This past weekend, 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, as we tasted through 74 wines (last year we tasted 54, two years ago there were 68, and the first year we had 36), while maintaining physical distance (for the most part).
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, this past Saturday, four of us waded through 74 American True Rosés (OK, there was one saignée and one-half saignée/half True Rosé) six wines at a time, without knowing their identities, and maintaining physical distancing.
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 13 flights of six wines (the last two flights were four wines each). Here are the first two flights in the order they were tasted.
2019 McCay Cellars Grenache Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $24. Pinkish orange hue. Strawberry with a touch of rhubarb and minerality. Great tartness, a bit of flintiness, and a touch of funk on the palate. Quite good. Excellent 90-92 Points.
2018 Klinker Brick Bricks & Roses, Lodi, CA: Retail $15. 41% Grenache, 35% Carignane, 12% Syrah, 12% Mourvèdre. Very pale in the glass, almost a white, even. Lovely on the nose with lighter fruit and even some sweetness and vanilla. Quite tart, with more citrus than red fruit on the palate. Very nice as well. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2019 WillaKenzie Estate Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. 100% Pinot Noir. Light cotton candy pink. Luscious red fruit with some peach. Tartness a go-go with a chalky finish. More fruit here as well. Yowza. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2019 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $25. Darkest so far with just a hint of orange. A sweetness to the nose, more of a red berry jam than fresh fruit. Low acidity, but good fruit, and a lengthy finish that even includes some mocha. Nice (and even better on day 2). Excellent 90-92 Points.
2019 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir Rosé of Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. Classic pink with a rich nose and lovely fresh fruit. Tart, but not bracing. Good fruit and lengthy finish. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 Passaggio Tempranillo, Yolo County, CA: Retail $28. Light orange, some pink. A bit funky and savory on the nose. Tart and delicious on the palate with some peach. Lengthy finish. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $28. Saignée. Fairly dark in the glass with rhubarb and sweet watermelon. Quite fruity on the palate and very vinous with a touch of savory. Big and rich for a rosé. Yum. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2019 Erath Pinot Noir Rosé, Oregon: Retail $18. Medium pink with rich aromas of ripe strawberry and peach. Chalky and fruity on the palate, more of a classic provencal flavor profile. But good acidity and lengthy finish. Tasty. Excellent 90-92 Points.
2017 Bella Grace Rosé, Amador County, CA: Retail $26. 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre. Really pale in the glass almost white. Fruity and sweet on the nose: ripe pear and apple. More of a peach on the palate with vibrant acidity and an extremely long finish. Not a “typical” rosé in many ways, but fantastic. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2018 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $24. Fairly standard color with a bit of a dirty nose, with fruit struggling to get through. The palate is nice, tart, and clean, but light in fruit. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $28. Cotton candy (light) pink. Rhubarb, really tart on the nose. Good fruit, but a bit lacking in acidity, still, a solid effort. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2019 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Terra Alta Vineyard Lodi, CA: Retail $20. 44% Garnacha, 34% Graciano, 22% Tempranillo. Orange tint with an odd nose. Not sweet, perhaps savory? The palate is much better, a bit sweet with a little, but that odd nose… Very Good. 87-89 Points.
More next week!