Rosé champagne, like all things pink, is on the up, but it doesn’t come cheap. Imbibe’s tasters put an array of blushing hopefuls to the test in search of value for money. Susanna Forbes reports
There’s no denying it, rosé champagne is on the rise. Ray Ronchetti, wine buyer at Kettners, reports a 350% increase in by-the-glass sales in the bar, and a 60% rise in the restaurant over the last five years. It’s also becoming less seasonal and gender-sensitive.
That said, our panel was unanimous in feeling that the pricing was, at best, uneven. ‘Yes, they are a bit more special because production is smaller,’ says Clare Thevenot, training manager at Hotel du Vin. ‘But you can still have good value.’ Texture’s Xavier Rousset agrees. ‘They are too expensive overall. It’s like the houses are exploiting the demand.’ One house was selling a pink fizz for £18 five years ago, but now it’s £25.
‘A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon, and it doesn’t always work,’ Ronchetti says. ‘Some houses’ prices have really increased, whereas others are still reasonable. Price differences between white and pink can be a problem in getting a customer to trade-up.’
This is less of a problem for by-the-glass, but it is a big issue for bottles, where the difference can be as much as 60%.
1 ‘People always expect to pay a couple of pounds more for rosé champagne. You must have the big names. The smaller names have to be hand-sold.’
Ray Ronchetti, wine buyer & head sommelier, Kettners
2 ‘I look for elegance in rosé champagne, an attractive colour and a defined red fruit flavour profile, but no sweetness.’
Julie Sheppard, associate editor, Imbibe
3 ‘I think quality is uneven, and today’s tasting bears that out. Ladies tend to like their wines a bit sweet, but I don’t feel there is a place for sweetness in rosé champagne.’
Xavier Rousset, co-founder, Texture restaurant and champagne bar
4 ‘The quality of the bubbles matters a lot. Most of the time, they are far too big and abrasive. You need something that will make you want another glass.’
Clare Thevenot MS, training manager, Hotel du Vin/Malmaison
5 ‘A rosé champagne has to be charming, attractive, but not overpowering and not too sweet. It needs a complex bouquet, while good acidity will ensure food friendliness.’
Andrea Briccarello, head sommelier, Bentleys
How it Works
We invited each leading champagne house to submit either their NV or vintage rosé. Premium cuvées were excluded to keep the playing-field level. We received 34 NV wines and a quintet of vintages.
As always, the tasting was conducted blind. And as usual, for the vintage rosés the judges were aware of the price, and this became a factor in their assessment of the score.
For the non-vintages, however, the tasters were not aware of the prices, and, as well as assessing the taste of each wine, were also asked to guess into which price band each bottle would fall. Their findings are shown in the chart on page 105; indeed, the two-letter code next to each champagne relates to its plotting on the graph.
Though scored out of 100, the sommeliers were using a genuine 100-point scale, with marks below 50 quite possible.
The Imbibe system is thus not at all like a Parker/Wine Spectator scoring system, but more like a school exam grading scheme, where all marks recorded above 50 are creditable.
70-79 very good
Reasonable scores and some great value to be found in this price range.Good mix of well known brands and lesser known houses, plus several good by-the-glass options.
77 Pannier Brut Rosé NV, PA
Universally popular, this just pipped de Castelnau to top spot in this category.
‘Great salmon pink colour, nice foam of fine bubbles. Wild strawberries and cassis with spices on the nose. Great fruit, very pure and clean.’ CT
‘Palate is elegant, fruity and feminine. Well balanced with a long, jammy finish.’ AB
£17.67, Hayman Barwell Jones, 020 7922 1610
76 De Castelnau Brut Rosé NV, DC
‘Fresh and lively, this is coppery pink with a floral, liquorice, red fruit nose, with a smooth mousse and a citrus tangerine finish.’ RR
‘With a palate of redcurrants and brioche, this has great structure and a zingy finish.’ JS
£16.35, Patriarche, 020 7381 4016
71 Heidsieck Rosé Top NV, HI
Due to its slight off-dry nature, this proved a panel divider.
‘Good cordon, light intensity, but abundance of red fruit, prickly mousse, light acidity, medium body
and earthy finish.’ RR
‘Harmonious palate, almost sweet fruit, balanced with good acidity and minerality.’ CT
£17-22, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7208 2500
69 Moutard Rosé NV, MO
The touch of sweetness put offsome of the panel.
