Rose champagne edging out classic bubbly

Do you take your champagne brut or rose? Around the world the French sparkling wine is still the ultimate festive drink, but these days it often comes in shades of golden pink to pomegranate.

First seen as a quirky variation on classic white bubbly — even dismissed as a “woman’s drink” — rose champagne has grown into far more than a fad, with a market share that has been rising steadily for 10 years.

All of France’s top champagne houses have started offering rose, and the northeastern growing region is producing ever more of it, according to Thierry Gasco, cellar master at Pommery.

“More and more wine lovers, including men, have accepted rose in its own right,” said Gasco.

For 26 years Francois Domi has run the cellars at Billecart-Salmon, a 19th-century champagne producer which sells 1.5 to two million bottles, 60 percent of them exported, and whose rose has secured a global reputation.

On a tour of the house cellars in Mareuil-sur-Ay, Domi explained why in his view rose champagne has an advantage over white: “It adds colour to the table — and it softens the image of champagne, it makes it more genial.”

Rose accounts for less than a third of production at Billecart-Salmon, made from the three main grapes of the champagne region: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

Wine producers are banned by European Union law from mixing red and white wines to produce rose, which has to be made by the traditional method of leaving crushed red grape skins to soak with their juice.

Champagne is the exception: here rose is made by mixing in red wine, less than 10 percent in the case of Billecart-Salmon.

Domi doses the red wine until he achieves just the right colour and aroma, nothing too tannic, the aim being a champagne with a slight hint of dried fruit and strawberry.

Getting more fruit from the grape

A handful of champenois winegrowers choose to make their rose by steeping grape skins in juice, known as the “saignee” method from the French word for bleeding.

The result, says Domi, is a wine with “more power, where the aromas are more pronounced, more striking.”

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