This story starts with a painful confession: I am a “vinous pedophile.”
Or so I was recently pegged by W. Blake Gray, author of acclaimed wine blog The Gray Report and a fellow guest on a media tour last fall of Champagne, France.
He was responding, on Twitter, to an announcement that I’d just opened the bottle of 2005 Rosé des Riceys that had been given to me by grower-producer Christophe Defrance of Champagne Jacques Defrance after a visit to his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cellar on a quiet street in Les Riceys.
Located within the southern subregion of Aube, the tiny village lends its name to one of only two still wines that may legally be produced in the domain of the world’s most famous sparkling wines (the other being Coteaux Champenois). Though made from an otherwise familiar grape — 100% Pinot Noir — Rosé des Riceys is not quite like anything I’ve ever encountered before; in fact, it’s not even quite like itself. A veritable chameleon in the bottle, it is, as Defrance told us, “very different from one year to the next.”
Rosé des Riceys flavors vast and varied from year to year
A tasting of four vintages made that much abundantly clear. Produced only in those years when the weather is warm enough to ensure the grapes are ripe (and even then in limited amounts), Rosé des Riceys is “macerated as close to a red as possible while avoiding tannins,” Defrance explained.
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Indeed, it breaks every stereotype of rosé as light and simple. Although the 2006 we sampled was on the quaffable side, redolent of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, the velvety, lip-coating 1997 yielded prosciutto and dried herbs — at least for me; one of my companions likened the aroma to cannabis, while another vividly compared it to water in which dead flowers were floating. And then there was the 1982, which Defrance called one of the last century’s greatest vintages, along with 1964 and 1947. On the nose, I got honey-baked ham and wet sous bois (undergrowth); on the almost-gelid palate, candied pecans and brandied strawberry ice cream. By this point the color of amber ale, the 1975 offered the promised notes of tobacco and quince, but I kept going back to the ’82 — so strikingly odd, so wonderfully complex. It will linger in my memory for a long time to come.
It will probably have to, now that I’ve greedily polished off my gift bottle well before its time. Rosé des Riceys is rather difficult to come by stateside; according to Philippe Wibrotte, head of public relations for the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, only about 300 of the 60,000 bottles produced by 20 or so wineries annually are imported here, and a quick Google search suggests that the likelihood of their making it past New York or California is slim to none. Should you be among the lucky recipients then, don’t make my mistake — hold on to it for dear life (or at least a decade). Recommended pairings include charcuterie and Chaource, a soft cow’s-milk cheese also from Aube that is available, albeit in pasteurized form, in the U.S.
Photo: Christophe Defrance of Champagne Jacques Defrance. Credit: Ruth Tobias