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Martin Ray rose

Martin Ray's Dry Rose was the winner in The Rose Competition 2015, held at Simi Winery. 

Bob Ecker photo

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Provence and enjoyed many fine, pale, fragrant rosé wines in the cafes of Arles, Uzes, and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence among other delightful spots. The balanced Bandol and other rosé wines were perfect for warm or hot afternoons – just like in California. It was like drinking sunshine in a glass.

When I returned home, I sought out American rosés and found very few “modern” wines — that is, good dry crisp and tasty rosés unlike the preponderance of sweet, weak and mass produced “blush” wines of the past.

One of the first excellent dry rosés I encountered was from Simi Winery in Healdsburg. Others of note came from Napa’s Peju, Bouchaine and the Hess Collection. Sola Rosa Rosé of Sangiovese and Miner Family Vineyards were also producing noteworthy rosés.

In 2007, I discovered Azur, a new wine produced here in Napa by a Julien Fayard, a young French winemaker. Wow, what an excellent and expressive rosé! It seemed that domestic rosé wines had finally graduated to respectability.

After wine judging in numerous competitions, I started seeing — and tasting — more and more worthy domestic rosés. Then I had an idea, and in 2013 created the first Rosé Wine Competition in the U.S. Held at Napa’s Meritage Resort & Spa, we invited only rosé producers from California and received 89 entries.

Many outstanding wines were awarded Gold Medals, and the competition was well-received. Every year now, rosé wines have been increasing as a category and were up 43 percent in the last year alone, according to statistics published by Nielsen.

I began working on a new, larger rosé competition to see how these wines are doing. On March 25, at Simi Winery, this time The Rosé Competition 2015 invited producers from across the U.S.

There were only two categories: “Dry” and “A Little Sweet.” Although the majority of submitted wines were from Northern California, we received 192 total entries from 20 different states. Besides California, they were from: Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Wine judges for The Rosé Competition included Christopher Sawyer, Denise Gill, Debra Del Fiorentino, Sue Straight, Debra Parker Wong, Rick Fraga and Ray Johnson.

During the competition, the flights kept coming out, usually 10 at a time, as the judges looked, smelled, swirled, sampled and spit, then wrote down comments and scores. The colors in this type of wine competition were particularly fun to observe, as glasses ran the gamut from almost clear to pale ocher, apricot, rust, copper, peachy, pink, orange, rouge, fire engine red, magenta and even…dark purple. (Yes, that was an odd one)

“I was impressed by the number of rosé wines entered this year,” Fraga said. “I knew that they had returned to California in a big way over the past few years, but it is obvious that winemakers from across the U.S. are joining in to the pink wine craze.”

For those of you who have never been involved in such an endeavor, running a wine competition is extremely complicated. All the statistics need to be inputted but are often are wrong or omitted.

There were some wines that showed up without any registration information at all. On the other hand, some wineries registered properly, but forget to send the actual wine bottles.

Many frantic phone calls and email preceded the judging to sort things out; ultimately, only one wine was a no-show.

To make certain everything is judged blind, wines must be carefully, marked, arranged and stored and poured to avoid any mistakes. And they also had to be served at the correct temperature. Fortunately, the staff at Simi did a fantastic job behind the scenes and the tasting went well. It’s so much easier simply judging.

The “Dry” category was the larger one with 159 wines judged and a total of 11 Double Gold Medals awarded. All 11 were brought back for the Best of Class finals.

One interesting element was how all of the wines given double gold medals had a similar salmon-colored hue. The judges went back and forth; the final winner had to go to a tiebreaker three times until the deadlock was finally broken. What emerged as The Best of Class was a lovely rosé from Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery, 2014, from Santa Rosa.

“As a category, rosé is on fire and consumers can’t go wrong with the variety of styles that medaled in this competition,” remarked judge Parker Wong.

In the “A Little Sweet” category the Best of Class was awarded to a delicious rosé from Truett Hurst 2014 of Cloverdale.

And for rosé lovers, a gala public rosé wine event celebrating the Gold Medal winning wines from competition will be held at Simi winery on May 30.

“I look forward to coming back next year and seeing how the wines progress. This was a great event,” said Fraga.

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