TO a bag of Babybels, a bowl of leftover dal—even by civil standards, there’s rarely anything glamorous in the contents of my fridge. So, with a pleasant shiver of surprise, every time I’ve opened my fridge for the past week, a bottle of rosé Provencal rosé has been casting a rosy glow over my Parmesan rinds and plastic containers. Because this is not just any wine; this is Whispering Angel, Adele’s favorite and the most talked about drink of the year.
If a song called I Drink Wine didn’t make her #relatable enough, the singer, who is said to be worth £140m, recently revealed that her drink of choice was this luxury supermarket wine (£18.99). Adele told US Vogue that her first shopping trip during lockdown was for ketchup and Whispering Angel, which “turned me into a barking dog. He didn’t make me whisper.
It’s light, it’s fresh, it’s creamy: there are very few people who wouldn’t like it.
The flagship wine from Château d’Esclans, a vineyard north of Saint-Tropez, Whispering Angel is credited with not only rebooting the current Provençal rosé trend, but also turning the entire category around. Once seen as vulgar, rosé has exploded in popularity in the last five years: market analyst GlobalData says global consumption will rise from 2.23 billion liters in 2020 to 2.63 billion in 2025, helped by Whispering Angel.
It’s now the best-selling French rosé in the US, drunk by celebrities from the Beckhams to Malia Obama (who was touched, still underage, with a bottle by a Miami pool). The price and hype is driven by her brand of champagne flair, but mostly by her Instagrammable hue and celeb glow.
Over the past year, a blush-pink glass, somewhere between Pantone’s ever-popular conch shell and the much-talked-about millennial pink, has become as influential a trope as a pumpkin-spiced latte or a sail Diptyque, with some 60,000 photos tagged #angelwhisper on Instagram, many set against a white-sand beach or skyscraper skyline.
Last year, a Whispering Angel case was one of the selling points for a £5,000 concierge service offered by a private charter company for American travelers to the UK, “to take the stress out of the 14-day quarantine “. Now there are Whispering Angel pop-up bars in the Hamptons and Bahamas.
Photography: Tal Silverman, The Guardian; Scenography: Ash Thomas and Dan Burwood
“The richest people I know always have a bottle chilling,” said my LA-born, UK-based Hollywood friend, her eyes lighting up to find one in my fridge. My other visitors, standing politely by the open door as I tried to explain, looked puzzled.
He continued: Taken to a dinner party, a bottle of Whispering Angel subtly says that “you have a substantial income but you’re also modest and hip.” Naturally, I asked him to join me for my first tryout, as a sort of transatlantic cultural sommelier. Like anyone who knows nothing about wine, we start with color. Golden sand under a red sunset, I ventured. Pink quartz? An old Glossier bag? The pelicans in St James’s Park?
Ms. Hollywood pushed an image on her phone screen in my face. The dress from Fragonard’s Swing? she ventured. “Rococo rose?” Then we gave up, too pleasantly drunk to bother finding more words to describe it.
Whispering Angel has been said to have a “haunting, melon-tinged aroma, a silky texture, and an invigoratingly dry finish,” according to one vendor. All I can tell you is that more than any other alcohol I’ve ever tried, it glides on like water.
“Dangerously,” agrees Guardian wine writer Fiona Beckett (and longtime rosé champion). She describes Whispering Angel as “perfectly decent”: “It’s light, it’s fresh, it’s creamy, there are very few people who wouldn’t like it.” As for whether it’s worth £20, she says that’s not really the point. She likens it to buying a fancy moisturizer when a budget brand would do the job. “It’s all about the image… You can get a decent rosé for around £10, but it’s not Whispering Angel.” (Beckett recommends Aldi’s.)
Indeed, “ambitious” pricing, key to the perception of a premium product, has helped make rosé credible in the same way that Nyetimber made English sparkling wine and Seedlip non-alcoholic liqueurs, Beckett says: “Some will say ‘Are you kidding, £19 for rosé?’, but enough people will buy it for it to take off as a category leader… They’re selling an experience you can share without being a billionaire.”
