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A Rosy Start to the New Year
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 28, 2010
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Champagne Bollinger, Champagne (France) Rosé, NV (Terlato Wines International, $75):  With one or two exceptions, the greatest Champagnes I have ever tasted have been traditional, “white” Champagnes.  But most of my most satisfying experiences in drinking Champagne with food have involved rosé Champagnes.  Thanks to their richer weight and flavor intensity, rosé Champagnes have more flexibility with flavorful or moderately rich dishes.

Bollinger ranks as one (among several) of my favorite Champagne houses, and Bollinger’s two rosé Champagnes -- the vintage Grande Année Rosé, and this non-vintage Rosé -- are fine wines.  I find this interesting because Bollinger came relatively late to the rosé Champagne party.  While many houses have produced rosés since the 19th century, Bollinger released its first Grande Année Rose only about 1982 and its first NV Rosé even later, in 2008.  As if to explain the reluctance to make a rosé, Ghislain de Montgolfier, then the managing director of Bollinger, once told me that “Rosé used to signify bad wine.”  Bollinger’s entry into the field of non-vintage rosé Champagne confirmed the growing popularity and importance of rosé Champagnes in the world market.

Bollinger produces its non-vintage rosé by adding red wine to the blend of still white wines that then undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.  “We make our best white wine and then blend with a good red wine,” de Montgolfier said.  “Only a few vineyard sites in Champagne can make a good red wine,” he remarked, adding that for a red wine the vineyard must be managed differently than the norm in the region, employing techniques such as a green harvest to boost ripeness, and technologies modeled on growing grapes for red Burgundy.  “You need your own vineyard,” he concluded.  As a house that owns vineyards enough to provide most of the grapes for its Champagne production, Bollinger has that detail covered.

The NV Bollinger Rosé is stylistically very consistent with what is regarded as the Bollinger house style -- dry, full-bodied, high-acid Champagne with complexity of flavor, richness and depth.  In the rosé, the salient difference is an elevated fruitiness -- a red-fruitiness at that.  In color, the wine has that beautiful, improbable shade of golden pink that you see sometimes at sunset.  The aroma suggests small red fruits, particularly wild strawberries, with a delicate whiff of vanilla, nutmeg and Christmas spices and, in the background, toast.  In your mouth the wine is very dry and yet very fruity, full of strawberry flavor along with spiciness.  The fruity flavor is concentrated and pure, and it gives the wine a distinct “redness” of flavor, to complement the toasty, nutty, incipient-caramel character that I find in the white non-vintage, Bollinger Special Cuvée.  The fruitiness seems to supplant the typical Bollinger mineral notes.

I would particularly enjoy this champagne with smoked foods -- smoked oysters, smoked salmon, smoked meats: the fruitiness makes a lovely contrast to smokiness.  I’d also enjoy it with dishes that have a delicate pastry crust, such as escargots in puff pastry.  It can accompany simple roasts from chicken breasts to turkey to pork; these will accentuate its fruitiness, as will hard cheeses such as Manchego.  Instead of a flute, try serving it in a white wine glass, which will allow the wine to express its richness.

91 Points