by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, Drinks Editor
With hashtags like #brosé and #roséallday, the world of blush wine is finally having a moment. Once considered plonk, an Australian term for cheap wine, rosé has a storied history particularly in France where it is considered the quintessential spring and summertime sipper. At Loa in New Orleans, creative director Alan Walter has conceived a dynamic, modern menu called the "Long Days of Rosé", using Pantone shades of pink to peach to burgundy as a visual road map. In doing so, he demonstrates how a bar or restaurant can elevate a product creatively, generating a level of excitement and educating people about a category worthy of notice.
The Sin of White Zin
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, wines like Lancers and Mateus were some of the only rosé offerings and they quickly became seen as cheap and easy-drinking. Then White Zinfandel, with its overly sweet profile and often low quality grapes, arrived on the scene, offering a non-threatening gateway to the world of wine. Unfortunately, the wine's popularity had a cost as serious oenophiles looked down their noses at White Zin drinkers seeing them as lightweights who had no appreciation of wine's complexities.
Millennials Embrace Rosé
Today, as millennials seek out new wine experiences with openness and enthusiasm, rosé looks to have a truly rosy future. According to statistics from the Provence Wine Council, Provencal rosé imports to the United States have risen from zero before 2006 to 7.8 million in 2014. With the proliferation of wine imports around the world, people are able to access the entire spectrum of rosé wines now more than ever before. Whether simple, quaff-able styles or sophisticated, dry expressions that can top $80 a bottle, there is a rosé for everyone.
For Alan Walter, the chance to introduce his guests to the complexities of rosé made for a worthy challenge; the method he hit upon was via color. "The spectrum of rosés worldwide literally covers the map," he explains, "and their colors reveal quite a bit about themselves. The Pantone block is fun for the eyes, but it's also a tool to show off their diversity." Indeed, the shades pf rosé, captured in Pantone blocks on the menu, can range from the softest blush to a glowing peachy pink to a saturated reddish rose.
In capturing the diversity of rosé, Walter took an artistic tact, with an eye to both the consumer and staff. The Pantone menu design is not only visually intriguing, but also a conversation starter. The way the wines are served not only gets those ordering involved, but spurs the curiosity of other guests.
A Bit of Stagecraft
"With our menu, you get to see the entire rosé selection of Loa," explains Walter, "but just three are available each day. The staff can focus on the stories of these particular wines each night, stoking the guest’s enthusiasm. The presentation - three small pours in vintage stemware on a footed narrow sheet of slate with mini-Pantone block coasters -- is a bit of stagecraft that emphasizes the various hues and underlines that they are to be enjoyed as a progression. And it's just dramatic enough that one order and its arrival generates many more right behind it."
Beyond that, Walter also took into account the business side of the concept. He features 25 rose wines per menu, flipping the selection twice per season so that there are approximately 50 rosés offered in all. The price per glass and per flight is fixed as an approximate average of wholesale costs. This allows Walter to offer a wide range of styles, from the familiar classics from Provence such as Bandol to those that Walter refers to as "mystic voices of the singular places they are from."
From Familiar to Far Out
With such a terroir-driven menu, Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina from Spain's Basque region is just as likely to share space on a flight with 'Dianthus', an American rose from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, California and a rosé made with Tibouren, a grape that adds earthy notes to Provencal wines. Given the fact that rosé is made around the globe from grapes as diverse as Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cabernet Sauvignon among others, the variety is staggering.
In terms of the bottom line, Walter's belief is simple, yet logical. If you present something in an intriguing manner, people will want to try it. "The menu itself becomes food for discussion and word of mouth," he notes. "It's easy to explain the concept to a friend. An imaginative format will drastically increase people's interest, because we eat and drink with our minds." By marrying practicality with a bit of oenophilic legerdemain, Alan Walter creates an interactive journey that pays off for both the restaurant and the customer.