Last week, 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 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 (“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.)
Last week, four of us tried 74 American Rosés on Saturday, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 13 flights of six wines. Here is the second set of two flights.
2018 Benovia Pinot Noir Rosé Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. Pale orange with slight pink. Sweet and voluptuous on the nose, ripe red fruit. Fruity, tart, balanced, lovely. Really nice. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2019 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Dark, really close to red. Sweet on the nose, really sweet red fruit. The palate has huge fruit and even a bit tannic but needs some acidity. Some astringency on the finish. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 Keller Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $35. Pale orange with a hint of pink. Sweet, ripe strawberry on the nose, even some honey. Tart and angular, with the fruit lacking a bit on the palate. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2019 Malene Wines Rosé, Central Coast, CA: Retail $22. 48% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre 12% Rolle, 17% Cinsault. Cotton candy pale pink. Lovely fruit on the palate, balanced acidity. A delight. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2018 Passaggio Aglianico Heringer Estates, Clarksburg, CA: Retail $32. Really pale, almost white. Quite floral, almost no fruit on the nose. Great acidity, but a bit lacking in fruit. Still, a lovely quaff. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2017 Ripe Life Wines The Clambake Rosé, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $19. 100% Carignan. Fairly dark with a bit of strawberry jolly rancher on the nose. Not very fruity on the palate, but a quick shot of acidity before the finish. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2019 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Rosé, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $25. 60% Tinta Roriz, 35% Primitivo, and 5% Grenache. Barely any color, maybe a slight pinkish orange. Fruity nose with a hint of acacia flower. Fruity, tart, balanced. Lovely and this one gets a Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2018 Tres Sabores Ingrid & Julia Rosé, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $30. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. More orange than pink with a sweet nose of strawberry and cherry. Another winner on the palate with good fruit, minerality, and a tad chalky. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2019 Fields Family Wines La Vie, Lodi, CA: Retail $19. Variety unknown. Rich reddish-pink with an extremely sweet nose of cotton candy. Lacking fruit on the palate, quite mineral, even chalky. Relatively low acidity. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2019 Capture Rosé of Sangiovese, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. Almost clear with just a slight dash of pink. Tart nose of melon: both cantaloupe and watermelon. Subtle fruit and above-average tartness. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2019 Winderlea Pinot Noir Rosé, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. Bubblegum pink. But a bit of a muted nose. Subtlety continues on the palate with the fruit remaining shy until the finish. Near perfect level of acidity. Close to a Whoa. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2019 Lucia Pinot Noir Lucy Rosé, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $22. Pinkish orange. A bit funky on the nose, fruity with some of that funk on the palate and just a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.