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. After all, pink fizz symbolises decadence, hedonism, and romance. Once, the majority of Champagne producers didn’t make it, not even all the big names. Despite this, nowadays Rosé Champagne accounts for a valuable 10% of the total Champagne market. Hence since the early noughties, it has become an essential part of the range for nearly every Champagne House.
Rosé Champagne varies in quality
However, Rosé Champagne is a diverse category. It also varies widely in quality. Too often it’s just froth, dull wines tasting like they are an afterthought. Although this may be true, there are some brilliant examples.
Making Rosé Champagne well is rather different from other Champagne styles. Champagne can be made from three grape varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It’s Pinot Noir that gives the wine its colour.
Making Rosé Champagne needs extra steps in the process and this presents other winemaking challenges. Rosé Champagne usually blends red and white base wines. Most producers use a small portion of Pinot Noir to make still red wine. This is added to the white base wines before the second fermentation in the bottle.
However, the other way to achieve pinkness is with brief skin contact with the Pinot grapes. This method is 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 colour factor
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.
Another key factor is colour. Rosé Champagne ranges from delicate onion-skin, through salmon to dark pink. Red berries are the usual flavours. Some would be hard to distinguish from their white counterparts if not for the colour. In addition, styles can range from delicate and nuanced all the way to the muscular and powerful. Most are Brut NV, though there are vintage and prestige wines too. No wonder Rosé varies widely.
The Champagne Experience Tasting
There was an opportunity to taste sixty examples at the Champagne Experience Day. The new venue at Central Saint Martins has better natural light and much more room than previously. As a result, the extra space meant a Rosé section was shown for the first time, predominantly Brut NV.
Indeed, this tasting highlighted the amount of variation in this category. This is not just in style or colour but in quality. Furthermore, Champagne is a luxury, yet some wines were rustic, with oxidative notes or overt tannins. Some wines even had an unattractive colour, hardly a good thing in a Rosé! Even some prestigious makers showed that their Rosé is a far less attractive proposition than their white Champagne. And it’s more expensive!
In spite of this, I found some lovely examples, including good value wines. Consequently, here I share my personal top ten from the tasting. The stockists listed are indicative, as some of the big Brands are widely available. Meanwhile, prices are correct at time of publication but look out for offers and seasonal discounts.
My Top Ten Rosé 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% still red wine added. Beautiful pale orangey-pink, brioche and jasmine scented, lovely red fruits and citrus. Chalky, nutty finish. Outstanding balance and finesse. This is 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. It’s 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. 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 any 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.
And if you like Rosé still wines, then here’s ten to try out.