Tasting wine: Rosé champagne ideal for the holidays

I discovered a few weeks ago when reading The Tablehopper newsletter that its author, Marcia Gagliardi, aka “The Tablehopper,” also had a Nov. 1 birthday. Like me, my wine comrade Brian Springer, and thousands of other Bay Area residents, she is a dreaded Scorpio.

We’ve been trying, to no avail, to get together and have a birthday glass of champagne. Brian, who shares my actual birthday, and I are trying to plan a lunch date. It looks like both of these social engagements may happen some time in 2008, as this time of year is very busy, especially for people who work in the food and wine business or cover it.

However, like any self-respecting birthday girl, I begin the celebration a few days ahead of schedule with the pronouncement, “let the bubbly begin.” As we’re about to head into the holidays, champagne is weighing prominently on my mind, anyway, and probably will be until Jan. 1, when many of you wake up with a giant bubble-induced hangover.

This year, I am all about the pink stuff — rosé champagne.

I think rosé champagne has gotten a bad rap because of the overall stigma that used to be attached to pink wine in general. When I recommend a sparkling rosé, people often ask me if it is sweet. The reality is that rosé champagne can be every bit as complex and dry as white sparkling wines, and in fact, is made with the same grapes.

Pinot noir and pinot meunier, the two red skinned grapes that are used for champagne production, have clear or white juice. Most champagne has pinot noir in its blend even when it is white.

In the case of sparkling white wines, there is no skin contact. But with rosé champagne, the wine is either pressed with its skin, macerated on its skin for a short period of time. or goes through a bleeding process known as saignée that adds color.

Rosé champagne often has a bit more fruit than other champagne, yet the chalky terrain of the region still comes through in the wines. If it says “brut” on the label, that means it is dry, even accounting for the dosage — a sugar liquid that is added after disgorgement — which determines just how dry the champagne will taste. This is true of all sparkling wines.

Like other champagne, there are both vintage and nonvintage renditions, but for our purposes here I’m going to stick to nonvintage rosé champagnes.

Champagne Colin Brut Rosé, NV:

 The Colin family began growing wine grapes in Champagne in 1829 and continued to sell most of their fruit to other houses until fairly recently. Made entirely from premier cru grapes, this is a medium-bodied champagne with clean, strawberry, almond and mineral flavors.

Suggested retail: $46

Château Gonet-Médeville Rose Extra Brut, NV:

Julie Médeville, the winemaker from Château Gilette in Sauternes and her husband, Xavier Gonet, who is from a champagne family, started Gonet-Médeville in 2000. This is a terrific wine, probably one of the best champagnes I’ve tried all year. Minerally with subtle berry, apple and almond croissant tones and a lengthy finish, this is a must for rosé champagne fans.

Suggested retail: $54

Paul Bara BrutRosé, NV:

This is a delightful wine brought to us by Kermit Lynch. Bara has had a cult following for years but has never hit the mainstream. Probably the driest of the three wines mentioned today, it might be the driest with green apples, tart berries and an underlying minerality.

Suggested retail: $55

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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