Serious Eats: Drinks
Celebrate Valentine's Day With Pink Bubbly
Pretty pink wine can definitely enhance a romantic evening. But it's a challenge to find good-value bottles: sparkling rosé is almost always more expensive than its paler counterpart. The additional step in the winemaking (either allowing the juice some extended skin contact, bleeding the vat in the saignee process, or making still red wine to blend with white) may account for some of the increase in price, but high demand for sparkling rosé keeps the prices up, too.
And unfortunately, there's a lot of lower-priced pink bubbly on the market that's pretty gross. We waded through more than a few drainpours to find some delicious options for your Valentine's Day enjoyment. Here are a few of our favorite pink sparkling wines—Cremant, Cava, and Champagne.
Get Cozy With Cremant
If you like bubbly, you should get familiar with the term Cremant: these sparkling wines aren't from Champagne, but they are from France, and they do undergo a secondary bubble-forming fermentation in the bottle like Champagne does. They're often a killer value.
My top recommendation: the name is so, so cheesy, but please trust me when I say that you should buy Antech Emotion (2009) for all your budget-pink-bubbly needs. The scent is toasty but the wine is light and bright: tart cranberry-strawberry flavors make your mouth pucker a bit. This Cremant de Limoux (from the Languedoc in Southern France) is made in the traditional methode, yielding very fine carbonation. It's clean and fresh, and there's a floral side too—as it warms, pressed violets come to mind. It's 70% Chardonnay, 18% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac, and 2% Pinot Noir. Drink before dinner with prosciutto and goat cheese or shrimp cocktail, or make a meal of it with quiche or carbonara (a lobster roll would work, too.) At around $15, you can't really do better.
Another good option is Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace, which is fresh and tangy, with a little orange zest and tart strawberry flavor. This pinot noir-based bubbly is a thirst-quencher, good for serving as an aperitif (it would be nice with crispy fried spring rolls.) If you can't find the Antech, this one will do nicely for around $16. (Not sure I'd pay $20 for it, though.)
Bold Rosé Cava
If you're serving seared duck breast or juicy lamb chops for Valentine's dinner, you may want a wine that's a little more bold. Our pick: Torre Oria Cava Brut Rosado, which is a gorgeous magenta color and offers full dark-berried fruit. This traditional-method bubbly is made from 100% Garnacha, and tastes like cranberries and blackberries, with a hint of Campari richness. It sells for around $15.
Rosé Champagne Picks
Rosé Champagne is pricey stuff—you'll definitely shell out more for it than you would regular 'white' Champagne. But if you want rosé, Champagne offers more flavorful and interesting wine than any of the options above.
If you're looking for seduction, Champagne Chartogne-Taillet's rosé, made from 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir, offers it in spades. In the glass, there's a potent, vivid scent of caramel and strawberry candy, and the flavors swirl in at first sip: toffee, tangy apricot jam on melba toast, spicy rhubarb with candied ginger, pressed roses and waxy honeycomb. This Champagne has a bit of a savory side, but is still feminine, with real acidity balancing throaty alto depth. This isn't pop-and-giggle wine, it's velvety bathtub-for-two wine, to be served with rich slices of salmon and tuna sashimi or better yet—pork belly. One of David Chang's pork buns and a flute of this, perhaps? Afterward, you might as well just smoke a cigarette and call it a night. About $50, but isn't romance priceless?
Sometimes, though, you want your bubbles to be a little less serious and a little more fun. Champagne Lallier rosé smells appealingly like peaches and cream, and the flavor is friendly and fresh, with the ripe fragrant peach flavors carrying through. Made from 80% pinot noir and 20% chardonnay, this berry-flavored wine laced with hints of thyme and sage is as easy drinking as it gets. There's no mustiness here (though also not some of the yeasty or mineral complexity of higher-end bottles.) Serve with goat cheese and prosciutto, or a heartier meal of meatball stroganoff, or really anything involving mushrooms and cream. It'll cost you around $40, though we've seen it for sale this time of year for $32.
Pehu-Simonet's Brut Rosé falls somewhere between the two, balancing fresh, pure fruit with a bit more complexity. Vibrant red berries and hints of nectarine and mandarin orange are accented with a minty/basil-like freshness and a little clove and Sichuan peppercorn spice. It's more interesting than the Lallier, but not as brooding as the Chartogne-Taillet. Pair this delicious wine with roast chicken or shrimp tempura, or mussels in white wine or curry sauce. It sells around $60 or $65.
A Few More Options
There are a few I hesitated over—I'd happily drink them if offered, but wouldn't likely shell out for a bottle now that I've had a preview. Champagne J. Dumangin Fils offers something a bit more tart and floral, for those who prefer their Champagne with a hint of grapefruit and lime and ready to pair with poultry or fish. Some tasters were turned off by the tartness and felt it was too austere, though others liked its brightness. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some tasters found Chateau Frank's Celebré Rosé a little on the sweet side. This 100% Pinot Meunier bubbly from the Dr. Frank estate in the Finger Lakes of NY has some nice yeasty flavor—it reminded us of strawberry-rose jam on a buttered biscuit. It would work nicely with salmon dishes (smoked or unsmoked) or an avocado-shrimp salad, and sells for $21.
Moving down in price from there, it was hard to find winners. Some tasters liked Bouvet Brut Rose Excellence from the Loire, which sells for around $14 and is made from Cabernet Franc. Up front, it offers tart cherry and baked-strawberry flavors, but, it showed an herbal/endive side that struck us as slightly bitter, and a dry grapefruit-peel finish. We found this wine much nicer to drink on day two and three—it fills out a bit if you store it in the fridge with a Champagne saver.
Are you fan of pink bubbly? What are your favorite bottles?
Disclosure: All wines were samples provided for review consideration.