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A rose by any other name

It's light on the alcohol and reminds American drinkers of the south of France: two factors that explain the rise of rose

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Alexis Page, left, and two of the MisShapes party promoters, Geordon Nicol, center, and Greg Krelenstein, sip rose in a downtown New York backyard on Wednesday. A new collection of fans of rose have emerged: club-hopping hipsters and tastemakers, who lay in a stash of rose for parties and ask for it when out on the town.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICENWARNING: EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION OF A

It was Fourth of July weekend in Montauk, New York, and Ben Watts, a DJ and photographer, was serving as host of his annual beach blowout at Ditch Plains, a popular surfing area. Although there were plenty of people in hoodies huddled around a fire, this was no humble gathering. Watts was spinning '80s rock and hip-hop for a crowd that included Russell Simmons; Sean MacPherson, an owner of the Maritime Hotel and the Park restaurant in Manhattan; the Hollywood stylist Philip Bloch; and actress Naomi Watts, Ben's sister.

At least a dozen revelers were chugging light pink wine from a bottle. It was Domaines Ott, a French rose that retails for about US$30. Thanks to MacPherson, who always packs several cases for the weekend, it has become the unofficial drink of the Ditch Plains scene, so common that attendees were referring to it as "DO" and "the Ott."

"To me this wine tastes like the South of France and summer, and you should have an endless supply of it," MacPherson said.

Rose wines, long disparaged as too sweet, too pink and too cheap, have improved in quality in recent years and been embraced by food and wine connoisseurs. But a new collection of fans have emerged: club-hopping hipsters and tastemakers, who lay in a stash of rose for parties and ask for it when out on the town.

"Rose has replaced prosecco and cosmos as the new chick drink," said Ken Friedman, an owner of the Spotted Pig, one of the celebrity-friendly restaurants in Greenwich Village, which offers five roses on its wine list.

At Union Square Wine & Spirits in Manhattan, the demand for rose has increased about 30 percent over the last year and 100 percent to 150 percent over the last four years, said Jesse Salazar, the wine director.

"A lot of younger people are buying roses," he said, adding that many men are no longer embarrassed to be seen drinking a pink wine. "Guys will bring it to rooftop parties and backyard barbecues. I've been putting rose in an empty Gatorade bottle and drinking it in the park."

Long a populist summer staple in Provence, where it is enjoyed by everyone from socialites to construction workers, rose first became popular in the US during the 1960s and 1970s with sweet, fizzy and inexpensive Portuguese brands like Mateus and Lancers.

But because it was often made with grapes harvested for other wines and doesn't age, it was always considered less credible than reds and whites. Over the last few years, however, wineries around the world have begun to harvest grapes specifically for rose production, and quality has increased.

"I used to hate rose," said Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of the rock band Franz Ferdinand and a food columnist for the Guardian in London. "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."

Still, its reputation was hard to shake. Jay McInerney, the wine columnist of House & Garden, compared rose to Jackie Collins novels and Jerry Bruckheimer movies in this month's column.

"There was a sense that pink wine couldn't be serious," said McInerney, a rose fan, who has been trying to lead a revival for years. "People were afraid of looking unsophisticated by drinking rose. It wasn't red. It wasn't white. They didn't know what to do with it."

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