As I was drinking Aubry’s 2000 Sablé Rosé on Sunday morning for breakfast (eggs over-easy, thick-cut bacon, fried potatoes, homemade biscuits—after all, I am in America), I thought about how much the world of rosé champagne is changing. In the past, rosé used to be almost an afterthought for many houses, involving a blend of some red wine into the basic non-vintage brut without much real creativity about it. Sure, a few houses made some serious, ageworthy rosés with a great deal of personality (such as the lovely 1981 Cristal Rosé I had the privilege of drinking on Christmas), but by and large, rosé champagne became treated as a fruity, easygoing wine, often with an excessively high dosage, made mostly for the export market. Today, rosé has the capacity to be much, much more than that.
The Sablé Rosé is a fine example of a wine that is expanding the definition of what rosé champagne can be. Made by a very light maceration of pinot noir, its color is adjusted with one or two percent of red wine before it’s blended with chardonnay, usually around 40 percent. It’s made with a very low pressure, only four bars instead of six, which seems to accentuate its intense vinosity of fruit, and it’s released with an extremely low dosage, giving it an austere and penetrating intensity. This is certainly not a wine for everyone, and in fact many wine drinkers might not like it at all, but it’s an exceptionally well-made champagne, one that pushes boundaries, explores possibilities and asks questions. Also, even though it contains 40 percent of chardonnay vinified en blanc, it’s a highly original wine that operates firmly within the world of rosé champagne, and it really has nothing to do with its white counterpart. The 2000, at eight years of age, seems to have reached its apogee, and I don’t see any advantage in aging it further. The color has dropped out a little, appearing slightly more coppery in tone than it was when this wine was released, but the fruit is still fresh and lively, showing a full, confident depth of aroma and balancing a taut core of strawberry and redcurrant flavors with more mature notes of wood smoke and exotic spice. It’s delicious and intriguing, and if you’ve still got any bottles hanging around in your cellar, I would drink them up, with pleasure.
Aubry’s Sablé has a personality all its own, but there are a number of other rosé champagnes that demonstrate a similarly unbridled originality, vinosity and depth of character. Cedric Bouchard’s Le Creux d’Enfer and Bertrand Gautherot’s Saignée de Sorbée are two of my favorite rosés in all of Champagne, and they are both single-vineyard, vintage-dated, macerated rosés of rare expression and conviction. What’s additionally interesting is that while they each come from very different aesthetics, they are both arguably the finest, most complex and most emblematic wines of their respective estates, and regarded as such by their creators. Selosse’s rosé can also be appreciated within a similar context of originality, as could the as yet unreleased rosés from Olivier Collin and Jérôme Prévost. Larmandier-Bernier’s Rosé de Saignée is certainly one of the most original rosés in the region, feeling more like a light red wine in its intensity and depth, while Laherte’s Les Beaudiers is a fascinating, single-vineyard saignée that’s less widely known now but sure to attract more attention in the future.
Wines like these definitely represent an extreme end of the category, and even if some of these are a little too weird and wild for you, the world of rosé champagne has a great deal to offer. Among more approachable wines, René Geoffroy’s saignée rosé is an unabashed celebration of Cumières pinot noir, with its bold fruitiness and extroverted flavors, while across the mountain in Ambonnay, Paul Déthune’s offers an equally poignant expression of terroir. Vilmart’s vintage-dated Grand Cellier Rubis possesses a rare elegance and aristocratic finesse, and in the category of what could be called “blanc de blanc” rosés—those that are made by adding red wine to pure chardonnay—Agrapart’s Les Demoiselles demonstrates an exemplary balance and purity. Moving into the mainstream, even négociant houses are upping the ante with high-quality offerings of rosé, and so far I’ve been impressed with the non-vintage rosés from both Bollinger and Charles Heidsieck. Rosé champagne is a category of wine that’s definitely on its way up, and no longer a second-class citizen of the region—there are many wines that are worthy of serious attention, and rosé champagne still has new territory to continue to explore.