The prevailing wisdom is that there are two things in life that are inevitable, death and taxes. While we are not seeking to disturb anyone’s comfort zone (one has Donald Trump and Elon Musk for that already), there are a few other things that come to mind in the discussions of ‘absolutes’. The ocean is always salty for example. The whole gravity thing works pretty consistently as well. You drop an apple, it hits the ground. And, rosé Champagnes always cost a lot more. Unlike the oceans and gravity, which have perfectly sound explanations, that last one doesn’t necessarily.
It all started with a presentation of one of our favorite larger Champagne houses, Bollinger. As usual, we loved the Bollinger Special Cuvee. We always have, but haven’t always carried it because the price point doesn’t always hit a logical spot vis-à-vis all of the other Champagnes that we carry. Still, no faulting the juice.
At the same time we were presented Bollinger Rosé. Curiously, though the two of us tasting that day have nearly seventy years in the wine business between us, but neither of us could remember ever tasting this particular bottling. Sure we taste a lot of stuff, and can forget things. But we rarely do, and when something is this good, you don’t forget it.
Intrigued, we looked at the ‘stats’. The Special Cuvee was 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Meunier from vineyards of which over 85% were Grands and Premiers crus sites. The Rosé is 62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 14% also from vineyards that are over 85% Grands and Premiers crus. A percent or two difference in the blend but, otherwise, not a lot of evident separation points between the two bubblies…except one. The Rosé has 5 to 6% still red wine added to provide its color.
The kicker is that we were interested in the Rosé as well as the Special Cuvee and inquired as to the price. The cost of the pink version was 60% more! How does the addition of a little still red wine cause the price to vault so precipitously? Was that ‘still red wine’ some unnamed Grand Cru Burgundy? We’re not bagging on ‘Bolly’ mind you. This seems to be common practice throughout Champagne. Those of you who have seen the super elite certainly have noted that the cost of the pink versions of, say, Krug, Dom Perignon and Cristal are substantially higher than their already very costly ‘regular’ cuvees. The practice is widespread. The only question in our minds is ‘why?’
The first thing out of most vintners’ mouths is something about ‘rarity’. But limited quantities don’t always justify extreme prices (see also Napa Valley). I mean is still red wine that hard to come by that you couldn’t make more rosé? Champagne is a big place. So, then, is the rosé version of someone’s Champagne always better by comparison to that house’s go-to Brut? Not in our experience. In fact it is surprisingly close to a 50/50 proposition.
So what’s the deal? It seems to be standard operating procedure in Champagne. Is rosé Champagne worth so much more simply because it is ‘pink’? Some aren’t even that pink! The bottom line is that this is all baffling to us when we stop and think about it. As a wine store, we spend a lot of time trying to educate folks on a wide variety of topics to try and explain why things look, taste or cost a certain way. Here? We got nothing.
Maybe it’s just a case of a French region trying to pull ‘la lain’ over everyone’s ‘yeux’. Hey, we love a good rosé Champagne as much as anyone. We also understand the whole ‘perceived value’ thing. We just aren’t ‘perceiving’ why we are expected to pay so much more for the genre. Just sayin’…