How the East End is Reimagining the Rosé Trend

By Amy Zavatto | August 11, 2016 | Food & Drink Feature

Rosé gets a reboot this season with its greatest advocate, Roman Roth, stepping in as the Long Island Wine Council’s new president.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: A bottle collection at Croteaux.; The tasting garden at Paula and Michael Croteau’s Croteaux Vineyards; a cocktail from Pamela Wiznitzer of NYC’s Seamstress.

It’s not just the summer sunset that saturates your view in myriad tones of pink; it’s the prismatic effect of thousands of glasses filled to the brim with what has become the most-sipped summer quencher on the East End: rosé. Seriously—who isn’t drinking rosé these days?

According to recent stats, the official number of rosés from Provence alone is up nearly 60 percent. Wine shops that once stocked barely a smattering of bottles have options in every shade of blush; restaurants offer wine lists with entire rosé sections; a hashtag (#YesWayRose) was so popular it turned into an actual wine (Nikki Huganir and Erica Blumenthal’s Summer Water).

Even celebrity winemakers want in on the cool-factor that rosé affords—Drew Barrymore recently released Barrymore by Carmel Road, a Monterey-sourced Pinot Noir rosé; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have the much-lauded Miraval from their Provençal vineyards; photographer Ben Watts has been touting his Watt’s Up rosé from Rioja for several summers; even Pamela Anderson is adding a little blush to her brand, with a Canadian-sourced brut sparkler (oddly named Contempt).

So when did pink become so… prolifically popular? “It’s the beauty of rosé—it pleases both the red and white drinker. And it goes with anything. It’s very versatile,” offers Martin Cabrera, a partner in Montauk’s Navy Beach, where rosé outsells pretty much every other beverage.

So much so that this year Cabrera has upped the ante to offer over 25 different bottlings on his menu. “We always tried to have a big emphasis on rosé. The first year, it was a little challenging. Things have changed.” Have they ever.

In 2006 when Sacha Lichine and Patrick Leon first made Chateau D’Esclans’s Whispering Angel— the Provençal rosé that, last year, you couldn’t swing a feather without hitting in the Hamptons—they offered up a mere 800 cases; this year, to fulfill the US’s thirst for the wine, they’re up to over 200,000.

D’Esclans, which also makes Garrus, Rock Angel (given out in grown-up sippy cups to happy riders of Hampton heli-commute operation Blade), and Les Clans, even teamed up with Sugarfina to create the world’s first rosé gummy bears and gummy roses—the initial offering of which sold out in mere hours in New York.

But that irreverence and embrace of the South of France laid-back lifestyle doesn’t mean that D’Esclans isn’t very serious about rosé. “Whispering Angel is not made in a factory; it is not mass produced,” says Chateau D’Esclans’s Paul Chevalier. “We’re in the oldest wine region in world for making rosé—almost 1,000 years!”

From a “locapour” point of view, one must turn a gaze toward the vineyards of Sagaponack to find the source of eastern Long Island’s rosy reverence. “In the past, most rosés (or white Zinfandels) were always sweet. As tastes evolved and started to get more sophisticated, rosé [in the United States] did not.

Yet there was always serious rosé made—mostly in Provence,” says Wölffer Estate Vineyard winemaker and partner Roman Roth. “From the start, we took that serious approach and always made rosé in a dry style. Over time, we got a serious following and thus did our part to help rosé catch up, finally, and become acceptable, fashionable, and one of the hottest categories on the market.”

Roth, who also recently became president of the Long Island Wine Council, may be underselling his role a little. Arguably, Roth is responsible for single-handedly creating the full-on unquenchable Hamptons’ thirst for the rosé.

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It all began in 1992, his first year making wine for Christian Wölffer’s nascent winery. He made a rosé from mostly Merlot, Long Island’s (and Wölffer’s) most widely grown red grape variety, as well as a few other grapes grown on the estate. It was dry. It was crisp. It was pink.

