The New Rosé

Of all the broad categories of Champagne, rosé is the one that could be considered a truly modern phenomenon. The house of Veuve Clicquot might be quick to challenge that notion, as they have been shipping rosé Champagne since 1775. But even they didn't make La Grande Dame Rosé until 1988, and the first time the house released a nonvintage rosé was 2006. The fact is, rosé Champagne was never really taken seriously by the Champenois, or by anybody else, until the latter part of the 20th century. Even as recently as 1967, Patrick Forbes wrote in Champagne: The Wine, The Land and The People, "The firms that do make pink Champagne seldom serve it to their guests.... Indeed, pink Champagne, in the Champagne district, is considered somewhat of a question délicate, and is best avoided."
   Today, rosé Champagne is a staple in nearly every Champagne producer's portfolio. It wasn't until the last decade or so, however, that rosé began to acquire a true identity of its own. For a number of Champagne's top producers, rosé has become an arena in which to explore new possibilities, and in doing so, they effectively have created entirely new styles of Champagne.
   Rosé Champagne derives its color in one of two ways: a small amount of red wine is added to white wine, or red grapes are macerated with their skins for a short period of time (the saignée method). Neither method produces an intrinsically superior wine. But the red wine route is less labor-intensive and makes it far easier to create a consistent color from year to year.
   Most producers do simply add red wine to their regular nonvintage brut. This can be perfectly acceptable when done well. Increasingly, however, the most interesting examples are being made by producers who create original base blends specifically for their rosés. Arnaud Margaine, in the village of Villers-Marmery, makes his deliciously vibrant rosé by blending 10 to 12 percent of red wine into a base of chardonnay. This chardonnay, selected for its extra liveliness and finesse, is completely different from the selection used for his nonvintage brut. At Bérèche Père et Fils, Raphaël Bérèche and his father, Jean-Pierre, create a unique blend for their rosé each year by blind-tasting the base wines in black glasses (so that they won't be influenced by the color or variety). "We're looking for vinosity and aroma," says Raphaël.
   Most producers who seek extra aroma and vinosity in their rosé, though, use the saignée method. While tricky and less predictable, it tends to create a wine that's more pungent and forward in its fruitiness, at least in its youth. A classic example is the rosé of René Geoffroy, an extroverted and unabashedly fragrant wine. It's released as soon as possible after the required minimum of 15 months' lees-aging, in order to maximize its fresh, berry-scented fruit.
   At their best, saignée rosés express not only a concentrated fruitiness, but an increased vinosity as well. Vouette et Sorbée has developed a cult following for its iconoclastic Saignée de Sorbée: Made from a single parcel of biodynamically farmed pinot noir, its intense flavors and resonant depth make it more akin to a light red wine than to traditional Champagne. Proprietor Bertrand Gautherot feels that a saignée is more naturally harmonious than a blend of red wine. "When you add red wine, you can always still taste the red wine afterwards," he says.
   Similar themes of harmony, vinosity and site expression can be found in Jacquesson's new rosé, Terres Rouges. The house discontinued making rosés in the late 1990s, as owners Laurent and Jean-Hervé Chiquet were not satisfied with the quality. During the 2002 harvest, they decided to try again, using a radically different approach. "We decided that if we're going to do a rosé," says Jean-Hervé, "it must be two things: first, a rosé de macération; and second, a selection from a single parcel." The Terres Rouges is one of only a handful of vintage-dated, single-vineyard rosés in Champagne, and one of rare character.
   Some Champagne producers seek to combine the bold expression of a saignée and the finesse of a blend. Louis Roederer makes both its vintage and Cristal rosés by starting with a saignée of unusually ripe, concentrated grapes. They blend this with a small proportion of grand cru chardonnay to give more elegance and delicacy to the final wine. Vilmart employs a similar philosophy to create its vintage-dated Grand Cellier Rubis, while L. Aubry Fils makes the delightfully idiosyncratic Sablé Rosé with a light maceration of pinot noir that receives a drop or two of red wine to adjust the color before it's blended with 40 percent of chardonnay.
   The newly unveiled rosé by Pierre Peters, an estate that up until now exclusively produced pure chardonnay Champagnes, approaches the saignée method from a slightly different perspective. Proprietor Rodolphe Peters wanted to make a rosé but didn't like how red wine interacted with his wines. "It's difficult to work with blanc de blancs and red wine," he says. "They don't blend well, and the tannins are always too dominant." His solution was to create a saignée of pinot meunier and chardonnay that are macerated and fermented together, producing a light-colored, aromatic juice that is then added to a base of chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The result is impressive, demonstrating that in today's rosé, there are no rules, nothing set in stone: The ideas of saignée and blended rosé are simply starting points for winemakers to begin exploring. So far, we've seen only the beginning of the possibilities. back to top