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).
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 four 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, we tried 51 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 four wines. Here is the second set of two flights.
2020 ACORN Rosato Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. A field blend of 20% Cabernet Franc, 19% Sangiovese, 19% Dolcetto, 19% Zinfandel, 6% Syrah, 3% Merlot, 2% Cinsaut, 2% Blue Portuguese, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Viognier, 2% Barbera, and 4% includes Liatiko, Dornfelder, Einset, Freisa, Chardonnay, Aromatico, and Suffolk. Dark in color, particularly among this lineup. With dark fruit, lovely floral, even perfumed on the nose. Fruity and tart on the palate, good balance and depth. Given the color, I did not expect to like it this much (as I expected some tannins which I struggle with in rosé–but not here!). Excellent. 90 Points.
2021 Sangiacomo Wines Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $35. Under screwcap. Made by, I believe, renowned Pinot guru James MacPhail. Cotton candy pink both in color and aromas with really good fruit but a bit lacking in acidity, which likely might be due to the fact that it went through 92% malolactic fermentation. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Grape Creek Vineyards Malbec Rosé, Texas: Retail $35. Pinkish orange in the glass with lovely fresh strawberries on the nose. Rather non-descript on the palate with not much fruit until the finish. Very Good. 88 Points.
2021 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Rosé, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. Under screwcap. Last year, this was one of the top wines and this 2021 really brought the goods as well. Really tart and fruity on the nose of this light pink wine. The palate is just fantastic with truckloads of fruit, quite tart, lovely balance, it has it all. Whoa. Yowza. A beautiful rosé. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2021 Ireland Family Pinot Noir Rosé, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. Light pink with a lovely, fruity nose with just a hint of funk. The palate is quite fruity and tart, with that little bit of funk as well. If it were not for that? Excellent. 90 Points.
2021 Pedernales Cellars Over the Moon Rosé, Texas: Retail $30. 49% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, 9% Mourvedre, 5% Sangiovese, 2% Carignan. Part True Rosé, part saignée. Medium pink with a decided orange hue, with good fruit on the nose and a bit of seashell. Good fruit on the palate as well with the requisite tartness, just lacking a bit of verve. Excellent. 90 Points.
2021 Benziger Family Winery Rosé, North Coast, CA: Retail $26. No indication anywhere what variety(ies) are involved here. Candied cherry on the nose of this medium pink wine. Nice and tart with a touch of sweetness on this? Perfectly fine, in fact, excellent, but does not need that touch of sweetness. Excellent. 91 Points.
2021 Elouan Rosé, Oregon: Retail $20. Pinot Noir? (No indication as to the varieties involved.) I saw this at my local H-E-B (I love my H-E-B) for around twelve bucks, so I bought a bottle to include in the tasting. Medium pink and plenty of watermelon Jolly Rancher on the nose. The palate is quite nice and perhaps what I think of when I conjure the “American” rosé. Good fruit, candied, a touch sweet? Excellent. 92 Points.