You would need to have been living in Outer Mongolia for the past five years not to
know that growth in the market for rosé wine has outstripped all expectations.
At first, the increased demand was attributed to the drought summer of 2003, when Brits went all continental and took to sunbathing in their lunch hour and eating evening meals on their back patios. But year-on-year sales have continued their upwards trend.
"The first thing we noticed about rosé sales
was that seasonality started to erode," says Bibendum director Willie Lebus. "Rosé has become part of everybody's regular drinking pattern.
Demand has now driven retailers to provide a good rosé selection from around the world. In truth, I think the category is ill defined, because there are so many rosés now made in such a range of styles that it's difficult to group them all together as 'rosé'."
The boom began, of course, with California's blush and white Zinfandel wines.
"These wines are the reinvention of Mateus Rosé and Rosé d'Anjou for a new generation," says John McLaren, the UK director of the Wine Institute of California. "They're fruity, they've got some residual sugar and they're called 'white' or 'blush' - anything but rosé."
"It's the kind of drink that provides an entry point into the world of wine for a relatively unsophisticated consumer who may well have been drinking RTDs beforehand," says Simon Legge, wine marketing director for Brown-Forman. "Some of these consumers will stay with this style of wine, others may graduate to more serious wines with time. I suppose you could think of them as 'starter wines'."
But although sweeter rosés sell well, they tend to sell at the lower end of the price spectrum.
"It's a slightly schizophrenic market," Legge confirms. "White Zin is more weighted to the mass-market end of things, whether you're talking about supermarkets or pub chains. On the other hand, it's not just the independents and lah-di-da restaurants that are the stronghold of dry rosés
- you'll find plenty in the supermarkets and high street chains. And there is some crossover: Waitrose sells a lot of white Zinfandel and Wetherspoon's sells a lot of dry rosé, but the centre of gravity is slightly different for each of them."
Even though it's in the interests of a retailer to stock as wide a range of rosé as possible, it's as true as it ever was that it pays to know the demands of your clientele.
"We do stock one Californian blush," says Majestic's Chris Hardy, "but it sells in insignificant quantities. Our rosé range has always been biased towards French wines because that's where we started out and it still seems to be what our customers are after, even though we've added other lines, including New World rosés."
One company that's investing in all rosé's permutations is HwCg, which recently launched the Real Rosé Company, a brand based exclusively on rosés
and aimed primarily at women.
While some might view the idea of aiming a rosé brand at women as being an exercise in stereotyping, Laura Jewell MW, HwCg's agency director, insists this isn't the case. "The range is easy to understand, but it's not patronising," she insists. "It's about exploration without intimidation. HwCg saw a real opportunity for a brand to take an authoritative role within the rosé category."
Confidence to experiment
is for consumers to gain enough confidence in the brand to
experiment with other rosés . "We wanted the styles of the wines to reflect their origins," says Jewell. "We can't assume that all women want to drink sweeter wines, which is why we have looked at different styles. Residual sugar levels vary from 2g per litre to 20g, but what's more important is getting the balance right: colour, aroma and flavour profiles are just as important as sugar levels."
Others see the market developing
differently. "I believe there's a growing demand for fuller-flavoured 'clairet' styles [dark pink wines that are almost light reds], as well as high-acid, zippy fruit-driven styles," says Bibendum's Lebus.
Majestic's Hardy, in contrast, sees developing interest in lighter styles. "People were looking for rosés that were almost light reds, but I now think they're looking for lighter styles and colours, wines with less concentration, which makes them more of a summer drink."
Whether your customers prefer deeper
or lighter styles, sweet
or dry, the time has come to treat rosé seriously rather than as a passing summer fancy.
Rosé and food
One of rosé's chief strengths is its versatility as a partner for food. While this doesn't mean
all rosés go
meals, it does mean
the chances of finding
are pretty good.
Sweeter rosés (Californian blush and white Zin, rosé d'Anjou, Pinot Grigio blush, etc) are great barbecue wines.
The residual sugar works in harmony with the sweet, sticky sauces and the occasional blast of chilli heat.
Fruity rosés (those with a little residual sugar, ripe fruit and a fair amount of personality, such as a lot of New World rosés) make brilliant partners for curries, whether Indian or Thai, as well as Asian stir fries. Once again, a trace of sugar helps deal with spice.
Dry rosés (although few rosés are dry, wines from Spain, the Rhône, Bordeaux and the Languedoc tend to be drier than most) work well with summer salads and charcuterie. They can be pretty impressive partners for meaty fish such as tuna or salmon.
Clairet rosés ( light reds in all but name) can take on a piece of chicken cooked over a barbecue or even simply grilled lamb or beef.