A pink champagne that whispers ‘I love you’

Although some occasions call for inexpensive bubbly, Valentine’s Day is the time to splurge on the good stuff, rosé champagne, the most romantic drink in the world. With gorgeous pale pink color and strawberry or raspberry overtones, it is a sensual drink that goes well with a wide variety of foods, including chocolate. It is also delectable by itself.

Most champagne is made from a white grape, chardonnay, and two red grapes, pinot noir and pinot meunier. By pressing the grapes gently and removing the skins immediately, the juice remains clear, even from the red grapes, since the color comes from the pigments in the skins. (You can prove this to yourself the next time you buy red table grapes. Squeeze one gently; the first drop of juice is clear. Keep squeezing and the juice turns red as the skin is disrupted). Yeast ferments the sugar-rich juice into white wine and carbon dioxide that dissipates into the atmosphere. The winemaker blends these white still wines and starts the secondary fermentation. To make rosé champagne, winemakers usually add a small amount of still red wine, made from pinot noir, to the blend and then start the secondary fermentation as usual by adding a little sugar, more yeast, and corking the bottle. With the bottle corked, the carbon dioxide generated is entrapped in the wine as bubbles.

Billecart-Salmon, a house that has always been known for its stylish rosé, makes a deliciously luxurious non-vintage one that delivers intense red-fruit flavors, yet retains suaveness and bright balancing acidity (about $85, also available in half-bottle, $44).

Duval-Leroy, a family-owned champagne firm headed by a dynamic woman, Carol Duval, is one of the few firms that uses a different method to produce its rosé. It presses pinot noir grapes and lets the juice and skins remain in contact briefly, one to two days, until they achieve the desired pink color. The winemaker removes the skins and continues fermenting the pink juice until it is a dry rosé wine. After blending with other rosé still wines, the yeast and sugar are added for the secondary fermentation. The result, called Rosé de Saignée, is airy and divine (about $43, also available in half-bottles, $21.50).

Billecart-Salmon is distributed by Carolina Wine & Spirits, 781-278-2000; Duval-Leroy by MS Walker, 800-238-0607.

February 10, 2005.