A few weeks ago, 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 (the largest, I believe, was last year).
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 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.
As I stated last week, there are some very good saignées out there. In fact, one of the Top Five wines chosen two years ago 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 skin to juice ratio, thus further concentrating the flavors, depth, and tannins of the red wine. 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 red wine. That means, in general, 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 54 American Rosés on Saturday, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 14 flights of four wines. Here are the second three flights.
2016 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare Reserve, CA: Retail $35. 50% Grenache, 15% Grenache Blanc, 12% Cinsaut, 12% Mourvèdre, 8% Carginane, 3% Roussanne. Flinty and tart fruit, a bit cloying on the palate, really coating the mouth. Wow, this is big. Not just for a rosé, but big! Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2017 Keller Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $35. Bright pink, candied nose, fruity and a bit sweet from all that fruit. This is pleasant but it could really use a shot of acidity to help balance out the fruit (pH = 3.53). Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2018 Oak Farm Grenache Rosé Lodi, CA: Retail $24. 100% Grenache Noir. Pale pink, peachy and lemony, sweet. The residual sugar is noticeable (RS = 0.55% or about 5.5 g/liter), which serves to mask the acidity, which is not all that high to begin with (pH = 3.41). This might very well be a crowd pleaser, though. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2018 LangeTwins Aglianico Rosé River Ranch Vineyard, Lodi, CA: Retail $20. 100% Aglianico. Leave it to Lodi to get an Aglianico rosé on to the market! Pink and bubble-gummy, fruity and round, a tad sweet as well. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $20. Extra pale pink. Flinty and light fruit. Good fruit, quite flinty, but also chalky. Well done. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2018 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé Lodi, CA: Retail $25. 100% Grenache Noir. Bright pink and almost glowing in the glass. Peachy and a bit round, could use a bit more acidity to balance it out. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 Passaggio Tempranillo Rosé Clarksburg, CA: Retail $32. 100% Tempranillo. Pale, more orange than pink, with a mineral nose, subtle fruit on the palate, and the acidity eventually gets there. I was ready to not be all that excited, but the finish put me over-the-top. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2018 Benovia Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. Pale pinkish orange. Good strawberry fruit. A bit of residual sugar here but decent balance, I would like to see the sugar a bit lower. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 Bella Grace Bella Rosé Amador County, CA: Retail $26. 60% Grenache & 40% Mourvedre. Pale pink with a fruity, candied nose. Nice and tart, good balance, great fruit. Solid. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2018 Passaggio Aglianico Rosé Heringer Estate Vineyards, Clarksburg, CA: Retail $32. 100% Aglianico. Another Aglianico? Crazy. Flinty with no discernable fruit on the nose. But tart, balanced and even fruity on the palate. This is pretty darned good. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2018 Kokomo Grenache Rosé Pauline’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $32. 100% Grenache. Flinty and subdued fruit, but really wonderful on the palate, pronounced salinity. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2017 Denison Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir Kiff Vineyard, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $22. Smokey, meaty, and big. Dark, almost a Pinot Noir dark. Odd on the palate, with sweetness, smoke, low on tartness. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.