In the world of rosés, the category that has outstripped all the others is sparkling pink, writes Elizabeth Gabay as she tastes some exceptional examples
The rise of rosé over the last decade has attracted vast investments in Provence and media attention across the globe. Within the rosé world, one category has outstripped every other in terms of volume growth, value, and buy-in from producers and consumers alike: sparkling pink.
Rosé Cava has gone from 8% of Cava volumes eight years ago to 10.5% today, while rosé Champagne has progressed from 10% to nearly 13% of volumes today. A few years ago, not one single bottle of rosé Prosecco was produced. Today, over 75 million bottles are sold every year. Prosecco, however, is not made in the traditional method, and while some producers such as Villa Sandhi make a good example, many to my mind are a touch too sweet. However, it is this very ripeness and soft creaminess which appeals to so many drinkers.
With a few exceptions, this increase in volume is accompanied by a marked increase in value as well. Pink Champagne commands anywhere from a 15% to 40% price increase over comparable white cuvées. Prestige and Vintage Champagnes are just as qualitative as the whites with subtle differences based on the percentage of red grapes. The length of maceration and the amount of ageing can contribute greatly to the different styles.
Traditionally, white base wines were coloured with a small quantity of red wine. As little as 5% of the total can provide a reasonable pink colour, albeit without much red fruit character. Increasingly popular, especially in Champagne, are what are known (erroneously) as “rosé de saignée”, but are in fact maceration rosés, whereby colour, and red fruit character is achieved by leaving the juice in contact with the skins for a certain length of time — eight days is not uncommon in Champagne. These wines are typically the darkest, most structural, most tannic. For the ripest grapes, direct press can result in a pale rosé, closer to a blanc-de-noirs.
“Rosé character” is one of the key qualities to look for in a sparkling rosé. Red berry fruit and crunchy, subtle tannic acidity are two key components while brioche notes from extended ageing should be just as present as they would be for a white or a blanc-de-noir. Bubbles come from a second fermentation in bottle followed by disgorgement, riddling and dosage, which can be made with red wine.
Champagne Drappier NV rosé, 100% Pinot Noir is classically pink declaring its style from the moment it is poured, boldly followed by an explosion of fruit: redskinned apples, sour cranberries, hints of darker fruit and wild strawberries. The weight of red fruit balances the acidity and very linear precision of the wine.
Au Bout du Chemin NV, Champagne Lebrun de Neuville Has a majority of Chardonnay at 60% with 25% Pinot Noir for the base wine, but 15% red wine is added with the second fermentation. Four years ageing under cork while on the lees, instead of the more usual crown cap, gives mature brioche and spice and enticing richness. Rich notes of strawberries and cream, pretty floral notes, vibrant crunchy red berry fruit and some long austere acidity.
La Foret 2015, Champagne Alexandre Bonnet 100% Pinot Noir. This powerful older wine from Champagne revels in slightly longer maceration to give a darker pink colour. Crushed strawberries and cream, crunchy cranberries, beautiful acidity, weight and structure, remind you that this is not far from northern Burgundy. A stunning gastronomic style with a hint of decadence. Sparkling wine from southern England has recently been receiving considerable attention by Champagne houses, and now it has received Californian investment. Largely made with the Champagne trio of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay English sparkling wine is similar to Champagne in quality but with the freshness of a cooler climate.
Coolhurst’s Lady Elizabeth 2019 is 100% Pinot Noir from West Sussex (south of London). 48 months on the lees gives classic bready notes before opening up to sweet ripe strawberries, cherries and raspberries with a touch of creaminess and crisp, fresh, crunchy redcurrants and vibrant leafy acidity.
Cava is both the generic name for Spanish sparkling wine, and somewhat confusingly, the Cava DO for sparkling wine around the town of Penedès in northwest Spain. Corpinat sparkling wines ara splinter group made up of smaller producers who broke away from the Cava DO, and are not an official appellation. Cava DO requires a minimum of 25% of red grapes in rosé, but some, like the following two, are 100% red varieties.
Trepat 2019, Agusti Torello Mata, Cava DO is made with the traditional red variety Trepat. Dark pink, the fruit reflects the hot summers of Catalonia with sweet, scented notes of dried flowers, honeyed apples and peaches before opening out to rich, ripe, red fruit. It has the characteristic herbal finish with crisp, crunchy red fruit acidity.
Intens Rosat 2019, Recaredo, Corpinat is made with varieties more normally found in red wine than in pink sparkling (Grenache and Mourvedre) revealing an atypical, but nevertheless exciting pink sparkler. Dark pink wine with intense rich red fruit and herbal notes. There is almost a hint of red wine structure which decanting (yes, that does work for sparkling wine) softens to bring out opulent, rich, spiced fruit with rich and silky length.
Portugal on Iberia’s Atlantic coast is increasingly producing some stellar sparkling wine. Quinta dos Castelres Extra Bruto 2020 from the Douro may come from Port territory, but this 100% Pinot Noir reflects both schistous soils and higher altitude vineyards to create a vibrantly mouth-watering wine with crisp red currant fruit and a saline finish.
The Tselepos family in central Greece have made a name for themselves for being Greece’s top producer of sparkling wine. Their Amalia NV is made with local red variety Agioritiko. A mere whisper of pink in the colour, followed by crunchy red berries, cherries, blackcurrants, mouth-watering tamarind sourness, creamy spice, floral notes and a saline twist on the finish.
Returning to northern France, one region with a big tradition of sparkling wine is the Loire Valley. Couly- Dutheil Brut de Franc NV comes from the region of Chinon, but is labelled vin de France. 100% Cabernet Franc with creamy toastiness and nuts from 24-months on the lees. The Cabernet Franc adds another dimension to the ripe red fruit with fresh leafy acidity and floral notes of roses and lavender. Perfect for a garden reception where vibrancy and prettiness go hand in hand.
Terroir, varieties, ageing — all contribute to widely varying styles of pink sparkling wine, from light aperitif wines to richly gastronomic. Prices also vary widely, so it is always worthwhile to explore outside of the big name regions. Even more so than still rosés, sparkling pink wine is extremely susceptible to light strike: UV-induced degradation that leaves the wine with a sulphurous, vegetal, reductive nose after as little as an hour or two exposed to sunlight — even on a supermarket or wine shop shelf. Lightstrike can be almost wholly avoided by bottling in dark glass. Be safe, aim to buy sparkling rosé in dark bottles.