The rosé craze of the past half-decade has been rampant and unrelenting: No wine trend in modern memory has exploded into the mainstream with the same brute force. But taking a step back from all the hype, it now seems like the phenomenon is approaching a critical crossroads.
As the trade continues to insist upon rosé’s seriousness, championing it as a wine of depth and integrity, top examples from iconic producers have been catapulted to “trophy” status—with price tags to match—while the market has simultaneously been flooded with a tidal wave of pink wines calibrated to cash in on rosé’s newfound “lifestyle” associations. Of the category’s split personality, PUNCH contributor Zachary Sussman once wrote, “In the case of rosé, we’re witnessing what appears to be two different markets operating at once, both opposing and reinforcing one another: on the one hand, there’s rosé the latest allocated cult wine; on the other, rosé the breezy, aspirational summer brand.”
The situation is such that it has become increasingly difficult to find truly world-class rosé on the market these days—that is, top wines from classic producers in iconic regions—that are still priced according to rosé’s original conception as an everyday pleasure. Lately, however, one wine-producing nation has emerged as the prime candidate to fill this gap in the market. Although it might seem like an improbable hotbed for pink wine, anyone who has ever sampled Germany’s bright, bracingly mineral rosés knows that they rank among today’s best.
The story of how it became a global leader of rosé production is, in many ways, a classic case of German innovation. With centuries of tradition behind it, Germany’s reputation for making incomparably complex whites has been long established. With climate change, however, came the possibility of crafting high-quality reds, notably from pinot noir, or spätburgunder, which is now experiencing a nationwide renaissance. And where there are distinctive reds, great rosé isn’t far behind.
“After France and the U.S., Germany is the third biggest producer of pinot noir in the world,” explains Gunter Künstler of the Rheingau region’s Weingut Künstler, which has produced its benchmark rosé since 1986. “So it’s logical that we also have a serious production of rosé, side by side with the reds.”
From the start, it was clear that Germany possessed grapes, terroir and climate to make its own top-notch rosé. According to Künstler, however, the current crop of wines owes much of its success to a new wave of technological advancement. “[The situation] is being driven by a better understanding of rosé than we had before,” he explains, recalling a time when rosé represented little more than a means to repurpose rotten grapes that had been rejected from red wine production. “We have a wet climate in Germany and most of the wine regions are close to rivers, which means that a grape with a very thin skin like pinot noir can be easily attacked by [the fungus] botrytis,” he says. “In the past, growers often selected the 100 percent healthy grapes for red wine, while the remaining berries were for rosé.”
Not so anymore. Citing “a new generation of well-educated winemakers in Germany,” who have applied the same exacting precision and technical expertise to their rosés that they bring to their celebrated whites, Künstler notes that “production and winemaking are much better focused than before.” And it shows. To quote senior contributing editor Jon Bonné, a recent PUNCH tasting of the wines “not only far surpassed the results from any panel of Provençal rosé we’ve done in recent years, but it was frankly the best PUNCH tasting we’ve done in at least a year.”
Both conceptually and stylistically, the wines present a contrast to the Mediterranean ideal of rosé. Marked by the freshness, minerality and thrilling acidity of Germany’s northerly latitude, it’s rosé as brought to you by some of the planet’s greatest producers of crystalline, electrifying riesling. In the words of Nahe-based winemaker Caroline Diel, whose stunning pinot noir-based “Rosé de Diel” is a perennial highlight, “German rosé very often has more of a racy and refreshing style than the ones from more southern regions,” she says.
Given the seriousness and care with which they’re made, you’d think that the new wave of German rosé would suffer from the same price inflation that has pushed so many top Provençal bottlings out of the realm of quotidian consumption. But (for now, at least) they remain affordable. Bonné says, “It’s almost hard to believe that a rosé from a star winemaker like Caroline Diel, who otherwise is crafting some of best rieslings in Germany’s Nahe (and thus, the world), will cost you barely more than half what you’d pay for a bottle of Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.”
In this way, Germany offers the world a model for how pink wine can be taken seriously without sacrificing the platonic ideal of what rosé is supposed to be. And even as global demand continues to rise, it’s hard to imagine Germany falling victim to the same crassly commercial mindset that has plagued so many of the globe’s classic rosé regions.
“We started making rosé twenty years ago, and ever since the demand has been higher than the production,” Diel mentions. “We have increased the production slightly, but not excessively, which is very important to me.”
At a time when it’s all-too-easy to “cash in” on the frenzy, this long-term vision is admirable. It’s also what will ensure that, eventually, once the international obsession begins to fade and consumers turn their sites on something new, Germany’s singularly expressive rosés will continue to thrive as an essential addition to the classic “pink” canon.