On National Rosé Day (June 9th), I invited a few writers here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the largest blind tasting of American True Rosés in history. 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 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 idea of making a rosé in mind. True Rosés are therefore not a byproduct of red wine production, they are intentionally or purposefully made. They are True Rosés.
This is not to say that all non-True Rosés are “false”–there are many saignées that are wonderful wines. What I am saying, though, is that all other factors being equal, a True Rosé will be “better” than a saignée. Why? Well, simply put there are two main factors that provide structure for a wine: tannins (almost exclusively in red wines) and acidity. Red wines are generally picked at higher sugar and pH (lower acid) levels since the skins contain high levels of tannin. The juice from the red grapes will remain in contact with the skins for an extended amount of time in order to extract those tannins and provide structure for the wines.
White wines, on the other hand, spend as little time as possible with the skins to avoid the imparting of tannin. Thus, white wines rely solely on acidity to provide structure for the wine. So, generally speaking, white grapes are picked with lower pH (higher acidity).
The vast majority of rosés are like white wines as they rely on acidity, not tannins to provide the wine’s structure. So again, all other elements being equal (winemaker, quality of fruit, etc.), a True Rosé is a more desirable way to make a pink wine.
Seven of us tried 68 American Rosés on Saturday, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 17 flights of four wines. Here are the first three flights.
- 2017 Passaggio Tempranillo Rosé, Clarksburg, CA, Heringer Estate Vineyards: Retail $32. Quite light pale peach with just a slight orange tinge. The nose is more spicy than fruity with suggestions of coffee, pear, cooked strawberry, and cardamom. Subtle fruit on the palate with strawberry, and considerable tart cherry. Lengthy finish. Excellent. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
- 2017 Ryder Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Central Coast, CA: Retail $18. Vibrant pink in the glass with just the slightest orange tinge. Sweet fresh strawberry and red flower. Fruity and fresh on the palate. Really great flavors of strawberry and peach and a lengthy finish. Wow. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
- 2017 Bokisch Rosado, Clements Hill-Lodi, CA, Terra Alta Vineyard: Retail $18. 80% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo. Quite pale—closer to a white than a rosé. Some hints of orange color, but really light. Wonderful nose, floral and fruity (ripe peach). Tart and fruity (peach) on the palate. Really coats the mouth. Another fantastic one. Great finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
- 2017 Lucas & Lewellen Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $20. Brilliant pink, almost fluorescent. Strawberry and white flower, and cinnamon? Not as fruity on the palate as the nose and color would suggest, but this really starts to sing on the midpalate, and lasts all the way through the finish. Wow. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
- 2016 Lasseter Enjoué Rosé, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $28. 70% Syrah, 12% Grenache, 18% Mourvédre. Slight orange tinge to the medium to dark pink. More floral than fruity with an herbal/savory/minty quality right at the back of the nose. Lacking a bit of fruit on the palate, but there are secondary, herbal qualities here. Interesting for sure. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
- 2017 Real Nice Shallow Seas Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $18. Pale pinkish orange color and quite fruity (strawberry, cherry, even raspberry) on the nose with almost some petrol. Fruit continues on the palate, tart and balanced, this is delightful. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
- 2017 Cambria Estate Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, CA: Retail $25. Brilliant pink with the slightest orange note. Strawberry with a decided meaty aspect. Good fruit and acid. Really coats the mouth with strawberry goodness. Yum. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
- 2017 Benovia Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. Pale pink, with a similar nose to #7, but the fruit is dialed back a bit. Sweet strawberry and peach, on the nose. Viscous and rich on the palate. This is close to a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
- 2017 Sassoferrato Rosé of Sangiovese, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $32. Straight up pink in the glass. Peach and pink flowers. Fruit is at the forefront, but certainly subdued, Tart, but rounder than the others have been. Chalky finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
- 2016 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast/Mendocino Ridge, CA: Retail $28. Faded peach color with some pink highlights. Earthy peach, and a bit of spice. Meaty on the palate, as in flavor, still great acidity, plenty going on, but subdued. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
- 2016 The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé, North Coast, CA: Retail $18. Deeper pink with a touch of peach. Really juicy nose of peach and strawberry. Cobbler like. Big and even a bit heavy, this is very nice, but far from light. Meaty flavors, a bit light on acidity. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
- 2017 Farmstrong Field Rosé, Redwood Valley, CA: Retail $18. 55% Zinfandel, 45% Carignane. Another that is quite pale a slight orangish tint. More floral than fruity on the palate. Subtle flavors of strawberry, but decent acidity. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.