Wine Column: Getting serious about pink Champagne

01/28/2011 12:57 PM |

The wine world is a funny place, driven by trends, fashions and critics playing favorites. In the past few years, once-maligned rosé wines have soared in popularity. Now the affection for drinking pink has spread to the bubbly stuff. Although pink is often considered an indication of froufrou frivolity and girlish nonsense, in the case of Champagne — that is, Champagne from Champagne, France — pink wines are often more serious than white (blanc de blanc). That’s because they are made with a preponderance of red grapes: either pinot noir or pinot meunier or both (usually blended with some chardonnay, which is white, for balance).

The wine presses used in Champagne are different from those used to make still wine in other regions. The classic Champagne press is a broad, low wooden basket, designed to press as gently as possible, without releasing bitter phenolics from stems, seeds or skins into the must. However, when red grapes are pressed, even under the gentlest circumstances, the colored material in the skins is always somewhat astringent, even bitter. The more color in the must, the more astringent it is likely to be, since it is the colored particles that contain tannin.

Because most Champagnes are blends of several vintages, they are usually in the bottle long enough to soften the tannins of even the pinkest wines. Still, time does not diminish the extra structure and character that comes from the red grapes. Pink Champagne, when it is very dry, is considered a food wine. Although it may be used as an aperitif, it generally has enough substance to stand up to an entrée.

Champagne of any kind is customarily offered as a sign of interest, if not outright devotion, on Valentine’s Day. For serious romantic intent — of an intensity otherwise represented by a gift valued somewhere between, say, a box of Russell Stover chocolates and an engagement ring — why not ratchet it up with the serious pink stuff? At a recent Wine Media Guild tasting, I had the opportunity to taste a broad range of rosés de Champagne that would be suitable.

My first choice for a wine that anyone would love (including the lovelorn) was the Tattinger Comtes des Champagne Brut Rosé 2004. Dry, but very open, with lovely luscious fruit, Champagne expert Ed McCarthy called this one “a Wow wine.”

Even drier, with a slightly peachy aroma and an amaretto flavor, Ayala Brut Rosé Majeur was too tight for some, but I like a challenge and found it seriously alluring.

The Perrier-Jouet “Fleur de Champagne” Brut Rosé 2002 was sweeter, but subtle, delicate and fresh. It prompted one of the tasters to dash across the room for a refill, trumpeting his enthusiasm, “I’m getting more of that PJ — whooeee!”

My personal favorite for both style and stunning package design was the Bruno Paillard Rosé Brut Première Cuvée. It danced on my palate, fresh and delicious, with real purity — a true food wine.

If you have been avoiding Louis Roederer’s Cristal because it’s too trendy, don’t hold back from the Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 2004. Roederer deserves a devoted following for this exquisite wine that somehow combines refreshing minerality with a delicate foam and engaging complexity.

Another rosé that shows more complexity than fruit is the slightly nutty, vivacious Gosset Celebris Rosé Brut 2003. And the Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Reserve is even more complex — one of the most interesting and “serious” wines of the tasting.

These French Champagnes are pricey, ranging from $40 to $250. There’s an increasing number of Long Island producers making sparkling rosés, mostly from pinot noir, that are far less expensive (from around $15 to $40) and very tasty. On the dry, elegant side are Pugliese Vineyards’ “Blanc de Noir Nature” 2001, the Old Field’s Blanc de Noir 2005, and Wölffer’s “Noblesse Oblige” 2007. I guess the noblesse of the Hamptons was obliging since the Wölffer rosé is sold out. Also in a dry style, but distinctive, as it is made 100 percent from pinot meunier, not pinot noir, is Pindar’s delicious “Cuvée Rare” 2009.

For a rounder, fruitier sparkling rosé, try Martha Clara’s Brut Rosé, or the Sparkling Pointe “Topaz Imperial” 2007. Croteaux Vineyards, which makes only rosés, has a lovely “Cuvée Sparkle,” made in the tank-fermented Charmat process instead of the traditional bottle-fermented style, so its bubbles are more effervescent but no less exciting.

Finally, the Lenz Cuvée 2004, while not apparently pink at all, is made from 100 percent pinot noir. Put this one into a blind tasting against any of the aforementioned French Champagnes and you’ll have a hard time picking a favorite.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.



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