We are now deep into rosé season, and by season, I mean the rest of our lives. We have also acquired a new summer rite. Each year, a number of daring publications venture the rather interesting question, “Have we hit peak rosé?” only to provide the thrilling answer, which I will summarize for you here: No.
If you are youngish and urbanish and drinking tonight, it’s very possible you’re drinking rosé. This is more likely if you are a woman, according to the wine industry, which claims that women are driving rosé sales, though men drink rosé too — a phenomenon that has been labeled “brosé.” Bros who brosé signify their courage to push the boundaries of masculinity by wearing colorful socks, which is practically like wearing jewelry, and through their willingness to be photographed holding a glass of something pink up to their stubbled faces. Frosé is also a thing. It’s a slushie made out of rosé, sometimes festooned with strawberries or extra booze, like Aperol or elderflower liqueur, and if you think that wine is improved when rendered palatable to a small child, you might be a fan.
Rosé is not a varietal. It is made from lightly extracted red grapes, including — but not limited to — Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir. However, it is classified in sales simply as rosé because despite the huge diversity of what this means — there are sparkling rosés and Pét-Nat rosés, and there are dry ones and less dry ones — it’s pink and you generally know exactly what you’re getting. This presents an issue: Rosé is only good when it’s kind of surprising, but most rosé is the exact opposite of surprising, and that’s exactly why it is popular. It’s light, it’s uncomplicated — you sip, you swallow, then you drink some more.
Whether you’re buying haute rosé or supermarket rosé, what you must never forget is to be drinking it all the time, and thus never not living the rosé lifestyle: Go on a rosé cruise, take in a rosé sunset, have a rosé night. Tie your rose gold hair back with a rosé-colored silk scarf so it doesn’t get in your rosé while you write a text on your rose gold iPhone that says, “rosé o’clock, bitches.” You can also sip it all day — why else would the hashtag #roséallday exist? “At a low 11.3 percent alcohol, you could easily drink this wine all day long,” a 2016 Vine Pair article confirms. The founder of Wine Savvy, Sayle Milne, recently told Refinery29: "You should be drinking rosé when you wake up. You should have it at lunch, you should have it at dinner. You should have it with a straw."
Rosé is alcohol, and if you drink it all day, you will eventually black out and wake up under a porch in Fair Harbor, and you will be covered in ticks.
I feel a little bad yelling at rosé. It never meant to hurt anyone. It’s been around for a long time. The Greeks and the Romans made rosé. Monks made rosé. And, like all wine, rosé comes in delightful forms, less delightful forms, and fairly disgusting forms, and it does so at every price point. The annoying thing about rosé is that it isn’t just a wine, like California Chardonnay or cheap Bordeaux — it’s “a state of mind” or “a lifestyle” or “a way of life.”
But just because rosé has a lot of bullshit surrounding it doesn’t mean there aren’t great rosés. Trust me, I know. I wish I had a good bottle of Chablis for every time someone told me that I would like rosé if I only got rosé. I am not saying that no rosé is good — just that maybe 80 or 90 percent of them aren’t, and while no one can deny that rosé rhymes with #allday and #yesway and s’il vous plait, for me, the truly telling coincidence is that it rhymes with okay.
Rosé used to just be some swill your dad bought when, newly divorced and preparing to host his first date, he helplessly thought, “Ladies like, uhh... wine?” Then the ’80s became the ’90s, the ’90s turned into the ’00s, and then the ’00s became a big horrible blur known as “post-9/11,” so people were like, “What can we resurrect from the past? How can we comfort ourselves with nostalgia while still honoring our newfound cosmopolitanism?” Rosé was there for us.
In June 2006, the New York Times Style section held a sort of debutante ball for a new kind of rosé, titled “The Summer Drink to Be Seen With.” This piece, which almost definitely got some publicist an enormous promotion and a hefty raise, explains that the sweet and terrible stuff people used to drink in the ’70s and ’80s, like Lancers and Mateus — which, due to everyone being super clueless back then, had a bohemian appeal — was the old rosé. (Lancers came in a heavy ceramic bottle that had a second life as a doorstop in a certain kind of ’70s home whose inhabitants wanted to look casual but in on the secret of Europe, back when Europe was just one undifferentiated mass to Americans)
The new rosé, in contrast, came specifically from Provence and was dry. It was loved by scene kids like the MisShapes and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, who was also a food columnist for the Guardian at the time. “I used to hate rosé,” he told the Times. “It was a Blue Nun-style secretary’s-night-out drink, and that put me off it. But a couple years ago I had a cold bottle on a hot night, and it was marvelous.”
