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Rosés Are Still Sparkling
By Ed McCarthy
Sep 15, 2015
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The other day my local wine merchant told me that almost half of his wine sales this summer came from rosé wines, both still and sparkling.  How things have changed!  As late as the 1990s, rosés made up a very small percentage of wine sales.

The figures for rosé Champagne sales were astoundingly low; they comprised between 2 and 3 percent of all Champagne sales at that time.  Today, rosé Champagne sales have quadrupled, to 10 percent of all Champagne sales, and are still rising every year.

The change in the popularity of rosé wines, still and sparkling, began to take place around the turn of the century.  No one knows for sure why it happened.  I attribute it to a better-informed wine drinking population who realize that most rosés, including sparkling wines, are not sweet, are not frivolous, and can be serious wines.  White Zinfandel and blush wines in general still sell but are not nearly as popular as they once were.

I am recommending some California sparkling rosés and rosé Champagnes here that I believe are both good values and worth drinking.  First, California.

In general, California bubblies are distinctly fruitier and usually frothier than Champagnes.  California bruts, including rosés, are not made for the long run, with a few exceptions, but are primarily at their best in their youth.  California’s climate is distinctly warmer than the Champagne region’s, and that accounts for California sparkling rosés’ usual fruitiness.  I believe one reason for their greater amount of bubbles comes from the fact that we tend to open California sparking wines when they are young, certainly younger than Champagnes, whose non-vintage bruts typically age longer before being opened--let alone their vintage wines.

Recommended California Brut Rosé Sparkling Wines:

Roederer Estate Brut Rosé NV, $28:  Any discussion of great California bruts must begin with Roederer Estate.  Its delicately colored light salmon rosé is floral, elegant, and delicious.  For me, they are best buy in CA. bruts--both white and rosé.

Roederer Estate “L’Ermitage” Brut Rosé 2006, $65:  More full-bodied and complex than Roederer Estate’s NV, but still delicate, L’Ermitage Rosé is one of the few CA bruts that ages well.  A truly great wine, even at $65.

Schramsberg Brut Rosé  2012, $35-$40:  Amazing improvement in all Schramsberg sparkling wines under owner Hugh Davies’ watch.

(Schramsberg’s "J. Schram" Brut Rosé, although very fine, is not recommended because it is too expensive--over $100.)

Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut Rosé, “Cuvée  de la Pompadour,” $33:  Carneros, owned by Taittinger, is making a stylish rosé, well-priced.

Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé NV, $35:  Domaine Chandon’s premium bruts, the Etoile white and rosé, are clearly their best sparkling wines.  Its stylish Etoile Brut Rosé continues to be one of California’s finest rosés.

*       *       *

Fifteen plus years ago, two Champagne houses, Laurent-Perrier and Billecart-Salmon, were doing a brisk business with rosé Champagnes.  Both of these houses had made rosé Champagne a specialty.  Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Rosé Brut, sold for about $35, but often was available for less.  At that time, Laurent-Perrier’s Rosé, made in a fruity style, was the largest-selling rosé Champagne in the world.  Billecart-Salmon, a considerably smaller house than Laurent-Perrier, made a lighter-bodied, delicate rosé that was a very large part of their Champagne sales.  It sold then for about $40.

Then the rosé Champagne boom hit.  Laurent-Perrier couldn’t make enough.  For a while, Laurent-Perrier’s Rosé Champagne became difficult to find.  Today, Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Rosé Brut sells for $78, $37 more than its white Brut NV, and it is no longer the biggest-selling rosé (Moët & Chandon’s NV Brut Rosé Imperial, $58, is).  Today, Billecart-Salmon’s NV Brut Rosé sells for $87!  Neither Laurent-Perrier nor Billecart-Salmon makes my recommended rosé Champagne list today.

True, rosé Champagnes have always been slightly more expensive than standard NV white Champagnes; they are costlier to produce.  You should be prepared to pay $10 to $15 more than the standard NV brut.  But why buy them at all, you may ask?  They are pretty to look at, quite delicious, and usually more full-bodied than other Champagnes, making them ideal dinner companions on many occasions.  From my general observation over the years, many women tend to love them, but more and more men, including me, have become fans.  Actually, I was always a fan, from my first experience--a 1974 Cristal Rosé, a legendary Champagne from a very mediocre vintage.  It was terrific!

