A pale rosé wine made from the pinot noir grape, Œil de Perdrix is one of the prettiest shades a wine can be. Literally translated, Œil de Perdrix means “Eye of the Partridge,” a reference to the wine’s delicate salmon-pink color rather than the actual varietal. A fresh, lively, fruity wine, Œil de Perdrix was often featured on 19th century fine dining menus. It was typically paired with the entrées or a course of rich game birds, as Philadelphia chef James Parkinson did at his famous Thousand Dollar Dinner in 1851.
There are conflicting reports as to how and where Œil de Pedrix originated, with both France and Switzerland vying for the claim. In the French version, it was created in the Champagne region of France in the Middle Ages, prior to the invention of the famous sparkling wine that is now its namesake. Most red wine grapes produce white juice; it is the skin of the grape that gives red wine its ruby hue. In an effort to compete with the rich, full red wines of Burgundy, winemakers in Champagne threw all their efforts into creating a fuller bodied white wine. But they couldn’t figure out how to prevent the white juice from having brief contact with the red skins. As a result, all their attempts at making white wine from red grapes resulted in very pale wines ranging in color from vin gris (gray), to a slightly darkened white, to the most common shade—a light pink, referred to as Œil de Perdrix.
Later, Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon perfected the method of creating white wine from red grapes that would end up being an important factor in the success of sparkling Champagne. This rare Champagne rosé is "making a comeback" as the popularity of rosé increases year after year.
Then there is Switzerland’s story. Switzerland is not a huge wine-producing country due to the high altitude and colder weather—only 2 percent of its wine is exported. Most Swiss wine is from the western French-speaking cantons (provinces). It is the vineyards in one of these regions—Neuchâtel—that produce a fine rosé called Œil de Perdrix. Many Swiss sources claim this is the wine’s birthplace, but it is more likely that the technique migrated there from France. It is now considered Neuchâtel’s top wine, but because the name was never protected by the canton, rosé wine from any region in the world can be called Œil de Perdrix.
In any case, find one of these versions and give it a try - perhaps your next summer outdoor gathering? Salut!
Sources: The Thousand Dollar Dinner by Becky Diamond; "Rosé – Sweet or Dry – Keeps Increasing in Popularity" by Nick Stevens