A couple of weeks ago, I invited a few (vaccinated) wine professionals here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the second largest blind tasting of American True Rosés, as we tasted through 68 wines (last year we tasted 74, two years ago there were 54, the second year there were 68, and the first year we had 36), while maintaining physical distance (for the most part).
What is a “True Rosé”?
Well, there are essentially three ways to make a rosé wine. The first, which is rarely practiced outside of sparkling wine production, is a simple blend of red wine and white wine. The second, which is widely practiced around the world, is called the Saignée Method where shortly after a red grape crush, a portion of the grape juice (after brief contact with the skins) is bled off (“saigné” means “bled” in French). This bled off wine is then vinified as if it were a white wine.
The third option is what I call a “True Rosé.” In this process, the grapes are raised, picked, and processed with the intention of making rosé. True Rosés are therefore not a byproduct of red wine production, they are intentionally or purposefully made. They are True Rosés.
Two years ago, just a few days after The Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosés, two articles landed in my inbox. The first was from the online wine ‘zine, Vinepair, and its Executive Editor Emily Saladino who took a rather meandering look at the current rosé market in the U.S.
Among other puzzling points, Saladino claimed: “At this point, we have absolutely hit peak rosé.” I imagine that she meant that after several years of rather dramatic growth, the U.S. market has become over-saturated with pink wine. She continued, suggesting that the market has nowhere else to go but down since the market is now flooded with hundreds of inexpensive, “bad” rosés.
The other article, by Mitch Frank in the June 30th (2019) issue of Wine Spectator, also took a multi-faceted look at the rosé market (which frankly lacked focus, but that is another matter, perhaps). Among many of his claims, Frank suggested that the current rosé “trend” (which he posited was a step above a”fad”) had likely hit his zenith. He also seemed to imply that rosés, were less serious than other styles of Wine:
And rosé can be a lot of fun, its alluring hues often packaged with eye-catching labels and creative bottle shapes. Market research firm Nielsen claims that 40 percent of rosé consumers are women ages 21 to 34, but the pink wine audience is broader in scope-just search the hashtag “brosé.”
While both articles provided interesting points of view and several unsubstantiated assertions, they based their opinions on the bottom of the market, wines that cost $10 or less. The Spectator article did mention that many of the “new” rosés on the market were saignées, which “was an afterthought, and the quality of most of it reflected that.” Neither of the pieces spent much time on the wines at the upper end of the spectrum, on intentional or True Rosés, which for me represent the best of the category, both in the present and future.
Too many continue to see rosé as a niche, a fad, a non-serious wine that does not require much thought. Well, if our tastings these past five years are any indication, there are oodles of wines that prove that some rosés are not only at the top of the genre but should also be considered outstanding wines regardless of hue.
A couple of weeks ago, seven of us tried 68 American Rosés on a glorious Saturday afternoon, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 17 flights of 4 wines. Here is the third set of three flights.
2020 Roaming Dog Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $15. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec. Cotton candy pink with a really fruity nose of peach and strawberry. The palate is also loaded with fruit. Wow, really nice acidity, balanced, and a lengthy finish. Hint of sweetness. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Lucia Pinot Noir Lucy Rosé, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $25. Light pink with some orange and sulfur on the nose. The palate, while tart, has some fruit that I just can’t place. It’s nice, refreshing, solid. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Rich color, more red than pink. Really meaty and candied on the nose. A bit over-extracted, on the palate, rich and intense. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 Hightower Cellars Murray, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $18. 100% Syrah. Last year I was not a huge fan of this wine (87 pts.). This year? Different story. Pale strawberry red. A bit muted on the nose, more red fruit than anything else. The palate is quite nice with loads of fruit, a tad savory and quite nice. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Peltier Rosé of Pinot Noir, Lodi, CA: Retail $26. While I liked this last year (90 pts.), I really liked it this year. Light pink floral with some garrigue, peach, strawberry. Lovely. The palate is off the charts good, another wine that is going to end up at the top of the heap here. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Winderlea Pinot Noir Rosé, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. Medium color, quite floral but light in fruit. The palate is a similar story. Good acid, but not really enough fruit to hold it together. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Purple Star Rosé, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $18. 70% Mourvèdre, 30% Syrah. Another wine that has improved over the last 12 months (87 pts last year). On the dark side of rosé with a candied fruit and a bit reductive. I was going to say that this was a bit bland, but the fruit came in on the mid-palate. Still, just a bit disjointed. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Copain Rosé Les Voisins, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $32. 100% Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Light pink with a very fruity nose and some red flower. The palate is lovely. There might be a touch of RS here, but it works, at least for me.
Excellent. 91 Points.
2017 Ripe Life Wines The Clambake Rosé, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $19. 100% Carignan. Another wine that has used the last year to improve, while it was fine (89 pts.) last year, this year it’s a few notches above for sure. Dark for a rosé, closer to red than pink. Lovely fruit—really nice—on the nose (strawberry). The palate is equally inviting—loaded with fruit, quite tart (laser focus). Very nice. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 Stoller Pinot Noir Rosé, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, WA: Retail $28. Cotton candy pink with oodles of fruit, a bit of white flower, hints of sweetness. The palate is also lovely with the fruit dominant initially, and the acidity struggling to get noticed. It does and balances everything out. Quite nice. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Le Rosé, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $22. 69% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre, 15% Counoise. This was one of the top wines from last year’s tasting (93 pts) but decidedly not this year. I am thinking there is something off with this bottle from the Hedges’ Family on Red Mountain as this mostly pink with some orange highlights wine is quite funky on the nose and falls flat on the palate. Odd. Not rated.
2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 100% Pinot Noir. I believe this is James and Kerry MacPhail’s *first* True Rosé which I am going to take credit for since I bug them about it all the time (despite knowing that it was more likely due to the fires that plagued the 2020 vintage). Regardless, this is fabulous. Medium pink with red highlights. Quite fruity with red berry fruit prevalent. The palate is quite fruity as well with lip-smacking acidity and perhaps the tiniest bit of Residual Sugar? (Which works exceedingly well, btw.) Very nice. Excellent. 92 Points.