Champagne Rosé, the most elegant drink for festive moments – Meanderings through France n° 214
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
White Champagne was created in the 17th century but it was not until the second half of the 18th century that people have been able to enjoy Champagne Rosé. Napoleon himself loved it! Today drinking this pink beverage is very fashionable again and now one bottle out of four sold in France is Rosé. And if no Rosé Champagne was sold abroad in 2000, today it represents 10% of all the Champagne exported in Great Britain, the USA and Japan.
What is exactly Champagne Rosé?
It all begins with different grape varieties. Champagnes are made with 3 different ones: a white grape variety called Chardonnay and two black grapes called Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Most white Champagnes are made with a blend of the 3 grapes. To get white Champagne the skin of the black grapes is taken of the must early in the wine making process so that it won’t get coloured.
To make Rosé Champagnes wine makers blend white and red wines. Depending on the amount of red wine poured in the blend they get a wide range of pinks from light to dark pink. This blending guarantees an excellent quality. A few Rosé Champagnes are made by living the skin of the black grapes in the must during 8 to 12 hours to get a pink wine. This process requires a great savoir-faire and very few wine makers use it. Among them you can visit the cellars of Leclerc-Briant in Epernay or of Larmandier-Bernier in Vertus a village south of Epernay.
Why not make red Champagne?
This is not a silly question, Red Champagne did exist during the 17th and 18th centuries but was later forbidden and the last bottle of red Champagne was made in 1887.
Reims, capital city of Champagne Rosé
One of the nicest way to discover Rosé Champagnes is to go to Reims where you will be able to visit several Houses of Champagne and visit this unusual city. During WW1 80% of the town were destroyed, no other city in France suffered so much damage. During the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a huge phase of reconstruction with a wide architectural diversity. But surely Art Deco was the number one style, both geometric and decorative. The botanical patterns are characteristic of that period: roses, baskets of fruits, flowers and of course grapes ornate many façades of Reims’ houses such as he Carnegie library, the Saint Nicaise church, the inside decoration of the opera house, the Villa Douce…
A little history
Reims’ history begins in the 5th century. The city was the founding place of the kingdom of the Franks: it is the place where Clovis (the first Christian French king) was baptised by Saint Remi bishop of Reims in 498. Many French kings were crowned in the Reims’ cathedral as a symbol of their royal filiation. Fortunately many historical monuments were not destroyed during WW1 and the 81 m high towers of the magnificent Gothic Cathedral still overlook the city centre.
No less than 2303 statues ornate the nave and the façade where the famous “Ange au Sourire”, the smiling angel, with its jolly face, is a very good example of the 13th century style from Champagne. If you visit the cathedral don’t miss the guided tour of the towers and of the amazing upper framework and get a great view over the city and the vineyards surrounding it. At night a wonderful sound and light show lights up the cathedral’s façade with an explosion of colours. These shows are still on every day until late September.
The former archbishops’ house stands next to the cathedral. It has been turned into a museum. Inside this beautiful palace rebuilt by Mansart during the 17th century (the same architect who built the Versailles castle), you will see the “Sainte Ampoule”, a small bottle filled with a holy oil used for the French kings’ coronation.
Champagne Houses, a must see
It’s no coincidence that Reims was founded in this eastern French region. Its subsoil shelters a treasure: the Champagne Houses are built over a network of galleries dug by the Romans who extracted chalkstones. Wine makers have enlarged these galleries where they found ideal conditions to keep and age their precious wine bottles. There are millions and millions of them! There are several cellars open to the public where you will be able to visit the galleries called “crayères”. Some of them are truly beautiful, sometimes combining the Champagne reserves quietly waiting in the damp and cool atmosphere of the cellars with art exhibitions. Of course it’s an opportunity to taste several different Champagnes and to buy a few bottles.
The “Café du Palais”, a stylish Art Deco
You will easily find this great restaurant next to the courthouse right in Reims city centre. Jean-François Vogt and his wife will welcome you in an amazing décor. Under the Art Deco stain-glass ceiling, surrounded by dozens of sundry objects you will taste a generous French cuisine and drink Champagne that is available by the flute if you don’t feel like having a whole bottle. But believe me in such a merry atmosphere it won’t be a problem to empty a bottle of Champagne Rosé by Drappier!
For more information about visiting Reims: www.reims-tourisme.com
To find a Champagne House located inside Reims:
To know more about the Café du Palais: www.cafedupalais.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny