Last Friday started in the best possible fashion: bright sunshine and a Mayfair tasting of Ruinart Rose, in the company of a handful of other wine merchants and the effusive Frederic Panaiotis, cellar master at Ruinart. Some of my friends outside the wine game think this is pretty much how I start every day. All I can say, having done this tasting, is I WISH IT WERE SO.
Not only are Ruinart the oldest Champagne house - founded in 1729 - but they can also lay claim to being the first House to produce a rose champagne. When looking back through their archives recently, they found a shipment to Germany made in 1764 which included60 bottles labelled as Ruinart 'Oeil de Perdrix' - referring to the strangely pink colour of the Partridge's eye. No technical or stylistic details are known about this wine - in fact it's unlikely that it was particularly wonderful, given that originally, rose champagnes were coloured not by blending or maceration but by dyeing with elderberries. As anyone who has tasted nasty homemade elderberry wine can tell you, this is unlikely to have helped quality and fortunately the method was eventually replaced by the modern techniques in the late 1890s.
It's an interesting point to consider; colour is such a key part of the style and character of rose champagnes and yet, in the case of a wine like Dom Ruinart (which will spend at least 10 years ageing in bottle before release) there has to be a clear understanding of what depth of hue the wine needs to be when it goes into the bottle, in order to have a good idea of what colour it will be when it comes OUT of the bottle. This gave rise to another discussion; apparently, the most commonly used term when describing the colour of a rose champagne is 'salmon'; but as Frederic quite rightly pointed out, the colour of salmon from Alaska to Scotland to the Baltic sea ranges from deep red to almost white... so it is beholden on us to be more specific in our notes. As I have tried to be on the below.
So without further ado, the wines:
Ruinart Rose NV
Bright pink, between salmon and candy, forced rhubarb. Strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, pavlova, pink apple on the nose. Biscuit, meringue and strawberry struck through with green apple and a touch of citrus. Fresh, bright, attractive. Creamy mouthfeel and good persistence. 8-9g/l dosage.
Ruinart Rose 2002
Pale, Scottish salmon colour. More complex nose of marzipan, fresh strawberry, strawberry jam, shortbread. Floral – rose petals. Energetic in the mouth. Intense strawberry leading into riper red fruit, red cherry, redcurrant, something more tropical - guava, ripe melon. Long, intense. Grows in stature. Powerful but with finesse. Disgorged Sep 2014. 5.5g/l dosage.
Ruinart Rose 1998
Pale, Scottish salmon showing a touch more pale peach, copper in colour. Toasty, brioche and pastry on the nose, spicy, less floral than the 2002. Strawberry, peach, real minerality starting to show - wet chalk, stony. Vibrant and fresh. Clear. Precise. Disgorged 2010. 5g/l dosage.
Ruinart Rose 1996
Getting into real copper colour now, tangerine. Pink has almost completely faded. Richly fruited, rose petal, raspberry jam, musky. This is sexy stuff. Disgorged 2007. 10g/l dosage.
Ruinart Rose 1990
We're almost into Sauternes territory in colour now - deep, burnished copper, amber, tangerine, just hints of rose colour. Toffee, honey, milk chocolate, strawberry. Deeply musky. Forest floor characters - mushroom, soy. Old cognac. Mossy. Amazing. Palate is vibrant but with leathery, spicy, gamey characters. The fruit now just a jelly accompaniment to a rich game dish. Disgorged 2003. 9.5g/l dosage.
Ruinart Rose 1988
Think this bottle is better than the 1990. Beautiful deep amber colour, rich copper, burnished. Incredibly fine mousse. Jeez, what a nose. Musk, violets, toasted brioche, rich raspberry jelly. Gamey, spicy, tangerine characters. Christmas spice, soy, marzipan. Not even tasted yet and it's so satisfying. Sorry, but that is ridiculous. Incredible rich palate of fruit jelly, game jus, mandarin, sweet spice. Perfect balance and harmony. So long. That is brilliant. So entwined I forgot to ask for technical details. But you don’t need ‘em – if you find this, buy it; if you have it, treat yourself to one this weekend.
Many thanks to the good folk at MHUK for setting up the tasting and for Frederic for taking the time to show us these remarkable wines.