Why Rosé?

pinkI must confess to being a bit puzzled by the surge in interest in Rosé over the past few years. In the U.S., Rosé was long considered a cheap, sweet wine for people looking for alcoholic soda pop. But starting in the 2000s, dry, quality French Rosé was introduced at beach resorts and finally in 2014 the market for it exploded and has continued to show steady growth. As Wine Economist Mike Veseth reports, the value growth in wine imports in 2018 came from two sources—New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and French Rosé.

On the one hand it’s easy to see why Rosé is popular. It’s easy to drink and extraordinarily versatile. It pairs well with a wide variety of dishes and is especially refreshing in hot weather. It’s a safe wine to serve at social functions because it’s unlikely to offend anyone and you, for the most part, know what you’re going to get—fresh berry flavors, bracing acidity, low alcohol, no oak aging.

But is it really that interesting? Only in rare cases does it show much varietal character and I doubt it’s particularly effective at revealing terroir. It can be made in a variety of styles but given its price category, it doesn’t lend itself to expensive experimentation. Occasionally I find one that is distinctive—Bonny Doon’s Vin de Cigare or the offerings from Jean Luc-Columbo come to mind—but most of it is generic and mediocre. Although Provence and the Southern Rhone have a reputation for quality Rosé, production has expanded so rapidly they will be forced to use inferior fruit and quality will suffer. I think it’s already happening as I’ve tasted a few from France recently that were dreadful.

Given its versatility and the fact that many people are interested in lower alcohol wines there is a place for Rosé but I’m skeptical that growth will continue at its current pace. And because it can be made in almost any wine region from many varietals I suspect there is a ceiling on the popularity of French Rosé.

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