This past weekend, I invited a few wine professionals here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the largest blind tasting of American True Rosés, This year we tasted 51 wines, which was thankfully lower than last year’s 68 (two years ago we tasted 74, in 2019 there were 54, 68 in 2018, 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 (as with a saignée), 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, we waded through 51 American True Rosés (OK, there was three saignées that got in there somehow) four 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 13 flights of four wines. Here are the first two flights in the order they were tasted.
2020 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Rosé, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $25. 60% Primitivo, 40% Tina Roriz. Fairly light in color more orange than pink with a delightful nose of red berry and cotton candy. Bright, tart, and fruity on the palate with great balance and depth. A very nice start the Sixth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé. Whoa. Outstanding 93 Points.
2020 Westmount Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $20. Under screw cap. True Rosé. [Purchased Bottle]. Lovely pink hue, a bit darker than cotton candy, but beautiful color. More floral than fruity with rose and maybe even violet on the nose. The palate has a salinity, meaty component, not a ton of fruit here, and comes off a little hot with some odd residual something or other in the bottom of the glass. Very Good. 88 Points.
2020 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Rosé, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. 100% Pinot Noir. Under screw cap. I liked this a lot more last year–maybe my theory on the aging potential of True Rosé needs to be readdressed? Orangish pink in color with a wonderfully fruity nose—ripe, sweet strawberry. Really nice tartness on the palate, but lacking in fruit, surprisingly. Also, a chalky finish detracts just a bit. Very Good. 89 Points.
2021 Be Human Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, WA: Retail $18. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Last year, the 2020 was one of the stars of the show. The 2021 is fantastic albeit a slight step below that 2020. Orangish pink in the glass with a sweet, slightly fruity nose, and a touch of floral. Lovely palate with the fruit, tartness, and alcohol all in balance. Very nice, close to a whoa. Excellent. 92 Points.
2021 Emery Grant Pinot Noir Rosé, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail? I assume this is 100% Pinot Noir. This is one of several special bottles that I was sent for the tasting. I say “special” because they are very limited in production and generally not available for purchase. The wine was made by Pinot Guru James MacPhail and sent to me by his rockstar partner in crime (and wife) Kerry MacPhail. What a treat! 5. Lovely color with a slight orange tint to the light pink wine. Lovely fruit on the nose, but a bit shy nonetheless. Decent fruit on the palate with an off-the-charts acidity. Normally, that is a plus for me and while the wine is quite nice, it could use a bit more fruit to counterbalance that tartness. Excellent. 90 Points.
2021 WINC Buellton Summer Water, Central Coast, CA: Retail $25. 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah. [Purchased bottle] I have been wanting to try this wine for some time now and instead of reaching out to the producer to attempt to procure a sample, I just bought one at my local H-E-B (I love my H-E-B). Really light pink (Provence) in the glass with intense strawberry, melon, and even grapefruit on the nose. The palate is fruity and fun with the acidity coming in on the mid-palate, and running the ship all the way through to the finish. Lovely. Excellent. 92 Points.
2020 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Rosé, CA: Retail $25. Under screwcap. (Under $15 locally). This has long been a stellar performer at the World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé. This 2020 was one of the top wines last year, and it remains stellar. Medium-pink with loads of fruit on the nose, red berry, and peach. Really impressive fruit on the palate, with depth that one does not always find in rosé. Long finish. Very nice. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2021 Cattleya Alma de Cattleya Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 100% Pinot Noir. This has always been a solid performer in the World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé and this 2021 is not an exception. Light pink with an orange hue with good fruit and a salty, slightly meaty, but lovely nose. Very nice on the palate, too, a solid wine, top to bottom. Excellent. 91 Points.
More coming soon!