Rosé Champagne is in fashion.
That’s what Ed McCarthy, author of “Champagne for Dummies,” told a recent gathering of the Wine Media Guild, a group of scribes who gather monthly in Felida restaurant in New York City to sample wines and lunch.
Indeed, according to Drinks Business magazine, U.S. rose Champagne sales rose 50 percent last year – despite a 20 percent price premium over non-vintage brut.
In some ways, it’s not surprising. Sales of till rosé wines have been rising, too, as tastes have changed from dense reds and oaky whites to lighter styles.
A decade ago, rosé Champagne accounted for only 4 percent of the total Champagne production and some houses did not make it, McCarthy said. Now, it represents 8 percent of total production and most producers have rosé sparklers in their portfolios. Annual sales haven’t dropped in a decade – despite the higher cost Perhaps, that’s due to a perception of exclusivity.
Rosé Champagne is the moniker for Champagne that’s been tinted pink by the addition of pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes or wine. Sometimes, these wines informally are called ‘pink’ Champagnes. Chardonnay is the only other grape permitted as a component of Champagne. A touch of red wine can be added to an existing white cuvee that’s been made with chardonnay or another less-used method, called saignee, may be used under French wine making rules. In the method called saignee — French for “bled,” the free-run juice of the red grapes is run off or bled from a batch of crushed grapes after a short period of maceration or skin contact.
That addition of red wine does more than color the wine. Rosé Champagnes tend to be more full bodied than others, McCarthy said, and, as a result, they go well with food—entrees. They do not, however, work with desserts, because they are dry. And there’s more red fruit character — berry aromas and yeasty meaty flavors — identified in the wine.
For Guild’s December gathering, McCarthy curated a tasting of 15 impressive rosé Champagnes, including 10 non-vintage bottlings and five vintage bottles. The prices for the wines ranged from $48 to $300 a bottle. I enjoyed wines at all price points, but I must admit my top pick was the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé, the priciest bottle in the bunch.
The wines, listed in ascending order in terms of body:
Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé Premier Cuvèe NV. $70. A blend of about 85 percent pinot noir and 15 percent chardonnay, this wine was pale in color, almost golden, completely dry with delicate red fruit notes. McCarthy described this as the driest of the 15 wines sampled.
Ayala Brut Rosé NV. $48-$54. The only wine on the list for under $50, it was made from 53 percent Chardonnay and 47 percent pinot noir (partly from old vines). A blend of premier and grand crus, McCarthy noted that Ayala is a corporate sibling of Bollinger, though the wine is different in style. Salmon hued, I liked the yeasty notes and light berry/cherry flavors. A good buy.
Henriot Brut Rosé NV. $60. Mostly pinot noir with some pinot meunier, vinified as red wines, and then blended with chardonnay. Delicate fresh-tasting wine with berry notes. McCarthy described it as an elegantly styled wine from a little-known producer.
G.H. Mumm Brut Rosé NV. $70-$75. Salmon hued, 12-14 percent pinot noir. Quite fizzy, dry with hints of berries.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Brut Rosé NV. $70-$80. Made from 100 percent pinot noir using the sagnee method, this salmon-colored wine, aromatic with floral and red fruit scents, first was produced in 1968 and now is the category benchmark. It is aged at least four years and offers yeasty notes of biscuits and hazelnuts with juicy red berry and cherry flavors.
Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé NV. $60-$65. McCarthy noted that 30 percent chardonnay has replaced pinot meunier in the blend which contains 70 percent pinot noir. The wine spends three years on its lees. Cherry-pink hue with berries on the nose and biscuit and berry and cherry notes on the palate. Crisp finish. A good buy at $60.
Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé NV. $62-$75. Gratien is not a household name, McCarthy said, adding that the wine is aged in old barrels. It’s 45 percent chardonnay, 4o percent pinot meunier and 15 percent pinot noir. Light pink color with a great fizz, dry with notes of red fruit.
Gosset Brut Rosé NV. $70-$80. Mainly chardonnay (58 percent) and rested on its lees for four years, this salmon hued wine was mouth filling, quite dry with notes of fruit and dough.
Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 2007. $65-$70. This wine by Louis Roederer, a specialist in pinot noir, contains 67 percent pinot noir. Pale pink in color it delights with notes of almond and tart fruits.
Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rosé 2004 $180-$200. Copper salmon in color, this limited production, 100 percent pinot wine needs more time to develop, said McCarthy. Nevertheless, it offers fruit and nut flavors.
Perrier-Jouët Cuvée Belle Epoque Rosé 2004. $300. This grand cru chardonnay-dominated wine, McCarthy said, is the “epitome of elegance.” The most expensive of the group with six years of aging, it was my favorite of this group. Pale salmon in color and richly textured, it offered a delicate blend of tart fruit and biscuit flavors with lively acidity.
Moët & Chandon Brut Rosé 2002. $80. From the largest producer of Champagne and a great vintage, this salmon tinted wine is quite dry with hints of fruit. McCarthy opines “it just needs time.”
Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2004. $110. I’ve been a big fan of this house since I met Christian Pol Roger years ago at a dinner on Long Island. This salmon colored, pinot noir dominated wine has berries on the nose, a fruity palate and finishes quite dry, McCarthy said it “is really not yet ready to drink.”
Bollinger Brut Rosé NV. $85. “A huge pale-copper wine that is 64 percent pinot noir, I found this to offer hints of toast and to be extremely dry and austere.