ROSÉ CHAMPAGNES AND OTHER ROSÉ SPARKLING WINES HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE IN STYLE
Not too long ago, pink champagne was a drink that appealed to giggly co-eds at sleepover parties, the occasional middle-aged CPA suffering from the seven-year itch, and Palm Beach divorcées with pastel-tinted poodles. True connoisseurs felt that it was too pretty, too flirtatious and, well . . . too pink to take seriously. But today, pink champagne's image has been transformed. Fittingly, it's now more properly known as rosé champagne. Quality is up, prices are high and demand is soaring. Being in the pink has never been so au courant.
Historically, the very first sparkling champagnes were rosy in hue—or, more precisely, the fawn color known as fauvelet in French—due to the slow pressing process, which allowed the must (unfermented grape juice) to pick up coloration from the skins. As techniques of pressing evolved and became quicker and more efficient, champagnes became less colorful until eventually, in the nineteenth century, they reached the golden tone we know today.
But even early on, champagne lovers appreciated the pinkish stuff. According to records still preserved in the Veuve Clicquot archives, Philippe Clicquot was the first vintner to market a rosé champagne, in 1775. Barbe Nicole Ponsadrin, Philippe's future daughter-in-law and later the celebrated namesake and grande dame of this famed house, would not be born for another two years.
Rosé bubbly is now the fastest-growing segment of the champagne sparkling wine market, and quality has improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. Demand for domestic rosé sparkling wines is also high, prompting American wineries to "rethink the pink."
Ironically, producers in the champagne region have been known to resist the growing demand for rosé. In the 1940s, Lily Bollinger put her foot down: "Champagne is white!" she declared emphatically, perhaps laying the groundwork for the company's motto, A Certain Idea of Champagne. But Madame Bollinger retired in 1971 and two years later Bollinger cellared its first rosé, released in 1976.
It takes an experienced palate to distinguish rosé champagne or other sparkling wine from the "regular" stuff in a blind tasting, but aficionados should be able to identify pink bubblies by their more pronounced strawberry-raspberry flavors and by their understated yeastiness. Even if you can't identify rosé on the palate, however, the color alone is enough to justify going for the pink. Rosé champagne is the special occasion wine par excellence and delivers its own special magic any time it's uncorked.
Wine scribes and other hopeless romantics have been striving for many decades to define the subtle range of color in rosé champagne. They've likened it to copper and to topaz; they've called it strawberry-hued and burnished; they've plundered the animal kingdom for comparisons such as oeil-de-perdrix (French for "eye of the partridge") and salmon-tinged. Still, no one has been able to capture in words the particular visual beauty of rosé champagne. It simply seems to transcend language.
Rosé sparkling wines are an esthetic and psychological pleasure and make excellent apéritifs, but there are some that can approach red wines in body and fleshiness, making them good choices for pairing with food.
"Rosé champagne is about fruit and freshness," asserts Richard Geoffroy, Cellarmaster at Dom Pérignon. "It's a sort of eternal youth." Maybe we're not so far from pink champagne after all.
THE TASTING PANEL's combined January-February print and digital editions have the results of our holiday tasting of 30 different rosé champagnes and other sparkling rosé wines.