When I look at statistics for rosé Champagne, I wonder whether someone has put my five-year-old daughter—a powerful advocate for the color pink—in charge of people's wine tastes. Last year, rosé Champagne sales rose almost 47 percent in the United States, with nearly two million bottles sold. Even so, that number represents only about 8 percent of all Champagne sales, meaning that rosé somehow manages to be both wildly popular and the insider's Champagne of choice.
All true Champagne comes from the Champagne region in north-central France; any other sparkling wine, pink or not, is just that: sparkling wine. Which in no way means it's bad—some of my favorites in this tasting didn't hail from anywhere near Champagne, or even France.
Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines range in color from pale orange to luminescent pink, from delicate to forceful and almost brawny in flavor, and from fairly affordable to mighty expensive. The most affordable are rosé cavas and Proseccos, followed by American sparkling wines; true rosé Champagnes start at about $40 a bottle (typically 10 to 20 percent more than regular Champagnes) and can go as high as several hundred dollars.
The grapes for rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines vary. In Champagne itself, the classic trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier is used, and regions that seek to emulate Champagne follow suit. But almost any combination of grapes could, theoretically, work. In Spain, for instance, rosé cavas might be blends of the local varieties Garnacha and Monastrell; in Austria, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch combine to good effect.
Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines aren't lightweight wines, pink tint notwithstanding. They tend to be more structured and emphatic than traditional Champagnes, thanks to the greater influence of red grapes.
Sparkling Wine 101
Champagne is made using the méthode champenoise process, in which newly made still or "base" wine is dosed with sugar and yeast, sealed in bottles and left for several weeks. During that time, a second fermentation occurs in the bottle, producing Champagne's trademark bubbles. Many inexpensive sparkling wines are also made this way, but some less-expensive versions, such as most Proseccos, result from what's known as the Charmat process. This alternative approach involves adding the mixture of yeast and sugar to base wine that's stored in large, sealed tanks. Some particularly cheap sparkling wines are made with carbonation—the same procedure used for soft drinks. In general, they should be avoided.
To make rosé Champagne or sparkling wine, a winemaker has two choices. The more common method is blending, in which a small percentage of red wine is combined with the base wine (which is white) before the secondary fermentation. The greater the percentage of red wine, the deeper the hue of the rosé will be. Less common is to let the base wine (in this case, typically made from only red grapes) soak up color from the grape skins as it ferments in the tank, then to drain or "bleed" the wine off the skins before it turns fully red. This process is called saignée ("bled" in French). The choice between the two is largely stylistic; good rosés are produced both ways.