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 (“saignée” 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.
A few days before The World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosés I got into a rather heated argument on Twitter with two Master Sommeliers worlds away (one, who literally wrote a book on rosé, was in the UK and the other, who made a rosé by blending red and white wine [a practice that is practically unheard of outside of Champagne] was in Australia). They both took exception to my use of the term “True Rosé” to characterize an approach to making rosé that otherwise does not have an agreed upon term to describe it.
As I have mentioned before, the term saignée is largely understood and accepted to describe what a True Rosé is not. (For those just joining, a saignée rosé is a byproduct of red wine production where, after a brief maceration, a portion of the juice is “bled off.” Until relatively recently, that bled off juice was either sold off as bulk wine or simply let run down the drain. This is done to both further concentrate the remaining juice on the skins and today, to make a rather quick rosé. The problem is that the juice was intended to make a red wine and is thus often a bit lacking in acidity which is perhaps the defining characteristic of a good rosé.)
Their collective contention? By using the adjective “true” I was inherently implying that all other rosés were “false.” While I understand their position, I tried to explain (and by their responses it was largely unsuccessful) that the word “true” has many definitions such as an “ideal” (true love) or “consistent” (true to character) or even “narrow” (in the truest sense).
They did not seem swayed by my argument as they remained fixated on “if something is not true, then it must be false.” In a desperate attempt, I mentioned the concept of a bicycle wheel being “true” but that landed like a lead zeppelin.
Look, there are really good, even outstanding saignées out there (one of my absolute favorite rosés is a saignée—Tongue Dancer by James MacPhail), but all other factors being equal, there is no doubt in my mind that rosés that are made intentionally, id est, a True Rosé, are better than those that are byproducts of red wine production.
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 flights 10-12.
2017 Harney Lane Dry Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $18. 100% Zinfandel. Saignée. Light to medium pink with some orange. Nice nose: slightly sweet strawberry and white flower. Good fruit, but really low acidity, this has to be a saignée. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2015 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir, Redwood Valley, CA, Hawkeye Ranch: Retail $22. Light to medium orange with some pink. Melon and strawberry. Luscious. Light on the fruit, but the acidity is stellar. I am pretty sure this is older, but the finish is simply amazing. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 McIntyre Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $24. Medium pink. Sweet, yet meaty nose. Good fruit, great acidity, it all seems to be there, but just a bit lacking in pizazz. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2017 Plow & Press Pinot Noir Rosé, Monterey County, CA: Retail $9. Medium pink. Tart strawberry. Rhubarb. Good, tart fruit, on the verge of Jolly Rancher. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2017 Longford Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Monterey County, CA: Retail $14. Medium pink. Muted nose. Eventually some faint cherry. Good fruit on the palate, but it fades a bit after that, ending with an above average finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2017 Ferrari-Carano Dry Sangiovese, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $14. Light to medium pink. Subtle strawberry fruit. Good red berry fruit on the palate, bright acidity. Very Good to Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2017 Gran Moraine Rosé of Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, OR: Retail $28. Very light pink. Quite floral with subtle strawberry. On the palate, finespun, but exquisite fruit, great acidity. Lovely. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2017 Westwood Single Vineyard Rosé, Sonoma Valley, CA, Annadel Gap Vineyard: Retail $28. Pinot Noir, Counoise, Mourvèdre, and Syrah (the Syrah is saignée). Very Light pink to orange. Sweet peach and strawberry. Fruit is subtle, but well represented. Great acidity. Interesting wine. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2017 Quady North Grenache Rosé, Rogue Valley, OR: Retail $20. Very light pink. Melon and floral. Not much fruit, but good acidity and a lengthy finish. Really lengthy. This has to have some age on it (but was mistaken). Fabulous. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2017 The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $18. Medium to dark pink. Sweet, ripe strawberry.Fruit subtle, really subtle, but good acidity, and an medium length finish. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2017 Acorn Rosato, Russian River Valley, CA, Alegria Vineyards: Retail $28. 42% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Sangiovese, 8% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, and 5% other grape varieties. Medium to dark pink. Not much fruit on the nose or the palate, but the tartness is there. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Modus Operandi Cellars Vicarious Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA, Bacigalupi Vineyards: Retail $35. Light pale pink. Sweet melon and red berry nose. Not much fruit on the palate but plenty of structure. Really tasty finish. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.