Rosé is an attractive wine for people seeking quality, taste, and something different. Photo: Troy Rawhiti-Forbes

What’s your wine of choice? Daryll Hutchison reckons your glass might have a rosé tint

When a respected wine judge describes rosé as “the beer of the wine industry”, he means it as a compliment. Terry Copeland is thinking of rosé’s easy drinkability and ready appeal to all – or at least to many – who are willing to try it.

And the coalition of the willing is growing. Glengarry Wines general manager Liz Wheadon: “A few years ago, there’d be two or three shelves of rosé. Now there’s two bays of it.”

Foodstuffs NZ spokeswoman Antoinette Laird says that at New World and PAK’nSAVE stores, sales of rosé have increased by “a whopping 150 per cent” since 2014. Last year alone, they rose almost 60 per cent. And she’s not surprised. At her husband’s recent fortieth birthday, the end-of-night bar bill backed up the statistics. Rosé, she says, was the “hands-down favourite” with guests, beating beer, bubbles, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

That’s guests in general. Yes, that includes the male guests. And that’s one of the reasons sales have risen. Rosé used to be “a woman’s drink”, but that’s no longer the case.  As Laird says: “At our wedding a couple of years ago, my husband’s mates were all drinking rosé!”

It’s now about 15 years since Kim Crawford Wines was the first producer to specially consider the male market, although it was just a defined segment. Pansy Rosé, complete with hot pink label and screw cap, was released at a colourful party on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road.

But times, and tastes, have changed. Chris Yorke of New Zealand Winegrowers even has a name for rosé’s growing popularity among males in general: ‘brosé’ (bro + rosé). He compares the interest from both genders to the trend fuelling the booming craft beer market. “People are prepared to pay for quality and for taste,” he says, “and they’re willing to try lots of new things – and that includes rosé.”

Wheadon says there’s now a 50/50 per cent gender split between Glengarry’s rosé buyers. Among the labels on offer is Chateau Leoube Rosé, which – despite being the palest of pinks – is famously favoured by the man some regard as the ultimate ‘bloke’s bloke’, former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

An international survey of wine consumption suggests that rosé now represents about six per cent of still wine consumed by New Zealand males, which is still less than the eight per cent consumed by females. The same survey found that in USA, Russia and Australia, there’s almost no difference in consumption between genders. In Brazil, males are more likely than females to drink rosé.

Regardless of who is drinking it, Yorke says the increasing demand domestically and in our export markets means New Zealand winegrowers are ramping up rosé production, especially rosé made from our most planted red grape, Pinot Noir. “People are crying out for good quality rosé,” he says, “and we think it’s an opportunity that we in New Zealand can do well in.”

Rosé wine is usually produced by crushing red-skinned grapes and leaving the skins in contact with the (initially clear) juice for one to three days, long enough to turn the juice pink, but not so long as to turn it red.

Rosé used to be a much maligned style, drunk by a few and disparaged by many. ‘And to be fair,’ says Canterbury wine judge Copeland, “most of the wines were a bit average.”

Wheadon agrees. Historically, she says, sales were strongest in “crap, cheap, frivolous rosés”. But now there’s a broad spectrum on the market: “We have rosés from $10 to $50, and we sell them very well at all price points. Rosé now crosses from just being an aperitif or something you’d have at a party to also being a food wine.”

Paul Newport, CEO of online retailer Wine Central, sees a direct correlation between the increase in the quality of domestically-produced rosé and the growth in consumption. Even five years ago, he staged tastings where the bulk of rosés were “average at best, and often terrible”. But over time, and especially with more and more Pinot-based rosé, “we’ve just got a lot better at it – and people are trying it and liking it.”

New Zealand rosés are typically less sweet than in the past. Copeland describes our early rosés as “sugar water – almost an alternative to a wine cooler or an RTD”. He judges today’s typical rosé as “off-dry at best”.

But it seems we don’t want it too dry. At The Winery in Queenstown, where domestic and foreign tourists can pay to taste more than 80 New Zealand wines before they purchase them in bottles, director Rick Nelson says that by comparing what customers try with what they then choose to buy, it’s apparent that many tasters favour rosés with a degree of residual sweetness. “They may not realise it at the time,” he says, “but tasting the wine gives them confidence to put aside the bias that sometimes exists against off-dry or medium-sweet wine styles.”

He notes a similar trend with Rieslings tasted: “The stronger selling wines typically are sweeter, but we believe it is actually the textural mouthfeel and fruit-driven flavours that appeal in these wines.”

New Zealand is a relative latecomer to the international rosé wine party, and the typical consumer in this country is young. In France, the style represents more than 30 per cent of still wine consumed – by older as well as younger drinkers – and its market share is growing. In both the US and the UK, it’s about 11 per cent, and – again – it’s growing. In Uruguay, rosé accounts for almost half of still wine consumption. In Tunisia, it’s more than half.

Most in the industry say the pinkening of the New Zealand palate is indicative of our greater willingness to experiment across the board, trying new wine varieties and new styles.

We’re drinking more imported wines. Copeland says there’s sound economic sense in this: New Zealand now imports good French, Italian, Spanish and South American wines “at a price point you don’t have to mortgage the house for”. If it’s less expensive, he believes, mainstream drinkers are more inclined to be adventurous.

Even our domestic producers see a silver lining in this trend. Yorke says more adventurous consumers will also want to try new wine varieties or styles produced by domestic winemakers in less well-known regions within New Zealand. “There’s always more to discover about New Zealand wine,” he says.

Which could include the next colour on the shelves.

Forget red, white and even rosé. The next style to try is orange wine, the production of which is similar to rosé’s, except it’s the skins of white grapes that are left in contact with the juice – and they’re left for much longer than red skins are in rosé production.

Orange wine is the taste-du-jour internationally in high-end restaurants and the trendiest of wine bars. New Zealand Winegrowers has scheduled a special session on orange wines for visiting sommeliers attending a huge (and sold out) celebration of Pinot Noir in Wellington this week.

It’s no longer just the palate – it’s also the palette. Red, white, rosé, and now orange. Pick your colour!

*Daryll Hutchison has been a television news and current affairs reporter in Australia, the UK, and New Zealand. (Holmes, 60 Minutes, The Nation.) He is now a freelance writer.

This story first appeared in Summer Newsroom

Leave a comment