Bartender Justin Sievers remembers his inaugural summer of frosé. He offered a version of the drink that combined Sicilian rosé, vermouth and strawberry purée spun in a frozen drink machine until it emerged as a shimmery, pale pink slushy. It was 2016 and a video of Sievers making the drink had just gone viral, generating hundreds of millions of views on Facebook. At Bar Primi, where he introduced the drink and is now managing partner, guests came out in droves to try it. The demand was so high that lines formed around the block, the host stand was quoting three-hour waits and Sievers was scrambling to purchase more frozen drink machines.
In New Orleans, the Southern café and bakery Willa Jean was also reveling in the heyday of frosé. Chef Kelly Fields, another early adopter, had concocted a simple recipe of rosé (the café started with Voga, but now uses California Roots) churned with simple syrup. The result was immediately successful: “We actually couldn’t keep up, we had to order, like, 10 cases of wine at a time,” says Shannon Griffin, the restaurant’s manager.
In due time, frosé was a household name—a drink that threatened to become as ubiquitous as its base wine. Every food, drink or general-interest magazine worth its salt had a recipe; there were lists of where to drink it in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and throughout the country; it was topped with Campari, spiked with vodka and garnished with watermelon wedges; people turned it into sorbet. But by 2018, frosé’s grip had begun to loosen: Few guides have been created or updated since then, and a new crop of frozen wine drinks emerged to poke fun at the trend. In some cities, frosé’s march continued: Noah Singerman, the director of operations at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop in Charleston, South Carolina, reports that “it has definitely not lost any popularity over the years, maybe gained popularity.” Other areas, however, have seen a steady decline.
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At Willa Jean, frosé is no longer the current top seller (the frozen Key lime Daiquiri is), but Griffin says that “it’s still very popular,” adding, “Frosé is always going to be a staple.” Sievers, meanwhile, notes that sales of frosé have waned every year since 2017. But after a somber pandemic spent confined in our homes, other drinks that play into comfort and frivolity are in. Is now the moment where frosé comes back for one big encore?
Sievers says that even last summer, when lockdowns ended and outdoor dining opened up, Bar Primi saw a spike in sales of frosé compared to the year prior. “I think we are definitely ripe to have that happening again this summer, and we’re already starting to see it a bit,” he says.
For his part, Sievers has become obsessed with figuring out how to “bring proper frosé to the masses.” While he can’t share details yet, he’s currently in the process of productizing what he believes is the best way to enjoy frosé at home: by creating a mix, freezing it in ice cube trays, then blending the cubes with more mix. A sprinkling of other brands (namely Martini & Rossi, Chanmé and Kelvin Slush Co.) are also banking on the continued marketability of frosé, with ready-to-drink pouches and bottled mixes.
As we make up for lost time this summer, frosé won’t be as widely available as it was five years ago, but it’s likely that people will spring for it in the places it’s still served. A fun-loving drink that delivers a dose of Before Times nostalgia has unique appeal in 2021, and while it may no longer be trendy, the outsize and lingering traction of the whimsical wine slushy should not be underplayed. Sievers says it best: “At first everyone wrote it off as a quick little fad, but it’s still going—and it was a bigger fad than most.”