Rosé pulled off a neat trick: It reminded people of something fun and a little silly from the past, and even as it exchanged the silliness for sophistication — for marvelousness — it maintained that sense of fun. Because it was not sweet and from Provence — “You can’t go wrong with Provence,” is the party line about rosé — its enjoyment was intertwined with the delicious smugness that comes with having good taste and knowing it. And yet, even then, rosé wasn’t just for hipsters; it was also for women. “Rosé has replaced prosecco and cosmos as the new chick drink,” Ken Friedman, then known as one of the owners of the Spotted Pig, told the Times. Thus, rosé managed to put a foot in Basicland without leaving Hipstervillle.
It is magic for marketers that rosé has a tacky past; it is practically divine intervention that it is pink. The value of being pink and pretty and perfectly Instagrammable cannot be overstated. There are rosés called “Pretty Gorgeous” and “Pretty Young Thing,” a rosé festival called “Pretty in Pink,” and even sparkling rosé facials. A highly lauded $8 rosé called Aldi (it’s fine) is described as “millennial pink.” The brand Summer Water is touted by its founders, total besties Erica Blumenthal and Nikki Huganir, as being “full of pink-tinted possibility.”
Blumenthal and Huganir call Drew Barrymore, who has her own winery that produces her own rosé, their “guardian rosé angel.” And, when you look at the three of them, you see one category of the rosé woman: someone who’s in their 30s or well-preserved early 40s, who’s often outdoors in pink or pinkish clothing, and who has extremely long, balayaged blonde hair. Sometimes thoughtful gold jewelry is added for a bit of sparkle. It’s a pretty basic look, and one that suggests that a woman must dress a little like a glass of rosé in order to consume it.
It’s hard to say what came first: rosé being basic, or basics drinking rosé. Whatever the case, the cycle is now complete and virtuous, with rosé hashtags, “wake slay rosé” T-shirts, “rosé is my spirit animal” stickers, and quasi-ironic guides to “the best rosé to drink for your astrological sign.” The avatar of this writhing entanglement of bad taste, unharried consumption, and hashtag self-awareness is White Girl Rosé, a gambit launched by Instagram star and meme thief The Fat Jew that explicitly calls out rosé’s reputation of being basic in order to sell vast quantities of it to white girls who think they are too steeped in irony to possibly be basic, or who literally don’t care.
Rosé’s ability to be firmly grounded in its basicness while somehow simultaneously transcending it is its most profound metaphysical feat, as illustrated by the words of rosé-drinker-turned-rosé-maker Drew Barrymore in a video she did for Vogue: “I think a rosé should have that inherently, Pavlovian to women, peachy pink quality that just draws us in. Somehow, I don’t know what it is about us girls, but — we love pink.” Is there anything more basic than an unapologetic vocal fry–tinged pronouncement that loving pink is just in the DNA of “us girls”? There is not. But then she goes on to talk about the nose of the wine and pairing options. “The more you drink wine,” she says, “the more of a pseudo-oenophile you will become, whereas if I have a cocktail, I feel like I learn nothing, I just enjoy it.”
The rosé train comes often and it is a comfortable ride. Get on it because you love pink or because you love to party (or both, even better!!!!). Stay on because because it’s dry or from France, or because, subconsciously maybe, you’re internalizing something about “these days women are afraid to be women” and you don’t want to be afraid. Get off the train before you have to talk about how it has notes of cherry or matcha, and then get back on because you’re ready to talk about how much you love pink again. Or never leave and go deep into terroir, because that’s there for you too, girl! Of course, if you’re a man, you don’t have to think about any of this stuff: With every sip of rosé, you seem more interesting, self-aware, and charming. How magical.
The other night I made a reservation at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and they texted me to ask if I wanted to go to a special rosé event. I would have replied, “Not really, but will you throw me into a pit of pink snakes that will inject me with pink venom?” But I didn’t. Who wants to be the whining idiot who doesn’t understand capitalism in 2017? If something is even mildly good, T-shirts, hashtags, festivals, and possibly a Hudson River boat cruise will follow. One almost wishes we’d never gotten the new rosé because doesn’t this Lancers moment, written by Sybille Bedford about a 1953 picnic on a train, sound delightful:
A chicken, roasted that afternoon at a friend’s house, still gently warm; a few slices of that American wonder, Virginia ham; marble-sized, dark red tomatoes from the market stands on Second Avenue; watercress, a flute of bread, a square of cream cheese, a bag of cherries and a bottle of pink wine. It was called Lancers Sparkling Rosé, and one ought not be put off by the name. The wine is Portuguese and delicious.
We might never be able think about rosé in such uncomplicated terms again, but maybe that’s fine: Even with all of its new cultural baggage, rosé remains a perfectly pleasant wine that anybody can drink and anybody can talk about, and nobody has to necessarily feel stupid doing either. And if you ever feel like your life isn’t quite a wonderful pink paradise, all it takes is an Instagram of yourself drinking a glass of rosé next to a lavender plant for everyone to imagine that it is.