Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You Can Thank Instagram for Your Rosé Obsession

There are now five seasons in a calendar year: fall, winter, spring, summer, and rosé. The last of which happens when remotely summer-like weather hits and lasts until it's no longer couth to be wearing white pants. During this swath of time, it's as if people don't know how to survive without glasses of pink wine in their hands and four more bottles of the stuff in their fridges. And cutesy phrases like "Rosé All Day" and "Yes Way Rosé" become a normal part of the lexicon.

The infatuation with rosé is so intense that in the summer of 2014, when news of a shortage broke, the Hamptons started collectively hyperventilating. In 2013 alone, the US consumed 279.4 million liters (or nearly 74 million gallons) of the pink wine, making it the second-largest consumer of rosé in the world (France, where it originates, is No. 1). That number has only skyrocketed in the past four years. In the last year alone, sales of dry rosé have jumped up by 125%. And this year is proving to be no different: Aldi, the discount supermarket chain, managed to sell through its store-branded rosé supplies in just one day in Chicago. This hysteria would have never happened without the internet -- specifically, Instagram.

While it might seem farfetched now, Americans weren't always obsessed with rosé. In fact, pink wine was once the Nickelback of boozy drinks -- no one wanted to go near them, and if they did, they consumed them in shame. Putting rosé on a restaurant's wine list used to be nothing short of ignoble, reveals Chicago-based, James Beard Award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang.

"Pink wine was once the Nickelback of boozy drinks."

"I've opened 11 restaurants and written countless wine lists, and having a rosé by the glass or rosé section showed that you were being déclassé," Chang tells Thrillist. "Like, you might as well be writing a wine list for Olive Garden."

This vehement dislike of rosé was mostly thanks to white zinfandel, a sickly sweet, cheap, pink-colored wine that flooded grocery stores in the 1980s, explains Patrick Cappiello, the wine director at NYC's Rebelle and the creator of Forty Ounce Wines (a company that makes rosé packaged in a plastic bottle meant to mimic cheap 40-ounce beers). To be clear, white zinfandel is not rosé, just the same color as rosé. But the white zinfandel made by brands like Beringer and Sutter Home had a reputation being a generally awful wine to drink skewed Americans' perception of the other pinks out there, despite being an utter misconception. "Rosé, especially in the south of France, was a pretty respected wine that's made in the same tradition for a very long time," Cappiello says. "Instead of being sweet, it was dry, and slightly spicy and something that French people really embraced."

Beringer white zinfandel left such a bad taste in America's mouth that selling rosé -- even the high-end versions -- was a near-impossible task. As a former national Champagne educator for Moét Hennessy, Chang recalls working extra hard in presentations to booze distributors to convince them that rosé Champagne was something worth selling. "I'd have to tell them to not be afraid of the color... and that everything was going to be OK."

The pink tides started shifting in the late '90s and early '00s when travel magazines -- the original Instagram -- started photographing celebrities sipping on rosé while hanging out in luxurious locales throughout the south of France.

"I would see beautiful, glossy photos of people sitting in the Côte d'Azur or these beautiful places in warm weather on their yachts drinking dry rosé, and I think maybe that's when people first started noticing that pink wine wasn't so bad," says Chang. Soon after, rosé was spotted freely flowing at legendary, celebrity-studded soirées in the Hamptons -- such as rapper/cheesecake fiend P. Diddy's annual, infamous 4th of July White Party. Rosé eventually grew to become so synonymous with the Hamptons -- another summertime destination for the rich, famous, and powerful -- people started calling it "Hampton's Gatorade." (Just maybe don't try chugging a bottle after a run.) While the rest of the country was knocking back Four Lokos, rosé remained a wine consumed by the coastal elite when doing whatever rich people do when the weather is nice.

Then, in 2010, Instagram came along. Within a couple of years, the social media platform managed to make aesthetics, especially of the romantic, gently washed-out variety, one of the biggest trend-driving forces across nearly every facet of culture. If a product, or person, or locale was beautiful, it quickly racked up a bevy of red hearts, solidifying its place as something people should care about. Photogeneity suddenly trumped everything, and rosé, more so than its burgundy and pale yellow brethren, has that trait in droves. It also didn't hurt that "Millennial Pink" was coming up as the hue that would take over every aspect of the design world, from restaurant interiors to ad campaigns.

