The Press Fraction 2021 East Coast Rosé Report
Want to find the best 2021 rosé made east of the West Coast? Here's your guide.
Note: When I set out to expand and formalize my near-annual rosé roundup into an East Coast Rosé Report, I knew it was going to be a lot of work. I knew I wanted to include some other tasters with experience with regional wines and the wider world of rosé. I knew that I wanted to include as many wines as wineries were willing to submit.
I didn’t know just how much work it would be, and this report is being published at least a month later than I originally planned. But, as I’ll get into below, I learned a lot along the way, and I’m confident that I’ll be able to taste and turn it all around much more quickly next year when the time comes. What I’ve learned will improve every wine style report I do from here on out. That’s a good thing.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the report!
The Press Fraction 2021 East Coast Rosé Report
Welcome to the inaugural Press Fraction Rosé Report, a guide intended to help lovers of rosé from the East Coast — or anywhere — find the best rosés available from local wineries.
For the purposes of this report, “East Coast” refers to wine-producing regions east of California, Oregon, and Washington. Any rosé made in any state other than those three from locally grown grapes was eligible. For 2021, wines were submitted from Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. With Wine Enthusiast’s decision to back out of most emerging wine regions in the United States, I’m hopeful that this list will grow next year.
We obviously didn’t taste every 2021 rosé to hit the market this spring but, I’m confident that we’ve identified most of the East Coast rosés worth seeking out.
What is Rosé Anyway?
First, let’s define what I mean by “rosé” because it isn’t as simple as you might think.
There are two main ways to make rosé. The first is the saignée method. Saignée means “to bleed,” and it involves draining off some of the red wine juice to increase the skin-to-juice ratio during the winemaking process — making the red wines more concentrated and flavorful. The juice that is “bled” off is used to make rosé. This used to be the de facto way most East Coast rosés were made. I’ve found that it’s rarely how the best ones are made today.
The second method is the “rosè on purpose” method used when rosé wine is the primary goal. Red wine grapes are picked just a bit earlier when the natural acidities are higher, then crushed, and the juice is left on the skins for a short time to pick up some color and perhaps tannins. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation, as with red winemaking.
No one that I have met argues that wines made through either of these methods should be considered “real” rosé — unless deemed too sweet, at which point some decide that the rosé becomes “blush,” which tends to be pejorative.
There is another way, however — through the blending of white and red grapes/juice/finished wine to make a pink wine. Sometimes white wine — often steel-fermented chardonnay or something similar — is colored with a little bit of red wine. In other cases, some higher-acid white wine is blended into a rosé that was perhaps a bit too flabby or soft.
I’ve never questioned the authenticity of these wines as rosé and don’t plan to now.
I define rosé as pink-colored wine, regardless of what grapes were used or sweetness level. Many of the wines below are bone dry or nearly so, but residual sugar in and of itself was not a reason to disqualify a wine from being included.
Panel Tasting Process & Caveats
I’ve done smaller-scale versions of this report before. I tasted the wines by myself or with friends and rarely did so blind. I knew that I wanted to do things a bit differently this time around, so I put together a small group of three wine industry/writer people to join me:
Shelby Vittek, editor of Modern Farmer
Carlo DeVito, writer, ex-winery owner, and winemaker at Unionville Vineyards
Gibson Campbell, wholesale sales director, Macari Vineyards
Unfortunately, Shelby got COVID a few days before our scheduled tasting, so she was unable to join us. But, the three of us tasted two-thirds of the wines submitted for this report. The other wines either came in after the submission deadline (but before I stopped considering submissions for the report), or I was asked to hold them for a bit because they were recently bottled — so I did — which leads me to perhaps the most important caveat of this entire report.
Originally, I was going to publish a note about every single wine that was submitted. If not for bottling delays — most caused by bottle supply shortages and delays — that would likely have been 100 wines or more. But, because we tasted so many wines so close to them being bottled, I suspect that at least some weren’t showing their best. So, I decided not to publish any mediocre or negative reviews.
Carlo, Gibson, and I tasted through the wines together, blind, and starred the ones we thought were worthy of tasting again once we were done with the initial pass. We then tasted those starred wines and revealed each wine’s identity to know which region each came from, which became the categories below.
Initially, I was going to have grape-by-grape categories as well as maybe a hybrid/native category. Ultimately, seeing the unbagged wines in front of us, the panel agreed that awarding regional “Best of” made the most sense with other recommended wines to follow.
Price was not a consideration when deciding if a wine earned “Best of” or “Recommended.” Where appropriate, it will be discussed below on a wine-by-wine basis.
In the case of urban wineries, the location of the winery dictated which category the wines are listed in below instead of the vineyard source.
On the Beer-ification of Rosé
I’m publishing this in the summer — smack dab in the middle off “rosé season,” but I don’t consider rosé to be seasonal.
Yes, some wineries and wine marketers have beer-ified rosé, trying to make it seasonal, but I’m not buying it. I’m not talking about ubiquitous adjunct American lager beer here. I’m talking about seasonal, once-a-year beers — like pumpkin beer.
Think of the similarities:
People love both
Both are often only available for a limited time
The release dates seem to move earlier and early every year
Producers struggle with how much they should make
Make too little, and you miss out on potential sales. Make too much, and it’s sitting around well beyond when it’s considered good (by at least some people.)
At least, that was what I posited to several wine industry folks earlier this year as the plans for this report came together. I heard stories about bottling delays, being sold out of rosé since late summer, and having too much 2020 (or even 2019) rosé left to sell before they can even think about releasing the 2021 vintage.
Conversations with people who know much more about these things than I do prove that my beer-ification hypothesis isn’t nuanced enough. As with many things in life, it’s not so black-and-white.
It seems that relatively few at-winery consumers think about rosé as something that absolutely must be consumed within a year of release — even if wineries sell most of their rosé between May and September. But, in the wholesale world, it’s even more of a consideration. Restaurants and wine shops do, in fact, want only the newest vintage. Of course, you’d think that demand would start with the consumers, but this isn’t the place to delve into that any more deeply.
This report exclusively focuses on the 2021 vintage, not because of any beer-ification. I simply wanted to taste as many of these wines as I could as they were released.