Rosé champagne brings the holiday joy – The Denver Post

Champagne used to be such a simple thing. You popped a cork, and the gushing fountain of wine cued celebratory joy.

You might have had a preference among the house styles of the big Champagne producers, or grand marques. Or maybe you simply chose a brand as your own, as if it were cigarettes or beer.

The evolution of Champagne since those easy 20th-century days epitomizes the problem facing the larger wine industry. Champagne, we now know, is a far more complicated affair than an elegant pop and pour.

Now, it’s both dinner jackets and dirt, the blending art of the cellar master and the idiosyncratic expression of place. There are big houses and small grower-producers, oxidative and reductive styles, all of which is enough to stop any party before it begins.

Champagne, we are now told, is not one big amorphous place, as the marketing insisted for so long. It comprises dozens of smaller villages, each with its own distinctive terroir and character. It might as well be Burgundy.

It’s no longer enough to understand that a nonvintage Champagne is a blend from multiple years. We now need to know the base vintage in the mix and every bottle’s disgorgement date.

Even the slender, elegant flutes are no longer acceptable, as now it is widely believed within Champagne circles that they do not do justice to the complexity of the wine, no matter how pretty they may be. Ordinary wineglasses are now preferred.

Marketing types long for the simplicity of old, and not only with Champagne. Throughout the wine industry, they assert that wine is too complicated for most people, and that this complexity drives consumers away. Far better to simplify the choices — the preferred term is “demystify.”

But demystification is too often a synonym for dumbing down. The beauty of wine is its glorious diversity. Sure, it’s complicated. For those who do not want to absorb the details, aid is easy to come by, namely from good merchants and sommeliers, even wine critics.

As in politics, the wine industry has a choice. Do you convey a simple message in which the complexities are ironed out because they distract from the goal? Or do you present a situation in full, intricate detail, hoping that voters or consumers will appreciate the nuances and make better choices?

With Champagne, consumers can still do it the simple old way, asking for their favorite big brands as if it were still 1990. Or they can set aside trepidations, shed the marketers’ blinders and explore the knotty, sometimes perplexing world of Champagne as it is understood today. The goal is not mastery, but simply to recognize and enjoy all its subtle expressions.

The wine panel is here to help. With our minds on the holidays, when most sparkling wines are purchased in this country, we recently tasted 20 bottles of nonvintage rosé Champagne.

For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by two guests, Sabra Lewis, events manager for Zachys, the retailer and auction house in Scarsdale, New York, and Victoria James, beverage director and partner at Cote and author of “Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé.”

We decided to restrict our tasting to rosé Champagnes from grower-producers, those who farm all or nearly all their grapes and make the wines. These Champagnes tend to be more idiosyncratic than those from the big houses, which in their nonvintage wines have more resources to create smoothly consistent styles from year to year.

Some people would have you believe that the small growers are all good, and the big houses are bad. Far too many New York wine lists seem to convey this message.

But this is, in effect, replacing one simple narrative with another. Champagnes from some big houses are great and from others mediocre, and the same is true with the grower-producers. You have to know which are which, or know whom to ask. Beware anybody offering you the magic key for knowing the difference.

That includes the codes in fine print on the Champagne label. It used to be that the tiny letters “RM” for récoltant-manipulant, or grower-producer, would identify small farmers.

But the rules for that designation are restrictive enough that a farmer who might buy some grapes from his sister, say, or from another part of the region would have to use a different code, “NM” for négociant-manipulant, the same one used by most of the big houses. Some of the best grower-producers now have NM on their labels. And RM is no guarantee of quality.

We decided to look at rosé Champagnes both because they have ridden the wave of rosé popularity and because they offer so much variety, starting with the way they are produced.

Most rosé wines are made from the juice of red grapes, which is briefly macerated with the pigment-laden skins. When the desired color is achieved, the juice is whisked off to begin its journey through fermentation to wine.

