This column’s title is a bit misleading. Mateus Rosé never really went away, so how can it return? But the brand is rebooting, changing with the times, which gives us an an excuse to consider this iconic Portuguese wine and the Rosé wine category it helped create.
Wine Discovery Mode
Let’s zoom back five decades to an era when U.S. consumers were in Wine Discovery mode. What were they looking for? Well, many things, but as the 1971 Mateus Rosé commercial above suggest, one side of wine’s appeal was its exotic nature. Could wine really transport you to romantic places? Of course!
Mateus Rosé is an important part of the evolution of the wine world — so important that it has its own entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine. I included this humble wine in my book Around the World in Eighty Wines. Pink, sweetish, slightly fizzy, Mateus was created by Fernando van Zeller Guedes in 1942, aimed initially at the Brazilian market, but its export domain soon reached around the world, including especially the U.S. and Great Britain.
Chilled in its distinctive dark bottle (shaped, it is said, like a WWI army flask), with the image of the Palace of Mateus prominently displayed, it was a a post-war phenomenon. I’ve read that it was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. A quick internet search yields photos of rock legend Jimi Hendrix chugging a half-bottle of Mateus. It was at one point the best-selling imported wine in the U.S. market.
Still Crazy After All These Years
Mateus sold 3.5 million cases in 1978, accounting for an incredible 40% of Portuguese wine exports. Mateus dominated the market of that day the way that Yellow Tail ruled in the 2000s. Even now, when the global wine market Mateus helped create is crowded with big brands, it sells 20 million bottles a year in 120 markets. Still crazy popular after all these years.
Today we are told that consumers want Rosé wines that are dry dry dry and pale pale pale. Classic Mateus didn’t fit that profile at all and yet the style still found an enthusiastic following. Maybe wine drinkers are more diverse in their tastes than popular opinion has it? A Portuguese friend tells me that he sneaks Mateus into blind tastings, where it surprises even professionals with its appeal.
Mars and Venus
The rebooted Mateus, branded Mateus Dry Rosé in the U.S., introduces this iconic wine to a new audience without ignoring consumers looking for a nostalgic experience. The label is silver now, with the Palace of Mateus much smaller. The packaging shows off the pink color. The bottle is clear with an elongated neck, which makes it a bit more elegant. If the old bottle was from Mars (think WWI army flask) the new bottle is from Venus, don’t you think?
Mateus Dry Rosé is made from Baga and Shiraz grapes (Baga is an indigenous Portuguese variety). It is dry according to the tech sheet — just 4 g/l of residual sugar — but fruity, so that first sip tasted sweeter to us than the rest of the glass. Sweetness is subjective, so you may find it drier or sweeter than we did.
50 Shades of Pink?
Will Mateus Dry Rosé dominate the marketplace the way the original did? No, that’s simply not possible. Too much competition — thousands and thousands of SKUs in the market these days. But it has the qualities that can make it a very successful wine brand. The color may not be the pale pale pink we are told is best, but have you looked at the Rosé section of the wine wall recently? As this photo (below) from a tasting of Loire Rosé wines suggests, there are many shades of pink on offer and different buyers will seek out different hues.
Rosé was a hot wine category going into the coronavirus crisis and if it is still hot as we exit lock down then the rebooted Mateus Dry Rosé is ready to take its place on the wine wall and in the hearts of pink wine drinkers.
Sue notes that one of the great things about Mateus back in the day was that the empty bottle made an attractive candle-holder. Hey Boomers, what did you do with your empty Mateus bottles? Just FYI you can buy vintage bottles on EBay!
All too easy to be a dreadful snob about Mateus Rosé but it’s no surprise it’s still seen on many a wine menu in Indian restaurants as the residual sugar helps temper chilli heat.
I’ll look out for the new bottle in store and will certainly buy at least one bottle to see how the wine has adapted.
So Mateus Rose have made a sparkling wine that is also based on Baga and Shiraz and it fruity on the nose but bone dry. At around 12% alcohol, it is a great summer sipper. Quite delicious! You sould try it with sushi if you are so inclined!
My training wheels for wine drinking in the early 70s. And, like me, Mateus has matured, evolved, and become more elegant. Good piece, Mike.
Not that I ever did this (as I was in my early 20s in the 70s) but women LOVED to put candles in them for the dinner table. I was In retail at that time and it did make a great selling point though. In 1971, California “Fair Trade” retail was $2.89 per fifth for Mateus while Gallo table wines (non-vintage generics) were 99 cents, Sebastiani Cabernet was $2.50, and B.V. Cabernet was $3.25. $5.25 for Private Reserve! So for the average drinker it was an upsell. Oh, for the old days! Oh, wait, I still have plenty of 1974 and 1978s in my cellar…
wow, are you sure any of those old bottles are still good to drink? Probably a little past their prime.
While I haven’t had any of the ’70s for a year or so, I found bottle variation but of the two or three that I had only one I would consider past prime, whatever we consider that is. Remember that the red wines of today with few exceptions are produced for the consumer who wants to drink it tonight, sometimes even chilled, or with ice cubes. Also, very few consumers who have been drinking red wine for only the last maybe twenty years would know what to expect from a well-aged wine, and could not necessarily even appreciate them for the attributes of bottle age. Very few domestics have the guts that wines prior to the 90s had which allowed extended aging
Finally, when you drink a wine that old you are drinking history and that in itself is worthwhile. My adult daughters have no use to watch black and white films; made too long ago and uninteresting to them.To me they are treasures, even with special effects of past. Same with any art. When I started in the wine business in the mid 60s (recently retired) I still recall a wonderful quote I read somewhere that “wine collecting is the only art form in which you must completely destroy your collection in order to fully appreciate it.”
Thanks for the comment. Didn’t mean to preach.
like New Coke……….give me the original Mateus Rose…..sweeter and more Bubbly !!!
Mateus rose is as good as any. It obviously was ahead of its time. With the reintroduction to the marketplace it hopefully will be at a lower price than most. Making it a best buy. But for me, to use a take off of Miles reaction to merlot in the movie Sideways, NO ROSE for me!
I have been a fan of Mateus original for years and DEVESTATED that it has been discontinued. I have been on the search for a wine with the same or comparable features of Mateus to no avail. It’s a shame that the company decided to abandon a product that is unlike no other.
They screwed up. My wife LOVED mateus rose. Drank it for 20 years. She can’t stand the dry.
Does it taste the same or not? The article in not at all clear on this point, since it talks about the wine never leaving the market and being in a different bottle, but then seems to suggest the product is different? Very poorly written.
In the late 70’s I made a trip to Lisbon and the locals didn’t like Mature Rose’s at all. They told me that the only reason the produced it was to send it to the US.
I happen to like it.
There is an error here. You say that the technical sheet specifies 4g/L (which would make it pretty a dry rose contrary to what you say throughout the article). The technical sheet specifies 15g/L.