The only thing Ed Mc Carthy likes better than talking about Champagne is drinking Champagne. At a tasting he organized for the Wine Media Guild at Felidia Restaurant, he was able to do both. This annual event is the Wine Media Guild’s most popular and it is always overbooked. Ed assembled 15 Rose Champagnes, 10 NV and 5 Vintage. Fortunato Nicotra, the chef at Felidia, organized a complementary menu. The highlight was an enormous salmon that the chef sliced and served in the dining room. It was a perfect match with the Champagne.
Ed said that Rosè Champagne is “in” right now even though it is more expensive. A few years ago some Champagne houses did not make Rosé Champagne and it was only 4% of the total Champagne production. It is now 8% of total production and has not slumped in the last 10 years.
He said that Rosé is a little more full bodied because of the addition of Pinot Noir and that it goes well with food. He added that rose champagnes are usually the best Champagnes to have with dinner, even with meat. These are dry wines and should not be drunk with dessert.
Ed loves all types of Champagne but when asked which style was his favorite his answer was Blanc de Blancs because he believes the best chardonnay grapes in the world come from Champagne. He said the greatest vintages are 1964,1988.1996 and 2002
Ed explained there are two ways to make Rosè Champagne. For the traditional method, a small amount, about 10 to 15%, of still or regular Pinot Noir is added to the cuvée before the second fermentation. The other method involves skin contact (maceration). The skins of black grapes are pressed slightly and left in contact with the juice to soak or steep until the desired color is archived. This method is more difficult because the same color must be achieved year after year.
Ed and his wife, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, are the authors of the popular Wine for Dummies series and Ed is the author of Champagne for Dummies.
The 10 NV Champagnes:
Bruno Paillard Brut Rosè Premier Cuvèe NV this Rosé is produced from first pressing only. Pinot Noir about 85% and 15% Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir is pressed rapidly to obtain a clear white wine, which is then blended with the juice of some Pinot Noir vinified as a light red by leaving the skins on the juice. The dosage is very low to produce an authentic brut wine. Rosé Première Cuvée is in a clear bottle. $70
Ed said it was an extra Brut. The wine was very fruity with strawberry and raspberry flavors and aromas and a hint of citrus. Ed liked this wine better than I did and said it was subtle and delicate and needed more time to develop. Later I tasted it with food and liked it much better.
Ayala Brut Rosè NV Made from 53% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir and 8% of the Pinot Noir is still wine from old vines. It is a blend of premier and grand crus with a 98% rating on the “echelle des crus” scale. There is no dosage. Ed liked this wine because it was very dry and considered it a very good buy at $50. I agree with Ed and it is also a very good food wine. He also said that Bollinger now owns Ayala but the style is completely different. $52
Henriot Brut Rosé NV $60 The majority of the wine is Pinot Noir the Montagne dr Reims and Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blances and some Pinot Meuniuer, 15 crus are blended together and 25% is reserve wine. Vinified Pinot Noir as a red wine is added to the assemblage. Ed said it was light and elegant but it is not a well known house.
G.H. Mumm Brut Rosè NV $70 A selection 12% to 14% of red wines from the villages famed for their Pinot Noir such as Bouzy, Verzenay or Riceys on the Cote des Bar. Once the balance is achieved by the addition of reserve wines, the final blend is determined by the addition of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with the addition of Pinot Meunier. Ed said he was very impressed by this wine.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvèe Brut Rosé NV 100% Pinot Noir It is a blend of ten different crus (villages) situated mainly in the south and north areas of the Montagne de Reims, including Cote Bouze, from the finest crus of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvis and Tours Sur-Maine. The grapes are sorted and destemmed before going in the vats. Controlled maceration lasts from 48 to 72 hours depending on the vintage. It is aged in the cellars for at least 4 years before release. The first vintage was 1968.
Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosè NV The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir come from the Montagne and Les Ricyes. Most of the grapes are pressed in vineyard press houses. In the winery the must undergoes cool temperature fermentation. 85% of the blend is vinified as white wine and the remainder as red. A small portion of still Pinot Noir from Ambonnay, Bouzy and Riceys is added. The final cuvee is blended from an extensive range of at least 15 diverse crus. After the second fermentation in the bottle, the wine spends three years on the lees also in the bottle. It is a crisp; complex full bodied fruity wine with hints of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Ed said he was very impressed with this wine and so was I. It is a good buy at $60
Alfred Gratien Brut Rosè NV made from 45% Chardonnay 40% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir added as a still wine. After 6 months of cellaring in 228 liter oak casks, the must is transformed into wine. Malolactic fermentation does not take place. The cuvee is bottled with sugar and yeast to allow for a secondary fermentation in the bottle and it remains in the cellar for 36 months. Then the disgorging takes place where the lees and sediment are removed from the bottle. The bottle is then topped up again with more wine and some sugar and left to rest for a few more months in the cellar. It has good red fruit with hints of raspberry and I enjoyed it with lunch. $70
Gosset Brut Rosé NV 58% Chardonnay 35% Pinot Noir and 7% red wine from Ambonnay and Bouzy. The grapes come from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. It is a blend of 3 different harvests, including 10% reserve wine. The wine spends an average of four years resting on the lees before release. $75
Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Reserve NV made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They purchase grapes from about 120 of the 323 crus which make up the Champagne appelation each year to blend their Champagne. The wine is aged for a minimum of three years. They have only been making Rosé for a few years. $65Bollinger Brut Rosè NV 62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Meunier. There is an addition of 5% red wine and 85% of the grapes come from Grand Cru and Premiers Cru vineyards. The wine is aged for more than twice the time required by the appellation. This wine had more body, Ed said, because of the percentage of Pinot Noir. It has aromas and flavors and strawberries, raspberries, cherries and a hint of sweet spice. I like their slogan “Fresh as a Rose, Balanced as a Bollinger”. $85
Here are three books on wine that I recommend as gifts this Holiday Season: How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto-Eric Asimov
Wine for Dummies-5th Edition -Ed Mc Carthy and Mary Ewing- Mulligan
The New York Times Book of Wine: More than 30 Years of Vintage Writing- Howard G. Goldberg