Here are some of my favorite rosé Champagnes, listed alphabetically (plus five Prestige Cuvée Rosés listed below this group, when money is no object):
Recommended Rosé Champagnes:

Delamotte Brut Rosé NV, about $77:  I love the subtle, delicate style of this very dry rosé.  Shares vineyards with Champagne Salon (both owned by Laurent-Perrier).  Very fresh and delicious.

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve NV, $62 to $69:
  Lighter and more floral than Charles Heidsieck’s typically robust style, this rosé is a delight.

Henriot Brut Rosé NV, $59 to $63:  Henriot’s refined, elegant style shows well in its sublime rosé.

Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Rosé Brut NV, $65:  Light-bodied, subtle delicate strawberry flavors; the perfect aperitif rosé.

Pascal Doquet Brut Rosé Premier Cru NV, $50 to $55:  This grower-producer represents a terrific value for a top rosé.  Located in the Côte des Blancs; one of the rising stars in Champagne.

Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 2008, $64 to $69:  Louis Roederer’s 2008 Brut Rosé is one of the best rosés I have tasted in years.  Lighter-styled than usual, it is utterly delicious. Look for the 2008 vintage.

Note that most of the rosé Champagnes above are non-vintage.  It’s just easier for producers to make an NV rosé than a Vintage rosé.  One favorite grower-producer Champagne I omitted from the above list is Georges Laval’s Brut Nature Rosé; it’s exquisite, and has no dosage--but it sells for about $120 and it’s difficult to find.

Five Recommended Prestige Cuvée Rosé Champagnes:

Prestige Cuvées are the best, most expensive Champagnes a producer makes, and the rosés, made in small quantities, are especially expensive.  They are for real celebrations in your life, or when someone else is picking up the check.

Bollinger La Grande Année Rose 2004, $190 to $195:  Technically, not a Prestige Cuvée (Bollinger states they don’t make Prestige Cuvées; another version, “All of our Champagnes are Prestige Cuvées”).  But since it is priced like a prestige cuvée, I list it here.  Bollinger does make truly great Champagnes; they got into the rosé Champagne business quite late, but they already are one of the stars.  I was awe-struck by the powerful, complex 2002 Bollinger Grande Année Rosé I drank.  It was breathtaking.  The 2004 is almost as good.

Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé 2002 (Moët & Chandon), $325 to $350:
  DP’s 2002 is the best rosé it has made in some time.  The question is whether it is twice as good as Dom Pérignon’s white 2002, because it is twice the price.  It is a fantastic rosé, however, that will live for decades.

Gosset “Célébris” Rosé Extra Brut 2007, $300:  Elegant and yet powerful, the delicious, super dry Gosset Célébris 2007 should be more well known.  One of the oldest Champagne Houses, and one of my favorites.  A Champagne to seek out.

Krug Rosé NV, $280 to $300:  Like Bollinger, Krug has no “official” prestige cuvées, stating that all their Champagnes are prestige cuvées.  And in Krug’s case, they might be right!  Krug’s Rosé sets the bar high for other rosé Champagnes.  It is worthy of contemplation, so complex and exquisite.  And like all Krug Champagnes, it will age for decades.  But why wait?

Louis Roederer Cristal Rose, 2004 or 2006, about $500:  Louis Roederer does not make much Cristal, and only 5 percent of Cristal is made as Rosé.  That might explain the price.  But again the question remains, why buy Cristal Rosé when you can buy Cristal white at half the price?  Cristal Rosé is one of the greatest Champagnes--make that wines--in the world, but so is Cristal white.  But, ah, the rarity factor for the Cristal Rosé.  I have been fortunate enough to taste this ultra sublime Champagne a few times.  It will be a really big celebratory occasion when I drink my one Cristal Rosé (a 2002) left in my cellar.

If I have succeeded in this column, you should have an urgent desire to drink a good rosé sparkling wine or rosé Champagne very soon.