by Ed McCarthy
If it’s true that just about everybody loves Champagne, this bit of wisdom seems to apply to rosé Champagne even more so. Nowadays, rosé Champagnes are more popular than ever. And why not? First of all, they’re pretty to look at in the glass, with their gorgeous shades of pink in bubbly form. And they’re also quite delicious, with floral aromas and flavors of wild strawberries, raspberries, and/or cherries. Less than ten years ago, rosés were a very small part of the Champagne business, accounting for only 2 to 3 percent of all Champagne sales, but today that figure has doubled to 5 percent. And some Champagne people are predicting that—based on the way it is now selling—rosés will be 10 percent of all Champagne sales in a few years.
Why did it take so long to catch on? One guess is that consumers didn’t regard any pink beverage as "serious." The other issue was the consumer’s perception that all pink wines were sweet, based on the availability of the tons of off-dry blush wines, white Zinfandels, etc. But, of course, rosé Champagne —always made in the brut style—is as dry as any white Champagne; it might be fruitier, but it’s just as dry. Today, a more educated wine consumer realizes that fact, and rosés are selling well, finally.
The first commercially-available rosé Champagne was made by Veuve Clicquot as long ago as 1777, five years after the company was founded. Pommery followed quickly with its own rosé, but many Champagne producers ignored rosés until modern times (post-World War II). Rosé Champagne has been a beverage of fashion; it became enormously popular in the 1850s, faded out in the late 1800s, but then was "in" again in the early 1900s. Now, all of a sudden it’s in fashion again. Prior to World War II, many traditional Champagne houses seemed to regard rosé Champagne as too "frivolous." But when even such serious houses as Bollinger and Krug began making rosé Champagne about 5 years ago, the final barriers came down. We once asked Rémi Krug why he decided to make rosé Champagne, and his answer was quick and simple: "Customers kept asking us for a Krug Rosé."
Today, most Champagne houses make at least one rosé, and many make two: a standard rosé brut (which can be either vintage or non-vintage) and a prestige cuvée brut (usually vintage). In fact, some Champagne houses, such as Laurent-Perrier, Billecart-Salmon, and Gosset, regard rosé Champagne as one of their specialties—and all three make excellent rosés. Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Rosé Brut, a non-vintage, is the largest-selling rosé Champagne in the world.
Rosé Champagnes are generally slightly more expensive than standard Champagnes, due to the additional cost of making them. They are produced in one of two ways: the more common method is to add a small amount of Pinot Noir wine to the Champagne cuvée; the more difficult skin-contact method with the base wine is used by a few houses. Rosé Champagnes come in all shades, from pale onion skin to topaz, copper, salmon, on up to deep pink. The trend today is to make paler-colored rosé Champagnes, which do tend to be dryer than the deep-colored rosés.
The two grape varieties that make up most rosé Champagnes are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A few houses also use Pinot Meunier, a black-grape cousin of Pinot Noir. Some houses, such as Ruinart and Billecart-Salmon, prefer a lighter, elegant style, and emphasize Chardonnay in the rosé blend; other houses, such as Laurent-Perrier, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, and Piper-Heidsieck, prefer a fuller, fruitier style and use predominantly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Although rosé Champagnes do age, most are at their best in the first 15 years of their lives. A few rosés, however, are renowned for their aging ability, such as Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Dom Pérignon Rosé, Krug Rosé, and Bollinger Rosé. (The price-savvy reader might note that all of these renowned agers also happen to be among the most expensive Champagnes.)
Besides being pretty to look at and also delicious, there is another compelling reason to drink rosé Champagne: it is a great food partner, better than other types of Champagne. Rosés are full-bodied enough even to complement meat dishes, such as veal, pork, ham, and even lamb (especially when it’s cooked rare). We would recommend rosés with most foods, but not with desserts—they’re too dry to pair up with sweet desserts.
Champagne Glasses & Serving Temperature
Two standard Champagne glass styles dominate these days, the flute and the tulip. Flutes, tall and thin, are very popular and perhaps more commonly used, but flutes are best only for young, less complex Champagnes, such as most newly-released, inexpensive non-vintage bruts. For vintage Champagnes, prestige cuvées, and all mature Champagnes, including older non-vintage bruts, we prefer a fairly large, tulip-shaped Champagne glass. A standard white glass will work, also. Complex and mature Champagnes need these wider mouthed glasses to express their aromas and flavors. By all means, avoid the so-called trumpet glass, which has a hollow stem.
Serve most Champagnes cold, at about 45° F. Champagne warms up rapidly in the glass, and its taste suffers in the process. For that reason, we advise consumers to freshen up their guests’ glasses with more Champagne, which they should be keeping cold, either in an ice bucket or in the fridge—but not sitting on the table, getting warm.
Mature Champagnes or complex, vintage Champagnes and prestige cuvées need not be served so cold; you cannot appreciate their complexity at really cold temperatures. For these Champagnes, we suggest fairly cold (50° to 53°F.) temperatures, but not very cold (45°) temperatures.
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