Rosé Champagne for summer drinking
In his book, The Pleasures of Life, Sir John Lubbock wrote this. “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”. To which I add, “especially with a bottle of Rosé Champagne and two glasses.”
The popularity of Rosé Champagne has fluctuated ever since Veuve Cliquot made the first one. Pink fizz symbolises decadence, hedonism, and romance. For many years it wasn’t made by the majority of Champagne producers, not even by all the big names. Today, Rosé Champagne accounts for a valuable 10% of the total Champagne market. Since the early noughties, it has become an essential in the range of nearly every Champagne House.
Rosé Champagne varies in diversity and quality
However, Rosé Champagne is a diverse category that also varies widely in quality. Too often it’s just froth. Those taste like they are an afterthought. Thankfully, there are some brilliant examples.
Making Rosé Champagne well is rather different to other Champagne styles. Champagne can include three grape varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Some of the Pinot grapes are used to give this wine its colour.
Making Rosé Champagne needs additional steps in the process and that presents other winemaking challenges. Unlike all other European rosé wine, Rosé Champagne is allowed to blend of red and white base wines. In fact, most are. A small portion of the Pinot is used to make a still red wine. It’s blended with the other white base wines before the second fermentation in the bottle.
The other way to achieve pinkness is with brief skin contact with the Pinot grapes, known as saignée. It makes a pale pink juice which is harder to control consistently. Either method can make great, or mediocre wine.
Not every house has the quality Pinot juice necessary unless bought on the open market. Dealing with red wine is also a different viticultural and winemaking proposition. It needs different equipment, knowledge and skills. The red wine component will contain tannins and pigments from the grape skins. It requires different fermentation, maturation and dosage.
The desire is to obtain a pink colour, texture and additional flavours. A harsh or disjointed wine may result. It’s certainly insufficient to take the usual House NV blend and add some red wine!
Different Houses also use different proportions of Pinot. Some are 100% Pinot. Others include a majority portion of Chardonnay to retain elegance and finesse.
Rosé colours range from delicate onion-skin, through salmon to dark pink. Flavours tend to be of red berries. Some have darker tastes like cherry. Others would be hard to distinguish from their white counterparts if not for the colour. Styles can range from delicate and nuanced all the way to the muscular and powerful. Now throw in those leesy brioche or biscuit flavours and the variation in using reserve wines and dosage. Most are Brut NV, though there are vintage and prestige wines. No wonder Rosé varies widely.
The Champagne Experience Tasting
This year there was an opportunity to taste sixty examples at the Champagne Experience Day. It’s the annual trade Champagne tasting in London. Their new venue at Central Saint Martins was a significant improvement; with better natural light and much more room. It was able to show a separate Rosé section for the first time, predominantly Brut NV.
The tasting highlighted the amount of variation in this category – not just in style but quality. Champagne is a luxury, yet some wines were rustic, with oxidative notes or tannins. Others even had unattractive colours, hardly a good thing in a Rosé! Even some of the most prestigious showed that their Rosé is a far less attractive proposition than their white Champagne.
Fortunately, I found some lovely examples, including good value wines; I share my personal top ten from the tasting below. Stockists are indicative as some of the big Brands are widely available. Prices are correct at this time of publication, but look out for offers and seasonal discounts.
My top 10 Rosè Champagnes
Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rosé NV
For me, this is the benchmark, always the one to beat. Equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. 8-10% added red wine. Beautiful pale orangey-pink, brioche and jasmine scented, lovely red fruits and citrus. Chalky, nutty finish. Outstanding balance and finesse. Romance in a glass. Uncorked, £59.99
Charles Heidsieck, Rosé Réserve NV
Equal thirds Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. 33% reserve wines used. 6% added still red wine. Dark pink. Full palate, strawberry shortcake with maybe a little gunpowder and gingerbread.
Outstanding. Drinkmonger £49.99
Devaux, D de Devaux Le Rosé Brut NV
10% Pinot Noir, 90% Chardonnay. Racy. Delicate colour, filigreed citrus nose. Silky textured fruit, mineral freshness. A little toast but not a leesy style. Low sulphur, low dosage. Goes for a lightness of touch and gets it. DandD Wines £42.00
Drappier, Rosé de Saignée Brut NV
100% Pinot Noir, saignée method. Boudoir Pink. Floral, violets on the nose, creamy palate. Strawberry and cherry fruit. Like sparkling Burgundy. Oakham Wines £39.95
Lanson, Rosé Brut NV
53% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier and 32% Chardonnay. Lovely orange-pink. Bone dry, made in their high acid style, so very fresh. Worth keeping a year or two to improve and fill out. Subtle, etched quality to the wild-berry fruit. Majestic £29.99
Perrier-Jouet, Blason Rose Brut NV
50% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier and 35% Chardonnay. A perfect mid-pink colour, with copper glints. Fresh, great balance, full-bodied. Pomegranate mixed with strawberries. Very stylish and a bargain. Majestic £34.99
Pol Roger, Brut Rosé Vintage 2008
65% Pinot Noir, and 35% Chardonnay. 15% still red wine added. Dark salmon colour, tastes of summer pudding. Soft, creamy and great finesse. Will age gracefully I imagine and made with incredible care. A beautiful wine. The Wine Society £65.00
Thienot, Brut Rosé Brut NV
45% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 35% Chardonnay. 7% added still red wine. 45% is reserve wines from previous vintages. Salmon Pink, lighter style yet a big mouthful of red cherries and currants. A bargain, and worth seeking out, as is the rest of their range. £35.00 The Champagne Company
Laurent-Perrier, Cuvée Rosé Brut NV
100% Pinot Noir, using saignée method. Rose scented. Powerfully Pinot, with little in the way of yeasty notes. Intensity. Lea and Sandeman £55.95
Veuve Cliquot, Rosé Brut NV
48% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Meunier, and 30% Chardonnay. 12% still red wine added. 40% reserve wines used. Attractive copper-orange colour. High acid style. Pastry notes underpin red berry fruit. Excellent balance. Drinkmonger £38.95
Choose one of these for a sybaritic time this summer.
Meanwhile, If you want to explore other styles of Champagne, then take a look at my piece about Champagne Styles.