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 was the one we held last year, but it was too big).
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 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 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 rosé in mind. True Rosés are therefore not a byproduct of red wine production, they are intentionally or purposefully made. They are True Rosés.
Last year, 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 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.
Feel free to argue with me. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter how wrong it might be.
A couple of weeks ago, seven of us tried 54 American Rosés, 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 flights 10-12.
2017 Kramer Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton, OR: Retail $24. Vibrant pink, a bit dark, sweet and candied. A bit of the same on the palate, but also a bit vinous (which is good) and a touch heavy-handed. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2017 Jason Stephens Winery Pixelated Central Coast, CA: Retail $18. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Grenache. Medium dark, with some distinct rhubarb. There seems to be some residual sugar here, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Pretty high acidity, but lacks balance in my mind. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2017 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $22. Medium pink with a touch of petrol and red fruit. Tasty on the palate, with good fruit, solid, but just a bit lacking in pizazz. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 ACORN Rosato Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $29. 41% Sangiovese, 30% Zinfandel, 15% Syrah, 11% Dolcetto, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Other. Medium to dark in color. The nose is both quite vegetal and meaty. Good fruit, but a little light in acid (I checked: the pH = 3.54). An interesting wine and blend. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2017 Quady North Grenache Rosé Rogue Valley, OR: Retail $19. 55% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre. Very light, almost a white. Tart nose, petrol, lemon, and red fruit. Good fruit and quite tart, really tart. Nice. Very nice. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2017 Benovia Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. Medium color. An interesting nose of dill and Chinese sweet and sour sauce. Very nice on the palate, but that dill is still there and a bit overpowering. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2017 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé Lodi, CA: Retail $25. Medium color. Mineral nose. Nice on the palate, plenty of good here. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 Flowers Vineyards & Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $32. Very light. Classic Provençal nose, mineral red flower, tree fruit. Nice on the palate as well. Fruity and refreshing. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2017 Rodney Strong Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $25. Light pink. Rose petals and peach. On the palate initially sweet, but then some tartness. A bit disjointed and rough around the edges, but it clearly pulls it out in the end. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points..
2017 Passaggio Tempranillo Rosé Heringer Estate Vineyards, Clarksburg, CA: Retail $32. Light orange. Mineral, white flower. Good flavor on the palate, a classic rosé style. Ripe fruit, with good tartness on the finish. Very good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2018 Pedroncelli Rosé Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $17. 100% Zinfandel. Bright pink, with a fruity, sweet nose, Really nice on the palate, fantastic fruit, great acidity, wonderful. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $22. Light to medium pink with a candied red fruit nose. Subtle fruit, decent acidity, good balance. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.