Global Sparkling Masters 2018: The results

Over a year, the drinks business hosts many Global Masters competitions, inviting producers to pit their wines against the world’s best before a panel of expert judges.

About the competition

The Sparkling Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti. The competition is exclusively for sparkling wine and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top sparklers were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Sparkling Master. The sparklers were tasted over the course of a single day on 12 July at Les 110 de Taillevent in London’s Marylebone.

Judged blind, the Global Masters is unique in that it presents wines without any indication of their origin, stripping away the potential for prejudice, and allowing a wine to be judged on its price and style alone. While we also host a Global Prosecco and Global Champagne Masters, the Sparkling Masters is open to fizz of any style or origin. It means that a vintage Champagne could be judged alongside a sparkling wine from Hungary, or, indeed, a Prosecco, Cava or Lambrusco; wines that would ordinarily remain segregated, competing in their own category, but rarely against each other.

By placing the wines on a level playing field, removing any prestige that may be associated with their origin, all wines are afforded the chance to shine, helping to break down assumptions, aid consumer choice and highlight quality at all price points. To be considered the best, you must compete with the best.

For our team of expert judges, made up of MWs, senior buyers and sommeliers, it made for a fascinating review of what has become an incredibly fast-paced and evolving category. “Almost nothing is as invigorating as a day judging sparkling wines, whether Champagne, Prosecco and other traditional or tank method wines from around the globe,” enthuses Patricia Stefanowicz MW. “While there were excellent wines in all of the categories, the white sparkling wines seemed to have somewhat more consistency than the rosés. And the very best white sparkling wines shone with star-bright brilliance, lovely definition and elegance, whether brut, medium-dry, medium-sweet or sweet.”

This year’s Global Sparkling Masters saw more than 150 wines judged over the course of one day. Pleasingly, the results demonstrated a clear increase in quality in all price points and styles, with medals broadly distributed to traditional-method brut sparklers, primarily made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and cheaper tank-method Prosecco and Prosecco alternatives, to Lambrusco, Asti and other sweet sparkling wines. Overall, the competition yielded an impressive three Masters – the highest possible accolade – 19 Golds, 57 Silvers and 46 Bronze medals. But which regions shone the brightest, and who are the producers behind them?

Top Sauvignon Blancs priced over £15

Following the drinks business Sauvignon Blanc Masters held late last year, we round up the top examples priced over £15 that took home a Gold medal, or the ultimate accolade of a Master.

Sauvignon Blanc Masters_HEL2424_2Served blind and assessed without prejudice about their country of origin, wines were arranged according to their price band as well as style, from low-priced to high, blended to 100% Sauvignon, and unoaked to oaked, to make the competition as fair as possible.

In total 157 wines were judged by our panel, with wines that scored over 90 points awarded a Gold medal. Exceptional wines that scored 95 points or more were given the ultimate accolade of a Master, which was bestowed upon just one wine in the competition.

Here, we round up the wines that were priced £15 and over, and that were awarded a Gold of Master medal.

Click through to see which wines were rated highly by our judges…

To see a full report on the competition and all of the wines that won a medal click here. 

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by a cherry-picked group of Masters of Wine on 8 December at York & Albany in Camden.

Prosecco Masters 2016 : the results

What makes a good Prosecco? The question may seem simple, but is in fact becoming increasingly difficult to answer.

1Fresh, fruity, lively, easy drinking: these are all common indicators of quality and characteristics that have helped the category soar above its sparkling counterparts. Sales of Prosecco increased 72% by value in the UK off-trade for the 52 weeks to 18 July 2015, beating Champagne, which saw sales slip by 1.2% in the same period, according to IRI. During this period, Prosecco sales in the UK totalled £338 million, up by £142m on the previous year.

By volume, sales increased by 78% to just over 37.3m litres. But while Prosecco remains on a path of seemingly unstoppable growth, the extent to which producers should deviate from its trademark fresh and fruity profile is becoming the subject of debate. Typically, the Glera grape from which Prosecco is produced exudes fruit and floral aromas with crisp notes of green apple, pear and melon on the palate, with some examples developing notes of tropical fruits, banana, hazelnut and vanilla. Because it is produced using the Charmat method, and aged in large tanks with less pressure, its bubbles are generally lighter, frothier and less persistent than Champagne.

A proven formula

Operating within a category driven so acutely by price, few producers have strayed from this proven formula. Why should they? Prosecco is the sparkler that can apparently do no wrong. But is a commercially successful style of Prosecco that adheres to a reliable formula always the best example in its category? Or are Proseccos that push the boundaries of style, but which are nonetheless well-made wines, equally worthy of praise? More importantly, are consumers ready, and willing, to explore the extremities of the category, or spend more than £10 on a bottle? This separation, which sets the mass consumer against winemaking innovation, was highlighted at the 2016 Drinks Business Prosecco Global Masters, now in its third year.