Some rosé Champagne is made this way, too, but most is made by combining just enough red wine, from pinot noir or pinot meunier, with white wine from the usual Champagne blend of grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

Is one method better than the others? I’ve had excellent bottles from both, and I can’t tell the difference.

In our tasting, we found a great deal of diversity in the wines. Colors ranged from the palest onionskin to an almost brilliant maraschino cherry, yet the color was rarely a clue to the body and character of the wine.

Some were rustic — with bubbles that seemed overly harsh, or with parts that had not seamlessly knit together. A couple seemed unfinished. “Rusticity is not always the most pleasant thing in Champagne,” Victoria said.

Many more were classically elegant, creamy, lively and beautifully textured. Some conveyed a distinctive complexity that seemed more akin to fine wine with bubbles rather than a typical Champagne. We found this vinous quality attractive.

“So many different points of view,” Sabra said. “Such a diversity of styles and intentions.”

Some of those differences were evident in the level of dosage, a precisely measured sweetened wine solution added to Champagne just before final corking. The dosage is intended to balance the generally high acidity in Champagne.

As the climate has warmed, Champagne grapes have generally been harvested at a riper level than they were historically, so typical dosage levels have gone down.

In recent years, low-dosage and no-dosage wines have become fashionable, and another simple story has taken hold: The lower the dosage, the better the Champagne. Don’t believe it. Some low-dosage Champagnes are great, but the best level is the right level, the one that achieves harmonious balance.

Most of the bottles in our tasting were labeled “brut,” as are most Champagnes, meaning that the dosage can range from zero to 12 grams of sugar per liter. But our favorite turned out to be a “brut nature,” meaning it had no dosage at all.

That was the Rosé Zero Brut Nature from Tarlant, a beautifully balanced wine with complex flavors and plenty of energy. Our No. 5 wine, the Campania Remensis from Bérêche & Fils, was an extra brut, with a dosage from 3 to 6 grams. It was rich, fresh and tangy.

Otherwise, all our favorites were bruts. Our No. 2 bottle was the balanced, elegant, lightly fruity Diebolt-Vallois. It was followed by the complex, savory Cuvée Rubis from Vilmart & Cie and the subtle, chalky, almost Burgundian Brut Grand Cru from Hugues Godmé.

No. 6 was the exuberant, tangy C. de Rosé from Perseval-Farge, followed by the creamy, floral Rosé Brut from Marc Hébrart, and the lively yet subtle Théodorine Brut from Apollonis, a new name for the Champagne producer formerly called Michel Loriot.

The Apollonis was our best value at $45, roughly the lower limit nowadays for rosé Champagnes. Many top bottles today are more than $100, which is our cap for these tastings. The Bérêche was our most expensive at $90.

Also worth noting were the chalky, energetic Vertus Premier Cru from Guy Larmandier and the zesty, exotic Ultradition from Laherte Frères.

What set these bottles apart from one another? It’s hard to say, as we highly recommend them all. Maybe it was an element of complexity in our top bottles? Of finesse? You really can’t go wrong with any of them, or with other names to look for like Pierre Gimonnet, Larmandier-Bernier or Chartogne-Taillet.

We haven’t even explored the different villages of Champagne and their characteristics, or the various production methods. Perhaps I can be accused of oversimplifying as well.

If you do have an appetite for further exploration, I highly recommend “Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers and Terroirs of the Iconic Region” by Peter Liem. Otherwise, simply enjoy.


