Serious, frivolous: It's all in the pink

VINTAGE POINT

Checking out Champagne roses

December 03, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

Champagne rose is an oxymoron in a bottle: a truly serious frivolous wine. It is serious because it is, after all, Champagne. It hails from the greatest sparkling-wine region in the world, and it carries a price tag that reflects that heritage.

It's frivolous because it is, to one degree or another, pink. And while pink might look good on millions of flamingos and Reese Witherspoon, as a color it lacks gravitas. (Think now, when was the last time you saw Hillary in pink?)

Either way, you look at Champagne rose, it's a fascinating category of wine, with a palette of flavors distinct from the more conventional white sparkling wines of the region.

It is usually very dry and quite versatile at the dinner table. Only the terminally jaded could deny their visual appeal. Medical science has yet to determine its aphrodisiac qualities, but there is anecdotal evidence that it can enhance a romantic atmosphere.

Generally, Champagne rose is made by adding a small amount of red pinot noir or pinot meunier juice to the white base wine. In rarer cases, it is made by allowing brief contact with the red wine skins while the grapes ferment.

Champagne rose covers a wide price range from about $20 to more than $200 for a rarity such as Dom Perignon Rose (made in much smaller quantities than the white Dom).

This column's budget did not permit the tasting of that much-coveted wine, though in years past it has been exquisite. There are, however, quite a few Champagne roses on the market that merit a recommendation.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose ($67). Because it's oxymoron time, it would be only appropriate to describe this wine as a bargain luxury. Luxurious because the price is hefty; a bargain because is as fine or finer than many of the famous Champagne roses with prices in three figures.

It's a pale-pink wine with flavors and texture that are the epitome of elegance. It offers nuances of cherry, strawberry, rose hips, yeast and a dash of tangerine. It's a wine worthy of serving with a wedding proposal.

Nicolas Feuillatte Rose Premier Cru ($32). A deep shade of pink, this beautiful, full-bodied, bone-dry wine offers intense cherry and yeast flavors and a long, lovely finish. This wine can be served with a wide variety of foods, including roast ham or turkey.

Pommery Brut Rose ($40). This very pale wine has only the slightest blush of pink, and its hints of red-fruit flavors are very subtle. There's no denying the classic Pommery elegance and intensity, however. A salmon companion, perhaps?

Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Rose ($40). This clean, ripe rose is a bit on the fruity side, with more obvious cherry flavors than most of its kind. It still manages a good deal of elegance, complexity and charm, however. I find Moet wines variable, but this is one of this company's success stories.

Perrier Jouet Blason Rose ($48). The color of this pale-pink wine isn't very intense, but the impact on the palate is. The flavors are similar to the wine that follows, but the less-expensive wine has the smoother finish.

1997 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rose ($135). This is a very fine Champagne, but at its price it should be spectacular. And despite the pretty hand-painted bottle, it's not. Its orange-pink color is very appealing, and it has a deep yeastiness that few roses can muster. The cherry, strawberry and rose-hip nuances are there. Still, there's a bit of a hard edge, and the finish is a bit short for a wine at this price.

Paul Goerg Brut Rose ($22). Here's the real sleeper in this bunch. This little-known producer has crafted a bright orange-pink wine with fresh, vibrant, elegant flavors of cherry and strawberry and a clean, long finish.

G.H. Mumm Brut Rose ($42). This bright-pink wine is emphatically dry, with vibrant strawberry flavor and a pleasant toastiness. It's much better than Mumm's unimpressive Cordon Rouge.

Montaudon Grande Rose ($28). An unusually creamy texture is the distinctive feature of this deep-pink wine. It shows more fullness than elegance, but it's still identifiable Champagne and reasonably appealing.

Out of 10 wines tasted, there was only one that fell dreadfully short of the standard expected of fine Champagne. It was the Oudinot Cuvee Rose Brut ($22), a dilute, undistinguished, charmless wine that is no bargain even at a relatively modest price.

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