‘Intense sweet nose, packed with strawberry and raspberry. Complex and elegant, with a long finish. Would go well with salmon or langoustine.’ AB
‘Nice texture with creamy fruit flavours and good length.’ JS
£15.70, Hallgarten, 01582 722538
68 Canard-Duchêne Rosé NV, CD
Good by-the-glass potential.
‘Ripe fruit flavours. Crisp, dry with a citrus finish.’ RR
‘Delicate elegant nose; dry flowers and dry fruits. Rich explosion of dry flowers on the palate. Dry roses finish.’ AB
£16.59, Paragon Vintners, 020 7887 1800
67 Boizel Rosé NV, BO
Another by- the-glass contender.
‘Sweet cranberry and pomegranate nose. Complex, well balanced palate of dry fruits and good acidity.’ AB
‘Biscuity, shortcrust nose, with earth, cherry fruit. A zesty, but sweet finish.’ RR
£17.39, Laytons Wine Merchants, 020 7288 8852
67 Georges Vesselle Rosé NV, GV
‘Salmon pink. Medium bubbles, light cordon. Kirsch cherry nose with buttery notes. Crisp, dry and full of red fruit. Good with food.’ RR
‘Very ripe palate. Sweet fruit, rich with a long finish.’ AB
£15.29, Laytons Wine Merchants, 020 7288 8852
Also tasted: Moutardier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV, MT, £14.75.
Impressive scores in this, the largest flight of the tasting.
81 Deutz Rosé NV, DE
An impressive champagne by all standards and a worthy By the Glass winner.
‘Great salmon pink colour; nice foam of tiny bubbles. A complex nose of wild strawberries, spices and cassis. Great fruit, very pure and clean. Lots of minerality.’ CT
‘Lively, fresh, citrussy finish.’ RR
£20.47, Berkmann, 020 7670 0971
79 Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Rosé Brut NV, JP
‘Elegant roses and red berries. Dry and complex sour cherry palate. Good complexity and long finish.’ AB
‘Deep rose pink. Nose of buttery brioche and strawberry; great texture.’ JS
£22.50, Joseph Perrier UK/Great Western Wines, 01225 322800
78 Jacquart Mosaique Rosé NV, JA
‘Superb salmon colour. Great bubbles and red fruit on the palate.’ CT
‘Fine, crisp, refreshing, red fruit and delicate sweet spice. Light acidity, but sweet citrus finish.’ RR
£20.03, PLB, 01342 318282
77 Pommery Springtime NV, PO
Another by-the-glass contender.
‘Wild berry fruit. Lots of chalky minerality. White and yellow fruit on the nose. Great.’ CT
Pale in colour, with a citrus, rich nose and good mousse. Red fruit showing on the finish.’ RR
£21-26, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7208 2500
75 Philipponnat Réserve Rosée NV, PP
‘Grapefruit nose, rich creamy mousse, light acidity, good body, this is complex and rich with an long honeyed finish. Good for food.’ RR
‘Elegant palate, with wild strawberries and a lovely honeyed finish.’ JS
£22.90, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820
75 Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, VE
‘Very subtle nose with hints of dry berries and candy. Dry roses on the rich palate, with zesty acidity. Long aftertaste.’ AB
‘Raspberry hints plus brioche on the palate. Tasty long finish.’ JS
POA, Möet Hennessy UK, 020 7235 9411
75 Ruinart Rosé NV, RU
‘Great by-the-glass potential. Pronounced salmon colour, with a big foam. Almost farmyard animal character on the nose. An intense palate of fruit, spices and minerals, with a lively acidity.’ CT
£27, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522
74 Legras, Rosé Brut, Grand Cru Chouilly NV, LE
‘Cherry pink and zippy bubbles. A nose of tasty red fruit; well-integrated fruity and bready characters on the palate. Nice finish.’ JS
‘Cherries on the palate, with a good vibrant acidity. Good with sushi.’ AB
£21.00, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522
71 Besserat de Bellefon, Cuvee des Moines NV, BE
‘Easy drinking by-the-glass possibility. Closed nose, with a touch of mineral and red berries. Quite dry and elegant. Aperitif or light fish dish.’ AB
‘Citrus, grapefruit and red fruits. Slightly aggressive mousse. Good acidity and citrus finish.’ RR
£20.70, Lanson International, 020 7499 0070
71 Ayala Rosé Majeur NV, AY
‘Bready, ginger spicy nose with a good mousse. Slightly aggressive, but a smooth citrus finish.’ RR
‘Ripe red berries, with a ripe fruit palate, good acidity and creamy texture.’ AB
£20.36, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600
68 Gosset Grand Rosé NV, GO
This was a panel divider, with some finding it too quiet.