Having tasted more than 100 Proseccos, obtaining a snapshot of the category, the thrust of discussion among judges centered not only on the style, quality and characteristics of the wines entered, but crucially if they matched up to what was expected of a Prosecco. “Some producers re-ferment in the bottle,” notes sommelier Roberto Della Pietra, “which for me defeats the point.” But as Anthony Foster MW observes: “Now and then we came across a wine that we thought was delicious, but didn’t taste like Prosecco,” suggesting that perhaps what constitutes a good Prosecco is in transition.

3Big on value

A total of 130 wines were judged by our expert panel, with nine awarded a Gold, 41 a Silver and 47 a Bronze. None of the wines entered matched up to what our judges would have expected of a Master. Gold medals were awarded across a broad swathe of price categories, as well as DOC, DOCG, Cartizze and Rive categories, with higher priced Proseccos not necessarily the top wines on pour, demonstrating the immense value on offer in the category.

Three standout wines in terms of value were Giusti’s Rosalia Prosecco DOC Treviso, Montelvini’s Asolo Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG and Cantine Machio’s Prosecco Superiore di Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut, all of which took home a Gold medal while sitting comfortably in the £10 to £15 category. Montelvini was not the only producer from the Asolo DOCG to be awarded a Gold medal, with Tenuta Amadio’s Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry also putting in a strong performance, having nudged slightly into the £15 to £20 category. Not to be overshadowed by their DOC and DOCG neighbours, two wines from the prized Cartizze vineyard achieved a Gold medal – Bisol Cartizze Dry 2014 and Carpenè Malvoti’s 1868 Cartizze – which both sit at a slightly higher price point of between £20 and £30. Also awarded a Gold medal in this price category was Scavi & Ray’s Prosecco Millesimato Momento d’Oro 2014.

While wines priced higher than £30 were judged, no Masters were given with the most expensive Prosecco to be awarded a gold medal Masottina’s ‘Le Rive Di Ogliano’ Extra Dry Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco at £27. Masottina also received a Gold medal for its DOC Treviso Extra Dry Prosecco, which placed in the slightly lower £15 to £20 category. Moving on to the Silvers, a respectable clutch of wines priced under £15 reaped success. This included Lidl’s Allini Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore, which at £7.50, was the lowest-priced wine of the competition. At the other end of the spectrum was Bottega’s diamond-studded Stardust DOC Prosecco, which, at £100, was the highest-priced Prosecco of the competition. Dozens more wines in the sub-£10 category were awarded a Bronze medal.

6Price and preference

The affordability and relative quality of Prosecco has of course driven much of its success, with the majority of consumers not inclined to step out of the sub-£10 price category, let alone trade up to the £10 to £15 category and beyond. As Della Pietra asserts: “A lot of people drink Prosecco because it’s cheaper, but it’s also very trendy. There are also a great number of people that drink Prosecco because they prefer it, not because it’s cheaper.” Convincing consumers that it is worth paying a bit more for a bottle of Prosecco is therefore perhaps the most practical challenge for producers to undertake, given that demand is, for now, unshakably secure. However, volumes of such higher-priced wines are almost certain to be decidedly small. Regardless, there is no doubting Prosecco’s success in carving a niche for itself, so much so that producers have not had to strive too far in terms of innovation to capture, or maintain, the attention of consumers.

As Alex Canneti of Berkmann Wine Cellars adds, Prosecco is “something of a rarity” in the drinks trade in that it gives consumers exactly what they want. “It’s about freshness of fruit,” he says. “It’s easy to drink, it’s not acidic or too dry. The Italians happen to be producing a product that’s spot on, which is so unusual in the wine business. Usually it’s ‘try this or try that’.” Producers with an ambition to push the boundaries of the category are therefore, in some ways, hamstrung by its success. Within such a commercially successful category, producers’ efforts to diversify or play about with style, one might cynically conclude, are destined to fall on deaf ears. “Most people like Prosecco simply because it’s easy to drink,” says Nick Tatham MW, wine development manager at Continental Wine and Food. “It has a sugar content that makes it very drinkable; it’s very soft and not too complex or acidic. There is a danger that when Prosecco tries to be more serious many of those people who currently drink Prosecco won’t like it.”

Certainly, wines that didn’t fit with the typical profile of Prosecco stood out, with judges on occasion, although not to their detriment, stopping to consider their place within the category. “If a wine is atypical, is that a fault?” asks Foster. “That was the biggest issue as far as I am concerned. That’s one of the things that we discussed more than anything – the typicity of Prosecco. Are you looking for a good drink and a good style that is elegant, or are you looking for Prosecco as they sell? You have to consider both.”

Mass appeal

In reality, the vast majority of Prosecco plays to the mass consumer, whose purchases are importantly not driven by individual brands but firstly by the generic power of ‘brand Prosecco’ and secondly by price. As Tatham notes: “For me, there isn’t this top end of Prosecco – 99% of Prosecco sold is commercial, and is incredibly successful because of what it is. The 1% is the other stuff. For me, the tasting today is about finding the best possible Prosecco in that 99% of the core business.” With a sea of producers fighting for space in what is essentially an unbranded category, quality has become the battleground on which producers are working to push the category forward. Talking up terroir is one way that producers are working to communicate quality, with undiscovered sub-regions continuing to emerge. “Prosecco is fresh, fruity and drinkable, and that really is it, but there’s no doubt that I can find terroir,” says Canetti.

