A couple of weeks ago, I invited a few (vaccinated) wine professionals here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the second largest blind tasting of American True Rosés, 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).
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 year, there are some very good saignées out there. In fact, one of the Top Five wines chosen three 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, seven of us tried 68 American Rosés on Saturday, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 17 flights of four wines. Here is the second set of three flights.
2019 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $20. Lovely light pink. Funky on the nose. Really funky. Almost “this might be flawed” kinda funky. Luckily the palate is much better with plenty of fruit, acidity, and good balance. But that nose? Tough to score. I’m basing this on the palate. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 Raeburn Rosé, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $18. Very light pink with a lovely nose, quite fruity but also floral. Really stellar nose that I could smell for a while. Wow. Holy cow and a whoa. Great fruit, lovely acidity, balanced, maybe a hint of sweetness. Yowza. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2020 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare, Central Coast, CA: Retail $19. 71% Grenache, 11% Cinsault, 5% Clairette Blanche, 5% Grenache Blanc, 4% Mourvèdre, 4% Vermentino. Medium pink-orange with quite a sweet nose, loaded with peach. Not as inviting initially on the palate, but the fruit really comes in on the finish. I was ready to write this off, but it really recovers. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Furioso Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $32. Rich, color, a bit funky on the nose with a medicinal aspect. The palate is rather lacking in fruit and overly tart, and rather savory. Still, I could see this as part of a barbecue on the back patio, yeah, that’s the ticket. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Ferrari-Carano Sangiovese Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $15. Rich color, fruity nose (peach and strawberry), fruity on the palate with plenty of acid, almost a bit high, which renders it a bit out of balance. Still, this is likely a crowd pleaser. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Lost Draw Cellars Arroyo Rosé, Texas High Plains, TX: Retail $25. (I could not find the varietal composition.) Right down the middle color-wise with another gorgeous nose, fruity, a tad sweet. The palate is also quite inviting with great fruit and balance. Really nice. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Peltier Rouge Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $20. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pink with a touch of orange. A tad floral with bright fruit (tangerine and strawberry). Really lovely on the palate with rich fruit and balanced acidity. Quite nice. Whoa. One of the top wines of the tasting thus far. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 McCay Cellars Cinsault Rosé, Lodi, CA: Retail $24. Orangish pink with an odd nose, somewhat of a mocha thing going on. The palate? Yikes. This might be flawed. Last year, this showed so much better. Yup, bad bottle. Unrated.
2019 Capture Rosé of Sangiovese, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $30. Quite light in the glass with a beautiful nose of peach, cherry, and white flower. The palate? Whoa. Great tartness and balance here. This is another contender for top wine. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Candy cotton pink with an orange tint. Decent nose, of floral and fruit. The palate is fine, good fruit and acidity, but might be lacking a bit of pizazz. OK.
. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Grape Creek Vineyards Malbec Rosé Texas: Retail $35. Medium color with an orange tint, the nose is difficult to find, eventually a bit of mint. The palate is interesting, balanced but it is just a bit lacking in fruit. Very Good. 88 Points.
2020 Bells Up Winery Pinot Noir Prelude, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $24. 109 Cases made. Quite red for a rosé. A bit medicinal on the nose with some red fruit. The palate is also quite fruity with some intense acidity. Very nice. Excellent. 92 Points.