Me: "What do you need?"
CALLER: "ROSÉ!! IT’S ALL THEY WANT!! IT’S ALL THEY CARE ABOUT!! OMG, THEY CAN HEAR ME RIGHT NOW!! THEY’RE COMING, THEY’RE… THEY’RE INSIDE…"
"Rosé and patio season warrants war-like preparation," says a sommelier who sold over 1,200 bottles of rosé last summer
My friend was intending to be funny with his off the cuff phone call, but the situation he was reacting to has indeed become more serious. Rosé, once a quirky character actor in a not so successful rom-com, has grown into a super popular mega hit all over the country. And New York City sommeliers have had to adapt to the change in status: "rosé and patio season warrants war-like preparation," says Grant Reynolds, who sold over 1,200 bottles of rosé last summer at Charlie Bird in the West Village alone, and who invested some serious effort into just having enough bottles of rosé chilled down at one time to accommodate all of those sales.
Other sommeliers with available patio seating agree with Reynolds about the need for preparation. Eduardo Porto Carriero, the Beverage Director of Untitled at The Whitney, intends an entire rosé page for his wine list this year — as he offered last year — with over a dozen rosé selections and several options by the glass.
But the growing pains are also changing the marketplace, as certain bottles have become difficult to source. Bill Fitch, who oversees the wine list for Vinegar Hill House, observes that "every year there seems to be some new, aspirational commodity fetish rosé that all the cool kids clamor for. I invariably beg for some of it, often unsuccessfully." Fitch tries to balance his program by offering rosé in all different styles, including the very popular at the moment Provençal mode, but also making room for less well known options, like something from Austria’s Kamptal, for instance.
Lee Campbell, the Wine Director for Reynard, Diner, and Marlow & Sons, all in Brooklyn, recounts a relationship curve with rosé that has had its ups and downs over the years:
Stage 1: I love rosé! (2005)
Stage 2: I still love rosé! Is it April yet?? (2008)
Stage 3: We really should be drinking rosé all year long, especially the darker Italian ones. (2010)
Stage 4: Oh God, when did ordering rosé become such a drag? January pre-orders...really?? (2013)
Stage 5: I'm totally over rosé. Why are New Yorkers so obsessed? Does anyone care what winemakers have to do to have a finished product in the market on March 1st? Invasive cold-stabilization, excessive filtering...the stuff that makes a Natural winemaker's heart break. Sniffle. (2014)
Stage 6: Acceptance. My motto this year is "Stop Trying to Fight it." (2016)
With all the headaches involved in sourcing enough rosé, "I definitely don't think it's as much fun as I used to," says Campbell. She finds that a lighter red wine from a grape like Rossese, served with a light chill, "seems rather more amusing at this point," but at the same time she is "pretty much just trying to keep customers happy, while trying hard to stick to the tenets of our wine program."
A taste before you buy approach is difficult for rosé, as such a large percentage of it is sold pre-arrival.
Sommeliers at restaurants without patio seating, like Jack Mason of Marta and Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill New York, can be selective in their choices without the pressure to always have something pink available at all times. Mason feels that it is important to go deep on the few choices he is most convinced by, while Biscieglia draws the line at buying wines she has never tasted: she won’t do it. "My approach is to taste first," she says. "If I blow through the first round, I taste some other options and move along." A taste before you buy approach is more difficult for rosé than with many other categories of wine, as such a large percentage of rosé is sold pre-arrival, with orders and allocations being determined before any wine makes it to New York.
Perhaps predictably, the restaurants that see the least amount of attention from rosé seekers are those at the highest end, where customers expect some of the greatest food and wine experiences at any time of year. Cedric Nicaise of Eleven Madison Park always makes sure that his favorite rosé options from around the world are available to guests, but concedes that EMP probably didn’t sell more than 60 bottles of rosé last summer.
But for other sommeliers, rosé is now a must have attraction that customers demand. "The popularity of rosé was evident" last year, says Eduardo Porto Carriero, and like many wine buyers in New York City, he is busy preparing for this season’s rosé onrush.
Tips for Enjoying Your Rosé Wine This Season
Tilt before serving: One of the biggest challenges facing restaurants serving lots of rosé is simple refrigeration. Space is at a premium, and cooling equipment can get overstressed and break down on the hottest days. It may turn out that your bottle was resting in an ice bucket before service, because the refrigerators were full. If you want to try to make sure you are drinking rosé at a cool temperature, and the bottle was sitting in ice, one trick you can utilize is tilting the bottle a full 180 degrees and holding it there for a few moments before turning it back upright and opening the bottle. That way some of liquid will move throughout the bottle, and the temperature will be more evenly distributed if what was at the bottom of the bottle was colder than what was at the top.
Let your server know you might order another bottle: Because refrigeration space is limited, it is helpful to let your server know in advance if you think you might want another bottle of the same wine. You might have already gotten one of the last cold bottles in the house. If they know you will want another one, the staff will start to chill down another bottle right away.
Give it a moment: Often a young rosé wine will come out of a freshly opened bottle very reductive, with off-putting rubber or even chemical aromas. You might give the glass a few swirls, and let those aromas blow off, before taking your first sip.
Don’t forget about magnums: Larger bottle formats are great for delivering a tighter texture on the palate from many wines, and that can mean even more crisp and defined flavors when you are drinking a young rosé. Instead of going for two bottles, you might try a magnum for the table.
There is a lot to explore outside Provence: Provence is the mainstay of the rosé market today, but there are exceptional rosés available from all over the world. Northern Italy’s Alto Piemonte offers excellent examples from Nebbiolo and other grapes, while Abruzzo and other zones of central Italy make a specialty of rosé production. Rosé that highlights the distinctive Mencia grape variety is produced in Spain’s Bierzo zone, while delicious Grenache based options can be found from Santa Barbara County in California. The Pfalz in Germany and Austria’s Kamptal (as Bill Fitch of Vinegar Hill House alluded to) also make notable, if often overlooked, rosé wines.
Speak up for savory: Some of the most distinctive and complex rosé wines contain savory, earthy notes and a textural mouthfeel. But your server may be wary of recommending such a wine to you when so many other customers are looking for something more straightforward. If you value layered flavors and you are looking for more than fruit from your wine, you should let your server know that before you order.
Ask what is available "off list": We have entered the era of allocated, highly sought after rosé. Ask the sommelier if she is keeping anything pink off the list, for customers in the know. She may end up introducing you to a tremendous wine that you didn’t even realize was available.
Consider a lighter red: As Lee Campbell of Reynard noted, a chilled, light red can be a delicious alternative to a rosé. And because those light reds don’t receive the same attention as rosé at this time of year, they can sometimes offer strong relative value as well. Ask your server about options that might have a little more color.