Carl Kanowsky: Reflections on summer, champagne and rosé

George Skorka, representative for Piper-Heidsieck. Courtesy photo

Ian Blackburn runs a fun group called WineLA. He puts on almost monthly events, generally focusing on specific regions or varietals. He also hosts very high-end dinners, featuring cult wines like Screaming Eagle (I’ve been on their waiting list for over 10 years — I hope to get the chance to buy before I die).

About a month ago, he organized a fun tasting highlight on champagnes and rosé wines. Sometimes honored in its breach, the term “Champagne” refers to sparkling wine from a specific area on northeastern France. Only wines made from this region can legally be called “Champagne”. All of the world’s other sparkling wines must be labelled something else, even wines from other areas in France.

While there were sparkling wines from places other than Champagne (some quite tasty), they could not challenge the supremacy of Champagne. For me, the hit of the event was the Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (non-vintage). Not cheap at $80/bottle, it outshined every other bubbly there. Dark pink with complex tastes of cherry and strawberry, Piper-Heidsieck balances the alcohol, acidity, and fruit supremely well.

Another hit came from the revered house, Louis Roederer, who poured the 2012 Brut Millesime Rosé. Flowers, like roses, were in evidence in the delightful finish. A light salmon color, I enjoyed the beautiful strawberry flavors and dense, small bubbles that make Champagne such a joyous experience.

The house champagne Michel Gonet approaches the manner of making a still red wine in its offering. The grape skins join the juice for 48 hours, producing a lovely blush sparkling wine with strong Pinot notes. Sometimes it’s tough to identify exactly what grapes are used in a Champagne. With this Brut Rosé (non-vintage), the Pinot Noir shines. Coming from California (Sonoma County, to be specific), the 2013 Balletto Brut Rosé, Russian River, offers great quality at a reasonable price of $42. It’s aged for three years in the bottle, an obvious commitment to quality. An even greater value is the 2017 Balletto Rosé of Pinot Noir, priced at $20/bottle. People should be pouring this at their weddings – their guests would be impressed.

Other tasty offerings came from Champagne Henriot and Champagne Jacquart, pouring the best value true Champagne, specifically the Brut, which was fresh and effervescent.

New Zealand’s Hillersden had the best value sparkling wine at just $19 per bottle. The rosés for me were, for the most part, pretty miss-able. Not much bouquet, fruit flavor, complexity or interest. The one standout was Chateau La Coste from Provence, France. Their 2017 Certified Organic Rosé provided excellent value ($24/bottle) with some complexity.

Overall, in a relatively small venue, Ian Blackburn created a world where a novice wine drinker could gain valuable experience in both sparkling wines and rosés.

© Carl J. Kanowsky
September 23, 2018

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