2009 May: Run for the Rosé

2009 May: Run for the RoséIt’s almost automatic: think of a wine that goes well with pizza, and spicy reds come to mind – Barbera, red zinfandel and, of course, Chianti. But why not think pink? Not too long ago, pink wine in the United States was looked down on by oenophiles –– mostly because it’s the same color as the inexpensive, sweet stuff that traditionally comes in a box or a jug. But now, dry pink wines, usually called Rosé in the United States, are taking over more shelf space in wine stores –– and appearing on more menus.

“It’s a lovely wine,” says Carol Morphy, co-owner of The Red Grape, a pizzeria in California’s Sonoma Valley that switches up its Rosé offerings regularly and according to season. “At first, most people think it’s going to be too sweet. But then they try it and really enjoy it. It’s dry and refreshing.”

In the past few years, the demand for dry Rosé has soared in the United States –– partly because of changing tastes and even the increasing popularity of the Mediterranean-style diet, according to some wine and food critics.

Premium Rosé sales have outpaced those of other types of wine in grocery and liquor stores, according to The Nielsen Company, which does not track sales in restaurants. In the month ending in mid- October 2008, the dollar amount of Rosé sales had jumped 19 percent from that time period the previous year. The growth of premium Rosé is coming from drinkers of other higher-end wines who are adding Rosé to their repertoires, according to Brian Lechner, client director, beverage alcohol, for The Nielsen Company. “It’ll be interesting to see how big high-end Rosés get,” Lechner says.

But it could take time. “There’s still a learning curve,” says winemaker and author Jeff Morgan, who fell in love with Rosé while living in southern France and wrote the book Rosé: A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine. To help speed up the acceptance of Rosé, Morgan co-founded Rosé Avengers & Producers – RAP – an industry association dedicated to advocating for, and correcting misconceptions about, dry pink wines.

Rosés, which can range from barely pink to salmon to a jewel-like rose in color, and often are described as having flavors of strawberry, cranberry and rhubarb, usually are made by using red grapes, but leaving the skins in contact with the juice only a few days at most, removing them before fermentation. Sometimes, winemakers mix in some white grapes, too. And occasionally, especially for sparkling wines, Rosé can be made by mixing red and white wines – but that’s much less common. No single type of red grape is used for Rosé – in fact, just about any type works.

While dry Rosé might seem like a hot new thing in the United States, its history goes back centuries in Europe. The sweeter styles of pink wine became popular in the United States after World War II, thanks to Portuguese winemakers who had noticed that U.S. soldiers stationed in Europe loved to guzzle cola. “They realized if they made a sweet, sparkling pink wine, returning G.I.s might start to drink the stuff,”

Morgan says. Then, in the 1970s, sweet White Zinfandel as we know it today was created when California’s Sutter Home Winery had a mishap that left too much sugar in its wine, and sold it anyway. Sales took off, and pink wine was branded a girly beverage.

Unlike its sugary counterpart, dry Rosé is extremely versatile and can be paired withjust about any offering on a pizzera menu – from hearty, spicy sausage pizza to a light Greek salad with feta. “Versatility is what it’s all about,” Morgan says. “Rosé drinks like a white and also drinks a little like a red, which means it goes with everything.”

At The Red Grape, Morphy says she recommends it with the pizzeria’s white pizzas – especially the Mediterranean (which has artichoke hearts, plum tomatoes and kalamata olives) and the Pears and Gorgonzola pizza (which has applewood smoked bacon, pears, Gorgonzola cheese and hazelnuts). And at the Rooftop Pizzeria, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, general manager Eric Ahmann suggests Rosé with the lobster linguine with caper butter sauce or the No. 3 pizza – which is topped with roast chicken, green chile, Cotija and Asadero cheeses and piñon nuts on a blue corn crust.

If you want to add dry Rosé to your menu, check to see what your wine distributor offers and keep in mind that Rosé usually is best when consumed young – so choose recent vintages, Morgan recommends. Also, it’s a good idea to offer one domestic, one French and one Spanish or Italian Rosé, Morgan suggests, so customers can experience a range of styles. In general – though there are always exceptions – European Rosé tends to be lighter and brighter, while U.S. and other so-called New World wines, from places such as South America and Australia, tend to be bolder and more fruitty.

So customers who might not be familiar with dry Rosé can try it, it’s smart to pour them by the glass as well as by the bottle, Morgan recommends. Educating staff is key to sales, too. “We do a lot of tasting here,” Ahmann says, “so the staff know what these wines go with and what they are.” ?

Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She writes frequently about food and business.

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