Once, the best thing about rosé wine was the comic value of the flask-shaped bottles rather than the quality of the liquid they contained.

Once, the best thing about rosé wine was the comic value of the flask-shaped bottles rather than the quality of the liquid they contained.

In the past few decades, rosé has fallen from being the epitome of 1970s suburban dinner party chic to having just one famous fan - Saddam Hussein, who allegedly liked to wash down a bottle of Mateus with a plate of barbecued spare ribs.

And while he may be a household name, the former Iraqi dictator was never really going to be seen as an attractive celebrity endorsement of sweet pink wine.

But while Saddam's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in the past year, rosé wines have undergone an astonishing revival, retailers have revealed.

Sales at Tesco - the country's largest vintner - have risen by 54 per cent, year on year. While supermarkets traditionally see a slight blip in rosé sales during the summer, when it is bought for barbecues, this year the increase has been throughout the year.

A spokesman said: "It has been quite phenomenal and a real surprise. This summer has not been that great weather-wise but sales of rosé have continued to go up. It seems to have lost its naff image and is making a real comeback."

Market analysts say rosé is increasingly bought by a new generation of younger drinkers who do not remember the corny adverts or the ubiquitous Mateus bottles as lampshades in suburban restaurants.

American wines also use the term "blush" rather than rosé, which has further divorced the brand from its old image.

"The quality of the wine is much better now, with full-bodied versions from places like California a world away from the slightly sweet rosés that people drank 30 years ago," the Tesco spokesman said. "Now we are seeing excellent New World rosés that are more like light reds."

The company refuses to give exact sales figures but it is now doubling its range of rosé wines from 15 to more than 30.

Such has been the turnaround in the fortunes of rosé, that last year saw the setting up of the country's first wine company solely dedicated to selling the variety.

Devigne Wines sells 15 different French rosés via the internet and mail order, and has seen sales soar by about 50 per cent over the past 12 months.

Director Mike Robertson said: "We could see that there was rising demand for good quality rosés and that demand seems to be increasing all the time as people realise just how good some of the varieties are."

He added: "Still the most difficult thing is fighting that negative image left over by Mateus Rosé.

"Some men tend to think it is a bit unmasculine to be seen drinking pink wine but when they taste it, they often change their minds. A lot of rosés from the past were pretty awful and are associated with things like Black Forest gateau and prawn cocktails. That is beginning to change."

Devigne Wines sell bottles of rosé which at the top end of the range cost more than £10 a bottle, while Tesco's best selling brand is a Blossom Hill White Zinfandel from the US.

With Chardonnay's popularity fading and young drinkers brought up on brightly-coloured alcopops, the rosé revival appears to be in full swing.

Contrary to popular opinion, rosé is not made by blending white and red wines.

Original production methods mixed black and white grapes at the fermentation stage of wine making to produce the pink hue.

Newer processes, preferred by the New World wine makers in places such as California, put black and white grapes through the fermentation process separately, and then mix them later.

In Provence, considered the capital of rosé wine making, black grapes are exposed to strong sea winds to make their colour leach away, creating a completely natural-coloured pink wine.

But the old-style rosés are still around. Despite the fact that its distinctive bottle derives its shape from the goat's bladder originally used to carry the wine, Mateus Rose, from Portugal, is still Tesco's sixth best seller in its range.

Award-winning wine writer Phillipe Boucheron believes a combination of changing tastes, health reasons, and good old fashioned economics had overcome rosé's dated image.

"It's very much fresher, fruitier and luscious and has therefore got more character than white wine," he said. "There has been a big move towards drinking red wine because it is healthier so the time was right for rosé."