‘Great colour with a superb fruit and minerality and biscuit character. Lively on the palate.’ CT
‘Crisp and dry, with a fresh finish.’ RR
£23.30, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300
68 Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial, MC
‘Fine bubbles and cordon. Liquorice, ginger, strawberry nose. A soft palate, with dry, good acidity, long, ripe red fruit finish.’ RR
‘Good sour fruit core, with elegant acidity. Try it with delicate shellfish, crab or langoustine.’ AB
POA, Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7235 9411
63 Delamotte Rosé NV, DL
‘Biscuity nose, creamy mousse. Soft acidity, red cherry flavours and a liquorice finish.’ RR
‘Good balance, a touch of residual sugar makes it attractive.’ AB
£23.82, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2400
63 Mumm Brut Rosé NV, MU
‘Good cordon. Light intensity but an abundance of red fruit. Light acidity, medium body and earthy finish.’ RR
‘Pomegranate nose and plums. Fleshy but slightly unbalanced on the palate.’ AB
POA, Pernod Ricard, 020 8538 4484
Also tasted: Devaux Rosé Intense NV, DV; Lanson Rosé NV, LA
Complexity and depth, certainly, but pricing for some was an issue.
76 Taittinger Prestige Rosé NV, TA
A wine of some complexity, offering different appeal to each of our tasters.
‘Definite food partnering potential. Fine persistent bubbles; ripe strawberry and tangerine nose, leads to a zesty mouthfeel, with medium acidity and a smooth, rich long finish.’ RR
‘Fleshy strawberry and cherry characters. An elegant finish, this is light, crisp, easy to drink.’ AB
£27.22, Matthew Clark, Wine Studio, Enotria, Ellis of Richmond, Coe Vintners
74 Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV, LP
‘Ripe, raspberry nose, creamy pillowy mousse, with fine cordon of fine bubbles. Racy acidity.’ RR
‘Good, almost sweet, strawberry fruit on the palate. Great acidity to finish.’ CT
£26.08, Laurent Perrier UK, 01628 475404
73 Duval Leroy, Fleur de Champagne Rosé de Saignee NV, DU
‘Pale brick colour, with delicate, persistent mousse. Yeasty, sweet buttery nose. Good acidity, ripe strawberry jam finish. Try with poached salmon.’ RR
‘Very minerally, chalky nose, with biscuits and yellow fruit. Creamy, lively bubbles. Minerality continues onto palate, followed by wild berry fruit.’ CT
£25, Duval Leroy UK, 020 8995 2008
70 Henriot Rosé NV, HE
‘Light rust in colour. Fine bubbles with a cherry nose. Earthy and dry on the palate, with crisp acidity and a mid length finish.’ RR
‘Mineral and toasty nose, followed by a ripe and mature palate, with sweet cherries and ripe, flower character.’ AB
£29.28, Enotria, 020 8963 4820
70 Bruno Palliard Première Cuvée NV BP
‘Well made, but with relatively high levels of acidity.’ XR
‘Pale salmon in colour, with juicy strawberries and spices on the nose.’ CT
‘Good rich summer fruit on the palate. Rich but well balanced. Long finish.’ AB
£27.47, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577
70 Alfred Gratien, Cuvée Paradis Rosé NV AG
‘Almond, peppery, brioche nose. Creamy mousse, good acidity, well balanced, citrus but sweet ripe fruit finish. Good food potential.’ RR
‘Intense toasty, nutty nose. Dry flowers and nuts. Complex and evolved.’ AB
‘Palate is too dry and oxidized.’ CT
£33, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
69 Perrier Jouët Blason Rosé NV, PJ
‘Pale pink. Yeasty, bready nose, with ripe raspberries. Moderate mousse, racy acidity and red fruit finish. Would go well with veal and chicken.’ RR
‘Fruity on the palate – cherries – with good long aftertaste. Try with rich fish, like a meaty dover sole or turbot.’ AB
POA, Pernod Ricard UK, 020 8538 4484
66 Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage NV, PI
‘Well made with good texture.’ XR
Very intense colour. Rich, dense, almost jammy nose. Intense summer fruit on the palate and a toasty finish. Turbot, hake, lobster thermidor, even a little game.’ AB
£27, Maxxium UK, 01786 430500
66 Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé NV, BS
‘Elegant flowery nose. Orange peel and candy fruit on the palate, with well- balanced acidity. Good as an aperitif or with smoked salmon.’ AB
‘Strawberry fruit flavours carry onto the palate, with a medium finish.’ RR
£25.30, Billecart Salmon UK, 020 7470 8890
Also tasted: Egly-Ouriet, Rosé Brut Grand Cru Ambonnay.
