Friday, May 16, 2008

Wine of the Week: H. Billiot Fils Brut Rosé

I am a huge fan of the Henri Billiot estate in Ambonnay, and I find all of their wines to be well worth buying, from the richly expressive Brut Réserve to the vivid and complex Cuvée Laetitia. I have a particular fondness, however, for Billiot’s Brut Rosé, one of my favorite rosés in all of Champagne.

Billiot’s rosé is based on their Brut Réserve, although it’s released one year earlier. The Brut Réserve is usually about 75 to 80 percent pinot noir, with the rest chardonnay, and like all of Billiot’s wines, it’s 100 percent Ambonnay grand cru. To make the rosé, Billiot adds a small percentage of older red wine, aged in barrique: the exact proportion will vary from vintage to vintage, depending on the wine. “It’s a function of color,” explains Laetitia Billiot. “We usually add between four and eight percent of red wine, depending on how strong the color of the wine is in barrel.”

The most recent release of the rosé is based on 2004, with reserve wines from 2003 and 2002, and contains six percent of red wine from 1999. Everything about this wine is immediately alluring, from its delicate, pale salmon color to the fragrantly perfumed aromas of spiced plum, red cherry and fresh pear. On the palate it’s creamy and rich in texture, showing a concentrated burst of red fruit aroma that lingers through the long and ample finish. Its sleekly balanced acidity serves to both elongate and expand the flavors, and the overall feel is one of finesse, refinement and detail. My only complaint about this wine is that it really ought to be bottled in magnum only, as 750 milliliters disappears entirely too quickly!

By the way, you’ll find a lot number on the bottle (L 02, for example), but unlike with some other estates, this has nothing to do with vintages or bottling: it’s simply an indicator of the cuvée (Brut Réserve is L 01, Rosé is L 02, et cetera). Thus it’s not easy to predict what vintages are contained within the particular bottle that you’re drinking, although the bottles in the United States usually have a disgorgement date printed on them, which helps.

Henri Billiot is imported into the United States by Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY, and the suggested retail price for the Brut Rosé is $70.