Back in 2005, hardly any Americans drank Provence rosé. Beaujolais Nouveau was among the better-selling imports, and malbec was just beginning its meteoritic rise. Flash forward nearly 15 years and now Beaujolais Nouveau has leveled off, malbec is in slight decline and Provence rosé grew 46.6% from 2016 to 2017.
Which is a long-winded way to say that wine trends change over time. This point, and the accompanying data, was part of a panel on imported wines held this week during Vinexpo NYC. Moderator Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator, asked his four panelists what they thought might follow Provence rosé as the next big import in America. He also questioned whether they foresaw future slowdown for rosé.
Their answers for what imports might mimic the rise of Provence rosé?
Three varietals: vermentino, sauvignon blanc or albariño.
“We have a sense that vermentino could become the next pinot grigio as the lead varietal in alternative whites,” said panelist Ian Downey, executive vice president of imports for Winebow.
Consumer education would be necessary with vermentino, said fellow panelist Helen Mackey, VP of Enterprise Beverage Strategy & Innovation for Darden Restaurants: “Getting people to understand what vermentino is, and why they should take a chance on it.”
Another issue with vermentino’s hypothetical rise, argued panelist Michael Skurnik, founder of Skurnik wines, was that not enough of the grape was currently planted to meet higher demand. Still, he agreed that the varietal could have a very bright future, given shifting consumer tastes. “I could see people going back to the classics,” Skurnik said.
Which helps explain the potential growth of sauvignon blanc. That and the sheer global variety of the wine’s styles that are available for U.S. drinkers. The panelists also pointed out that sauvignon blanc has the flexibility of rosé in terms of different price points.
“We think sauvignon blanc is going to be the next big thing,” said Mackey of Darden.
Patrick Mata, co-founder and CEO of Olé & Obrigado, suggested another import with the potential of rosé: albariño.
The white Spanish varietal “is such a diverse grape,” said Mata. “You can blind-taste six different blends and not know you were tasting the same grape. Albariño demonstrates place so well.”
He compared albariño to chardonnay. “You look at a menu and there are six chardonnays. Why is that? Because they can all taste totally different. Same for albariño.”
“Maybe Millennials have already heard enough about chardonnay now,” he continued. “They’ve ‘been there and done that’ with chardonnay. They want to know what’s the new thing coming up. I’m thinking albariño could be that. Millennials are always looking for that next story that’s not yet been told. This is one of them.”
Issues With Rosé?
Is rosé threatening to reach market oversaturation? Skurnik seemed to think so.
“Everybody who grows grapes and wants to make wine now makes a rosé,” he said. “It’s become the Beaujolais Nouveau of our time. It’s a cash cow because you can make it in three weeks. That’s resulted in an overcrowded category. Which has created a lack of clarity for consumers. ‘What are the good rosés? What are the ones of real authenticity?’”
Skurnik suggested that the category could benefit from pruning. He foresaw the free market doing just that. “In the next five years it’s going to weed out a lot of rosés,” he said.
His fellow panelists did not necessarily share his viewpoint.
“With the expansion of rosé’s geographies, styles and pricing points, I think it has a lot of runway still in front of it,” said Mackey.
Mata agreed. “Rosé is not what I would call a trend. It’s a category now,” he said. “Rosé’s here to stay, and is going to keep growing at higher price points.”
“Millennials love rosé because it’s not complicated and it’s fun and is accessible with quality,” Mata added. “Millennials love to discover, and that’s why I think rosé will grow with different varietals.”
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece A Modern Look at South African Wine.