What was the original offense that led every damned consumer to believe — unswervingly — that all darker-hued rosés are sweet?
It’s like some unwritten law. Among the pallets of rosé that do sell, it’s always the same thing … it’s gotta be pale.
I’ve quizzed customers on details about darker rosé’s Fall from Grace. What exactly was this first ‘sweet, dark’ rosé they found? ‘I don’t know … I just find that darker rosés are too sweet’ is as far as our conversation gets, before the customer sprints to the register with a pale Provençal rosé.
Was it Sutter Home or Beringer White Zinfandel? Did some grandma pass every one of my customers aged 18-40 a glass of old, warm Beringer White Zin from a bottle sitting on her kitchen counter since before Obama?
White Zinfandel alone cannot explain this.
Are we in the same loose linguistic territory as Riesling — you say you object to sweet, but you actually mean fruity? And, if so, decoding your impoverished language further (it’s not your fault; I know) what exactly was the unpleasant fruity rosé aroma?
I can make a conjecture. To a certain extent, I can relate to objections to rosé. And maybe even the sweetness bullshit.
WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT, ANYWAY?
Maybe people are inferring that light-colored means light on the palate. Meaning: not heavy-handed, and hopefully elegant. If that is indeed what’s going on here, then I understand.
From a wine retailer’s perspective, though, it’s a tragedy. Refusing to buy a rosé that isn’t pale salmon-colored simply because you’re afraid it’s sweet is tantamount to rosé racism: it forbids any saignée or longer skin-macerated rosés, and only allows for the paler hue of direct press rosés.
Curious about different rosés? Look at this French chart. A saignée, or bleed, simply concentrates a red wine by stripping off the palest 5-15% from the maceration vat, rendering a secondary rosé wine. A saignée rosé is darker, because it extracts more color from the skins during maceration. A direct press — the most popular Provençal method — skips the maceration step, and goes straight to vinification of gently pressed juice in stainless steel.
But whether it was direct press or saignée, it took me a long time to come around to rosé. Most of the time 10 years ago, I couldn’t imagine drinking it. Too many rosés seemed to greet my nose with a green, vegetal aroma that brought to mind tomato stems or even geranium. It marred so many direct press rosés that it seemed to be the very definition of rosé to me.
And if not that vegetal character, it’d be one of two other undesirables: either something too aromatic on the nose (think Viognier or Vermentino), or something downright saccharine on the finish.
It felt as if the entire world was hankering for a wine not at all built for my sensory apparatus. The entire planet seemed to be speaking a language I couldn’t fathom.
The last thing in the world that I want in a rosé is heaviness. So, getting back to our customers, if there’s an inference here that light-colored means light-bodied, okay: I agree.
It’s entirely possible that France has convinced the world that pale salmon is what rosé should be, given their market dominance. Although even Provençal producers have had to render their own rosés paler to meet market demand. Which begs the question: who’s driving, here? The consumer or the producer?
But if I retrace my own steps, I suppose that, to be fair, the first rosés I enjoyed were typically pale. The rosés that made sense to my palate early on were direct pressed Pinot Noir or pale saignées: first German, then French Pinot Noir rosés. Here were rosés that were as cool, lean, and quiet as a marble statue — often from colder, northern climes.
And it’s true, the Pinot Noir rosés I liked were quite often of a paler color than most saignées.
Then came an affection for some direct press rosés from heavier grapes: Cinsault- and Carignan-heavy rosés from the Languedoc. And some Cabernet Franc rosés from the electric 2015 vintage.
But consider this skin-contact, long macerated Pinot Gris that completely upends this nonsense pale salmon/direct press rule, and proves the whole paradigm is just shit: the 2016 Airlie Bank Pinot Gris Rosé. It’s as dark and refreshing as can be. The Airlie Bank rosé reminds me of a screaming fresh, juicy red delicious apple, with some soft-spoken skin-contact ferment aromas that bring to mind carmelized Vidalia onion. A versatile food partner — doing exactly what a rosé should do.
Maybe I can agree with the legions of customers on at least this. I think that the archetypal flavor profile that nearly everyone craves is a lean, mineral, low-alcohol, refreshing wine. One that is eminently drinkable and feels as cooling as water.
Less about what a rosé IS and more about all that it ISN’T. Perhaps this is at the root of the pale salmon color obsession.
Or perhaps this is simply wishful thinking on my part.
A FINAL WORD ON CLASS, MARKETING, AND ‘VALUE’
In trying to make sense of rosé consumer behavior, one thing comes to mind. The unparalleled growth of rosé in the US market over the last 10 years may have a lot to do with a trickle-down transmission of wealth and class … something that wine all too often gets caught up in.
Because wine is a form of cultural currency, it effortlessly transmits ideas of refinement. So, when New Yorkers see people in the upscale dining enclaves of the Hamptons pounding Wolffer rosé, or stupid-assed Whispering Angel, or inexplicably overpriced Domaine Ott, all selling for a fortune on *classy* restaurant wine lists, the air of authority generated by the experience goes a long way in establishing a notion of ‘value’ in the minds of consumers.
But the scathing irony is that …
1) Whispering Angel sucks, I can get you two far better bottles for the price of one, so long as you’re willing to sacrifice the baby angel on the label;
2) I can get you three better rosé bottles for Domaine Ott; and
3) Best-selling Wölffer rosé — particularly their ‘Summer in a Bottle’ — countermands the entire ‘Pale! and dry, dry, DRY!’ paradigm in an inexplicable way: it’s often excessively fruity.
Yes, the wine is dry, but consumers don’t know that, because it’s fruity. Wölffer’s marketing machine sidesteps the inane QC check nearly every other rosé is subjected to. In most vintages, it’s not quite pale enough to meet the Provençal pale salmon standard, plus it incorporates aromatic, fruity-as-hell varietals like Gewurztraminer and Riesling!
Nothing makes sense.
At least despicable White Girl Rosé is gone … that makes sense. Well, not quite gone: these retailers still can’t sell their 2015. And something tells me White Girl rosé isn’t the type of well-made rosé that’s unfurling and gaining poise a vintage out. SAD!