Everything’s Coming Up Rosés

Champagne is back in the game. Since 2010, through 2011 and into 2012, Champagne sales are rising ‘€“ especially the rosés. When your customers ask about special parties, graduations and weddings, think pink. Explain that rosé champagnes are no longer sweet, and they are no longer frivolous. Remember Piper Pink? Its formal name is Piper Heidsieck Rosé Champagne.

Of the grapes used, chardonnay is the only permitted white grape in champagne, and it gives the acidity and forward fruit that lends longevity to the wine. The red pinot noir gives structure and depth, and the red pinot meunier adds richness and fruit. Because these rosé champagnes have an extra red wine component, they have deeper color and complexity, and go well with ham, lamb and beef. They can hold up to spices, and are versatile enough to serve with grilled fish.

The additional color can be achieved by two methods. The usual way is to take still red wine from different villages in Champagne, and add it to the fermenting wine, at the time of the assemblage, which is just before the second fermentation. Usually this is between 15% and 18%. The method is easy to control, and achieves consistency of color, year to year.

A more difficult process is fermenting all of the red grapes on their skins, (maceration), to pick up color. Few Champagne houses do this, but Taittinger, Louis Roederer and Nicolas Feuillatte are among those who do. This is more difficult because the colors lighten a little with each of the two fermentations, and red shades tend to drop out. Several years ago, when sparkling wine makers in Napa Valley were learning how to make these wines, they saw that deep colored juice turned paler after the first fermentation, and paler still after the second fermentation. This was all right if they were making a white sparkling wine, but not good if they were trying to make a rosé. Adding still red wines to the blend, instead of fermenting the juice on the skins to get the color, corrects this.

At a recent lunch at the Brasserie in New York City, where 13 rosé champagnes were served, only five were vintage-dated. Ed McCarthy, author of Champagne for Dummies, explained that the practice of making non-vintage wines dates to the days when rosé wines didn’€™t sell well, and it didn’€™t make much sense to produce a rosé that was vintage-dated, especially when the vintage champagne market is so small to begin with. It is much easier to use reserve wines, from previous years, in the blends, which means that these ‘€œmulti-vintage’€ wines cannot carry a vintage date. Houses like Ayala and Alfred Gratien only make NV Rosé Champagnes. And the houses that do make vintage-dated rosé champagnes, don’€™t produce very much.

At this lunch, where the bottles with vintages ranged from the deep and rich 1999 Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes d’€™Or Rosé, all appeared as if they could take more aging. The 2002 Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé had a great deal of length. You can safely reassure your customers that older vintages, such as 1999 and 2002, are still in great condition, and are delicious.

Rosé Champagnes Match with a Wide Range of Foods

Multi-Vintage Champagnes were in the majority. A new label, Barons de Rothschild Rosé, was fresh and crisp. G.H. Mumm Rosé had a lot of toasty character. These offset the flavors of assorted hors d’€™oeuvres, from smoked fish to mild cheese.

A lighter style, the Ayala Rosé Majeur was quite pale, and very, very dry. Henriot Rosé was rich, and the Alfred Gratien Paradis Rosé lived up to its heavenly name. These were perfect with a first course of crab cakes, and their acidities balanced a Mousseline Sauce.

With diver sea scallops and a truffled beurre blanc, a quartet of ros̩ beauties Рthe 2002 Pol Roger Extra Cuv̩e de R̩serve Ros̩ demonstrated how flavors can unfold, the floral 2004 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Ros̩ (formerly Fleur de Champagne) and a fuller-bodied 2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Ros̩ Рgave the course some weight, while a more youthful 2006 Louis Roederer Ros̩ added some fresh champagne aromas.

Four more champagnes stood up to a Filet Mignon. The Gosset Grand Rosé was perfumed, and quite majestic in a magnum. (Magnums, incidentally, are an opportunity for you to increase a sale.)

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve had the earthiness of pinot noir, and the Bollinger Rosé, always a ripe black grape style, showed a touch of wood from barrel fermentation. The 1999 Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes d’€™Or Rosé, according to chief winemaker David Henault, is made with 100% pinot noir, from only two red wine villages ‘€“ 50% from Bouzy, for power, and 50% from Riceys for fine aromas.

Retail Prices of these rosé champagnes range from $60 to $300. There seems little relationship between price and quality. All were perfect in their individual ways, no matter the cost.

While you may not be advising your customers to pair each course of a dinner party with more than one rosé champagne, you can see that it’€™s fine to mix and match, since rosé champagnes all go so well with foods, and your clients can be confident.

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