This past weekend, I invited a few (vaccinated) wine professionals here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the largest blind tasting of American True Rosés in a year, as we tasted through 68 wines (last year we tasted 74, two years ago there were 54, the second year 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 often planted, 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, usually spend as little time as possible in contact 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 but more often than not the barrels are neutral). 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 solely 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, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, seven of us (all vaccinated) waded through 68 American True Rosés (OK, there was one saignée and one wine from Argentina just to spice things up a bit) six 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 (in italics, the rest was added as I compiled the notes for publication) from the tasting of 17 flights of four wines. Here are the first two flights in the order they were tasted.
2020 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Rosé, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. 100% Pinot Noir. Under screwcap. I would consider Paula and Stephen (Steve) Ross Dooley friends, so I was happy when they decided to send a couple of bottles of their Rosé of Pinot Noir for the tasting. I was even happier to find out that I and the rest of the panel really liked it, despite the fact that it was randomly selected as the first wine of 68 that we tasted. Pale pink with a lovely nose on cotton candy and strawberry/peach. The palate is absolutely singing with great fruit, lovely acidity and a fantastic finish. A really great start to the tasting. Outstanding 93 Points.
2019 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Terra Alta Vineyard Lodi, CA: Retail $20. 44% Garnacha, 34% Graciano, 22% Tempranillo. Under screw cap. Last year, I was not as enthralled with this wine (88 pts.) but this year I was, lending some credence to my assertion that True Rosé can age. More of an orange tinge to this wine with an inviting nose of candied pear, and a bit of crème brulée. The palate is round but also tart, with great fruit and the hint of sweetness. Another stellar rosé. Excellent. 91 Points.
2020 Calafia Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé The Princess, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. 62% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon. Cork closure. This is my first experience (I think) with this producer, hopefully, it will not be the last. Darkest one so far, a rich pink with a floral and candied nose and tons of cherry. Good fruit and initially quite round until the acidity kick in on the finish. Nice fruit, crowd-pleaser. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Lenz Firefly Rosé, North Fork, Long Island, NY: Retail $20. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Gewurztraminer. Not much information is available on this wine. In fact, I am not certain that it is a True Rosé. was Regardless, it was great to have a wine from the Empire State in the tasting, Long Island, no less. Orangish pink with what appears to be bubbles in the glass, but comes off still. Another with great fruit and plenty of acidity. A bit chalky on the mid-palate. Nice. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Lange Pinot Noir Rosé, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. Under screwcap. I first tried this last year and while I liked it then (89 Pts.) I seem to like it slightly less now. Darker, almost a light red with some darker berry fruit on the nose (cranberry, black cherry). Quite tart but pretty lacking in fruit. In fact, I struggled to find any. There is plenty of acid, but really that’s about it. Very Good. 87 Points.
2019 Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir Rosé, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $25. I do not have a ton of experience with this brand, but it was a part of last year’s tasting, where it fared well (91 pts.). Quite pale, could be confused with a white. Fruity (mango, strawberry), some spice, and floral. The palate again, is a bit lacking in fruit, there is some, but it is hard to find. Good acidity, however, that lingers on the finish. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 McCay Cellars Grenache Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $24. Another Lodi wine that was also a part of last year’s tasting and one that I particularly liked (91 pts.). This go around? Not so much. Medium pink good fruit on the nose with a candied aspect. The palate is a bit uninspiring and not very nuanced and a bit of a one-note. Not very interesting. Very Good. 87 Points.
2020 Fullerton Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Three Otters, Oregon: Light pink with an orange hue. Medicinal on the nose, tough to get any fruit off of it. The palate is more appealing than the nose, but still lacking fruit. Good acidity, but that nose… Very Good. 88 Points.
More coming soon!