Legend has it that it was the widow (Veuve) Clicquot herself who created the very first blended champagne rosé 200 years ago in 1818. But the history of pink wines from the Champagne region most certainly extends back much further still, perhaps even millennia. Pigmentation from the dark skins of pinot noir and meunier must have been inevitable in primitive winemaking.
Against such deep history, it’s a surprise that rosé has not been a significant focus for Champagne over recent centuries. When Benoît Gouez commenced as chef de cave of the biggest champagne house of all 20 years ago, rosé comprised a minuscule 3% of its production. Today, one bottle in five of Moët & Chandon popped around the world is pink.
Champagne rosé continues its flamboyant growth curve, now representing more than 10% of
champagne exports. And yet its performance in the glass far outranks its sales success. In the front of each edition of The Champagne Guide, I list all my top cuvées of the year. In the current edition, rosé represents almost a quarter of my best of lists.
I pop a disproportionate amount of champagne rosé at my place. The presence of red wine not only heightens colour, aroma and character, but it also elevates the structure of champagne, making it more dynamic and more versatile on the table in sidling up confidently alongside all manner of diverse cuisines.
Of Champagne’s top markets, Hong Kong ranks a little lower than average in rosé sales, which comes as a surprise for a country that adores the other premium champagne categories of vintage and prestige. One in every 12 bottles of champagne popped in Hong Kong is pink, compared with a little more than one in ten globally. Champagne rosé is elegantly suited to Hong Kong’s diverse cuisine and warm climate, and deserves pride of place in every celebration.
Rosé champagne is made in the same manner as white champagne, with a subtle difference. Colour is generally achieved in one of three ways.
Most commonly, a ‘blending method’ (‘rosé d’assemblage’) is used, in which a tiny quantity of pinot noir or meunier (made as a table wine) is added – often only 5-10%, but sometimes as much as 20%. A rapid increase in demand for rosé has recently put pressure on supplies of quality red wine for blending in Champagne.
Less commonly, the addition of free-run juice from just-crushed red grapes produces the finest, palest wines.
A saignée or ‘limited maceration’ method produces darker, heavier wines through a quick soak on red grape skins. This might be for just a few hours or as long as a few days, and it is very much dependent upon the vintage. This makes rosé production particularly tricky, not only the precarious marriage of champagne’s acidity with red wine tannins, but in determining the desired depth of colour long before it is set. Yeast is a highly effective fining agent, leaching colour during both primary and secondary fermentations. So crucial is the timing of the maceration that legend has it that the first chef de cave of Laurent-Perrier, Champagne’s biggest rosé producer, slept by the tank to stop it just in time!
Rosé is the category poised for the strongest growth in Hong Kong in the years to come. Don’t miss this exciting wave!