Blue skies, no clouds on the horizon, plenty of sunshine and a lazy weekend, or even holiday, in sight. Sounds like the perfect time to enjoy some juicy rosé champagne! A glass of bright-colored fizz is the most versatile fit for those warm days when all you want to do is throw on your summer hat, wind down, and enjoy your summer day. But how can you find your favorite rosé champagne within all those light and dark shades of pink? We’ll explain everything!
Rosé wines have seen an enormous rise in the past 10 years, and so did rosé champagnes. In 2021, the export volumes of rosé champagne climbed to 20 million bottles, the Comité Champagne reports – a rise of 20,27%! What used to be considered as the “people-pleaser” category – a fruity champagne with a high dosage that would satisfy the crowds – has become a diversified champagne segment with fruit-forward or mineral, easy-drinking or complex, pale or dark-colored shades of pink bubbly. And the diversity doesn’t stop there.
While most producers had only one rosé champagne in their portfolio in the past, many of them have two or even more rosé cuvées to offer nowadays. And a few don’t even shy away from reserving some of their best plots to make outstanding terroir rosé.
If all you see is a sheer endless color palette of pretty pinks, and don’t know what to expect behind the champagne labels, or how to find your own rosé champagne styles, we’ll explain in-depth one recurring question: how is rosé champagne made?
Technically called rosé d’assemblage, this rosé champagne sub-category is by far the most commonly produced rosé champagne and simply carries the name Rosé on most labels.
Its production starts with the regular vinification process of base wines. Once alcoholic fermentation has finished, these “white” base wines are blended during the assemblage phase, in which different terroirs, grape varieties, or vintages and reserve wines come together in a final cuvée. Bottled and stocked in the cool chalk cellars, these wines then undergo the second fermentation process, the prise de mousse, to develop the fine bubbles that champagne stands for.
In order to create a rosé d’assemblage, 5 to 20% of still red wine has to be added during the assemblage – a proportion that makes not only for a pretty color, but furthermore changes the structure, body, and aromatic expression of the future champagne.
The added red wine can derive from two black-skinned grapes of Champagne, Pinot Noir or Meunier, and has to be produced under the strict requirements of Appellation d’Origine Coteaux Champenois, just like sparkling champagne has to follow the rules of Appellation d’Origine Champagne.
Many producers choose to buy Coteaux Champenois red wines for their rosé blends, because they don’t have any or not enough Pinot Noir or Meunier grapes planted in their vineyards, or because they don’t want to dive into red wine production themselves. Some passionate producers, though, take great pride and joy in making red wine, and use a certain amount of their precious Coteaux Champenois production for their rosé champagne blends, while the rest is bottled and sold as still wine.
Does a small proportion of red wine, as little as 5%, impact the champagne’s taste?, you may wonder. And the answer is: yes, it does!
During the finicky blending process, a great number of test cuvées with differing proportions are prepared, and the outcome is judged by color, smell, aroma, palate-weight and mouth-fill, as well as perception of polyphenols because the red wine also adds tannins whose presence may, or may not, alter the tasting experience.
This base blend tasting exercise requires a lot of experience and sensibility, as the wines judged are very young still wines that haven’t yet undergone the second fermentation which adds further aromas, characteristics and, most importantly, the fine-beaded bubbles we all admire.
Light, pure colors ranging from pale salmon or apricot nuances to bright pinks from the red berry-spectrum can usually distinguish Rosé d’assemblage.
There are two major taste categories you can find: delicate and refreshing rosé champagne with crisp, tangy small red berry notes like raspberry or redcurrant, fragrant floral aromas, or even citrus notes; or joyful and fruity rosé champagne with lots of juicy, overt notes of ripe – or overripe – red summer fruit like strawberries, cherries, or blackberries.
Of course, there are many other aromas you can find in your champagne rosé depending on the individual blend of grape varieties, terroirs, reserve wines, dosage, and additional winemaking choices such as the use of oak etc., but the two mentioned sub-categories can help you find your personal rosé style.
