What could be better than bubbly on Valentine’s Day? Chocolate perhaps – I’m an easy sell on that idea. As a catalyst for romance though, I think you’ll agree that rosé Champagne and sparkling wine remain undeniably in a league of their own.
Of course I would never tell you what to buy; that is not my style. I do intend to lead you to the water however, even going so far as to point you to the place where that first sip will leave the greatest impression. In discussing sparkling rosé, I’ll begin by stating that just as the pink patio wines of summer differ infinitely in quality and character, bubbles of the same nature provide equal variation. You are certainly welcome to purchase the white zinfandel equivalent of sparkling rosé for a mere $9 per bottle, but this is Valentine’s Day and such frugal practice and questionable taste is unlikely to win you any points for style on the most romantic day of the year.
The crystal-clear Champagne that we raise to welcome in the New Year is surprisingly not the original sparkling style; rosé from the same region holds that title. Centuries ago in the heart of France, competition for the export wine market saw rivalry between Burgundy and Champagne. The lightly effervescent wines made by the Champenois were a pale red colour, further enhanced by the addition of red pigment from other fruits such as the elderberry. The winemakers of Champagne eventually tossed in the towel – or at least changed the rules by redefining their own wines to reflect a product of greater purity and one that now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the great Pinot Noir of the Côte d’Or.
To explain the blush colour we must first realize that sparkling wine and more specifically Champagne is normally a product of both black and white grape varieties. Chardonnay is common in the blend for its finesse and elegance, but so are the dark-skinned Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir for their richness of body and fruitiness respectively. Following the initial crush, the freshly pressed grape must if left in contact with the dark coloured skins, quickly absorbs the colour pigment (all grape must starts out opaque white). The length of time spent in contact with the skins will dictate the final colour and hue of the wine. That time frame is typically a day or two. Understand as well, that while some regions permit blending of red and white wine together after fermentation, better rosé – sparkling or otherwise should not follow this practice.
Special occasions such a Valentine’s Day play directly into the hands of better Champagne and sparkling wine houses who produce and market a rosé label in addition to their regular line up. The savvy wine shopper is sure to find numerous options this week on store shelves and you might consider one of the following styles as a cost-effective alternative to the more expensive Champagne labels: Prosecco Rosato (Italian spumante), Cava Rosado (Spain), Brachetto d’Acqui (Italian frizzante), and of course an infinite collection of exceptional sparkling rosé wines from Canada and the US. Another option is to mix 5:1 Cremant de Bourgogne with crème de cassis liqueur. The result is the seductive aperitif known as Kir Royale.
With wine shops currently brimming with sparkling rosé, I encourage you to ask a few questions of the knowledgeable staff. A few extra moments spent selecting the perfect wine along with a bouquet of fresh flowers is certain to pay out dividends on February 14th. As for the chocolates: if you screw-up the first two items, you can bet that she won’t share the info card that describes the chocolates in the box with you either – this I have learned through experience.
Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!