–Vintage rose champagne
With the highest scoring wine of the tasting, this small but select vintage flight put in an impressive performance. Price was taken into account.
83 Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Vintage Rosé 2002
‘Orange salmon colour. Great rosé smell. Lots of wild strawberries and raspberries, chalk and spices. Intense red fruit on the palate, almost sweet touch, nicely balanced by acidity.’ CT
‘Very elegant fruity notes of red berries, a touch of honey, elegant and long.’ AB
£28.82, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577
80 Charles Heidsieck Rosé 1999
‘A great glass of champagne, this is elegant, with dark fruit, peppery notes and finesse. Maybe a bit expensive.’ XR
‘Pale brick with fine bubbles. Brioche nose, with light acidity, complex flavours, medium body and good length.’ RR
£37.90, Maxxium UK, 01786 430500
80 Louis Roederer Vintage Rosé 2002
‘Fine bubbles. Yeast, shortcrust nose. Good acidity, with earthy nutty flavours and a sweet, red fruit finish. A good one for food.’ RR
‘Citrussy and savoury, vibrant acidity, a complex palate and a long finish.’ CT
POA, MMD, 020 8812 3380
77 Pol Roger, Extra Cuvée de Reserve, 2000
‘Sweet toasty nose with jammy notes and hints of spice. Long and complex on the palate.’ AB
‘Strawberry pink in colour with a nose of strawberries and brioche. Creamy strawberry and raspberry fruit on the palate.’ JS
POA, Pol Roger UK, 01432 262 800
77 Beaumont des Crayeres, Fleur de Rosé 2002
‘Orangey-pink in colour. Nutty biscuity nose and a good mousse. Dry, full-bodied, with a rich nutty, red fruit finish and medium length.’ RR
‘Tomato skin and leaf, intense dry berry nose. Dry flowers on the nose and palate. Good evolution and savoury side.’ AB
£15.05, Armit, 020 7908 0690
Prices quoted are single bottle, ex-VAT and were correct at the time of going to press. However, with the pending budget and forecast champagne price increases, for the latest, please check with your supplier.
Many thanks to the marvellous team at Bentleys for accommodating us so effortlessly in their charming Jamieson room (www.bentleys.org).
Value for money
KEY: The horizontal axis, the perceived price of the champagnes, is determined by whether our panel correctly guessed the price band. Points are awarded if the champagne was rated in a higher price band, and subtracted if it was undervalued. For example, if champagne X cost between £20-25, and a judge thought it was worth over £25, it would score +1. If he or she felt it was worth less than £20, it would score –1. All the panel’s scores are added, giving the ‘perceived price’ value in the figure above.
High quality but ———————High quality and expensive ————————good value for money
Fair quality but ———————- Fair quality and expensive ————————good value for money
So, are the wines worth the extra? Well, overall, the panel felt that the quality was good rather than exceptional and there were a few stand-out high scores. This could be because there were such variations in style that (as with our small-grower champagne tasting last year) many wines split the panel, making across-the-board praise hard to come by. The issue of sweetness was particularly divisive.
On pricing, Ronchetti spoke for all when he said: ‘While certain well-known brands were perceived to be correctly priced, it’s also ironic that several “in vogue” roses which have seen good growth within the sector were perceived as over-valued.’ Despite this, each of our panel will be adding to their lists. ‘Over the next few months I will start to look at smaller houses for Bentley’s,’ said Briccarello. ‘If that means spending a little more time with the customer, why not?!’
Alfred Gratien AG
Besserat de Bellefon BE
Billecart Salmon BS
Bruno Palliard BP
De Castelnau DC
Duval Leroy DU
Georges Vesselle GV
Joseph Perrier JP
Laurent Perrier LP
Moët & Chandon MC
Perrier Jouët PJ
Piper Heidsieck PI
Veuve Clicquot VE
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March / April 2008