What would the world be like without rose Champagne? I am convinced that it would be a much sadder place indeed. Curiously, as long as Champagne bubbly has been around (several hundred years) in fact pink champagne was produced quite sparingly up until the late 1970’s. Case in point, Veuve Cliquot only made their first Champagne rose only in 1977. However, since the 1980’s the demand for rose Champagne has taken off, and thankfully it appears that there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style of pink wine combined with high acidity also make for a very food friendly wine. But back to that gorgeous color..or more specifically..
Question: Why are some pink wines so much lighter, or darker than others?
Answer: There are two distinct methods for producing Rose Champagne.
I. Champagne by the addition of still red wine:
Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of vinification. More specifically, approximately 8-20% of a red still wine (often pinot noir from a well reputed red wine village such as Bouzy) will be added to the liqueur de triage. One exception to this rule is Ariston, who adds a touch of old vine (vieilles vignes) pinot meunier to produce their rose rather than the more conventional pinot noir. Champagne’s produced along such lines often display a lighter hue. (see above)
II. Champagne by the method of “Saignee”:
A second and less utilized method of production is known as Saignee. Here, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rose wine which is to leave the juice on the grape skins, and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French the verb “saigner” means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.
The resulting rose wine often exhibits a darker hue, and juicier more bold flavors. Some argue that rose Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, as they believe that flavor compounds are more organically integrated. Two such examples include: Laurent Perrier’s Rose and Fleury “Rose de Saignee”.
Below are two rose Champagne’s that I really enjoyed. Although I am a huge fan of bold and juicy Champagnes produced by saignee, both of these wines were produced by the addition of still red wine.
Wine: Taittinger Prestige
Composition: 30% Chardonnay 70% Pinot Noir
Sub-Region: Montagne de Reims
Geology/Soil: Topsoil composed of chalky rubble and clay. Subsoil composed of both Belemite chalk on upper slopes and Micraster chalk on lower slopes.
US Retail: $50
Food: carmelized salmon, poke tuna, tomato and cheese tarts, thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches.
Taittinger’s non-vintage Rose is one of my favorite Grande Marque champagnes. It’s delicate pink hue, creamy texture and subtle wild berry and spice notes always leave me waxing poetic for the opportunity to enjoy such a treat again soon. I was recently hanging out with one of my friend’s who graciously decided to open a bottle of “Tatty” rose that I had given her over a year ago. Wow, it was even better than when I tasted it upon release. Creamy, rich but still oh so delicate and pretty. Perhaps my experience gives added weight to the argument that rose Champagne that are made by the addition of red wine to the mix need additional time to integrate and express themselves fully than those made by the saignee method of vinification.
In an earlier post I referenced domaine L. Aubry Fils for their unusual production of a Champagne using “unauthorized” varieties. Well hidy ho, here they are again! This time the wine up for discussion is a rose from the glorious 1996 vintage that my good friend Kirk excavated from his vinous stash several weeks ago. The Sable (sab-lay) rose was first introduced in 1991 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the domaine. I found this very pale rose to be incredibly light and delicate, and with 10+ years of bottle age, the wine had taken on subtle hints of tangerine zest, ruby grapefruit and, dare I say this, saltine cracker? What an intriguing and most unusual wine. Thanks Kirk!