What accounts for the success of Unicorn Tears? And how does it differ from an authentic wine rooted in a real terroir?

The world of food was upended by a new trend and an ensuing media hubbub following the launch of Unicorn Tears Rosé at the beginning of 2019.
Initially a boom on social media, this unusual new product has now gained sufficient traction to feature in the lifestyle sections of major magazines, piquing the curiosity of many readers and going viral in the process.


Instagram and visual aesthetics

It’s pink, it glitters and it’s perfect on Instagram!

This is the essence of a pink wine made from unicorn tears.
You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes on Instagram to see that food and drink are the perfect format to snag users hungry for a quick visual snack.

Recent studies estimate that the 18-35 age group spends five entire days each year grazing on images of food and moreover, that this practice heavily influences their buying patterns.
This explains the fevered rush of both companies and marketers to tether fickle consumers with images they can relate to and follow on with products that match the fashion and lifestyle trends of the moment.

A wizard of self-promotion

According to noted food stylist Adeline Waugh:
“With all the things that are going on in the world at the moment, people just want to play with their food, or look at a picture of food that is brightly coloured, happy and fun.”
Thus the Spanish producer of Unicorn Tears has exploited the social media trend for highly-coloured food and harnessed the phenomenon known as ‘millennial pink’ to garner user attention. From unicorn renditions of pizza, sushi, smoothies and cupcakes, pink food accounts for about 54,150 of the #millennial photos with another 30,000 hashtagged to #pinkfood, making everyone’s newsfeed a lot more colourful.

Many companies in the food sector have added an alter-ego, ‘pink glamour’ version to established product ranges. And keeping the recipe of Unicorn Tears a secret has been an astute marketing move on the part of the producer. Implying that it is made with ‘real’ unicorn tears tells a story and makes a fable of it, adding a magical aura and surrounding it with mystery. Altogether this creates an appealing nostalgia for the millennial age group.

Hence the question: is it better to be popular, or better to be authentic? And how to tell the difference between the two

From an oenological point of view, Unicorn Tears has provoked the indignation of experts and wine cognoscenti alike, because paradoxically, the wine seems to have some of the taste and characteristics of real rosé wines. However, fine rosé wines and the product called Unicorn Tears have little in common with respect to production process, tradition, and the relationship to terroir, bringing the notion of authenticity to the fore.

For a moment let’s put aside the buzz, de-consecrate fashion and ignore labels, all of which have such undeniable impact in the vast world of wine. Instead let’s consider the pedigree of terroir-rooted wine–soil, history, and the tradition for making real wine that has run in the veins of winemakers for generations. These values will outlast momentary popularity and surmount the current vogue for instant fame. And just as surely, Unicorn Tears will be consigned to the oubliettes of millennial memory, when its lack of back story and content become obvious.

 It is indeed pink but it’s not rosato

Coming back to Unicorn wine, many articles have described it as a rosé; here’s why it is isn’t one. Unicorns aside, although there is a great deal of confusion about rosé wines, they all have certain production processes in common. For example, Langhe DOC Rosato, made from an indigenous grape variety, is a good illustration of the differences between unicorn tears and a real rosé wine and hence a good reason for unicorn wine to stay shrouded in nebulous mystery on social media.

Real rosé wines begin life much like red wine. They begin with black grapes, in this case Nebbiolo, harvested at the end of August and then crushed and macerated for just six hours. The skins have just enough contact with the wine to impart tannins, aroma and polyphenols and rosé’s characteristic pink colour.
A soft pressing then separates skins from the must. The must is then decanted into temperature-controlled tanks for 12 hours and ferments for 20 days at 18°C.

Of all the types of rosé wine–from large and small producers, with different grape varieties, maceration times, geographic origin and other characteristics besides–each has its own perfumes and sensations that make it unique and inimitable.

Let’s compare the technical characteristics of the two wines:

Unicorn Tears Wine

Rosé wine – Langhe DOC Rosato

wine rosato rosé

Can a marketing phenomenon also be authentic?

The maker of Lacrimas de unicorno, a Spanish wine company, admits targeting millennials to bring them closer to the world of wine and in correctly divining their needs and tastes, it has succeeded admirably. Unicorn wine is practically a case history in branding strategy.
For some, the invention of Unicorn Tears is no more than a tactic to generate product interest, but for others, it is an accurate snapshot of a younger, hipper crowd and a good indicator of millennial trends in the drinks industry.
These are ‘design’ consumers: strongly oriented towards product image, up on food trends to keep up follower interest, always on the lookout for strong brands and a powerful message.
These features should prompt all of us–even wine purists who continue to glorify real wine–to recognise that for young people in the age of Instagram all products are construed as experience, and therefore are repositories of values, taste and lifestyle.

Nothing can ever replace the sensations evoked by a glass of good wine–the perfume, the aromas, the unique taste of the terroir and the authenticity of tradition–but it is also true that if Unicorn wine hadn’t been invented we would never have been able to answer this question:

“What colour are a unicorn’s tears?” Pink, obviously.