Too cold to drink rosé? No way. Try it with your favorite winter foods.
Just a few years ago, we wouldn’t see the new vintage of rosé until May. The mercury would be trending higher and our sleeves shorter, and rosé would come along to slake our thirst during the hot weather to follow.
This year, I enjoyed my first 2016 French rosé in late January. (Let’s dismiss rosés from the Southern Hemisphere, which would have been on the market months ago.) I’ve seen a California 2016 rosé already, and some stores — and dozens of wine publicists — are urging us to consider rosé as the perfect wine for Valentine’s Day.
Now, I’ve been guilty of the “bouquet of rosés for Valentine’s Day” pun myself, though I was referring to sparkling wines. But why are we being urged to sip rosé while the weather still has us adding layers instead of stripping down to our Speedos?
There are two dynamics at work here, stemming from the same market reality: Rosé has become a smashing success. As I noted last year, when rosé’s annual debut had already advanced to April, imports of rosé from Provence, the spiritual homeland of pink wine, had increased by more than 10 percent annually over the previous dozen years, with a whopping 58 percent increase in volume in 2015 over 2014.
The first dynamic is that although this new popularity draws much more rosé to the market, we still think it as a summer wine. Sales plummet when the temperature starts to dip. Stores move the pink wines aside in favor of powerful reds, and rosé begins to slip from restaurant wine lists.
“Only sommeliers order rosé in winter,” quips Andy Myers, beverage director for José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup. He still keeps a few on each list, but sales during cold weather are only about 40 percent of those at summer’s peak, he says.
At Rodman’s in the District and two sister stores in Montgomery County, “We do a good business in rosé through the winter, though nowhere near as much as in the summer,” says wine manager Ron Brenner. Rodman’s recently advertised a rosé sale for Valentine’s Day. Most of the bottles are 2015s, though Brenner said he already has a 2016 from France, the earliest he’s seen the new vintage.
That’s why we’re seeing rosé promoted as being perfect for winter in general or Valentine’s Day in particular. The distribution system needs to flush the 2015s to make shelf space for the 2016s. The market is up against two consumer misconceptions: That rosé is only for summer, and that only the most recent vintage is worth drinking.
Here’s the problem: We match rosé to the season, but we pair any other wine to the food we’re eating. You still eat pizza in winter? Salads? Anything garlicky, or with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern accent? Don’t rule out rosé: It doesn’t clash with long sleeves.
And don’t worry about drinking the 2015s; they’re just fine. In fact, I recently found some forgotten 2014s from California and France in my basement. They were delicious — less fresh and invigorating for gulping, perhaps, but age had given them a bit of character that made them shine with food.
Not too many years ago, you’d have trouble finding a Spanish rosado from the most recent vintage. Winemakers preferred to age them a year to give them complexity and stability. Now they are rushed to market. And that brings me to the second dynamic stemming from rosé’s success. Wines from the new vintage are in a race for shelf space.
Because rosé is considered (unfairly) to be a seasonal wine with no aging potential, bottles arriving early can win a perch on the shelf, while later arrivals find no space left. Retailers are understandably reluctant to buy additional rosés later in spring, knowing that demand will fall with the leaves in autumn. That’s unfortunate, because rushing a wine to market often requires adding extra sulfur or other chemicals to stabilize it and prevent the wine from going funky in the bottle. Showing patience and allowing the wine to stabilize naturally in the tank can give it more complexity and longevity. Importer Robert Shive features such patient artisans in his Allen Walker Collection of Provençal rosés. He has found markets hard to crack when he shows up with his new releases in late spring.
So here’s some advice for consumers: While we’re pining for warmer weather, compare rosés from 2015 and 2016. Note the freshness of the new wine and the depth of the older, then see how well they play with your meal. As more 2016s come to market, look for those 2015s at a deep discount in your store’s bargain bin.