It’s no secret that dry rosé is one of the fastest growing wine categories in the United States, but for many Americans, this development reflects a reunion rather than a discovery. Prior to the invention of White Zinfandel, dry rosé—specifically, versions from the South of France—was wildly popular in this country. Starting in the late 1970s, things changed radically. Dry rosé wasn’t sweet enough for the emerging generation of White Zin drinkers, while wine connoisseurs didn’t want to be caught drinking pink wine in public.
Suddenly the wine is chic again. Sales of rosés from Provence have quintupled in this country over the past five years, and even men seem to be drinking more of it, despite its rosy hue. As ever, the wine neatly bridges the gap between white and red, providing a hint of tannin and just enough fruit to prevent the texture from seeming pinched and angular. As for food pairings, keep in mind this tip from Julia Child: “Rosé goes with everything.”
Affordability was always a big factor in the popularity of rosé, and that hasn’t changed on the basic level. It’s still possible to snag a solid, reliable bottle from Provence for $15. This time around, though, we’re seeing a surge of interest in more expensive and better-crafted wines. This change seems to signal that, for many consumers, Provence rosé is suddenly viewed as a competitor to Bordeaux, Burgundy, or California Cabernet Sauvignon on the quality scale.
The traditional leader in the world of upscale rosé has been Domaines Ott, a collection of three separate wine estates—Château de Selle, Château Romassan, and Clos Mireille—founded by Marcel Ott in 1896. Organic farming and scrupulous respect for the land result in a style that is pure, pristine, and striking. The wines are blends of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, and retail in the $40 range.
The dry rosé category became even trendier when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased Château Miraval, a 1,200-acre estate in Provence. The couple became serious about the winemaking process and partnered with the Perrin family, one of the giants of wine production in the neighboring Rhône Valley. Cynics initially dismissed the product as a publicity stunt, but the 2012 rosé ($25) was rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator. It eventually ranked number 84 in the magazine’s Top 100 that year.
The person most responsible for the boom in upscale rosé is Sacha Lichine. The son of vintner and importer Alexis Lichine, Sacha began working at the family estate, Château Prieuré-Lichine in Margaux, during his summer vacations. He assumed control of the property after his father’s death. In 1999 he shocked everyone by selling the estate, and later bought Château D’Esclans in Côtes de Provence with the intention of making world-class rosé. “People in Bordeaux all thought I was out of my mind,” Sacha confided during a recent interview.
He hired Patrick Léon, the retired winemaker at Château Mouton-Rothschild, to assist him in his quest. The results have been dramatic. His entry-level wine, Whispering Angel ($20), has created a sensation in U.S. restaurants with its clean, bracing texture and polished finesse. The world’s most expensive rosé is probably his Garrus ($95), which has found a place on wine lists alongside the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
“It’s very easy to make average rosé,” says Sacha, “but hard to make something special. My goal was to turn it into a movement.”