March 7, 2011

Rosé Not-Champagne

I celebrated my 21st birthday while living abroad in France. Since I was able to drink anyway, getting drunk was not a priority. Instead, my host family generously hosted a dinner for me and some friends. I knew by then the pleasures of both Champagne and rosé wine, but thanks to my hosts I learned the glories of Rosé Champagne. The lightness of the fruit and the complexity of the secondary fermentation are pleasure I still remember, if not the name of the producer.

Alas, so many times since then I have been disappointed with rosé sparkling wines. It seems rare to find one that offers a balance between fruit and verve, like homemade jam on fresh bread. More often they are insipid and uninspired. I asked my WSET instructor after a very disappointing example of Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut why so many rosé Champagne sucked. His answer said that it had more to do with Champagne houses and their wine making philosophy then the style of wine. Consider this: Champagne houses make a lot of wine. Oceans! And the majority of it is non-vintage. What distinguishes one Champagne from another is not the specific vineyards it comes from (thought in rare cases this can be spot-lighted) or the vintage, but the brand and stylistic choices that brand makes to differentiates its wine. Thus the majority of Champagne is looked at as a commodity, much like grain or beef is here in America. Consistency and image are of prime importance because these are what ensure brand loyalty. So, if you have to churn out millions of bottles of sparkling rosé year after year, you need it to look, smell and taste the same more or less. Its not hard to see how this pushes towards the lowest common denominator. A brand focusing on their image might be more concerned with achieving consistent color in their wine then complexity and interesting aromas. After all, the image of champagne is one of partying, celebrating life's big moments, falling in love all over again - who's going to complain about the wine when their in love!?! Who's going to complain about a wine when the cost of entry to this club is so high. Not me! I don't want to be wet blanket who is then accused of being a wine snob. No, I'd rather sip the lackluster wine and shout Congratulations in spite of it. But this, in my opinion, is the major failing of Champagne: they have built a brand image that has nothing to do with the quality or interest of their wines, and everything to do with lifestyle and artifice. Sure, they make some pretty tasty juice there, but apart from superlative examples like Grand Cru or vintage wines, there seems to be little discussion about the quality of these wines. The exciting talk around Champagne these days revolves around Grower Champagne, which strive to high-light terroir. And these small time producers are gaining ground, thanks to importers like Terry Theise who champion the underdogs. Every year there is more variety on the shelves.

But that not what this is about. This is about the joys of Rosé Champagne, or rather Rosé Not-Champagne. Thankfully Champagne does not hold a monopoly on rosé sparkling wines. All over France there are great sparkling wines, like Crémant de Loire and Crémant de Limoux. But it is in Alsace, where a small amount of Pinot Noir is planted, that Lucien Albrecht makes some fantastic Rosé Crémant d'Alsace. My wife brought home this bottle as a Valentines Day treat. Having already made other plans, we left the bottle in the fridge for another occasion. I decided to open it the other day to serve with saurkraut and chicken sausages. It had enough stuffing to go up against the food, an acidity that paired well with the saurkraut and just a touch of sweetness to lift the fruit and bring out the charm from the apples in the sausage. Here's the review:

(++) Lucien Albrecht Rosé Brut Crémant d'Alsace NV ($25)
Opened beautifully on the nose with strawberry and red current, complimented by lemon curd, yeast and fresh bread aromas. Bright and mouth-filling body with a pleasant long finish. 100% Pinot Noir. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment