WHILE OTHERS MAY ponder more serious matters, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about rosé Champagne. Specifically, I’m wondering why wine drinkers don’t love it more than they do. Nielsen marketing statistics show that sales of still rosés increased by 42% this past year and sales of sparkling wines overall were up by 30%. Rosé Champagne sales, meanwhile, barely moved, increasing just 6.4% over the year before.
Price may be a factor. Even basic non-vintage rosé Champagne isn’t cheap. I’ve found few good bottles under $ 40. Rosé Champagnes are also in shorter supply since most Champagne producers focus on their basic brut and make a little rosé on the side. According to the Champagne Bureau, USA, just over 3.5 million bottles of non-vintage rosé Champagne were shipped to the U.S. in 2017, compared to over 17 million bottles of “regular” non-vintage brut. Rosé Champagne accounted for just 15.6% of all Champagne shipped to the U.S. that year.
If more drinkers could be convinced to pony up a few extra dollars and look a bit harder, I’m convinced they’d find a rosé Champagne to love. There are so many reasons to—starting with their festive bubbles and their color, which ranges from salmon to copper to peach and even dark red. A good rosé Champagne shimmers in the glass.
Rosé Champagne is also great with food, thanks in part to the fact it’s a blend of red and white. It’s refreshing and crisp like a white wine but also richer for the addition of still red wine to the sparkling white. Most rosé Champagnes pair easily with a wide range of fare. Suggested pairings I’ve seen include cherries, salmon, lobster and lamb.
“ ‘The notion that rosé Champagne isn’t serious is about as common as the misconception that it’s sweet.’ ”
Victoria James, partner and beverage director of Cote restaurant in New York and author of “Drink Pink,” a book dedicated to rosé wines, calls rosé Champagne “uncanny” when it comes to pairing with food—though she’s faced plenty of doubtful diners in her career. One recent guest who eschewed her pink bubbly suggestion said, “No, I think we will drink wine tonight.” The notion that rosé Champagne isn’t serious is about as common as the misconception that it’s sweet. The same fallacies dogged still rosé for many years but have, finally, been largely debunked.
There are actually all kinds of rosé Champagnes, from slightly sweet to extremely dry depending on the dosage (sugar added to the final blend). Some rosé Champagnes are fairly lean and high in acidity—light and bright. Others are big, rich and creamy. It depends on where the grapes are sourced, the proportion of white to red, the winemaking process and the style of the Champagne house.
Rosés can be harder to make, according to Alexandra Liébart, export manager of Liébart-Régnier, a small family-owned Champagne house in Baslieux-sous-Châtillon. A special tank is needed to macerate the red wine that goes into rosé, she explained. Her father, Laurent Liébart, the winemaker, makes two rosé Champagnes: one a skin-contact wine (made with white grapes macerated or fermented with their skins, like a red)—unusual in Champagne—the other a blend. I tasted the blend, combining mostly white wines (from various vintages) with 10-12% red wine (Pinot Noir) that’s de-stemmed and macerated before going into the wine.
The Liébart-Régnier Brut Rosé́ was one of my favorites of the 10 wines I purchased for my tasting. I narrowed my selection to non-vintage wines $ 50 and under. These ranged in character, style and packaging. (The Piper-Heidsieck rosé stuffed in pink neoprene and tied with a red bow, though a favorite of some tasters, didn’t exactly convey vinous seriousness.)
The wines varied in color, too—from the palest peach to dark red. In the latter category, the Laherte Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut non-vintage wine ($ 50) was closer to a red wine with bubbles than a rosé. It was an outlier in style and in its grape: earthy, funky Pinot Meunier, long considered the runner-up to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two star Champagne grapes.
And yet the Laherte Pinot Meunier wine is the company’s best-selling Champagne, according to Whitney Schubert, French portfolio manager for Polaner Selections, Laherte’s New York-based importer. It’s a particular favorite among New York sommeliers, who liked its very dry and vinous style, said Ms. Schubert. I admired rather than loved the Laherte. It was perhaps the only rosé Champagne in my line-up that would pair well with beef, thanks to the rich, earthy profile of the Pinot Meunier.
I preferred the rosé Champagnes that were flowery and juicy and—dare I say it—fun to drink, such as the Pierre Moncuit Non-Vintage Brut Rosé ($ 40). This small producer, one of my favorites, in the Côte des Blancs region of Champagne, always over-delivers in terms of price and quality. The majority (75%) of their delicate, charming rosé Champagne is Chardonnay sourced from grand-cru vineyards and Pinot Noir from Bouzy, a Champagne region famous for red grapes.
The lighter, creamier Champagnes resonated the most with the group of friends who tasted with me. They included both rosé Champagne lovers and skeptics. “This is the way rosé Champagne should taste,” declared my friend Roberta when I poured her a taste of the Alfred Gratien Non-Vintage Brut Rosé ($ 45), long one of my favorites. Alfred Gratien cellar master Nicolas Jaeger described the style as “fruity and easy to taste without forgetting the complexity of Champagne.” I’d say that’s a pretty apt description of his crisp, floral wine, a blend of half Chardonnay with the balance divided between Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Other favorites included the well-balanced, fairly light-bodied Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Non-Vintage Brut Rose, which at $ 37 was also a very good deal. “It’s my house Champagne,” my friend Lori declared. The Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial ($ 45) was pleasantly fruity, easy to drink and decidedly pink—definitely better with food than by itself.
Perhaps with Valentine’s Day so close at hand, even rosé Champagne doubters will be persuaded to give the wines a try. After all, as Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France once observed, “Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.” Her Champagne of choice must have been rosé.
OENOFILE / Easy-to-Love Non-Vintage Rosé Champagnes
1. Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Non-Vintage Brut Rosé $ 37
A high-quality cooperative makes this fresh, fairly light-bodied rosé from a base of their basic brut non-vintage Champagne plus 16% red wine composed of Pinot Noir and Meunier.
2. Alfred Gratien Non-Vintage Brut Rosé $ 45
Elegance is the byword of the Alfred Gratien Champagne house and also an accurate description of this wonderfully floral rosé made with red grapes from the Bouzy region in Champagne.
3. Pierre Moncuit Non-Vintage Brut Rosé $ 40
This house lies in the grand-cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, in the Côte des Blancs. This lovely, refined rosé with red fruit aromas is made from 75% grand-cru Chardonnay; the balance is Pinot Noir from Bouzy.
4. Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial $ 45
This juicy rosé is classified dry, but at 9 grams dosage, it’s softer and rounder than some. A blend of mostly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with up to 20% Chardonnay, it’s rich enough to match with lamb or beef.
5. Liébart-Régnier Brut Rosé $ 45
A family-owned house in Champagne’s Vallée de la Marne produces this pretty, vibrant, very drinkable rosé from Pinot Noir and Meunier plus Chardonnay from different years to give it complexity and richness.
Email Lettie at email@example.com.
Corrections & Amplifications
A photo with an earlier version of this article showed the incorrect bottle of Alfred Gratien Non-Vintage Brut Rosé. (February 7, 2019)