Wine critics’ opinions of rosé Champagne vary widely. Last year Jancis Robinson MW made the following comment: “My tastings suggest that a huge proportion of rosé champagne is a fairly cynical product that does not have any special positive attributes but merely ticks the visual box (sometimes only just) of being pink. In fact I would go so far as to say that the average quality of pink champagne is lower than that of the average white champagne, despite it being more expensive.” (Rosé champagne – the missing ingredient, JancisRobinson.com, 3 September 2011)
The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni has a far rosier (excuse the pun!) opinion of rosé Champagne. In a recent video showcasing grower Champagnes, Galloni commented that the addition of still red wine can bring “amplitude and warmth” to Champagne and metaphorically compared it to a “baritone voice that fills out the concert hall.” (Grower Champagnes – Part 1, by Antonio Galloni, eRobertParker.com, 8 October 2012)
Over the past decade, consumers certainly seemed to have developed a taste for pink. Imports of rosé Champagne to the UK, for example, have more than doubled in the last decade and it now constitutes 8.5% of all Champagne exports.
If last Wednesday’s Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala is any guide, the world’s top Champagne houses are definitely committed to making very fine examples of rosé Champagne. Vintage and non vintage rosé Champagnes were on show from Billecart- Salmon, Bollinger, Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot.
Typically, the NV rosé Champagnes command a 30 to 50% price premium above the non rosé bottlings. Why the price differentiation you may ask? Well it turns out that the Champagne houses have had to make a big investment in vineyards, equipment and techniques to secure and create the high quality still red wine needed for rosé champagne. As Robinson notes, making good quality still red wines is very different from making sparkling white wine.
With the exception of Laurent-Perrier, which produces their rosé using the saignée method of ‘bleeding’ colour from dark-skinned grapes, most rosé Champagne is made by adding up to 15% of still red wine to the white assemblage.
I had no trouble tasting my way through both the NV and vintage rosé Champagnes on show Wednesday night. Highlights included the Bollinger Brut Rosé, an extremely elegant wine laced with rose petal and strawberry aromas and flavours with wonderful depth and minerality. The NV Brut Rosé is 62% pinot noir (of which 6% is still pinot), 24% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier. Incidentally Bollinger only introduced a non-vintage rosé in 2008.
My friend Richard, who has a very experienced palate, thought that the sophisticated, fresh and flavourful Laurent-Perrier NV Brut Rosé was the best example of a house style of rosé Champagne. It’s 100% pinot noir and made using the saignée method as explained above. By the way, the bottle is gorgeous!
Value for money, my top pick of the night was the G.H. Mumm Brut Imperial Rose Champagne NV. The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh scored it 92 points. Here’s his excellent review:
Pale salmon colour. Aromas of strawberry, raspberry, brioche with a light caramel glaze and a wisp of smoke. On the palate soft and fine with flavours of fresh strawberry, redcurrant, spice and vanilla cream. It has gentle soft foamy bubbles and fresh clean acidity. Elegant and subtle. Good length of flavour too. A charming wine with excellent balance and drinkability. I’d buy this without hesitation.