Far be it for me to perpetuate the idea that Champagne is only for holidays, business deals, weddings and World Series wins, but year-end festivities are upon us and drinking a good Champagne seems almost requisite.
To my mind there is none more celebratory than rose, which was once disparagingly regarded as “the pink stuff.”
Rose Champagnes are something of an anomaly in a region where the winemaker’s goal is traditionally to make as white a wine as possible, even when using black pinot noir grapes. In most regions, still or sparkling rose is made by macerating the red grapes at pressing to achieve color. Champagne is that rare appellation that allows roses to be made by blending in red wine, and today 90 percent of rose Champagnes are made this way.
Despite rose’s perky image, the top Champagne producers have for some time now put the same diligent efforts into their roses as into their blanc des blancs and prestige cuvees, and the astronomical prices can be about the same.
Still, there are currently so many superb roses in the market selling for well under $100 a bottle that the idea of spending $200 and more for a vintage rose seems a bit excessive.
Also, I find that so many of the top-of-the-line roses are deliberately made to be bone dry, which I think robs them of the component of fruit that is essential to any wine, sparkling or not. I found a 2002 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rose Brut ($170) more than austere, even a little soapy, and 2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rose ($225) drier than I recall in other years, without the blossoming fruit I’ve always loved about this marque.
I will admit to being in thrall to Perrier-Jouet’s 2002 Fleur de Champagne Brut Rose, whose signature style has always been to balance fruit and citrus flavors with enormous finesse. Unfortunately, it sells for $250-$300 a bottle.
At a media tasting at New York’s Felidia restaurant, with a first course of smoked salmon and radicchio and a second of risotto with seafood, I found a wide array of delectable bubblies, with the best of them priced well under $100. Here are some of my favorites.
Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Rose non-vintage ($47-$55)
Unlike the 2002 vintage cited above, this is a sleek, gorgeously constructed wine with perfume and ripeness. If this is a workhorse Champagne, it’s from very fine stock indeed.
G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut Rose non-vintage ($56-$63)
Good old Mumm-sy, the Champagne you always see in movies being splashed about. Its former predictability has evolved into admirable consistency in a style that has depth and celebratory sparkle.
Bruno Paillard Rose Brut Premiere Cuvee non-vintage ($60-$75)
The charm of this pretty rose is in its adaptability to so many foods, from lobster to chicken, from smoked salmon to light desserts, and its high color is a joy in itself.
Henriot Brut Rose non-vintage ($56-$60)
If you expect fruit in a rose, Henriot delivers gushes of it, which makes it a fine aperitif to kick off the evening and ideal with holiday sweets and cookies, even dark chocolate.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose Reserve non-vintage ($70)
Deep salmon-pink color married to floral, almost rose-like notes, with a good ballast of citrus in tandem with the fruit.
Louis Roederer 2004 Brut Rose ($65-$76)
Absolutely luscious and downright creamy. For me, this is the very essence of a rose Champagne.
Ayala Brut Rose Majeur non-vintage ($47-$55)
Since Bollinger bought this small estate in 2005, it has improved greatly with a light-bodied style in direct contrast to Bollinger’s staid, classic austerity. Though perhaps it doesn’t have enough body for afterwards, everyone should enjoy a glass or two of before dinner.
(John Mariani writes on wine for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)