Whatever the weather, rosé is in the aether

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

15 January 2020

For years, rosé wine in the UK has been associated with warm weather and summer sessions. But perhaps it’s time to recognise its versatility all year round. Chris Losh investigates the potential of pink in winter

Rosé is at something of a crossroads in the UK just now. It’s grown from being, essentially, a vinous footnote (and probably a Dayglo-coloured one stuff ed full of sugar at that) 10 years ago, to a proper grown-up category in its own right. Current stats put sales of pink at just over 10% of the market – a thoroughly respectable share of wine-drinking spend. Plus, significantly, it’s the only wine colour that’s actually growing as white sales flatline and reds continue to dwindle. All of which suggests that the time is right to push pinks beyond their summer-drinking slot and make them a year-round thing. Easy. Job done. End of article. Glasses of crisp Whispering Angel all round please.

Are we ready?

Except it’s not quite as straightforward as that. On the evidence of the sommeliers contacted for this article, the UK’s restaurants are either a) open to the concept of selling more rosé in winter, but not actually doing very much about it, or b) in the early stages of doing so, but with the jury somewhat out on the results.

‘Rosé in winter wouldn’t be my first option, but why not? Especially with our first courses,’ says Roka’s Simone Fadda, in a comment that probably sums up the mood of ‘hesitant potential’ nicely.

The problem – as is so often in these areas – is the public. Of course, everyone knows that they’re drinking bucket loads of rosé when it’s shorts and sliders weather, but once the puff a jackets come out, they tend to veer more to reds and weighty whites.

Somms are understandably nervous about pushing them towards pinks when it’s cold outside. And frankly, why bother? After all, isn’t it easier to upsell your punters into a pricey red with a good margin attached?

Red sales rise over winter and rosé reduce somewhat, but a lot of people stick to their favourite choice come rain or shine

Jo Eames

Well, possibly. But Jo Eames at the top-end pub group Peach Pubs thinks that there has been a big shift in the way her customers approach rosé, and one that you ignore at your peril. ‘It sells year-round these days,’ she says, ‘and that’s different from a decade ago. It’s also less of a gender-stereotyped choice than it used to be. Men are quite happy to order Provence rosé, in
particular, because it’s a “smart” option.

‘My guests are not generally looking to do food-matching, and certainly not season-specific. They just drink what they like. Red sales will rise over winter and rosé reduce somewhat,
but a lot of people stick to their favourite choice come rain or shine,’ she concludes. In other words, for pubs at least, the change in seasons might be a factor, but it is less of a one than
you might think. Rosé has become so entrenched in the drinking psyche that plenty of people will keep ordering it, regardless of what’s happening outside.

For restaurants, however, where food – and carefully considered wine-pairing – is more of a factor, these things are more nuanced. Currently, the vast majority of British drinkers see rosé as one of two styles: deep-coloured and sweet (often white Zin) or pale and dry (usually Provence).

Between these two, there’s clearly a vast palette of colours, styles and weights to play with. But these alternatives are not, for the most part, on the radar of the drinking public, which makes them innately difficult for restaurants to sell. It’s a frustrating situation for sommeliers, who might be aware of the wider pink potential that’s out there, but are hesitant about over-committing precious cellar space to something that requires a step-change in the attitude of their consumers.

‘I believe the rosé category is rich and diverse enough to suit not only every season but also pretty much every type of food on the table, whether it’s meat, fish, vegetables, cheese or even desserts. However, I doubt the average customer is ready for it just yet,’ says former Trade sommelier turned freelancer Romain de Courcy. ‘There are still a lot of misperceptions and a lot [for the public] to unlearn about the category.’

Going beyond the triple Ps

For rosé to really gain traction with customers from October to April, two things need to happen. First of all, restaurants will need to bite the bullet and move their offering beyond the three Ps of
Pale, Pink and Provence. While the latter is an established and popular style – and, indeed, is the one that has largely driven the rosé revolution – it mostly belongs on the summer terrace. Of course, there are cool-weather dishes that can work well with Provence rosé, and it’s a no-brainer as a by-the-glass option. But it can’t be the only style in town – not if restaurants are going to really make a go of winter pinks.

The future lies in restaurants’ collective ability to broaden customer attitudes to what pinks can be; in shifting the dial from pale palate-cleanser to more ambitious structured versions. And if the dial is to shift, then horizons will need to spread somewhat wider than the Cote d’Azur. Tavel in the southern Rhône, unsurprisingly, got a shout out, particularly for rich seafood like lobster, where its weight and structure come into their own.