Here’s a selection of delicious champagne made in the rosé d’assemblage method:
Delicate & refreshing rosé champagne to discover:
– Champagne Pierre Gimonnet Rosé Brut 1er Cru Rosé des Blancs
– Champagne Billecart-Salmon Rosé Brut
– Champagne De Sousa Brut Rosé
Joyful & fruity rosé champagne to discover:
– Champagne Deutz Brut Rosé
– Champagne Ruinart Brut Rosé
– Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage
Contrary to adding red wine into a “white” cuvée obtained from a white wine vinification method, the rosé de saignée method follows a different process.
If you know that “saignant” is the French term for ordering a rare steak, you might have guessed that saignée refers to blood in a wider sense. More concisely, the term stems from the ancient medical term “la saignée” used for drawing blood from a patient. With champagne rosé de saignée, however, the word luckily refers to a delicious tinted must that is racked off from the patient, or to be more specific: a tank of macerated grapes. But let me explain this further.
The starting point for rosé de saignée production is a red wine vinification process. Filled into a tank, barrel, or any other fermentation vessel, the grapes are left to macerate for a while at first.
Under their own weight, the first berries soon crack and, as the fermentation process slowly sets in, more berries break open and release their juice. The color pigments that sit inside the berry skins progressively tint this free-run juice, called jus de goutte, and the must naturally gets a pink color that intensifies the longer the grape skins are in contact with this juice.
As overextraction can occur rapidly, this process can be quite nerve-wrecking for the winemakers. Throughout the entire maceration process, they meticulously check the progress regarding the extraction of color, intensity and tannins – and sleepless nights spent by the maceration vessel to achieve perfect results aren’t unheard of. Depending on the vintage, the grape quality, and ripeness levels, this maceration phase can take a few hours up to 48 hours, in rare cases longer.
As soon as the desired result is achieved, there are two different ways of proceeding which create two distinct styles. Both styles are commonly called rosé de saignée on champagne labels, but a few producers specify the rosé de macération term to distinguish the styles.
The first way is to rack off the jus de goutte, fill it into another vessel as it is, and proceed with alcoholic fermentation and second fermentation stages.
Rosé champagne made following this method is usually dazzlingly bright, fragrantly perfumed, and intensely fruity on the palate with little to no phenolic sensation. However, additional wine making choices along the process can bring out other characteristics.
Some producers only rack off a part of the jus de goutte and leave the remaining juice and skins to macerate for a little longer before they transfer the tank’s content into the winepress to make Coteaux Champenois Rouge.
The second way of proceeding after the maceration is to rack off the jus de goutte entirely and send the leftover grape skins to the winepress to get a second batch of must, called jus de presse, from gentle pressing. Both musts can be assembled into one batch and vinified together, or vinified in two separate batches and blended in desired proportions during the assemblage.
Just like the first rosé de saignée method, the outcome of this second method depends on further winemaking choices, but in general, the result has a deeper tint, often carrying darker pink to red hues that are reminiscent of red wines.
Champagne made from this method shows more aromatic complexity and vinous character, along with a slightly tannic structure which makes them a brilliant match for many meats (read our latest article on champagne barbecues for more inspiration).
Here’s a selection of delicious champagne made in the rosé de saignée methods:
Powerful & winey rosé de saignée champagne to discover:
– Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Extra-Brut 1er Cru
– Champagne Leclerc-Briant Rosé de Saignée
– Champagne Drappier Rosé de Saignée
Opulent & full-bodied rosé de saignée champagne to discover:
– Champagne Fleury Rosé de Saignée Brut
– Champagne Moussé Fils Rosé Spécial Club Meunier Les Bouts de la Ville 2016
– Champagne Blin Rosé de Saignée 2015
Compared to the rather pale to medium colored rosé d’assemblage cuvées in shades of salmon, apricot, or berry pastels, rosé de saignée champagne always shows a much bolder and more opaque color palette because of its maceration process: look out for the intense pinks with red or brownish-red hues to spot them.
The aromatic expression of rosé de saignée is bold to powerful, straight-forward, and mouth-filling, and the longer it macerated, the more vinous the champagne will be. Rosé d’assemblage champagne, in contrast, will always remain light, charming, fruity, zesty, and more delicate.
Both rosé champagne styles offer a wide field of original tastes and expressions and discovering them glass by glass, or bottle by bottle, is the best way to understand the differences. Now it’s up to you to find your favorite: my hand-picked rosé champagne recommendations are a good starting point for various moods and occasions. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the diversity of rosé champagne with your rosé champagne loving friends.