Summer Sipper

Wölffer Rosé comes of age.

Twenty-one years ago when Wölffer Rosé made its debut, Americans were still a little hesitant about drinking pink wine. It had a mixed identity: was it sweet? Was it really wine? Was it OK for boys to drink because, you know, pink is for girls. This had long ago been settled in Europe, where rosé is the wine of summer, the wine of the Riviera and a wine of sophistication usually made to be drunk young and fresh. Roman Roth, the German-born winemaker at Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack, knew this. He started bottling.
The wine has now become so iconic, flowing into glasses on sunny decks overlooking the ocean, at hot restaurants, in backyards by the fire pit and at the beach, that New York City food bloggers refer to it as “Hamptons Kool-Aid.”
Which is totally unfair; it has absolutely nothing in common with the powdered kid’s drink, apart from popularity. “We usually run out [all 11,600 cases] by early fall,” says Roth, who is also a partner in the winery. “We like to call it ‘Summer in a Glass.’ It’s nice to have such a loyal following.” This wine is a light, elegant blend of merlot and other grapes, and takes its cue from a style indigenous to Provence, in the south of France.
But the terroir is all Long Island: the Bridgehampton loam soil and ocean breezes are suited to the crisp, acid-leaning style, says Roth. “Finding the right picking date is crucial in making a fresh and vibrant yet ripe rosé,” he says. Fortunately, he adds, all the grapes for the 2012 rosé were picked before Superstorm Sandy hit in late October.
The wine is released each spring—just as Long Island wine drinkers are transitioning away from winter reds and creamy chardonnays—and sold in restaurants and wine shops all over Long Island and New York City.
“Gotta have it,” says Debbie Gove, owner of Greenport Wines and Spirits in Greenport, who does a brisk trade in the busy season, when people are looking for Long Island wine that is refreshing yet sophisticated and can hold up well to food. It’s also poured by the glass in about 25 East End establishments, including Salt, North Fork Table & Inn, Muse, Nick & Toni’s Phao, Cowfish, Tutto Il Giorno, Bobby Van’s and Sen, says national sales manager Peggy Lauber.
This year, Wölffer has four different bottlings. The 2012 Wölffer Estate Rosé ($16) is the familiar classic. It’s mostly merlot, fermented in stainless steel and described as fruit-driven, with lively acidity and fresh minerality. A special 25th anniversary release is the Grandioso Rosé 2012 (672 cases, $29), a blend of about half merlot and the balance cabernet franc and sauvignon and a bit of chardonnay. Barrel fermentation and lees stirring lend creamy yeast notes. The Fabiana Botrytis Rosé ($40) is another anniversary special; made the same way as sauternes but with merlot, it’s a lush dessert wine. Lastly, there’s the Noblesse Oblige Rosé ($95 for the 2008 and $40 for the 2009), a sparkling blend of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Something for everyone, and while tradition has it that rosés have quite a following with the fairer sex, this is 2012 and “real men drink Wölffer Rosé,” says Roth. •
Gwendolen Groocock is the editor of the Greenport Guide, and writes about food, wine, travel and mommyhood from her home in Greenport.