The Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosés (Ever)

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).

The Lineup

A different angle

The results?

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 top five.

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

    My neighbor Caroline (standing) ran the tasting flawlessly. Around the table starting at her left: Jeremy Parzen, Kelly Stasney Howell, James Brock, Amy Corron Power.

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

    Bagged and ready.

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.

The reveal.

Wine Cépage Vintage Region Retail
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.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Counoise, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosés (Ever)

  1. ksbeth says:

    thanks for doing the work, i love the ‘after’ picture –

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great. Thanks Jeff. Now I need to try both Gary Farrell & Rodney Strong rosés. I am already a fan of Lazy Creek. I have come to realize my 2 favorite rosé grapes are Pinot Noir & Grenache. I’m not so sure I share your feelings about saignee. I agree anything done intentionally is typically better; however, I’m not sure in a blind test I would know the difference. And IF Provence is the pinnacle of rosé we did see some saignee there as well. Either way it looks like a fun way to spend a Saturday. Next time come to Dallas for a guaranteed lively event. The Dallas Wineaux are a fun bunch. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kyle Kruchok says:

    What did you think of the Stoller? I used to work there – and it’s been forever since I’ve had it!


  4. SAHMmelier says:

    What a fun tasting! Hope to join one of your events one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh dear, you missed choices from Texas. This is a new ‘big thing’. Spring brings an event with over 50 wine makers.


  6. WOW! What an amazing effort that was. Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Bond, Books & Beyond

  8. Bruce Beaudin says:

    I always appreciate blind tastings, especially of wines I have not tasted but you do two things that seem common on these tastings. First–you get a group of people to taste but (other than the first two choices) the ratings are all yours –why not provide the groups ratings or just bypass the whole idea of a group tasting? Second, why not provide a sentence or two on each of the wines tasted and put them in order of preference–I can only assume you got free samples and didn’t want to have something negative to say about a gift. I keep reading that the wine blog world is struggling and maybe one reason is the sense that it is an insiders game.


    • Well. A lot there to unpack. First, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Really. I appreciate every comment that someone takes the time to write. I would like to address each of your points:

      The idea for the tasting, initially, was to have group ratings for all of the wines, but after some thought, it really did not make sense. If I love a wine and you hate it, does that make it an average wine? There was certainly consensus around the top wines, which is why I indicated as such.

      Why have a group tasting? Well, I was sitting on over two cases of wine, thought it would be a fun event (it was, by all accounts), so I invited several people from the Houston area, many of whom have made my transition down here much easier through their kindness and friendship. Wine, at least in my book, is meant to be shared.

      I thought about providing a sentence or two about each wine, but the post was already too long in my opinion. Also, I tend to write longer notes about every bottle and the format did not lend itself to that–I was already the slowest taster in the group and taking another 3-4 minutes on each wine to write a cogent note for each wine seemed a bit selfish.

      All the bottles were samples, but I do not see them as a gift. At all. I see them first as an obligation–when I accept or solicit a sample I am promising an honest evaluation of the wine. I also see them as work–yes, it is wine, but I approach them each with honesty and integrity–far, far from a gift.

      You are right in asserting, however, that I will not publish a negative review on a wine that I receive as a sample. Why? Quite frankly, I could spend an infinite amount of time writing about all the wine that is good, very good, and outstanding, why write about something that is mediocre? In this era of “gotcha journalism” there seems to be a penchant for the negative. There is far too much negativity already–I see no need to add to it.

      Last, and this is why I took a while to respond, you state that you “keep reading that the wine blog world is struggling….” Well, I can assure you that the only struggling I do is as I try to keep up! I have at least two dozen stories I need to publish and countless tasting notes–and I publish content 4-5 times a week! I can’t speak for others, but this “demise of blogging” is a myth, at least from my vantage point.

      To your “insiders game” point: wine bloggers are far from “insiders” in fact, they are the opposite since anyone can start a blog as long as they have access to the internet. For decades, wine appreciation and “journalism” have been reserved for a very select few. Today, there are far more people writing about wine than ever before. Now you might challenge the quality of some or much of that writing (and I would agree with you on that point), but to assert that wine blogging is an “insiders game” is a bit ludicrous. I do not know if you have a blog (although I did spent a few minutes looking and could not find one), but if you would like to start one, I would be more than happy to help! I will be announcing a new Monthly Wine Writing Challenge this Tuesday–and based on your comment, the topic could suit what you might have to say well. I hope you enter the Challenge–I will even publish your piece on my other site:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Beaudin says:

        Drunken Cyclist: I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comment. I am definitely not a blogger but I love to read wine blogs. Probably read four or five a day and will add yours to my list. I will expand on just a few of my points if you will humor me. The “demise of wine blogging” is something I have read about on multiple wine blogs over the last few years and I think what seems to confirm that is the very limited number of comments being submitted for very good articles. You probably read the great article few weeks back “Searching for America’s Greatest Rieslings”. A group of stars got together and tasted 34. Isaac Baker (Terroirist) had a great article, Arron Menenberg (Good Vitis) had a great article. Dave McIntyre (Washington Post) so far at least, has not published his findings. Stu Smith (co owner of Smith-Madrone) sat in on part of the tasting but did not publish his findings and claimed in an email from his winery that he “didn’t keep the notes”. Isaac’s article had 8 comments, which included 3 of his and 2 of mine. Aaron had 3 comments. That seems strange to get such little response for great writing.

