Rosé champagne expresses all the complexity of romance: sparkling and bubbling so optimistically, yet tinted as if infused with a bleeding heart. Like love, you want it to be really really good, but you're worried that it might end up being silly, cloying, bitter, or—perhaps worst of all—too simple. There's really nothing else to drink on Valentine's Day, is there? But which to choose? There are many wonderful rosé champagnes out there. They exist along a continuum that runs, like love, from light to dark. Two delicious, very tony bottles—polar opposites in style, but exuberant in both spirit and price—express each extreme.
For a fairy godmother-sent Valentine's Day, one of princess dresses, pink flowers, pristine berries eaten from a silver spoon, seafood en gelée, tiny fine-boned roast birds—in other words, one that masks complexities in a bright, sighing gauze of elegance and propriety—there's Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Alexandra Rosé 2004 ($299). It is one of an illustrious line of special bottles first released by Bernard de Nonacourt, the late head of the French champagne house Laurent Perrier, to celebrate the wedding of his daughter Alexandra back in 1987. This is a bubbly rosé to match the romance that a father would wish for his daughter: light and invigorating; mildly sweet at first, but when it comes down to brass tacks, structured and serious; and above all, balanced. Made only in the rare years when the pinot noir (the red grape that makes up 80 percent of the blend) and the chardonnay (the white grape that comprises the remaining 20 percent) ripen at the same time so that they can be macerated together, the softly salmon-hued beauty merges the best qualities of the two. It has the berry notes of the pinot, the citric accents of the chardonnay, and a minerality that, aided by a fine but persistent effervescence, binds them together. It's a buttoned-down but irresistible champagne meant for a marriage proposal.
If the Cuvée Alexandra is the champagne for betrothal, Dom Perignon Rosé Vintage 2003 ($329) is the wine for a delicious betrayal. It's a torrid affair: ripe mango thrown in a fit of jealous passion, rare steak eaten out of hand, oysters slid live down the throat, sweet cake with smears of icing. Dom Perignon's rosé champagnes are made in a style that even DP Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy describes as "brutal"—in a good way. And 2003 feels particularly intense. A dark, deep black raspberry in color with a brash, tart apricot aroma and a texture you can nearly gnaw on, it comes on strong and leaves you swooning with its intensity. In the end, there is bitterness, of course, but also the nagging memory of ripe, bleeding strawberries. Parting—bottles drained and dashed to pieces on the floor—is such sweet sorrow.