Back on May 19th, I invited a few writers here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the second-largest blind tasting of American True Rosés in history, as we tasted through 54 wines (last year we tasted 68, which was just too many for one sitting).
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, what the heck 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 a 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 the fruit intended for red wine is crushed, 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 intention of making rosé. 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 (additional structure, tannins, and flavor can be added by using oak barrels to age the wine).
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 almost solely on acidity to provide structure for the wine (oak barrels can also be used with whites). So, generally speaking, white grapes are picked with lower pH (higher acidity) than their red brethren.
No matter the method, 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 since it will be higher in acidity than a saignée.
Thus, a few Sundays ago, six of us waded through 54 American True Rosés (OK, there was one saignée and one-half saignée/half True Rosé) four wines at a time, without knowing their identities.
A little less than half of the bottles were from a previous vintage (when wineries send more than one bottle, I save the additional bottles for the following year’s tasting) since it is my contention that well-made rosés do not have to be consumed almost immediately after release. Sure, as with whites and reds, rosés lose a bit of fruit and freshness as they age, but they also develop different flavors as they evolve–just as do all well-made wines regardless of hue.
As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting of 14 flights of four wines (the last two flights were three wines each). Here are the first three flights.
- 2017 Kokomo Grenache Rosé North Coast, CA: Retail $20. 100% Grenache. Pale orange. Nice fruit on the nose, strawberry, peach. Nice and tart on the palate, luscious. Delicious. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
- 2017 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley, CA: Retail $22. 100% Pinot Noir. Pale Pink. Even orange more mineral than fruity on the nose. Light in fruit, and a bit shy. Short finish. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
- 2018 St. Amant Touriga Nacional Rosé Amador County, CA: Retail $18. 100% Touriga Nacional. Bright pink. Citrus and peach. Fruity and a bit light in acid until the finish. Not the best in this flight, but good. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
- 2017 McIntyre Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $24. 100% Pinot Noir. Pink with some orange tint. Fairly light. Bubblegum and a bit of peach. OK fruit and really nice flavors, I am guessing that this might be a saignée since it is on the round side. [Wrong: it’s a True Rosé!] Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
- 2017 Alara Cellars Grenache Rosé Benito County, CA: Retail $25. 100% Grenache. Really light, almost a white, peach and lemon. Rich and fruity, and incredibly tart. This has it all. 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, and 5% Cinsault.. Very light pink with strawberry and citrus. Minerality dominates on the palate. Fruit comes in on the mid-palate. I was initially a bit skeptical, but it really came through. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
- 2017 ACORN Rosato Alegria Vineyards Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $28. 42% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Sangiovese, 8% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, and 5% other grape varieties.. Quite dark. Pink, reddish orange. Perhaps the deepest nose with rich red fruit. More of a vinous quality here. Rich and full, not as tart, but I like it. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
- 2017 Sidebar Syrah Rosé Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $21. 100% Syrah. Fairly dark with an orange tint. Mineral and a bit smokey. Odd on the palate, not quite sure where to place this one, but I oddly like it. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
- 2017 J. Bucher Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $25. 100% Pinot Noir. Great pink color. Buttered popcorn, oddly. With some cherry and red fruit. Really wonderful flavors, a tad sweet, but I imagine that is from the fruit. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
- 2018 Bokisch Rosado Terra Alta Vineyard Lodi, CA: Retail $18. 80% Garnacha; 20% Tempranillo. Pale, slightly orange, Classic rosé nose of strawberry and citrus. Another winner with really nice acidity, sweet red fruit, and a killer finish. Yum. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
- 2017 Lion Ranch Vineyards & Winery Lioness Santa Clara Valley, CA: Retail $22. 57% Grenache Noir, 36% Cinsault, 7% Syrah (2018). Another winner on the nose here with bright red fruit and a hint of minerality. Whoa. Great flavors, rich fruit, a wonderful balance. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
- 2017 Farmstrong Field Rosé Redwood Valley, CA: Retail $18. Carignane, Zinfandel. Sweet on the nose, good fruit, but lacking tartness. Not bad, by any means, but really pales in this flight. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
More next week!