        The “insider” comment goes back to the 1970s when I started reading Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate–he was (IMHO) the wine outsider. He accepted no free wine samples, he didn’t accept advertising for his publication, no glossy photos of the rich and famous in his publication, and he definitely gave negative reviews. I was impressed, not only by his 100 point scale (50 to 100) but the whole role of outsider giving the wine consumer the full story. Things seem to be reverting to the old way–free samples, pulling punches on reviews. Lettie Teague always seems to avoid reviewing the bottles she doesn’t like. Now, I am not paying to read your blog so you can do it any way you want. I do pay for Teague’s writing so I object to her approach. i want to know about the mediocre and poor bottles so I can avoid those wineries. I am guessing that if wine bloggers are seen as “protecting” wineries (not giving negative reviews)they will continue to get a tepid response from the public.

        Thanks again and keep writing great wine articles.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Bruce, thanks again for taking the time to comment—I really do appreciate it! First, the demise of wine blogging. I think it is a bit too easy to say that the decrease in comments on blogs is a sign of the downfall of the genre. Even though I am a statistician, this is far from my area of expertise (but if you would like to have a discussion on Beginning Attrition retention in High School, well, I am your man!), but from *my* vantage point, it is only intensifying. Tom Wark and Joe Roberts both cited a decline in the popularity of blogs since the “high-water” mark in 2009. Since then, they claim, social media has supplanted blogs as the primary information resource for the wine consumer. That may be, but it just too sweeping of a generalization to carry much water for me. Sure, on average or in aggregate that might be true, but that does not mean that blogs *writ large* are “in trouble” it just means they have competition from different formats. My stats and comments have gradually increased over the 5+ years I have been blogging and I chose to believe it is because I tend to lean toward the interesting story than trying to use unique or bizarre descriptors to tell you what is in my glass. I am not sure which blogs you follow, but I tend to appreciate those that provide more than what I can find on just about any other site.

        Robert Parker.

        Boy, if you ever want a passionate response, just mention his name to a wine writer/blogger. I have never met the man, but there is no denying that he has had a profound impact on wineries, wine makers, wine writers, just about everyone. I will avoid getting into the 100-point scale debate (I mentioned I am a numbers guy and I use a three point range to rate my wines, so you can imagine where I fall in that debate), but I will state that you bringing up Parker as an “outsider” is a bit disingenuous—while he may have started out that way, it is certainly no longer the case. He might be the *ultimate* insider these days.

        As for wanting to know the bad wines, so that you can avoid them, I understand your point and I agree with you completely. Really, we are more in a heated agreement than dispute over this point. My stance is I would rather write about the wines I like and if one’s tastes align with mine (more or less), then that reader would probably enjoy the wines I like as well. I did not get into blogging/writing to disparage anyone’s hard work and passion. I wrote one bad review in 5 1/2 years and even though I thought the review was clever and well-written, the producer did not—I never heard from them again (which was too bad because I enjoyed the other wines very much and said so in the piece). Since then I made a conscious decision to focus on the positive for the samples I receive. If I do not have a positive word to say about a wine, I don’t write about it. Many of the samples I receive come through PR people—people that I have grown to respect and even like. Writing a bad review throws a bit of shade on them as well—no thanks.

        Does that make me a “samples whore”? Perhaps. But I honestly believe it is a philosophical choice, much in the same vein that I decided fairly early on that I would not use “colorful” language on my blog since I believe one can be clever, witty, entertaining, and provide information without offending anyone. There are so many great wines, wonderful people, and fantastic stories in the wine world that there is no need, in my opinion, to highlight bad wines, rapacious individuals, or the tawdry vignettes.

        I know that is a fairly long-winded response to your poignant observations, so thanks for indulging me.


  9. Nathan Zimmerman says:

    You missed the Finger Lakes as well. The Rosé Soiree was held in Geneva, NY and there were over 20 wineries represented. It was not a blind tasting but great fun nonetheless.


  10. anne leueen says:

    This is fabulous! I am not a rose drinker per se but I love this kind of appreciation for any wine. Thank you for increasing my knowledge of these wines. I shall treat the True Rose with greater respect and search it out in future.


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