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The Colorful History of Rosé

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Perhaps one of the most misunderstood wines, rosé has struggled to achieve a respected place on the table. In her first book, Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé, author and sommelier Victoria James writes about the history, regions, and producers known for the style. Below is an expanded excerpt on the history written specifically for Food52.

Many of the first recorded wines were rosé. These lighter libations were watered-down field blends of both white and red grapes. In ancient Greece, it was considered civilized to dilute wine, but these early examples were a far cry from the rosés of today. Instead, they were slightly off-dry and tannic from contact with the grape skins, seeds, and stems.

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In the 6th century BC, the Phocaeans brought grape vines to Massalia, (modern day Marseille) in southern France. The wines they produced were field blends of white and red grapes, which were naturally light in color. These pleasant pink wines were the talk of the Mediterranean. By the time the Romans landed later in Provence, they had already heard all about the ‘pink wines of Massalia,’ used their super-connected trade networks to make them popular around the Mediterranean. Even today, the south of France is still considered the epicenter of rosé.

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Photo by Lyle Railsback

In the United States, rosé peaked our interest with products such as Mateus and Lancers but it wasn’t until Sutter Home White Zinfandel that the color found a permanent place on the American table. In 1975, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home ran into a ‘stuck fermentation,’ meaning the sugar could not fully convert to alcohol. As a result, the wine was slightly sweet. Instead of trying to fix the problem or relegate the project to the tasting room, they decided to release the the Sutter Home White Zinfandel. Americans freaking loved it, and white zinfandel spread like wildfire throughout the 1980s.

In the 1990s, the worlds of rosé and fine wine were completely separate. Sommeliers would never serve a pink bottle because serious wine drinkers would never ask for it. Relegated to cafés and cheap restaurants, rosé lay dormant for almost fifteen years until the early 2000s. Resorts and beach destinations around the United States started stocking pink French wine. As the Franco-fascination grew in the U.S., rosé started flowing endlessly.

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Rosé was suddenly mainstream, but social media was what turned the pink beverage into a superstar. Instagram stars like Josh Ostrovsky (“The Fat Jew”) claimed, "Rosé is like puppies, if you hate it you are an absolute monster.” He went on to collaborate on a product called “White Girl Rosé,” a California Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel blend. Hundreds of thousands of bottles have been sold.

In France, clever collaborations also have also taken place. Jeremy Seysses of the highly acclaimed Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of the outstanding Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, co-founded Domaine Triennes, and started producing their own tasty rosés. Sommeliers from all over the United States rushed to include the wine on their lists. In the summer of 2014, almost every restaurant I went to was pouring it by the glass.

Photo by Lyle Railsback

Some argue that the rosé craze in the United States is just a phase, but many experts disagree. They see this not as a trend but rather as the introduction of a new style. Rosé now has its place alongside red, white, sparkling, and even orange wine. Like the baguette or the beret, we've adopted rosé into American culture, and as the quality of domestic and international bottles drastically improve, it is no longer considered a guilty pleasure. Rosé is exactly what the wine world needed, an unpretentious but delicious option.

Tags: rosé, french wine, american wine, summer water