It was the color of rosé that inspired Erica Blumenthal and Nikki Huganir, a fashion editor and graphic designer, respectively, to start @YesWayRosé in 2013, an Instagram account dedicated to all-things rosé. From the beginning, they were showcasing everything from rosé-hued flowers to the bold, Instagram-friendly labels of the wine bottles they were drinking.

"We were never really into wine before," says Blumenthal. "We just loved the color, and how beautiful it is to drink, and how good a table looks the instant when you add rosé to it. Rosé is just a really incredible peachy pink color that is hard to capture, so we wanted to create an account around it. Rosé instantly inspires these good, happy, positive vibes." The account is now a fully fledged rosé-based lifestyle business complete with branded tote bags, candles, and even a wine line in partnership with the digital wine club Winc aptly called Summer Water, complete with a minimalist label that seems specifically designed to rack up as many hearts as possible.

Offered as part of a summer-only wine membership club called Summer Water Societé, this year's memberships sold out in just 26 days, with over 600 people on the waiting list, says Winc's chief wine officer Brian Smith. In 2015, Winc made 500 cases of the Summer Water rosé, Smith adds. This year, the company has upped it to 30,000 cases.

In a pre-Instagram era, most rosé labels were romantic and soft, typical of the pink wines from France. "The Old World guy is going to tell you that his grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather started the château or the winery, and the label is going to reflect that," says Chang. But in the past five years, another camp of graphic wine labels -- free of hard-to-read script lettering and intricate illustrations of flowers -- has emerged, often made by Instagram stars themselves. In addition to Summer Water, there is White Girl Rosé, helmed by controversial social media terror Josh Ostrovsky, aka "The Fat Jew.” He managed to sell nearly 30,000 cases in 2016 alone. Cappiello says he sold through 1,800 cases of his Forty Ounce Rosé (21,600 bottles of wine) in mere weeks with people asking for it from all over the country. Each label's design is intentionally typographically forward, meant to be minimalist and striking.

"I'm all for whatever catches people's eyes," says Chang. "If you spot it as you're going through your grocery store or Whole Foods or in the market or whatever, and you grab it 'cause of a great label, hey, that's cool." Whether or not those wines are sacrificing quality for aesthetics, Chang won't comment on the "taste of those projects." "I'm sure they're great, but cold hides a lot of things."

rose wine bottles
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Unlike other Instagram trends like pastel unicorn foods or gargantuan freakshakes, rosé's appeal goes beyond pure aesthetics. The pink wine is deeply attached to a lifestyle, to travel magazines and Instagram. Just as Natty Light conjures the smells of a stale and sweaty frat house, rosé brings up images of warm weather, luxurious sunny days, and unassailable wealth. Other wines don't enjoy the same affiliation: White wine is more frequently associated with fish and housewives, while reds are tied to date nights and steak dinners. Rosé, instead, is more frequently paired with day drinking and a life where bills are just pieces of scrap paper you pass off to your accountant each month. No one Instagrams rosé from their parent's basement -- it's always from a beach, or a boat, or a lavish picnic spread. And who wouldn't want that life?

It's easy to associate rosé with this trust-fund lifestyle because it is the perfect session wine -- meaning, it's a drink with a lower-than-usual ABV. Its lightness, both in flavor and alcohol, lends itself incredibly well to day drinking. "You can make rosé in a higher alcohol form, but I think most people don't because when alcohol levels go up, wines get heavier," says Cappiello. "That's kind of the basic chemistry of it. They feel heavier, and they make you drunk quicker, making it something that that is harder to enjoy at noon." Cappiello compares rosé's drinkability to session beers: "You wouldn't drink a big high alcohol stout in the middle of the afternoon. You would have something that's light and low in alcohol, light and easy to pound, otherwise you'd be drunk by 3pm."

"Rosé brings up images of warm weather and unassailable wealth."

But rosé's most important characteristic is its affordability. Blumenthal and Huganir had never been to Provence, "the motherland of rosé" until last summer, but they "always felt instantly transported with just a bottle. Rosé made it accessible to travel for cheap."

The price point also separates it from Champagne, the only other booze so deeply associated with a lifestyle. "I think about Champagne a lot," says Chang, "It's definitely my desert island wine." But that's Champagne's biggest problem: It's priced out of the every day. The bubbly wine is expensive if you want anything decent, and therefore most commonly associated with celebration. As the saying goes: People are frequently trying to live a Champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget. There's a reason a bottle of the good stuff will set you back: Champagne must age for years before it comes out on the market, explains Chang. But that is not the case for many rosés.

