A couple of weeks ago, I invited a few writers here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the largest blind tasting of American True Rosés of the year.
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 simply a blend of red wine and white wine. The second, which is widely practiced around the world, is called the “Saignée Method” where shortly after red grapes are crushed, 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 singular idea of making rosé in mind. True Rosés are therefore not a byproduct of red wine production (like saignées), they are intentionally or purposefully made. They are True Rosés.
I have been fortunate enough to be on a few press trips and thus I have visited numerous wine regions with other members of the media. Many of them have become friends and I look forward to reconnecting when we are paired once again on a trip or at a tasting.
There is one aspect of this familiarity that is a bit of a pain in the rear, however. Whenever I taste a new (to me) rosé, I always ask whether it is a True Rosé or not. Why? I’ll get to that below. It becomes a pain in the rear because the other wine writers in the group (at least those who know me) let out a collective groan as if to say “Here he goes, again.”
I never ask, but my question to those other writers (and PR people for that matter) is “Why aren’t you asking this question??”
I am about to go into the weeds of wine writing/wine geekdom here, so if you would rather not end up with a headache, skip the section below in BLUE.
In general, wine writers want to know about all aspects of wine production from the broad (e.g., what grape varieties are used) to the ridiculously sublime (not just if oak is used, but American or French [or Hungarian, etc.], what “toast” [the amount of charring done to the barrel] is applied, even the particular effing forest from whence came the trees).
But I have never heard a single writer (other than me) ask about how a particular rosé was made (I know this for a fact since had someone else asked, I would have dropped to a knee and proposed on the spot, regardless of gender or either of our individual marital statuses).
The same is not true when the discussion turns to sparkling wine and most people want to know the method used. Specifically, writers (and therefore their readers) want to determine whether the given wine was made using the “traditional method” (i.e., it was made in the same fashion as champagne) or not.
That does not seem to be the case when it comes to rosé, for whatever reason, which is too bad for the simple reason that those winemakers who make an intentional rosé (again, what I call a “True Rosé”) tend to be pretty darned enthusiastic about it. And, let’s not forget, that True Rosés tend to be better than their saignée counterparts.*
*Here I insert my regular disclaimer that there are many fine saignées out there (including one of my favorite rosés, the Tongue Dancer Rosé of Pinot Noir) but all things being equal, a rosé made with intention will be better than one that is a byproduct of red wine production.
OK. Enough geekiness.
A couple of weeks ago, our intrepid group tried 53 American Rosés on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, trying to find the best. As promised, I am publishing my actual notes from the tasting, which we tasted in 13 flights of 4 wines. Here is the fifth set of two flights.
2021 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Rosé, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. Light orangish-pink in the glass with a classic rosé nose of fresh strawberries and cherries including a bit of salinity. Big for a rosé, with tons of fruit with that distinct salinity, on the palate as well, with just enough tartness to balance the wine beautifully. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2022 Union Wine Company Underwood Rosé, Oregon: Retail $14. Blend? Really peachy in this light pink hued wine. Tons of peach, in fact. The palate is delightful with plenty of fruit and a leveling tartness, but there is also a chalky side to the wine that makes me think “oysters.” Excellent. 92 Points.
2022 King Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $25. Medium color in the glass with a quite meaty nose along with some rhubarb. A bit flat on the palate, particularly initially. A bit of acidity comes in on the finish, but it’s a bit too late. Very Good. 88 Points.
2021 Calafia Pinot Noir The Princess, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $25. Medium to dark color with an odd nose as it is a bit meaty and a search for fruit is well, fruitless. There seems to be some residual sugar with some acidity but also some smokiness. Very Good. 87 Points.
2021 Notre Vue GSM Rose, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $29. 34% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 33% Mourvèdre. Really light in the glass with a classic Provençal color and nose. A bit of earth and faint fruit on the nose, quite shy, in fact. The Provencal theme keeps going on the palate with a near perfect impersonation of a wine from the south of France, only a bit fruitier. Lovely. Excellent. 92 Points.
2021 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Rosé Jane’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $30. Quite light in the glass with some pear, peach and salinity and even a slight meatiness. A bit spritzy on the palate, but nice and tart and a good poolside drink Nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 Left Coast Estate White Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR: I believe that this wine was flawed as it could not be what the winemaker intended.
2021 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé Avant Garde, Carneros, CA: Retail $35. Nice and fruity on the nose with medium to light color. Kind of non-descript through the mid-palate, but some nice fruit and tartness comes in on the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.
I would suggest for purist reasons that when evaluating rosés, tasters not know until AFTER wine has been tasted whether it was saignee or direct to press. If the difference is truly significant, then your tasters should be able to determine how the wine was made.