Wine & Spirits
Toasting Your Valentine with Rosé Sparkling Wine
By Laurie Daniel
When I think of a wine that celebrates romance, I think of a sparkling one. And to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday that’s all about romance, I think of a bubbly with a hue reminiscent of roses and candy hearts—and I reach for the rosé.
For many people, early drinking experiences involved something called “pink champagne,” which isn’t real champagne at all, but a domestic product made by way of a bulk process. Perhaps it was served at a wedding reception and, if you were new to wine, it tasted pleasantly sweet and fizzy but gave you an awful headache later. If you were to taste the same wine now, you’d probably think it was ghastly stuff.
The best rosé sparkling wines—produced by the traditional méthode champenois—are fairly dry. They usually have more body than the more-common brut sparkling wines and a rosier color, which is usually achieved by blending a little still wine made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier into the sparkling wine.
That Pinot may have an added benefit. A few years back, research suggested that the pheromones in Pinot Noir are very similar to human pheromones, substances that act as a natural come-hither signal. (The movie Sideways may have spurred Pinot sales, but there’s a reason those consumers kept coming back for more.) Pheromones aside, there’s no question that Pinot Noir is a sensual grape. But I digress.
Erik d’Azevedo, a champagne specialist on the sales staff at Paul Marcus Wines in Oakland, says customers who buy rosé sparkling wines, “generally are people who are looking for something festive, something really special.” And Valentine’s Day, he says, is “one of our busiest times of the year.”
He notes that “brut rosés generally feature a little more red fruit in the blend … which gives them a little more weight and red fruit flavor,” such as cranberry, strawberry and cherry. And Arthur Perley, manager of Vino on Fourth Street in Berkeley, agrees. “More and more people are choosing rosé because they like more flavor,” he says.
The additional weight and fruitiness make rosé sparkling wine a good choice to drink with a meal. The people of Champagne are fond of saying that their wines can be drunk throughout a meal, not just as an aperitif. While they are technically correct—you can design a meal around any good wine—I find that many brut sparkling wines are simply overwhelmed by most foods. Rosé bubbly, however, has enough heft to stand up to a wider variety of dishes.
If rosé champagne and sparkling wines have a drawback, it’s price. “Rosés tend to be a bit more expensive,” Perley says. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy good rosé bubbly. One of my favorites is the non-vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rosé from California’s Anderson Valley. It’s $27 but often can be found for considerably less. Schramsberg is another California winery that makes some very good rosés; fall 2006 marked the release of the first rosé version of the winery’s top cuvee: J. Schram. Domaine Chandon’s newest release of its Étoile rosé is lovely, and it’s sealed with a convenient bottle cap.
From France, there are many good choices. Philipponnat makes a delicious Reserve Rosé that isn’t prohibitively expensive ($40-$50, depending on where you shop). Billecart-Salmon and Laurent Perrier produce reliable brut rosés that cost just a bit more.
When you get to the rosé versions of the top cuvées, prices climb steeply. Deutz makes a wonderful 1996 Cuvée William Deutz Rosé that costs around $150. The Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé is likely to cost nearly $250. And the rosé version of Louis Roederer’s iconic Cristal will set you back close to $500—if you can even find the wine.
Popping the cork on a $500 bottle of bubbly certainly is one lavish romantic gesture. But I suspect your sweetheart will understand if you decide to open something more in keeping with your budget and drink a toast to romance.