Given that 10% of all the wines drunk in the UK are pink, there’s a case for saying that your list’s make-up ought
to reflect that

One merchant made the not unreasonable point that it’s drunk all year round in France, so why not over here? The response to which is that in France people recognise it as a premium, food-driven style of rosé, whereas few people in Britain could tell a Tavel from a taramasalata. Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few sommeliers contacted for this article suggested Spain and, particularly, Portugal as places that are off ering interesting, often weightier, styles of rosé at good prices. Though Lady of the Grapes’ Carole Bryon suggested that it doesn’t need to be all about southern Europe either, picking out Austria’s Neusiedlersee region.

‘The rosés from here, made from Zweigelt, are perfect for winter,’ she asserts. While it’s true that a rosé made from Syrah, say, might tend to be more full-bodied than one made from a Grenache/Cinsault blend, grape variety – and even region – are not necessarily helpful indicators of style. Indeed, one of the complexities of rosé is just how much of it is determined by the winemaker.

‘I think the combination of skins, lees and just the right ripeness (rather than under ripe) without being too worked can produce wines that have the versatility to suit more robust dishes,’ says St John’s head of wine operations Victoria Sharples.

Rosé is drunk all year round in France, so why not over here?

Several somms pointed out that Sancerre rosés are often quite textural in style, making them good for winter dishes, despite their pale colour and cooler climate. And, of course, for less seasonally driven foods such as Thai, an off -dry rosé might work beautifully with slightly spiced dishes. ‘Rosé is a brilliant wine for food pairing as it can meld and morph with meat, spices, and textures,’ says Sharples. The issue, in other words, might be not so much whether rosé needs to be seasonal, so much as whether it needs to be taken more seriously as a food-matching partner full stop.

Make some noise

All of which moves us onto the second thing that has to happen. Namely, if restaurants are going to sell more rosé in winter, then they will probably need to have the confidence to go in hard. Heath Ball at The Red Lion & Sun sells large amounts of pale Provence pink in the summer, but shifts the emphasis in winter, and is the country’s biggest seller of Prophets Rock rosé, made by
Central-Otagan Pinot king Paul Pujol. It’s not cheap, but it’s very good – and in terms of colour and structure it’s a long way from a Provence. For Ball, it’s very definitely a winter-season rosé. ‘The seasons make a difference to food, so it stands to reason that they will alter wine-drinking habits too,’ explains Ball. ‘But I wouldn’t use terms like “richer” or “heavier”. Texture and flavour
are far more important for food-based “winter” rosés, as opposed to the light, fresh summer styles. There’s definitely a desire for more complexity in rosé during the cooler months.’

Rosé offerings, in other words, need to be adapted to the seasons just like the rest of your wine list. And given that 10% of all the wines drunk in the UK are pink, there’s a case for saying that your list’s make-up ought to reflect that far more than it probably does at the moment. This would give venues the chance to stock a wider range of styles beyond PPP and also to make a bit of noise around a wine style that we know is already popular with the public.

‘There needs to be at least a carefully put together and well showcased selection if we want people to go for them,’ says de Courcy. ‘There could literally be a “winter rosé” section, which might pique people’s curiosity just like “skin contact” does for orange wines.’ So yes, it might require a little work to sell rosé in winter – a little list restructuring and hand-selling. But with rosé sales still growing, the current ‘safety-first’ situation should be seen as an opportunity being squandered, rather than a gamble not being taken. Time, perhaps, to take a leaf out of John F Kennedy’s book, and ask themselves ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’

Jo Eames, Peach Pubs
Château du Galoupet, Côtesde-Provence, France
‘This is into the mid-£30 [price range], which is premium for us. It’s the only wine that has stayed on our list for 17 years. The vineyard was sold to LVMH earlier this year and I fear they will inevitably take it into the luxe brand sphere.’
£13.06, Tanners

Heath Ball, The Red Lion & Sun
Prophet’s Rock Infusion Pinot Noir 2017, Central Otago, New Zealand
‘This is free-run Pinot Noir from some of the most outstanding of all New Zealand’s vineyards. Paul takes this wine as seriously as his world-renowned classic Pinot Noir and it shows in the finished article. It’s a wine you can drink throughout a whole meal.’
£20.75, Bibendum

Carole Bryon, Lady of the Grapes
Gut Oggau Family Reunion Rosé 2016, Burgenland, Austria
‘It is a deep rosé – almost a light red. It has a full body with a lot of crunchy berries and an amazing acidity. It is also ageing beautifully. Perfect to pair with pigeon or grouse! I also love to serve it with our pink duck with blueberry sauce.’
£29, Dynamic Vines

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