From Vanity Fair, on AUG 11, 2015
One night earlier this summer, a group of six women filed into a corner booth at Mamo, a Manhattan transplant of the very popular restaurant Mamo Le Michelangelo in the French Riviera. But before they sat down, the queen bee with crown crafted by Drybar, whose vibrant turquoise handbag matched her cocktail dress, asked the host, “And is this where Beyoncé sat?”
The group tittered as they took their seats, which must have simply vibrated with the memory of Beyoncé. You only get connections to celebrities like this—ass to ass—in New York. Soon their wine arrived, a few bottles you could identify as rosé from Provence without even seeing the label, the corset shape of the bottle a signifier of the region. It was Domaines Ott, one of the most classic rosés on the market.
Rosé and Beyoncé: two pillars of modern womanhood that we could pack into a time capsule for future generations to unwrap, alongside an iPhone, maybe. (“This wine looks spoiled,” the future people would say, “and they forgot to pack a charger.”) But while the all-consuming cultural dominance of Beyoncé is relatively easy to plot, the rise of rosé is a different story. One day—some time in the late mid-aughts maybe?—it was just . . . everywhere. Each summer, from the beaches of Bridgehampton to the rooftops of Bushwick (and points west too, probably), upper-crust revelers and urbanite millennials on the make alike guzzle glasses of the stuff. It has become both a symbol of, and necessity for, that luxury lifestyle Shangri-La so many are aiming for (at least by the looks of Instagram). Rosé, at this point, has gone around the guilty-pleasure/irony wheel so thoroughly that when the Fashion Internet’s favorite bad boy, The Fat Jewish, began marketing his own line of the stuff earlier this summer hardly anyone could be bothered to care about its name: White Girl Rosé.
And yet very rarely has the pink juice received much of a critical case history—a fact that is perhaps owed to its effects. As we try to pour every last glass out of what’s left of another summer, we set out to ask a few questions about it. When, and why, did the craze for rosé begin? When did it become “a thing”? How did it transcend “basic” and become a symbol of all that is good about summertime? With these deep, universe-shifting questions in mind, we went forth in hope of some answers to set the record, or at least the Wikipedia page, straight.
First stop: the 1980s. The culprit: white zin.
Poor white zinfandel. It sat in its box in your childhood fridge, completely unaware that it would be to blame for Americans’ repugnance towards dry rosé wine (as compared to the popular, celebratory rosé champagne, which we will ignore for this discussion, unless you want to pour us some). Grant Reynolds, the wine director at Charlie Bird, called white zin the “O.G. rosé in America.” The sweet, often blended-beyond-belief wine is now the embarrassing cousin we don’t want to admit was the very thing that got us into drinking wine in the first place. “Pink meant unsophisticated and sweet,” said Charles Bieler, the winemaker behind one of the country’s most popular rosés, Charles and Charles. “That’s a profile of white zin, which people like to piss on today—but let’s be honest—it was a gateway wine for so many Americans.”
For younger, millennial drinkers, pink wines meant mom wines. In college we drank stacks of red Solo cups of beer or two-ingredient sad excuses for cocktails. “We grew up drinking Coca-Cola,” said Patrick Cappiello, the wine director at Rebelle and Pearl and Ash, where the rosé list is now 37 rosés deep. “So our palates are attuned to that. Sweet wines are kind of entry-level wines. People say they don’t want sweet wines, but usually most of the wines that people like have a little bit of residual sugar. And then, as they start to drink more, they become O.K. with acid [and] brighter, drier, really crisp wines.”
Second Stop: France comes to the Hamptons. The culprit: the New York Post.
Bob Paulinski, the senior vice president of wine at BevMo, looks at European trends in wine when he’s planning what to buy for the year ahead for the West Coast chain’s wine stock, assuming the U.S. will follow within the next three years. “If you went to a European wine trade show, back in 2009, 2010,” said Paulinksi, “rosé was a very prominent part of what was being promoted at that time.” Three years ago, BevMo sold just 12 to 15 rosés, now they offer around 45 to 50.
It was also three years ago that rosé started to take off in the Hamptons, where it’s come to represent a lifestyle. Now known as “Hamptons Gatorade,” Wölffer Estate’s first rosé was produced in Long Island in 1992, in a batch of just 82 cases—not nearly enough to supply the area’s Gatsby-level parties. This year they turned out almost 22,000 cases.
A famous New York Post article last summer proclaimed that the leisured residents of the Hamptons were running “dangerously low” of rosé. “It’s hard to say how much longer we’ll have it,” a rep for Wölffer told the Post. (You can almost imagine them high-fiving the person next to them when they put the phone down.) This year, in a Post follow-up, the rosé shortage is “even scarcer.” So, stock high those cellars, socialites.
The story also name-dropped the inescapable Whispering Angel, a Provence rosé by Château d’Esclans that has become just as synonymous with the Hamptons as Wölffer. “I know there are other things to do than drink rosé, but I guess that’s what they had on their mind,” said Paul Chevalier, the wine director at Château d’Esclans, who cheekily added that the article “created a little bit of buzz.”
But just a few years ago, there were only two or three places in the U.S. where people drank rosé. “It was the Hamptons and Nantucket, and a little bit of Miami,” said Chevalier. When he brought Whispering Angel over to Long Island in 2006, it took him almost a year to sell out of the batch of around 500 cases. This year’s batch of Whispering Angel, 100,000 cases, has nearly disappeared. Chevalier suggested that many of the residents of the Hamptons first tried rosé in Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez, or Provence, so meeting it again in Long Island was a welcome reunion.
Next Stop: Liquor-store shelves. The culprits: Brangelina.
Another wine that helped rosé’s reputation rebound was Miraval, also known as “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s wine.” Miraval’s production is overseen by the established Perrin family, which has crafted wine for five generations. “Those guys definitely know how to make wine,” said Tara Thomas, a wine reviewer for Wine & Spirits magazine, where almost 600 rosés were sampled for review in the last 12 months. In the August issue, a list of the year’s best rosés included Miraval. “When I saw I had given it a 90, I thought, ‘Oh no!’” she told me. “I went back and tasted it, and it is a good wine.” Thomas’s review begins with a hint of snark:
“The advantage of tasting wine blind is that star power has no effect. So, while some people will buy this simply because it comes from the estate that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own in Correns . . . our panel recommended it because it’s graceful and firm, a rosé with conviction.”
Another star-powered rosé is the California-based Coppola winery’s lipstick-hued Sofia, which is the top-selling domestic rosé in the over $12 category. That wine debuted in 2003 with a production of 2,500 cases. Now, on average, they produce 10,000 annually.
Both Miraval and Sofia are bottled in unconventional, eye-catching shapes. Rosé from Provence often comes in a curvy “corset”-shaped bottle, which looks exactly the way it sounds. Miraval is like a bloated bowling pin, wide at the base, making the tiny circular label decorated with little white flowers even more noticeable. The Sofia is less squat, but equally alluring, with a circular label outlined with pretty grape vines. You can see why these bottles would stand out on the shelf at BevMo or Spec’s.