The dry spell: the rise and rise of Ros
Ros isn’t exactly a new addition to Australian wine lists, but certainly more thought is being put into the range and styles on offer. And if the latest ordering habits are anything to go by, what’s left of the warmer months is going to be very dry indeed.
Ros is the fastest growing wine style in Australia. Sales data from the major Australian liquor chains indicates that it has a total value of $31.7 million, representing growth of 27.4 percent, year on year (December 2016 vs December 2015). In regards to on-premise consumption, the Wine Business Solutions Wine On-Premise Australia 2016 report says Ros now accounts for seven percent of total listings, an increase of 42 percent from 2015.
Not all Ross are being consumed with same fervour, however. Pale, dry varieties are leading the way, and it’s a trend that started making waves back in 2011, when De Bortoli launched the Ros Revolution marketing campaign.
After a trip to the south of France, Leanne De Bortoli and her winemaker husband Steve Webber, who together operate the De Bortoli winery in the Yarra Valley, returned to Australia determined to bring a little piece of Provence Down Under.
“The Ros Revolution was driven by enthusiasm on our part and it was taken up by wine writers, restaurateurs, cafes and wine stores. They all got behind it and so we had a meet up on one particular date of the year, and everyone was drinking pale, dry Ros on that day. It was very, very successful,” De Bortoli told Hospitality.
“The idea wasn’t to promote our wines, it was about promoting pale, dry Ros in general, and the number of wineries that we found were making that style, I was quite amazed.”
The Ros Revolution ran for three successful years, and the popularity of drier varieties has continued to grow since.
Annette Lacey, director of food and beverage at the Lotus group said she’s seen “massive” growth in Ros sales over the past five years and agrees that, in general, Australians are steering clear of the sweeter styles.
“I think people don’t like sweet wine. It’s appropriate for certain meals, like if it’s a German Riesling or something that will go with Asian food, but when people are just quaffing wine, most people don’t like a lot of sugar. Commercial wines will have a small amount of sugar, but most people can’t detect it. Some of the Ross were really quite sweet and just like candy. They’re not as exciting as those dry styles,” she said.
“Even colour-wise, there’s a preference from consumers for those pale Ross. If they get a bit of Ros that’s got a bit of colour, they say ‘Oh my God, that’s going to be sweet.’ But I say ‘Actually, it’s not. It’s not a light skinned variety, it’s a Cabernet or a Shiraz, so naturally it’s going to be deeper in colour.’ [But] lots of people are demanding those pale pink colours.”
Catching up with Provence?
There are four restaurants within the Lotus group, and each promotes Australian Ross, however Lacey says drops from Provence are most popular.
“You can sell a Provence Ros every five minutes if you want to, it’s definitely the category of choice. People are drinking Australian Ros too, we’ve got some really great Ross here but Provence is definitely the easiest category [to sell] because people are confident that it’s going to be dry and light. A bit like the New Zealand Sav Blanc phenomenon – you know exactly what you’re getting and you’re not disappointed.”
Based in the Clare Valley, Taylors Wines has recently released a Pinot Noir Ros, part of its new Taylor Made range, and founder Mitchell Taylor said foodservice venues are now more comfortable promoting local Ross because winemaking techniques, and therefore the quality of the end product, has improved significantly over the years.
“The Australian Ross are being well made now, and are being accepted by customers,” he said. “It’s about getting the right varieties from the right regions, like Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills. It’s about picking the grapes at a lower baume and making sure that in the fermentation technique there is a fairly quick separation and draining from the skins … I think those factors have helped, plus a focus on light, refreshing styles that work well with the Australian climate.”
Taylor said that while Ros has historically been seen as a feminine drink, more and more Australian males are happy to imbibe. While the tide is shifting, he said about 60 percent of those ordering Ros are women, and a lot of thought goes into how Taylors Wines can help make men more willing to give the variety a go.
“We wanted to get male drinkers interested in our products, so we were thinking of making the whole [Ros] packaging black, but then we decided to drain the colour a bit and make it less pink in appearance and have more of that salmon characteristic that we’ve got now.
“With the Taylor Made Ros, we’ve deliberately partnered it with an excellent Clare Valley red, a Malbec which is full bodied, and we’ve also got a Chardonnay from the same region, the Adelaide Hills. It gives the look and feel that this is not just a single product, it’s a product that appeals to both men and women.”
Lacey said that while men continue to show preference for fuller bodied reds, they’re becoming more and more partial to lighter wine varieties. She said that – in her opinion – the whole concept of associating beverage styles with gender is quite insulting.
“Those wines that are marketed specifically to women – most women would be offended. Why don’t you just make a great wine? Why is it specifically for women? We do have palates, we’re not seduced by girly labels,” she said.
Regardless of who’s doing the ordering, Ros – particularly the drier, paler variety – is well and truly establishing itself as a valuable inclusion on any wine list.
“It’s quite heartening to go to restaurants and see that it’s on a lot of lists now, and they do have quite a few different Ross on there,” said De Bortoli. “It used to be the case that they’d have one token pale, dry Ros – whether it be a Provencal or an Aussie one – but that was it. Now it’s a category of its own.
“It’s not seen as a pretty wine or a make-believe wine any more… Certainly with all the Ros that we make, we grow the grapes and it’s made for purpose wine, it’s not an after-thought. The texture, the mouth feel, Ros is serious wine.”