Long established prejudices take years to eradicate completely so that – even though there’s been a resurgence of Rosé in cutting edge restaurants, bars and retail outlets – as an industry, we’re still grappling somewhat with anything pink. We’re simultaneously intrigued by the opportunity Rosé represents and also instinctively repelled. This is the understandable hangover from years of White Zinfandel “blush wine” ascendancy, preceded by the era of Lancer’s and Mateus. It’s worth noting that Europeans have no such ambivalence and therefore unselfconsciously consume prodigious quantities of dry Rosé before and during meals. In fact, there are reports that the French, who know a thing or two about wine and food, are consuming more Rosé today than white wine!
Rosé sparkling wine is a subset of the larger category which suffers from significant additional handicaps in the US market: a general downturn in the bubbly category due to economic woes, substantially higher taxes compared to those paid on equivalent measures of still wine (which inflates pricing and deters product trial), lingering confusion over the term “Champagne” and unfamiliarity with how sparklers can complement food. In addition what’s Rosé to one person is pale and virtually colorless to another, and there is also the issue of residual sweetness, the level of which is also on the palate of the beholder. But despite all of these strikes against it there still appears to be growing interest in the category within a category.
Champagne aficionados will note that in every significant price and style tier (Non-vintage, Vintage and Tete de Cuvée), a producer’s Rosé will carry a premium over its white Champagne. This is because Rosé is more complicated to make, involving additional steps, and because a proportion of dry red wine (Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages often amounting to 1O to 12% or more of the Champagne’s total volume) is in most cases added to the white Champagne to create its pink hue. While the wines under review, a survey of those non-Champagne sparklers on the market, are not made to these same exacting standards, there is still a bit more involved in their production and therefore it’s logical that they would cost a bit more. But the fact is that in many cases they don’t. Moderately priced, produced to exacting standards, they’re also interesting at the table – incorporating some of the cherry and berry-like flavors of a red wine with the “cut” and structure imparted by the dissolved CO2. For all of these reasons, and for the fact that the Rosé bubblies are wonderful with an array of dishes, the category is viable and perhaps poised to grow.
The following wines, all tasted blind and all recommended –some more highly than others – Are listed in descending order of preference. Each will add to the festivity of any occasion where they happen to be poured and, since none are over $2O retail, they won’t break the budget.
BOUVET “EXCELLENCE” BRUT ROSÉ, NV
Bouvet is the number one producer of traditional method wine in the Saumur district of the Loire. The region generates the second highest volume of sparkling wine in France after Champagne. Made mostly from Loire Valley Cabernet Franc grapes and blended with a small proportion of Groslot, this is a very gentle and refined interpretation that is beautifully structured. It is made by short skin contact with the red grapes at the beginning of the first fermentation. With light yeastiness and tangerine scents, it’s very dry but has a more substantial weight than most of the other wines in the blind tasting. On the palate it leaves the impression of a tart red fruit compote, additionally showing minerality and roundness. Because of its more intense structure and depth of fruit I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this with a poached salmon. $16
GRUET BRUT ROSÉ, NEW MEXICO, NV
The sole American entry to make my list, this wine is from, of all places, the high deserts of New Mexico. Not classic “terroir” for sparkling wine perhaps, but this was clearly one of the finest in the group. It is lighter in color with a hint of onion skin, and similarly styled to be evocative of red raspberries, but not very assertive. On the palate it’s a different story though: quite expressive with tart, tangy fruit. This is a nicely balanced wine, yeasty and fruity at the same time, with a touch of herbal spice on the finish. It would be a very good straightforward partner for herb-rubbed broiled fish. $15
SANTA JULIA BRUT ROSÉ, MENDOZA, NV
A bit more saturated in color than most of its peers, this Argentine entry has a somewhat controvesial aroma (spicy and earthy) that put sometasters off, but it also has quite substantial levels of red fruit extraction and is very flavorful. It’s big in every way, with strong acids and alcohol, but because of the fruit it also manages to come across as mellow on the palate. Argentina apparently can do everything, Rosé sparkler included! This would provide fine balance to many Thai and Indian dishes. $13
MIONETTO “SERGIO” ROSÉ, EXTRA DRY, VENETO
The Italians make so many different styles and varieties of sparkling wine, including different concentrations of carbon dioxide, that you could construct a whole meal around them. The latest rage has been Prosecco, and Mionetto is one of the better known producers, but this Rosé is not made exclusively with that grape. It has a distinctively floral bouquet, with notes of peach, melon, green apple, and cranberries. It’s a very delicate, appealingly styled bubbly that is dry (despite the “Extra Dry” categorization on the label), with some tangy citrus elements in the finish. Balance is provided by assertively tart flavors, which tone down and mellow the fruitiness. Try this with proscuitto and melon. $17
ROTARI “TALENTO” ROSÉ, TRENTO, DOC, NV
This one is very light with slightly coppery colors. Its delicate accents of citrus, herb, orange, and pear are very understated. Smooth and creamy in texture with clean mild flavors but a tangy finish, it would be a very nice accompaniment to a plate of shrimp and pasta. $14
PIERRE SPARR, CREMANT d’ALSACE ROSÉ, NV
This pale coppery colored bubbly is a traditional method sparkler with a very engaging personality: dry, round, easy to drink, and fruity – but intriguingly saline and toasty as well. The aromas are yeasty (autolytic), with light strawberry and apple scents. If tasted at room temperature the ample fruit leaves an impression of slight sweetness, but when chilled the sugar is masked. Alsace makes a lot of sparkling wine, very little of which is transported to the US. Of that, just a fraction is Rosé, but based on this fine example, the wines can be very fresh, clean and lingering even at this price. It’s also very versatile: enjoy with tomato-based salads, charcuterie and seafood stews. $15
LUCIEN ALBRECHT, CREMANT d’ALSACE ROSÉ, NV
A bit deeper in hue than the Sparr, this leaves less of a yeasty impression than it does one of direct straightforward fruit. Watermelon, leafy herbs and fragrant strawberries mark the aroma. Bone dry, subtle and understated, it’s a nicely balanced, clean and fresh bubbly that is complementary to lighter seafood dishes. $2O
SEGURA VIUDAS, BRUT ROSÉ, CAVA, NV
Most of the Cavas in the tasting did not cut it, but this one has a direct, straightforward charm that is hard to resist at the price. With bright fruit, understated yeast and vanilla, and some frankly tropical impressions, it’s a Rosé recommended for serving with relatively spicy fare or with any fried fish. The bubbles set up a great counterpoint to the breading and the saltiness of most white fish dishes. $1O