A couple 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 two years ago).
What, one might ask, 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.
A couple of years ago, 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” or “out of 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 68 American Rosés, 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 are flights 9-11:
2020 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Avant Garde, Carneros, CA: Retail $30. Light in color, equal parts pink and orange. Lovely on the nose, more floral than fruity. Nice. The palate is quite balanced with rich fruit, a mineral aspect. Lengthy finish. Outstanding. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 Cattleya Alma de Cattleya Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $20. Lovely pink with an odd, almost sausage like aroma. Also some peach and hints of cherry. Wonderful on the palate—initial wave of fruit, a healthy tartness, maybe a hint of sugar, but it works. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Pedroncelli Dry Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $16. 100% Zinfandel. Rich pink color. Rich fruit nose, some smoke, candied. Rich fruit, intense flavors, tart. Nice. I liked this last year (88 pts.) but it has improved. Excellent. Excellent. 91 Points.
2020 Domaine Bousquet Pinot Noir Gaïa Rosé, Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina: Retail $16. More orange than pink. Loads of peach, some indication of sweetness, a touch floral. Quite nice. Despite being from Argentina, I decided to slip this this wine into the tasting (technically, I guess this is still an “American” True Rosé). Excellent. Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rosé, Monterey, CA: Retail $25. Light pink with an orange rim. A bit “dirty” on the nose but plenty of peach, a hint of rhubarb, lovely, actually. The palate, is unfortunately characterized by that “dirtiness” there is also some sweetness. Another wine that did not fair well with the additional year of age. I loved this last year (92 Pts) but this year? Not so much. Could it be an off bottle? Maybe…. Very Good. 87 Points.
2020 Pedroncelli Dry Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $16. 100% Zinfandel. Bubblegum pink. Good fruit on the nose, but a hint of funk (I like the funk). Sweet on the nose with some intense acidity. Very Good. 88 Points.
2018 Torii Mor Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $20. Last year, I liked this wine just fine. Pretty much the same vibe this year. And for under twenty bucks? One could do far worse. Rich color, orange, not pink. The nose is a bit austere and much more floral than fruity. In fact, the fruit is pretty much absent. Lacking fruit on the palate. Good tartness. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 WillaKenzie Estate Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. 100% Pinot Noir. Another wine that seems to have improved over the last 12 months (92 Pts. in 2020). Classic medium pink with a lovely nose of ripe peach and rose petals. Fruity on the palate with a savory note, plenty of tartness, a another lovely wine. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 Diora Pinot Noir La Belle Fête, Monterey, CA: Retail $22. This was the second vintage of this wine and I have to say: “Where have you been all my life?” Light cotton candy color with a wonderful nose, lovely peach and floral, tart on the palate, with wonderful fruit on the palate. One of the better wines here. My only gripe? A bit short on the finish. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, California: Retail $17. 82% Pinot Noir, 15% Syrah, 3% Grenache. More orange than pink. An interesting nose of fruit, a bit of oxidation, caramel even. Good fruit, with some RS here, and that interesting toasted caramel thing going on. I liked this last year (90 Pts.) and I still do. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. Light to medium pink with another interesting nose which I can’t quite place. Tomato paste? The palate is fruity, with that tomato aspect, but also some solid fruit and a touch of sweetness. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 A to Z Wineworks Rosé, Oregon: Retail $18. (I have no idea what the varietal composition is here, but I assume it has at least some Pinot Noir.) Medium pink with a lovely nose of peach, strawberry, the palate is perhaps even fruitier. Intense fruit, a touch of sweetness, really nice. Excellent. 92 Points.