Present a classic combination this Valentine’s Day: a long-stemmed rose and a rose’ champagne or sparkling wine in long stemware.
Rose’ champagne and sparkling wines make their splash every February 14th. They are more smiled at than savored, and flirted over than studied. In its contribution to this annual rite of amorousness, I offer a selection of these pinkish bubbly wines.
Champagne is different. It’s different because it must come for the Champagne region in France, 95 miles northeast of Paris; otherwise it’s not Champagne, it’s just a sparkling wine. It’s different because it must be made from any selection of three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, whereas sparkling wines can be made from any grape.
And it’s different because of its refined taste and cultivated image; no sparkling wine has the status of champagne.
The rose’ color of champagne is created by either adding pinot noir still wine before the second fermentation is done- the process that creates the bubbles- or by steeping the skins of pinot noir and pinot meunier in the juice before the first fermentation is started. Most Champagne houses use the first method as it gives them greater control over the outcome.
During the last two weeks, I tasted a range of non-vintage rose’ champagnes from lacy pink Pommery($75),with its delicate red berry flavor and mild acidity, to bold orangey G.H.Mumm ($75), filled with strawberry and citrus aromas and flavors. Pommery makes an ideal aperitif, and G.H.Mumm a menu mate.
Between those shades is opera mauve-colored Perrier-Jouet Blason Rose’($90), made mostly from pinot noir and pinot meunier. It will match the evening with its elegant body. Moet & Chandon, Rose’ Imperial($70)is pinot noir driven, delivering a pretty red-dish copper hue and dry, red fruit flavor. Laurent–Perrieronly makes non-vintage champagnes, or in its words, “multi-vintage”. Its Cuvee Rose’ ($100) is pure pinot noir and solely from Grand Cru vineyards. This remarkable bronze and copper-colored champagne is one of the few made from skin contact and is poured from a beautiful 17th century-style bottle. The Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose’ brings to life the words of the French writer Colette: “Champagne should not be drunk, it should be tasted. One should not swallow it greedily. One should taste it slowly in narrow glasses, in well spaced, thoughtful sips.”
Excellent rose’ sparkling wines come from California. Generally, they are fuller and more fruit flavored than Champagne. Schramsberg produces three brut rose’: J. Schram, Schramsberg, and Mirabelle. A week ago, I enjoyed the last two, with a preference for the 2006 Schramsberg brut rose’. Its 68 percent pinot noir and skin contact technique generates a poached salmon color, and watermelon and strawberry-like flavors. It has all the characteristics of a top-tier rose’ champagne except the price: $45. The Mirabelle is a bit fruiter and sweeter than I care for, but will appeal to some because of that, and for its price:$30.
Two other favorite California rose’s are Domaine Carneros, owned by Taittinger Champagne; and Mumm Napa, owned by G.H.Mumm Champagne. Both delicious sparkling wines are filled with California’s rich fruit flavors. Domaine Carneros ($37) reflects Taittinger’s elegant style and Mumm Napa ($25) is a brilliant bronzy rose’ with a distinct citrus aroma and flavor, and a very appealing price tag.
Two weeks ago, a surprise awaited me in a bottle of Francesco Drusian, Rose’Mari. From Italy’s Veneto region, this rose’ is pure pinot noir and not made in the Champagne method. It is produced in tanks, called the Charmat method; this is the way Prosecco is made, the Veneto’s sparkling wine. I like neither the method nor most Proseccos, but I was taken by the clean, fresh cherry flavor and small bubbles of the Drusian Rose’ Mari. It represents good value at $20.
The words of Brillat Savarin, the 18th-century French epicurean writer, are still timely for today, “Burgundy makes you think of silly things; Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.” Happy Valentine’s Day.