— Tarlant Champagne Rosé Zero Brut Nature NV $60 (3 1/2 stars)

Tightly coiled, energetic and balanced, with lingering, stony flavors of red fruit, herbs and cream. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)

— Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Rosé Brut NV $55 (3 1/2 stars)

Creamy, balanced and elegant, with light flavors of red fruits. (Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, New Jersey)

— Vilmart & Cie Champagne Rosé Cuvée Rubis Brut NV $88 (3 stars)

Lively and energetic, with complex, savory flavors of light red fruits, herbs and citrus. (Terry Theise Estate Selections/Skurnik Wines, New York)

— Hugues Godmé Champagne Rosé Brut Grand Cru NV $60 (3 stars)

Unusual, almost Burgundian in style, with creamy texture and lively, subtle, chalky flavors. (Grand Cru Selections, New York)

— Bérêche et Fils Champagne Rosé Extra Brut Campania Remensis NV $90 (3 stars)

Rich, fresh and energetic, with fruity, peachy flavors, tangy and refreshing. (Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants)

— Perseval-Farge Champagne Rosé C. de Rosé Brut NV $60 (3 stars)

Exuberant, tangy and bright, with red berry and mineral flavors. (Summit Selections, Staten Island, New York)

— Marc Hébrart Champagne Rosé Brut NV $50 (3 stars)

Tangy and lip-smacking, with creamy texture, floral aromas and flavors of red fruits and herbs. (Terry Theise Estate Selections/Skurnik Wines)


— Apollonis Champagne Rosé Théodorine Brut NV $45 (3 stars)

Quiet yet lively, with aromas of red fruit and chalky herbal and citrus flavors. (Summit Selections)

— Guy Larmandier Champagne Rosé Vertus Premier Cru Brut NV $50 (2 1/2 stars)

Tangy and energetic, with creamy, chalky citrus flavors. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)

— Laherte Frères Champagne Rosé Ultradition Brut NV $46 (2 1/2 stars)

Zesty and balanced, with floral aromas and exotic citrus flavors. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, New York)


Rosé wines bring to mind Provence and bouillabaisse. But instead of running off to Marseille, I’ve taken the components of the traditional fish stew and nestled them amid creamy grains of rice in a risotto. The seasonings — fennel, garlic and saffron — are in attendance, along with fish and seafood, all of which are a fine match for the wine. You could consider it a special occasion dish. The seafood can be varied to suit your market and tastes. A final finishing dollop of aioli swirled into the al dente rice sleeks it with satiny richness. Using mayonnaise to garnish a risotto is something I’ll keep in mind for the future. — FLORENCE FABRICANT

Risotto Marseille-Style

Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 24 mussels
  • 3 cups fish stock
  • 1 tablespoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 teaspoon Espelette pepper or hot paprika, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely minced fennel bulb
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ pound monkfish, in 8 slices
  • 12 sea scallops, trimmed and quartered
  • 16 medium shrimp, preferably wild, peeled and deveined


1. Place half the wine in a 2-quart saucepan, add the mussels, bring to a simmer, cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and steam the mussels until they open, about 4 minutes. Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon to a bowl, add the fish stock and saffron to the mussel liquid, bring to a simmer, stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, season with salt, remove from heat and set aside. Shuck the mussels and place in a dish, covered. Discard the shells. Mix one clove of the garlic, remaining lemon juice and a half teaspoon of the espelette pepper into the mayonnaise. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil on medium in a 4-quart saute pan. Add the remaining garlic and the fennel to the pan and cook on medium-low until the fennel is soft but not brown, 5 minutes or so. Add the rice and cook, stirring, a few minutes, until the rice whitens. Add the remaining wine, the tomato paste, and the remaining espelette, stir and cook on medium until the liquid is absorbed, a few minutes.

3. Strain the fish stock mixture and add a half cup, stirring, to the rice; when it has been absorbed, add another half cup. Continue adding stock until there’s only about a half cup left and the rice is nearly tender, 15 minutes or so. If you need more liquid you can add a little water. Season to taste with salt and more Espelette if desired. Fold in the mussels.

4. Add the remaining stock and tuck the monkfish and scallops into the rice. Stir gently and cook for about 3 minutes until the fish and scallops are nearly cooked through. Tuck in the shrimp. Cook another minute or so, until the shrimp are just done. Remove from heat. Check seasoning. Divide the risotto among four soup plates. Top each with a dollop of the garlic mayonnaise and serve.