Where Whispering Angel elevates my fridge above leftover lentils, at Adele’s she shows she’s down to earth
Whispering Angel may not yet have the UK name recognition that it does in the US, but it was on the way even before Adele’s unofficial endorsement. Sales have tripled in the last two years, although most would consider £19 a splurge. Taken alongside the rise in sales of mid-priced premium alcohol brands in the pandemic, it speaks to the collective thirst for a little luxury at a time of great constraints.
As Beckett hinted, there’s precedent for this: Cosmetics sales have historically withstood economic downturns. In 2001, the president of Estée Lauder called it the “lipstick index.” Ten years later, there was a similar rise in nail polish sales.
But the pandemic turned out differently. Homebound and isolated, many of us are left craving a sense of occasion that a new lipstick simply can’t match. Consumers were reportedly “swapping” food and wine, spending what they were saving at bars and restaurants to recreate the experience at home. Whispering Angel, an up-and-coming celebrity with a supermarket budget and a name that’s easy to pronounce, was perfectly positioned. The fact that she looked good on your feed was the icing on the cake.
For Sacha Lichine, founder and president of Château d’Esclans, it is proof of the power of the Whispering Angel brand, built over 15 years as “affordable luxury” and changing the fortunes of rosés. When Lichine acquired the vineyard in 2006, she says “nobody took the category seriously.”
But Lichine had grown up in the wine business (his late father was businessman Alexis Lichine, the so-called “Wine Pope”) and saw the potential that rosé could follow in the example of Cloudy Bay, which effectively created the export market. . Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand in the mid-1980s.
Lichine envisioned the same drinkable freshness, with added southern French sex appeal: “I said, ‘Let’s see if we can make Provençal rosé great and good, instead of just cheap and cheery.'”
The next step was to get it to the right people. Lichine toured the world with bagged bottles, persuading the “best and most elegant establishments” to put Château d’Esclans wines on their lists. Soho House, Chiltern Firehouse, Château Marmont, Annabel’s of London, the best resorts in St Barts and Barbados: Lichine throws out names faster than I can write them down.
“We wanted to make sure it was in the right mouths and in the right homes,” he says. “Once you’re in all these places, and people start seeing Whispering Angel everywhere, that’s when he takes off, because that’s when he becomes aspirational.”
Whispering Angel went from selling 800 cases in the US in 2007, the year of its debut, to 300,000 in 2017. Two years later, Möet Hennessy acquired a majority stake in Château d’Esclans for an undisclosed sum. Lichine says they stayed away from Instagram for as long as they could, fearing it would devalue the brand. He mentions a reality TV dynasty that he thinks enjoy Whispering Angel, but adds, “I wouldn’t want to see them drinking on social media.” Adele talking about it in Vogue is instead a “wonderful endorsement.”
In our social media-driven age, says Kelly O’Hanlon, professor of public relations and media at Birmingham City University, people want to share in the celebrity lifestyle, if only for one night: ” While Whispering Angel isn’t the cheapest bottle on the shelf, it’s not completely inaccessible, so it will be tempting for fans who want to get a taste of what it’s like to be Adele.”
But where Whispering Angel elevates my fridge above leftover lentils, Adele’s shows that she’s down-to-earth and “great fun” (to quote a rep answer to your interview). Therein lies the power of the brand. For a celebrity status symbol, it’s relatively affordable, but among the wealthy, it indicates a lack of pretension that carries its own premium. When asked in 2018 by Late Show host Stephen Colbert how Lady Gaga relaxes, she replied: “I drink wine and cry, just like everyone else.” To her palpable relief, Colbert produced a cold bottle of Whispering Angel and two glasses.
For luxury travelers brought to earth by the pandemic, Whispering Angel was a taste of disrupted routines. But for most of us, it’s selling a lifestyle we’ll never know. As someone who will never fly in a private jet, I was surprised at my delight in the pink bottle, sparkling like a gem in my fridge. My go-to drink is a 7-pound pinot grigio, but I confess, a week into my taste for “affordable luxury,” I still haven’t put the bottle in recycling.
This article was modified on December 19, 2021 because a previous version referred to “English champagne” when referring to English sparkling wine. A reference to a branded product was also removed.