A FRIEND AND I recently had a debate over whether rosé is a fashionable or a popular wine. My friend contended that rosé is both, while I argued it’s only the latter.
Popular wines, often the product of clever marketing campaigns, usually appeal to enthusiastic neophytes, not seasoned oenophiles. Fashionable wines, by contrast, attain their status over years, even decades, and are favored by amateurs and pros alike. By fashionable I mean wines that are perennial favorites, not a grape or region tied to a particular moment.
Another popular pink wine, White Zinfandel, long stood in the way of rosé’s popularity. For decades after the White Zin years of the 1980s, wine buyers presumed all pink wine was sweet. That only changed a few years ago, when dry rosé began to be relentlessly hyped. Now Drew Barrymore, John Legend and Jon Bon Jovi all have brands of their own.
Some wines achieve popularity with an eye-catching label. The leaping wallaby of Yellow Tail Shiraz raised the profile of an entire country’s wines in the early 2000s—cheap copycat “critter” brands as well as pricey small-production Aussie Shirazes. But when the popularity of Yellow Tail faded, the market for Australian wines in general dried up as well.
A fashionable wine doesn’t rise and fall thanks to a cute label. Champagne has been fashionable virtually since its creation centuries ago; quality houses like Louis Roederer, Bollinger and Krug likely always will be.
Some might peg Pinot Noir’s popularity to the (execrable) 2004 movie “Sideways,” but I’d counter that Pinot has been fashionable since well before that—in its native Burgundy as well as in California and Oregon, where longtime producers have been joined in recent years by winemakers from Burgundy. Time has only burnished the reputations of Oregon Pinot pioneers St. Innocent, Brick House and Domaine Drouhin, while newer wineries such as Lingua Franca, Nicolas-Jay and Lachini Vineyards make use of Burgundian talent.
Another fashionable wine, Brunello di Montalcino, was long made by only one winery, Biondi Santi, but now other notable Montalcino producers such as Sassetti Livio, Poggio Antico, Siro Pacenti and Altesino make this all-Sangiovese varietal. A decade ago some producers were caught blending in other grapes, but this infraction didn’t have a lasting effect on sales. Perhaps a fashionable wine can bear a frisson of scandal?
My fourth fashionable wine, Sancerre, might surprise wine snobs. Like an Hermès Birkin bag, this Sauvignon Blanc is regularly knocked off, by winemakers all over the world. But few equal the Loire Valley original, which can range from powerful and rich to thrillingly mineral in style.
Napa Valley Cabernet has alienated some wine drinkers, but only when overblown in price and style. Napa Cabs from established producers like Corison, Philip Togni and Chappellet remain in fashion, perhaps because fashion is the last thing on their makers’ minds. When I called Cyril Chappellet to talk fashionable wines, he was surprised. “We’re kind of staid,” he said. “We make the wine as well as we can and hope we are fashionable enough to keep going.”
Oenofile // Five Fashionable Bottles
1. Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, $40 A well-made, rich and textured non-vintage Champagne from the house that produces the fabled luxury cuvée Cristal.
2. 2013 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino, $47 This wine from the highly regarded Altesino estate and much-heralded 2013 vintage is elegant and well-structured.
3. 2017 Domaine Bailly-Reverdy Sancerre Chavignol, $22 From some of the best soil in Sancerre, this is a crisp and lively wine with a lovely citrus note and a mineral edge.
4. 2014 St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, $55 From a terrific vintage, vineyard and winemaker, this Pinot is bold, ripe and densely layered.
5. 2015 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, $60 One of Napa Valley’s most sought-after vineyard sites produces fruit for this lush, powerful wine.