In the pink with new rosé Port wine

NEW YORK Mon Mar 19, 2012 6:25pm EDT

1 of 2. Barrels of aged Port wine are seen at a Gaia city cellar in northern Portugal September 11, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a bid to reverse a decade-long slide in sales, some producers of Port wine have gone pink.

They have given the sweet red or amber colored Portuguese fortified wine, which is traditionally sipped as an accompaniment to the cheese course or dessert, a makeover with a lighter rosé version that is 20 percent alcohol.

"It's port without rules," Adrian Bridge, chief executive of Taylor-Fladgate in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, said of his rosé, Croft Pink.

His 320-year-old, family-owned port house, which also has the Fonseca and Croft brands, was the first to make a rosé port in 2005 though others, including smaller producers Poças and Krohn, have followed suit.

Croft Pink, first sold in Holland, Canada and Britain, was marketed in Texas last fall before its 2012 roll out to the rest of the United States.

"One restaurant was going through three bottles a day - that's an awful lot of port," Bridge said.

He discovered that rather than sipping the drink, the bartender at the restaurant was pouring the bottles into a slushy machine to make icy drinks.

"They were selling it as slushies, sort of ice cream for adults," he explained. "This is definitely not your father's port."

Port takes its name from Oporto, the seaport where, since the 17th Century, British ships have brought back barrels to a thirsty nation.

The British were so fond of the drink that families sent their sons to Portugal to become wine merchants and port producers.

There are many types of port including vintage, tawny, ruby and white. While some are aged for years in wood, or for decades in bottles, ruby port is aged for most of its three years in stainless steel or concrete vats. By port standards, it is young and meant to be drunk upon release.

Rosé port is a ruby that has had light contact with the grape skins giving the wine its color. It tastes fruity and has aromas of grapefruit, berries and honey.

Like all port, the rosé is fortified with a neutral grape spirit, which means it is about 20 percent alcohol. By comparison, most table wines are between 12 percent and 15 percent alcohol.

But unlike port, sales of rosés in 2009 and 2010 increased by 14 percent and 22 percent, according to the Wines of Provence, a trade association that represents the French region synonymous with the wine.

But in 2011 rosé sales dipped by about six percent.

Despite the slide, Bridge thinks more consumers will buy his pink port.

"Rosés still make up 15 percent of the wine market and rosés are zero percent of port," he said. "We're having a lot of success with it and you know why? It's sweet, it's high alcohol, and it's really simple."

(Reporting By Leslie Gevirtz; editing by Patricia Reaney)