It represented just 2.7% of the UK off-trade wine category – and that was mainly used to quench the thirst of broke young women riding around on summer evenings in pink limos that were about as classy as the pink stuff in their plastic cups.
But – like hoodies, iPods, Justin Bieber and the phrase OMG – its popularity soared during the noughties.
It now accounts for 12% of the UK off-trade wine market and is worth £646 million (Nielsen MAT to 30/3/13).
Quality has soared in line with demand. Winemakers have realised rosé’s potential for increasing profits and the importance of producing and marketing rosé in its own right, as opposed to regarding it as a by-product of red wine.
The result is high-quality rosé made from superior grapes and vintages.
There has been an explosion of choice as Californian brands like Blossom Hill, Gallo and Echo Falls have filled supermarket shelves with dozens of rosés providing an alternative to the more traditional French styles.
But it competes at all price points and it is as likely to be imbibed by dignitaries in sleek black limos as it is by preloading teenagers on their way to Yates’s in their pink counterparts.
You can even buy methuselahs of rosé at for eye-watering sums if you want to celebrate a good day on the stock market or the successful acquisition of a new yacht.
If further proof of its status were needed, Hollywood A-listers are tapping into rosé’s new-found chic. The 6,000-bottle release of Brangelina’s first vintage from their Château Miraval estate sold out within five hours – at £88 per six-bottle case.
But while the noughties saw the popularity of rosé explode, this time of boom was mainly defined by long, hot summers where the category could thrive.
Rachel O’Shea, marketing manager at Percy Fox, distributor of market leader Blossom Hill White Zinfandel, says: “Rosé sales from previous years suggest that sales will see an increase during the summer months, when the sun is shining, as consumers are looking for a lighter, sweeter wine and will often choose rosé over white or red.”
But the category’s meteoric rise has been arrested during the past few years of miserably wet summers and the category has wobbled somewhat.
Matt Davies, managing director at Coe Vintners, says: “Sales of rosé for us have been growing in the last five years. However, last year they remained static. Although we observe a more regular consumption throughout the year than in the past, demand certainly peaks during the summer months.
“Since the weather was not great last summer, sales stagnated a little and a good summer would certainly help revitalise the category.”
Valerie Lelong, export marketing manager at the Provence Wine Council, representing a region which exports 6% of its rosé to the UK, adds: “The weather definitely has an impact on rosé consumption.
“Consumers are keener to drink a wine synonymous with holidays, relaxation and time with friends when the weather is nice.
“All the UK distributors we have met this year have confessed to praying for the UK to have a better summer than last year. Even professionals sometimes rely on something as unpredictable as the English weather.”
Yet despite the bad weather, rosé from Provence continues to thrive in the UK – exports from the region to our shores jumped 82% in volume and 37% in value from 2011 to 2012.
This could be due to the price point they sell at, with Lelong claiming that Provence rosé retails on average for £7 per bottle whereas other rosés retail for only £4.30 – meaning that rosé is moving with the trend towards premium wines in the take-home market.
Jérôme d’Hurlaborde, AdVini export director for Europe, says rosé in the UK off-trade is “dominated by California at the cheaper end, and from a French point of view the varietal side is key, which often means little value both for the producer and the retailer.”
But he adds: “French rosés from specific regions including Provence are fast developing and the volume potential remains.
“In the AdVini portfolio, Gassier in Provence is leading the way. We are developing at fast pace and taking advantage of the fact that rosé is now considered as a proper wine category.
“Rosé remains largely a seasonal wine, and this is especially true for the Provence side.
“It seems that Brits not able to travel down France want to have a snapshot of summer in their glass.”
But the key battleground for the future of rosé lies in making it a drink for all seasons – “weatherproofing” it, to borrow a phrase from the latest Pimm’s press release.
“With the technical improvement in terms of screw cap packaging and the fact that the new vintage is available from Feb-March there’s room for improvement in terms of all year long consumption,” says d’Hurlaborde. “It’s coming – but slowly.”
As you would expect, much of the innovation in the category has come from the new world.
Rosé SKUs account for 33.8% of the market share of Britain’s bestselling wine brand, Blossom Hill, and it has recently followed up the low-alcohol Blossom Vie Rosé with a 50cl variant of its White Zinfandel Rosé.
O’Shea says consumers “rely on big brands for taste and quality reassurance, which is vital to success within this emerging sector” and believes smaller bottles and lighter styles from leading brands will drive year-round growth.
Australian Vintage’s UK general manager Julian Dyer adds: “Rosé will always have a stronger performance with hot, sunny weather but as it has grown up as a category there are now loyal rosé drinkers who are seeking year-round solutions.
“The wider picture is that we are all still seeing the effect of the recession and the data is reflecting this.
“That said, there are success stories. Rosé as a category is interesting – it came to the party late so there has always been a precedent for stepping away from the norm and being a bit more forward thinking.
“Stylistically we have found success doing just that and listening to consumers who are seeking refreshing wines in lighter and more off-dry styles.
“The rosé category is also a good example of a wider trend of consumers navigating by style as opposed to country or region – an interesting development that is starting to filter across to other categories and in the longer run to how shops choose to merchandise.”
Lelong says: “The key to attracting more consumers is to increase communication with the core target market: women and young people.
“When young people start drinking, they tend to go for easy drinks such as cocktails or sweet wines. Time and experience then contribute to their palates developing, and their desire to buy more serious wine.
“Rosé is somewhere between these two types of consumers. It can be very dry, or sweeter according to where it is produced, and there are no codes or rituals that accompany it, apart from enjoying the moment. It’s an easy drinking wine, accessible to anyone.”
It seems that in 2013 rosé has become the limousine of the wine world – adaptable, equally comfortable among shrieking teenagers and wine lovers, and more often used in summer but slowly becoming a more common sight all year round.