the $450 bottle of rosé
Rosé, for the most part, represents the best overall bargain in the dry-wine trinity. Even its most illustrious producers don't dare to price pink wines anywhere near First Growth Bordeaux, Napa Valley cult Cab, or Montrachet, although many Provençals would like to change that.
The big exception to the rule of pink-wine value is festive rosé Champagne. Once considered to be a lesser bubbly, pink Champagne has seen steady price increases since dry rosé became all the rage, starting approximately a decade ago. So the $450 price tag on Piper-Heidsieck's newest pink Champagne may cause one to do a double-take, but doesn't come as a total surprise.
Now, the question is: Is this wine worth $450?
The dark Piper-Heidsieck bottle, swathed in a latticework of au courant rose-gold copper and a fancy wood box, is labeled "Rare Rosé." (Do not confuse this with rapper Rick Ross's black-bottled $30 club pop, Luc Belaire Rare Rosé. Rosay's rosé grew by 340 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to spokesperson Daniel Mazier.)
The P-H team is touting the fact that this cuvée came from the testy 2007 vintage, making its existence "rare." By the company website's own description, that vintage entailed explosive growth followed by rain, chaotic flowering, a cold and rainy August and—the coup de grâce—"the scourge of grey mold."
Don't get me wrong... I admire a winemaker who is galvanized by miserable weather conditions. I'm a big fan of cold vintages. But it's puzzling to see a wine from a challenging vintage priced as though it were plucked from the vintage of the decade. In addition, the wine is said to be sourced from "17 crus," but it's not clear what this means. The 17 Grand Cru villages of Champagne? 17 vineyards? A blend of Grand and Premier Cru sites? The U.S. press release I received stated that the wine was sourced from "17 grape varieties," which I highly doubt.
The Piper-Heidsieck Rare Rosé is 56% Chardonnay and 44% Pinot Noir; 10% of the total was vins de couleurs, or red wine added to white, for color. It's considered totally declassé in any other context to blend a finished white wine with a finished red, and in the 19th century, when Veuve Clicquot introduced this practice in Champagne, connoisseurs were outraged by it.
Today, this practice of assemblage for color is a way to ensure hue consistency from year to year in Champagne. But in the case of a "rare" release that might never be repeated, I'd prefer to sip a saignée. In Champagne, the word saignée is used to describe the technique of crushing the red grapes—those that will be later pressed and vinified to make the base wine—and allowing the skins to macerate, tinting the juice. For me, this is a more honest way to imbue the wine with color and flavor. Of course, I also generally prefer a Champagne sourced one single vineyard. And maybe a better vintage.
All that said, only 150 bottles were released in the UK, where the wine is priced 160% higher than its white counterpart, according to the drinks business, in an article that underscores the "exotic Asian nature" and "Indian influence" of a wine made from grapes grown in northern France. So this wine is truly rare: Not only is it in limited supply, but it appears uphold the theory of the space-time continuum.