[Duncan Garrett Photography

The first wine competition to be held since the Covid-19 shelter-in-place edict went into effect on March 18, the 2020 Experience Rosé Competition, was one to remember. It kicked off a duo of competitions that, in previous years, were held in separate months. The Women’s International Wine Competition was held immediately after the Rosé Competition, with the same professional judges at the same venue. Welcome to socially distanced sipping. So, how do more than 1,380 wines get judged in the middle of a pandemic?


Preparation and Protocol

First, you need health department approval. Debra Del Fiorentino, Wine Competitions Management & Productions Founder and President, and her dedicated team worked diligently with the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Sonoma County Health Department to get the competition approved and safety protocols put in place.

Next, you need healthy judges. Masks on and hands scrubbed, the judges arrived at 8:15 a.m., had their temperatures recorded and, once cleared, were allowed to proceed to their seats. Tables were spaced more than 12 feet apart, and judges at each table were seated with six-foot separations.

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Every participant—judges, back room staff, pourers, delivery team members, and table coordinators—was under strict protocols. Wines were poured in the back room and were delivered by masked, gloved team members, who had to be impeccable in placing the flights of wine at each judge’s seat, in the correct order (and they did a fine job!). Additional tasks normally handled by these team members, such as emptying and clearing glasses off the judging tables into cleaning racks, and emptying the judges’ spit buckets, were the responsibility of the judges this year.

Judges were also required to don their masks between flights of wine or to leave their table at any time, whether to pop outside for a breath of fresh air or a critical phone call. When it came time for lunch, individual boxes were delivered to each judge, each item inside wrapped separately. Seating was arranged outside on the grassy surrounds, with tables (seating just two or three judges) set far apart from one another. Unfortunately, the beloved judges’ dinner at the conclusion of the competition had to be nixed. All these preparations and protocols had to be in place before a sip of wine could be judged.


The Competition Begins

[Duncan Garrett Photography

At 9 a.m., the attention finally turned to judging. A record number of rosé wines were evaluated, from a wide span of regions across the globe. Wineries were keen to enter, in hopes of earning a gold medal and the accompanying bragging rights. They saw this as an excellent business opportunity, in light of the impact of the winery shutdowns throughout the spring season.

This year the top awards included:

Donaldson Wines 2017 Sparkling Rosé, Sonoma County, California: This gem, crafted of 85% pinot noir and 15% chardonnay, broadcasts a brilliant pink diamond hue, a tantalizing biscuity aroma and tiny bead. It simply shines. Flavors of red raspberries, Rainier cherries, piecrust, and bright citrusy accents meld in harmony as it heads to a spirited finish. Best Domestic Sparkling, Best Of Class (BoC), Double Gold (DG) (97 pts.) www.donaldsonwine.com

Jean Philippe Moulin NV Champagne Rosé, Champagne, France: Here ‘s a stylish Champagne crafted of 85% chardonnay and 15% pinot noir. Aromas of fresh-baked brioche and sun-kissed apples waft from the glass. Crisp apples, lemon verbena, strawberries and cream, and notes of banana bread fill the palate. Balancing acidity, tiny bubbles, and a fine mousse add to its charm. Best International Sparkling, BoC, Gold (G) medal, (92) www.nakedwines.com

Russian River Vineyards 2019 Wedge Family Vineyard Petite Sirah Rosé, Fountaingrove District, California: The expressive berry aroma of this zesty dry rosé is very inviting. It’s elegant while delivering great depth of flavor, with notes of Santa Rosa plum, fresh strawberry shortcake, huckleberry, citrus accents, and subtle spice. Finely balanced and crisp with a lingering finish. Best Domestic Dry Rosé, BoC, DG (97) www.russianrivervineyards.com

Abacela Winery 2019 Grenache Rosé, Umpqua Valley, Oregon: This snappy, refreshing dry rosé shows off a shimmering peachy-pink hue and a nose of summer berries and floral tones. Layers unfold of fresh picked raspberries, cranberry juice, a trace of lemongrass, watermelon, and sweet clementines right off the tree. Bracing acidity keeps it perfectly balanced, and the perky finale delivers great length. DGold (95) www.abacela.com

Merriam Vineyards 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California: Enticing and expressive up front with a bowlful of fresh cherries on the nose, this rosé expands broadly on the palate. Sweetheart cherries, cranberry-raspberry chutney, lemon-scented peaches, and exotic spices intertwine. Sleek, vivid, and well balanced with a persistent finish. G (94) www.merriamvineyards.com

[Duncan Garrett Photography

Del Rio Vineyard Estate NV Jolee Rosé, Oregon: This highly aromatic, semi-sweet rosé starts with a stimulating fragrance of fresh spring flowers. It’s then smoothly textured with crisp acidity and a touch of spritz. Succulent berries, cherries, and faint spice swirl richly on the palate as it heads to an upbeat close. Best Domestic Sweet Rosé, BoC, DG (95) www.delriovineyards.com

Summerland Winery 2019 Grenache Rosé, Paso Robles, California: This remarkably balanced grenache rosé springs open with a spunky citrus blossom aroma. Layers of loganberry, graphite, pink grapefruit, hints of earth, and spice-dusted red raspberry compote are scintillating. Bright acidity and a silky texture transport the wine to a lifted finish. G (94) www.summerlandwine.com

Urban Tree Cidery NV Rosé, Georgia: Here’s an elegant, vivacious elixir. Brimming with scents and flavors of Rome and Macintosh apples, rose petals, accents of sweet crushed herbs, and a trace of raw honey, it captivates the senses. Invigorating from first sip through the juicy apple focused palate, to the last tasty drop. Best Cider, BoC, G (94) www.urbantreecidery.com

[Duncan Garrett Photography

Put It to Use

Use these tasting notes to find your favorite palate pleasing rosé for a perfect, any time of day energizer. This versatile libation makes for a delightful brunch accompaniment, refreshing afternoon sipper, delicious pre-dinner aperitif, and can also pair wonderfully with dinner fare.

Congrats to these and all this year’s winning grapegrowers, winemakers, and vintners, whose wines tickled the judges pink! For a full list of award winners, visit www.winecompetitions.com.