"Rosé is not as expensive to make and takes less time," says Cappiello. "When it comes to red wine and white wines, a lot of times these wines are aged in really expensive, small oak barrels. Rosé is aged in stainless steel or in the vessels that have already been used up. They're not using their best winemaking techniques to make the rosé." This results in a younger and much more affordable wine that is easy on the palette.

"You can drink rosé at the pool out of a red Dixie cup."

"I think the best part about rosé is that when you're in the mood for it, when you want to be happy, you can get a bottle," says Chang. Because of its low cost and the way it is served ("You can drink it at the pool out of a red Dixie cup, and you don't have to break out your Riedel sommelier series wine glasses," says Chang), it's easy to have whenever you want. "You don't have to save your pennies and dimes to get a $100 bottle of Champagne. You can get your $20 bottle of rosé wine and be perfectly happy.

The economical price tag is largely why rosé became so popular among the millennial subset -- also the group that uses Instagram the most. For the majority of US history, wine drinking was left to the upper echelons of society, says Cappiello. "The one percent of the one percent were the main wine consumers in this country, and they were chasing down wines that had fame, and wines that had regality, and wines that had high price tags. Wine was something for the elite," says Cappiello.

In the past five years or so, wine has transformed from luxury item to becoming a grocery item. "It's a new generation of people who are looking at things in a more budget-conscious way. Just because they're drinking wine doesn't mean they have to drink expensive wine," he adds. "We've seen a shift for people looking at drinking wine more often, and as a result, there is a higher probability they're going to be looking for something that's more of a value." Rosé, especially when the weather is right, is frequently the answer.

Instagram also made it OK for guys to start drinking pink wine proudly, launching the #Brosé movement. "I've always wanted to drink a glass of wine over a glass of beer as a guy, but 10 years ago, we weren't there yet," says Cappiello. And a pink drink? Forget it. "I think that maybe men of my generation, Gen Xers, maybe there was a fear of drinking pink wine because it was just for ladies," he adds. "I think that there was a masculinity issue with drinking pink wine. Men wouldn't dare do that 15 years ago." Fifteen years ago was also the height of Sex and the City and the obsession with the bright pink Cosmopolitan, considered to be the drink of the professional woman.

"There was a masculinity issue with drinking pink wine."

But this perception has shifted, thanks in part to hyper-masculine bros, such as social media star "The Fat Jew," touting the wine on Instagram. Men are no longer afraid to "drink pink" and line up for the wine. "A friend of mine was in a very bro-y neighborhood of Chicago and texted me, 'I am in line, an hour-long line, to get into this place where it's just a bunch of bros drinking brosé.'" says Chang. And bros joining in on the national obsession has been good for business. Detailscited statistics in 2015 story called "Make Way for Brosé: Why More Men Are Drinking Pink" that said that sales of the pink wine grew 10 times faster than the growth of overall table wine, linking a steep rise in rosé sales to the thirst for brosé.

winc rose

It's not just bros buying rosé -- it's everyone. Smith says that in the five years that Winc has been around, they have seen a 70% growth in rosé sales, and a 50% growth nationally. The fever for all things rosé has become so intense that there is now, not one, but two entire festivals dedicated to the pink drink. There are also more rosé-themed bags, shoes, and shirts on the market than one could wear in a lifetime. People are crafting dinner series around the wine, and have figured out how to transform the drink into everything from popsicles to gummy bears. (The latter once had a waitlist of over 18,000 people hoping to get their hands on the candy.)

Chang says demand for the wine has completely changed how restaurants write their wine lists. While there might have been one rosé by the glass and the occasional bottle, now menus are flooded with rosé. "You can go to a place, a little hipster spot with 40 wines on the list, and 10 of them can be rosés, which is unheard of," says Chang. "If you're smart and you're running a busy place, you already reserved your allocation of rosé, months before summer hits, because rosés now sell out. Your poor distributor. They'll be like, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry. That was the last case.' And it's only July."

Chang doesn't see the fanaticism slowing down anytime soon, if ever. "I think this rosé thing is forever. I don't know how anyone is going to beat it or top it. I mean, someone will eventually, but I can't imagine who." Cappiello agrees that the rosé obsession may start to plateau out one day, but it's definitely not doing to decline. It's become such an agreeable staple that rosé has basically reached margarita status. And "nobody is ever going to turn away a margarita," says Cappiello.

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Khushbu Shah is Thrillist's Senior Food Features Editor and Chief Rosé Drinker. Follow her drinking habits on Instagram @khushandoj.