Nowadays just about every champagne maker offers a pink champagne as part of their range, so there’s no shortage to choose from. But how on earth do you go about choosing one rather than another?
Here are some tips to help you find the ones you like best.
The first thing to tell you is that pink champagne and rosé champagne are the same – just two different words for the same thing. So sometimes I’ll write rosé and sometimes I might put pink instead.
Next, did you know that rosé champagne can be made in two different ways, giving two very different results? It’s not a question of one being ‘better’ than the other, they’re just different.
To explain, let me start by telling you how still red and rosé wines are made...
Still red wines and still rosé wines are made by pressing black grapes and then letting the skins soak in the juice. The colour in the skins slowly seeps into the juice turning it darker and darker over time. If you leave the skins in the juice for only a few hours, you’ll get just a touch of pink colour in the wine. If you leave them soaking in the juice for a lot longer, you’ll end up with a really dark red, almost black wine.
If you make rosé champagne in this way it’s called ‘Rosé de Saignée’ (pronounced senyay which means to bleed, in French – the colour from the black grapes ‘bleeds’ into the juice)
It’s really tricky to get this process just right. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing you can leave the grapes in the juice too long and end up with too much colour and worse, an astrigent taste in the wine that comes from the tannin in the skins and stalks – this may be fine in red wine, but it’s not what you want at all in champagne!
When you get it right, mind you, you’ll end up with a lovely, rich-coloured rosé champagne, full of those luscious red fruit flavours that you can find in good red wines: raspberries, cherries and blackcurrants with none of that bitterness.
Laurent Perrier Rosé is made like this, so that gives you a benchmark, but there are many other terrific examples to choose from amongst the lesser-known champagne makers
Not everyone likes this style. Some people find rosé de saignée just too fruity and ‘full-on’, but if you’re tempted to try some then next time you’re about to buy a bottle of rosé champagne make sure to ask your wine retailer if it’s a rosé de saignée. He/she should be able to tell you.
By the way, big, bold rosé champagne like this goes really well with a whole range of foods, even quite strong-flavoured red meats that you’d probably never think of eating with champagne.Try a rosé de saignée with pigeon, or duck, or lamb – it’s terrrific and also that little bit special!
Next up is ‘Rosé d’Assemblage’ which is by far the more common way to make pink champagne.
Assemblage (pronounced assomblarge) means ‘blending’ in French, and that’s exactlly what they do....
They start with the still white wine made from the crushed grape juice and then simply add a little still red wine (made in the champagne region, of course). Then this blend goes through the normal champagne-making process which creates the bubbles and turns the wine into rosé champagne.
Incidentally Champagne is the only wine-making area in France allowed to make rosé wine in this way; everywhere else in
France it has to be done using the saignée method.
Rosé champagne made by the assemblage method is usually paler in colour and lighter in flavour than if it’s made by the saignée method. The exact colour and flavour depend on the amount of red wine that is added: the more red wine, the darker the colour and the fuller the flavours. Something around 10% red wine is typical. Anything much more than that and you’d end up with something closer to a rosé de saignée which is not what this type of rosé is all about.
By far the majority of rosé champagnes are made this way including almost all the big brands.
Now you’ve seen that there are two types of pink champagne, that gives you the power to choose the style you like.
Personally I’d go for a blended rosé as an aperitif before a meal, especially if it’s a nice warm, sunny day. This style of rosé just seems light and bright and right for that kind of occasion.
If I were having a meal and were going to sit down and really savour the champagne then I reckon it would be a rosé de saignée for me, but it’s entirely up to you, so whatever you like is right.
So what does this all mean for you?.....
Well, the first thing to do is to decide which of the two styles you prefer – more champagne-drinking practice needed I’m afraid! It’s tough, I know, but someone’s got to do it.