Well done to all who managed to stick to your dry January resolutions. Only one of our team at Clos & Cru attempted it this year, and she very nearly made it. (Charlie, your willpower is awe inspiring for having ‘slipped’ on merely one occasion!)
As February rolls around (and Valentine’s Day nears), our own thoughts are rolling around to rose champagne, as they do every year at this time. Honestly, what’s not to like? Flavours range from the merest hint of elegant raspberry to pastry and sweet spice. Not to mention the gorgeous range of colours – pale salmon to deepest rose.
But how do winemakers achieve that pink colour?
There are 2 main ways.
A.k.a. Blending. By far the most widely used method in Champagne. The winemaker produces a ‘blanc’ champagne in the normal way. Then, before the second fermentation in bottle, they blend in a portion of still red wine (anywhere from 5% to 20%) until they achieve the right colour and flavour profile.
The trick here is getting a still red wine of high quality. And in enough quantity. The Champagne is a northerly region, and the red grape varietals – Pinot Noir and Meunier – don’t always ripen to perfection. They’re also more prone to rot in humid weather than Chardonnay, the region’s white grape.
Charles Heidsieck’s non-vintage Rose Reserve – winner of a Gold medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards for 2016 – is a great place to start for anyone wanting to try an assemblage rose champagne.
A.k.a. Bleeding. In this method, the winemaker allows the skins from the red grapes to macerate with the juice for a short period before pressing. Just long enough to “bleed” some pink colour into the juice from the skins, but not so long as to make a red wine. Once the saignee is complete, the winemaker makes the champagne as normal.
The challenge is having the knowledge and experience to judge exactly how long to bleed the colour before the wine is even made. Contact with skins doesn’t just bring colour, it brings other aromas, flavours and textures. Too little contact, and the house style might not be achieved. A fraction too long, and vegetal or bitter notes could creep into the finished champagne.
Cristal Rose, the prestige vintage cuvee from Louis Roederer, is made with this method, and is a favourite of top champagne critic Richard Juhlin. The 1979 vintage still features on his list of all-time favourite champagnes ever tasted – at 99 pts out of 100.