapped, “but not rosé.”
Rosé became cool, Cappiello says, as Americans increasingly ventured outside Paris to the south of France, where towns have been happily gulping back blush-hued wines for generations.
“I feel like it’s been, like, 15 years of talking about dry rosé,” says Ben Jordan, winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Va.
But, he says, the bubble really began two or three years ago. Now, no matter how much he makes each season, it’s all snapped up. (According to data released by Nielsen Co., rosé has been one of the fastest-growing segments of the market for two years running.)
This part is important: The rosé wines of Provence are sophisticated. They are not sickly sweet. They are crisp, designed to slice through humid summers.
Amid falling sales of white zinfandel, American wine producers took note of the wine that looked just like it but tasted worlds apart. “It’s easy to make rosé,” says Thach. “It’s a cash cow sort of a drink. You produce it in September, and it’s ready to be consumed by February. ”
Frosé and forties
Last summer, a wave of slushies made with rosé took over Instagram, bars and the American imagination.
“When I first read about frosé, I was like, I want in on that one. It’s so silly, and it’s so goofy, and it’s so cornball,” says Bernbach, who devotes Friday happy hour to frosé at his subterranean cocktail bar, 2 Birds 1 Stone. “If you could do something delicious that would be really, really good, but in its very essence would remove any hint of pretension, why wouldn’t you?”
Cappiello started his own sensation this spring when his company, Forty Ounce Wines, announced that it would be serving a French-made wine in a bottle that looked like a forty. (It's not a gimmick, he says, but a nod to the reckless days of his skateboarding, punk-rock youth.) The next thing he knew, he says, a Kardashian had Snapchatted a forty of rosé for all the world to covet.
Even among sommeliers, Cappiello says, “we were waiting for the trend to end. It just seems to build.”
Jordan wonders whether the utter basicness of rosé may eventually turn it into the Pokémon Go of wines. “Maybe,” he wonders, “we’ll see the cooler kids want to step away from it.”
Maybe. Anyone up for a glass of orange wine?