In my youth I had a penchant for hyperbole, as I imagine many teenagers do. I would banter about vociferating countless superlatives (“Pete Rose never bet on baseball!” “Wham! is the greatest group of all time!” “Bill Cosby must be the best father in real life!”) most of which with the sake of some hindsight, turned out to be “ill-advised.”
As I have aged (more or less gracefully, I hope), I have shied away from making unsubstantiated grandiose statements, aiming for a wiser, more measured approach. There are a few notable exceptions, however.
First, Abraham Lincoln was the greatest U.S. president—it is hard to top the Emancipation Proclamation although some argue the degree of altruism contained within, freeing slaves is a pretty big deal in my book.
Second, Tom Brady is the most annoying athlete in the history of sports. I am not a big NFL fan (growing up a Bengals and a Lions fan will cause anyone to seek other forms of entertainment), but his level of success is truly nauseating: all those Super Bowl wins, super model wife, and the most damaging “controversy” was that he let a bit of air out of some footballs. And he went to the University of Michigan (blech).
Third, the best rosés are what I call “True Rosés.” They go by many names: “pressed”, “intentional”, “deliberate”, even “bespoke” but despite the term used, the grapes that are used to make the wine were intended to be used to produce a rosé wine from the beginning.
This is opposed to the other main way to make rosé wine: the saignée method, which is actually a by-product of red wine production. The grapes are farmed and picked to optimize the red wine’s potential then, after a brief maceration with the skins, some of the juice is “bled” off (“saignée” means “bled”). Since much of the flavor, color, and texture of a red wine comes from skin contact during fermentation, the remaining juice becomes more concentrated and rich.
In the past, that bled of juice, which had taken on a bit of color, making it slightly pink had either been sold off as bulk wine or even discarded altogether, thus a byproduct of red wine production. Some enterprising winemakers realized however, that this juice could be bottled as well and sold as “rosé.’
What difference does it make?
Well, those who make a True Rosé are quick to point out that grapes that are grown and picked to make a red wine usually make inferior rosés largely due to their lack of acidity. Most of the time, red wine grapes are allowed to mature longer on the vine, creating more sugar, to ensure that the skins, seeds, and sometimes stems are ripe enough to provide the desired flavors and tannin levels to make a high quality red wine. That extra maturity comes at a price: less acidity—a key component to great rosé.
So why aren’t all rosés made intentionally or “True Rosés”? Given that it is very difficult to sell a rosé wine for more than $20-25 dollars in the U.S., committing to a True Rosé program usually is not an economic decision, but rather one that is based in the passion to create a truly great rosé wine.
Sure, often the fruit dedicated to the rosé program either comes from relatively new vines or lots that either underperform or for some reason do not fully ripen. But make no mistake, I have spoken to many True Rosé winemakers and the amount of passion they express about their rosé usually dwarfs their modest rosé productions (and even more modest profits).
Thus, this past Spring, I set out to do an American True Rosé tasting. I was hoping to get 6, maybe 12 wines to taste, perhaps blind, but once I posted the idea on Facebook, the floodgates opened.
In the end, I received 29 rosés (listed below). I immediately realized that I could use a little help. I therefore called in a few other Houston-based writers (and a couple of neighbors) and last weekend (fittingly on National Rosé Day) we tasted through all 29 wines, four at a time (actually five flights of four and three flights of three for those keeping score at home).
There was unanimity over the top two wines: 2016 Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir, which everyone selected as their “best in show” and nearly everyone had the 2016 Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir as a close second.
The rest of my top five in no particular order:
- 2016 Lazy Creek Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir
- 2016 Tongue Dancer Rosé of Pinot Noir
- 2016 McIntyre Rosé of Pinot Noir
My next five (OK, six) in no particular order:
- 2016 Keller Rosé of Pinot Noir
- 2016 Sidebar Russian River Valley Rosé (Syrah)
- 2016 Claiborne & Churchill Cuvée Elizabeth Rosé of Pinot Noir
- 2016 Farmstrong Field Rosé
- 2016 Charmed Pinot Noir Rosé
- 2016 Vicarious Rosé of Pinot Noir
There were a few more that I considered “Outstanding”:
- 2016 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir
- 2016 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé
- 2016 Brooks Pinot Noir Rosé
In the end, almost all the wines were at least in the “Very Good” category (there were a couple, though, that many felt, or at least hoped, were off in some way). There were a few of the wines that I thought going in would be the run away favorites, but it did not turn out that way.
It also should be noted that one of my top five, the Tongue Dancer, is in fact a saignée. I included it at the last moment since James and Kerry MacPhail are wonderful people, make fantastic wines, and are living proof that I should always avoid making superlative statements.
|Acquiesce Grenache Rosé||Grenache||2016||Lodi||$24|
|Benovia Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Russian River Valley||$24|
|Brooks Pinot Noir Rosé||Pinot Noir||2016||Willamette Valley||$20|
|Charmed Pinot Noir Rosé||Pinot Noir||2016||California||$15|
|Claiborne & Churchill Cuvée Elizabeth Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Edna Valley||$26|
|Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé||Mourvèdre||2016||Contra Costa County||$17|
|Ehlers Estate Sylvanie||Cabernet Franc||2016||St. Helena, Napa Valley||$36|
|Farmstrong Field Rosé||Zinfandel (55), Carignan (45)||2016||Redwood Valley||$20|
|Ferrari Carano Dry Sangiovese Rosé||Sangiovese||2016||Sonoma County||$14|
|Gary Farrell Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Russian River Valley||$32|
|Gorman 42 39 56 Rosé*||Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah||2016||Columbia Valley||$15|
|J. Bucher Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Bucher Vineyard Russian River Valley||$25|
|Keller Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Sonoma Coast||$35|
|Kokomo Grenache Rosé||Grenache||2016||North Coast||$24|
|Lasseter Family Vineyard Enjoué||Syrah (68), Grenache (21), Mourvèdre (7), Counoise (4)||2016||Sonoma Valley||$28|
|Lazy Creek Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Anderson Valley||$19|
|McIntyre Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Santa Lucia Highlands||$24|
|Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley||$22|
|Palmer Merlot Rosé||Merlot||2016||North Fork of Long Island||$20|
|Passaggio Tempranillo Rosé||Tempranillo||2016||Clarksburg, CA||$32|
|Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel||Zinfandel||2016||Dry Creek Valley||$15|
|Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Sonoma Coast (60, Mendocino Ridge (40)||$25|
|Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Russian River Valley||$25|
|Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Sta. Rita Hills||$23|
|Sidebar RRV Rosé||Syrah||2016||Russian River Valley||$21|
|Stoller Pinot Noir Rosé||Pinot Noir||2016||Dundee Hills||$25|
|Tongue Dancer Rosé of Pinot Noir*||Pinot Noir||2016||Sonoma Coast||$25|
|Troon Jeanie in the Bottle||Zinfandel and Tempranillo||2016||Rogue Valley, Oregon||$18|
|Vicarious Rosé of Pinot Noir||Pinot Noir||2016||Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley||?|
*These two wines are actually saignées.