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.
As I stated last week, there are some very good saignées out there. In fact, one of the Top Five wines chosen last year was a saignée. Make no mistake about it, though, a saignée is a by-product of red wine production. Red wines get almost all of their character (i.e., flavors, depth, tannins) from their contact with the skins, seeds, and at times, stems during the maceration period.
Early on in that process, about 10-20% of the juice is bled off (saignée) so that the remaining juice has a higher skins to juice ratio, thus further concentrating the flavors, depth, and tannins. Not long ago (20 years-ish), that bled off juice was either sold as bulk wine or simply dumped down the drain.
A few enterprising winemakers realized that the liquid with a pink hue could be saved, vinified, bottled, and sold as a rosé. Brilliant! (On a side note, today, at least a few winemakers add water back to the reduced juice, thus effectively producing another 20% from the vineyard, but that is for a future post.)
The problem, in my view, is simple: those grapes were grown to be a red wine. That means they were higher in sugar and lower in acidity than would be grapes grown with the purpose of becoming a rosé wine.
Since the vast majority of rosés are vinified like a white wine, which does not derive much (if any) character from the skins, the wines require plenty of fruit and acidity (what many call “freshness”). If the juice comes from grapes that had higher pH (i.e., lower acidity), that key element is lacking. (Another side note: many saignées are made from highly acidic grapes, like Pinot Noir, and thus can make a solid rosé despite the above limitations.)
A couple of weeks ago, 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 second three flights.
2017 St. Amant Barbera Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $15. Saignée. Dark, almost a red wine—translucent crimson. Darker red fruit: cranberry, plum, pomenganate—along with a minty, meaty aspect. Rich, full, meaty on the palate. There is little doubt that this is a saignée as it is decidedly less tart than the others. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Claiborne & Churchill Cuvée Elizabeth, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $26. 100% Pinot Noir. Pink with orange medium to dark. Candied strawberry. Nice fruit initially, which thins out a bit on the midpalate, and then the fruit comes back on the finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris Tuilé, Central Coast, CA: Retail $26. 55% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre, 10% Roussanne, 7% Cinsaut, 3% Carginane, 2% Grenache Blanc. Maybe a hint of orange to this deep golden wine, but just maybe. Oxidized and caramel. If this is not one of the Bonny Doons, I will eat my hat. This should probably not be in this tasting, but this is a wine geeks wine. Whoa. Caramel and coffee grounds, this lasts forever. Wow. Easily the most talked about wine of the tasting. I loved it. Others? Not so much. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2017 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $22. Medium joyful pink. Strawberry and peach. Excellent fruit, great acidity, but there is just a touch of astringency. Otherwise this would be close to a Whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 Stoller Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $25. Light pink. More floral than fruity, really tart on the palate with very little fruit. The acidity is great, but would like to see a bit more. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2017 Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $10. Very dark, almost a red. Cranberry and a meaty aspect with some pepper? Dark berry fruit on the palate with decent fruit and above average acidity. Fantastic finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2016 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $25. Medium to dark pink, on the verge of red. Caramel and coffee dominate the nose. Decent fruit and good acidity on the palate. Lengthy finish on the verge of chalky—a bit of tannin here. Very close to a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2014 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir, Redwood Valley, CA, Hawkeye Ranch: Retail $22. Very pale, almost a white, with orange tint. Dessert wine nose: sweet, caramelized, peach. I feel like I know this wine: subtle but restrained fruit, deep rich flavors. This has to be an Onward. Fantastic finish. I am guessing some age, too. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2016 Magna Porcum Sus Volans, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, CA, Whole Cluster: Retail $30. Orangish pink light to medium. Subdues fruit with earth. Really good fruit. Really good. Great acidity, strong finish. Stellar. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare, Central Coast, CA: Retail $18. 57% Grenache, 18% Grenache Blanc, 9% Mourvèdre, 6% Roussanne, 5% Carignane, 5% Cinsaut. Quite light pink. Sweet, floral nose with plenty of strawberry. Really gorgeous nose. Not as much fruit as I would have expected, but great secondary flavors, killer tartness, and a slightly chalky finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2017 Sidebar Syrah Rosé, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $21. Medium slightly orange pink. VA? Not a ton of fruit on the nose, more smoky, meaty, and herbal. Fruit is there on the palate, but it is subtle, with a tart meatiness that would render this a star on the table. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2017 Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, CA, Estate: Retail $18. Medium pink. Another one where the fruit is hiding on the nose. There is a white flower aspect with some cherry right at the back. The fruit shows up (somewhat) on the palate—mostly a very tart cherry. There is also plenty of acidity and a touch of salinity. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.