Those familiar with the Provençal penchant for rosé loved it, although it was lost on the rest of South Fork’s summer crowd swell. Until it wasn’t. The wine caught on and, by the early aughts, Roth couldn’t keep it in stock. It gained the nickname, “Summer in a Bottle,” and it stuck. That’s when he decided to think a little pinker.

Today, Summer in a Bottle is its own label, and the pale, coppery-tinged pink-hued juice— a blend of mostly Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and aromatic Gewu?rztraminer—is redolent of tangerines and flowers and hits your entire tongue with its fruit-forward, zesty presence.

Its bottle, too, makes an entrance, bearing images of butterflies, flowers, sea creatures, fruit, balloons—imagery that evokes the easy, breezy, colorful, celebratory feel of the season on the East End.

It’s part of a whole family of Wölffer rosés: that original gold-label estate version, the barrel-fermented Grandioso; the stunning Noblesse Oblige sparkling; the spritzy, bubble-gum pink cider; and Roth’s latest project from Wölffer’s vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina, the plum- and raspberry-scented Finca, a blend of Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, which was released in the US in July.

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Rosé plays a starring role on the wine list at Montauk’s Navy Beach.

“The key to a great rosé is to have an understated elegance, yet make a sophisticated vibrant wine,” he says. For Roth, that generally translates into using a blend of different grape varieties as opposed to one. “Instead of just making a varietal wine and pushing one button, I like to use all registers.”

But it’s certainly not the only way to go. Other talented winemakers like to keep their focus singular, notably Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton, who offers no less than six different rosés, five of which are the result of single-grape varieties, and Paula and Michael Croteau’s Croteaux Vineyards in Southold, where only rosé is the exclusive order of the day.

The pale hue of Tracy’s wines belies the glorious intensity of fresh, varietally true aromatics and palate-saturating flavor, offering the kind of long finish that boldly flies in the face of those who claim rosé wine to be simple quaffs for forgettable swilling.

Five are focused on a single grape variety—a Cabernet Sauvignon (a personal favorite), a Cabernet Franc, a Syrah, a Merlot, and a Refosco; each is thoroughly redolent of that particular grape’s character.

It’s no wonder that Almond restaurant held a multicourse dinner in June to highlight each of Tracy’s entrancing rosati. Provence-inspired Croteaux gets even wine-nerdier, offering several rosés made not just from a single variety (often Merlot), but a single clonal representation of that grape.

In 2016, the Croteaus took on winemaker Alie Shaper (owner and winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology) to craft their line of nine still and sparkling rosés, and they couldn’t have picked a more devoted proponent of the style.

“Over time, rosé became acceptable, fashionable, and one of the hottest categories on the market.” —Roman Roth

Shaper is the kind of winemaker who has the science background to thoroughly understand the process, but the soul, if you will, of an artist, happy to give up a bit of the necessary control to the muse of the grape and the seasonal fickleness of Mother Nature.

Although Shaper has made rosé for her BOE and As/If labels, she decided to make a pilgrimage to Provence this past spring for her new role at Croteaux. Pink made her think.

“Rosé can be made to express fruit, terroir, play to a certain flavor profile, to a certain palate, to a certain culture—you can do anything with the style that you can do with any white or red,” she says. “What rosé is about is the balance of terroir, acid, and fruit. It’s about wine that’s made to go with the things that exist where it’s from.”

The latter notion was the one, in particular, that set off a light bulb in Shaper’s mind: Thousands of miles from home, in a wine region far older than the one she normally occupies, she found the missing link, the reason rosé has become the hot ticket it has on the North and South Forks.

“Provence has such marine influence and their foods are so similar [to ours]. It’s different soils, but the same idea—a similar salinity,” she says. “They are all about embracing that—the notion of living on the water and celebrating their seafood and their agriculture. In that, I saw a mirror image. We’re taking that inspiration from Provence: how we can take the best of that style, that aspect of wine and food terroir, climate, and context and express it in a Long Island way.”

photography by Eric StrifflEr (diSh); Noah fEckS (roSé liNEup).

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