How the colour pink became associated with Valentine's Day is lost in the annals of time (Nick has a theory in Why Pink on Saint Valentine's Day?). But pink it is, so I thought that I'd take a look at Rosé Champagnes as the perfect wine to share with your loved one.
Rosé Champagnes are made in the brut style: they might be fruitier than other types of Champagne, but they're typically quite dry to fairly dry. They come in a wide spectrum of colours - ranging from pale onion skin, amber, copper or salmon to deep pink, bordering on pomegranate. The deeper coloured Rosé Champagnes tend to be fruitier than the lighter coloured.
Madame Clicquot (1777-1866) of the Champagne House Veuve Clicquot (Veuve means Widow) was the first to produce and export Rosé Champagne in 1775.
Rosé Champagne has become associated with romance and glamour. Pommery produced a Rosé Champagne for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth at which occasion her sister, Princess Margaret, took quite a fancy to it. Subsequently, she was photographed in Paris with other members of the chic international set, a cigarette in one hand, a flute of Rosé Champagne in the other.
Feeling the pressure of a rarefied demand, the Champagne houses responded. Pol Roger started making a Rosé in 1955 with Laurent Perrier following in 1968, Bollinger in 1976, and Krug in 1983.
Most Rosé or Pink Champagnes are made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Some producers also use Pinot Meunier, a black grape relative of Pinot Noir. Producers who prefer a lighter, more elegant style use more Chardonnay in their cuvées, while those looking to make a more full-bodied, fruitier champagne use mainly black grapes and sometimes make 100% Pinot Noir Rosés.
Nick's recommendation is Philippe Secondé's Champagne Authentic Rosé Brut which is made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay grapes. It is almost strawberry in colour and has plenty of tiny fine, lively bubbles. It is very aromatic and on the nose it is full of fruit and berries. In the mouth it has a full bodied, fruity, almost Kir Royale taste, with notes of wild cherry, rose, and quince. Superb and dry you can drink it as an aperitif but it also goes well with food.
There is more to Rosé Champagne than meets the eye and one of the more unusual Rosés is Oeil de Perdrix . This is an old name for very pale Rosé wine made by the Saignée method. Its name means "eye of the partridge" in French, after the pink-copper colour of the bird’s eye. The history of the wine style dates back to the Middle Ages in the Champagne region of France.
Oeil de Perdrix initially started off as a still wine. During the Middle Ages the Champenois were in competition with the Burgundy wine region for the favour of the Royal court and the lucrative Paris market. Red wine was particularly popular during this period and the northern location of the Champagne region had difficulties competing with the more fuller bodied wines of Burgundy. Wine makers in Ay Marne began experimenting with creating a fuller bodied white wine from red wine grapes that the Champenois could uniquely market. Despite their best efforts, the Champenois did not have the technical expertise to make a truly "white" wine from red grapes, and the result was Oeil de Perdrix.
Oeil de Perdrix spread to Switzerland where it would become a popular dry Rosé made from Pinot Noir. An interesting fact is that the early origins of the American wine White Zinfandel can be traced to a California winemaker's attempt at making an Oeil de Perdrix style wine. In 1975 Sutter Home Winery experienced a stuck fermentation, and the pink, sweet style of White Zinfandel, that would go on to enjoy massive commercial success, was thus accidentally born. Bob Trinchero originally planned to name the new wine Oeil de Perdrix, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) demanded that Trinchero translate the name, so he added White Zinfandel to the label.
Rosé Champagnes were known as Oeil de Perdrix in the 19th century and this has been making a come back as an alternative style to the more robust, fruit driven Rosé Champagnes. You can now find Oeil de Perdrix Champagnes for sale – Champagnes Audoin de Dampierre, Doyard, Joel Micel, Veuve A. Devaux and Jean Vesselle are a few. The colour of these champagnes varies from the palest salmon pink to a blushed amber and have the flavours of brioche, blackcurrants, toast, quince and apricot.
These Champagnes are usually made with the Pinot Noir grape but there is actually an extremely rare grape named Pé de Perdrix that hails from the opposite end of France, towards the foothills of the Pyrenees.
No wine has yet been made from this grape but it has the most delicate pink bloom to its grapes. Pé de Perdrix vines have been found in the Jurançon, Tarn and Gers and it's thought that it may have originated in Spain. The vine has been saved by Pascal Labasse, the owner of Domaine Bellegarde in Monein and Pierre Blanchard (former Head of the Wine Chamber of Agriculture of the Pyrenees Atlantic) who have set up a repositiry of ancient vines at Chateau de Franqueville at Bizanos.
The repository contains old grape varieties such as Lercate, Penouilh, Graisse, Camaraou Blanc, Cœ de Baco, Miousat, Pédauque, L'ahumat, Raffiat de Moncade, Blanc Dame, Claverie, Printiu Aigut and Pé de Perdrix. All these varieties have been collected from old plots in Monein, Gan, and Lasseube Lasseubetat and were donated by the Chamber of Agriculture.
I wonder if there are any treasures amongst these old varieties that will throw up some interesting wines for the future?