“The reason for that is because Glera is so light and almost neutral, so the effect of terroir has an even bigger influence. You can taste the soil and different environments. “There’s definitely a style of very interesting wines being made at the top end, over £10.” Several quality indicators are currently in use across Prosecco-producing regions, from the traditional DOC and DOCG demarcations to the more specific Cartizze – a 107-hectare hillside vineyard owned by 140 growers in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore. Speaking of terroir, Canetti believes the Asolo DOCG to be the most interesting to have emerged in recent years.

4Going Asolo

“Asolo DOCG is a new area that we came across about a year ago,” he says. “The db tasting really discovered Asolo and it has become a really interesting area.” He adds: “Cartizze has always been good but I think now we are starting to find the Rives.”

The more recently introduced Rive sub-zones were launched about five years ago by the Prosecco Consorzio and represent a step up from DOCG. Unlike Cartizze, Rives are not geographically limiting, and produce wines from single vineyards typically found in steep hillside locations. The intention is to highlight different microclimates and terroirs found throughout the growing zone and exemplifies a trend toward terroir among Prosecco producers in their search for quality. While new Rive sub-zones are now being discovered the indication is yet to make an impact with consumers, with DOC, DOCG and increasingly Cartizze more commonly recognised. “I think we will see Cartizze in London but I don’t think it’s the future,” believes wine writer and Champagne expert Michael Edwards.

“I get annoyed when people say Prosecco is just sugared water because there are very good terroirs in DOCG, these individual sites. There are some fabulous wines. I think the future will be about specific vineyards – I hesitate to say single vineyards because I know blending is still important. “Some of the Rive sites are very important, but there are also some very good terroirs in the DOCG.”

Premium possibilities

As Prosecco continues to dominate the global sparkling wine category, the distinction between what makes a good commercial Prosecco and simply a good wine is becoming more important. While Prosecco is undoubtedly strong in the UK, it is generally an unbranded category. The mass consumer is yet to grasp the intricacies of individual terroirs and producers, which highlights an opportunity for premium producers to carve a niche in the future. Focusing on terroir is perhaps the most logical and expedient way for producers to add a further layer to their offer. This, optimistically, could be the key to pushing consumers beyond ‘brand Prosecco’ and encouraging a more meaningful exploration of the category. However, no matter how far producers choose to experiment, or the multitude of terroirs that may emerge, there will always be a place for Prosecco’s trademark fresh, fruity and easy drinking style. As Della Pietra notes: “Prosecco has its own place and its own space.”

About the competition

The Drinks Business Global Prosecco Masters, now in its third year, is a competition exclusively for the Italian sparkling wine. This year’s event saw more than 100 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters. Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining more than 95 points being awarded the top title of Master.Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. A total of 130 Proseccos were tasted over the course of one day at Aubaine in London’s Marylebone on 3 March. This report features only the medal winners that adheres to a reliable formula always the best example in its category ? Or are Proseccos that push the boundaries of style, but which are nonetheless well-made wines, equally worthy of praise? More importantly, are consumers ready, and willing, to explore the extremities of the category, or spend more than £10 on a bottle? This separation, which sets the mass consumer against winemaking innovation,was highlighted at the 2016 DrinksBusiness Prosecco Global Masters, now inits third year. Having tasted more than 100 Proseccos, obtaining a snapshot of thecategory, the thrust of discussion among judges centered not only on the style,quality and characteristics of the wines entered, but crucially if they matched up to what was expected of a Prosecco.

The judges (left to right)

> Anthony Foster MW, director and
buyer for Bonhote Foster

> Nick Tatham MW, wine development
manager, Continental Wine & Food

> Lauren Eads, deputy editor,
the drinks business

> Alex Canetti, off-trade director,
Berkmann Wine Cellars

> Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief,
the drinks business

> Michael Edwards, journalist, author
and Champagne expert

> Roberto Della Pietra, sommelier and
brand ambassador, French Bubbles

Global Rosé Masters 2018: the results

As much as its producers might try to convince us to more readily drink rosé outside of the summer months, there’s no denying how a ray of sunshine can make a glass of pink that much more appealing.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters is a competition for all styles of rosés from around the world. This year’s event saw almost 200 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters.

The best wines were awarded medals which ranged from Bronze through to Gold as well as Master, the ultimate accolade given only to exceptional wines in the tasting.

The wines were tasted over the course of one day at 11 Pimlico Road in London’s Pimlico on 19 April. This report features only the medal winners.

So it was appropriate, and serendipitous, that this year’s Global Rosé Masters should fall on what was the hottest day of the year in London so far – a balmy 31°C; we could have been on the French Riviera in August, if we squinted through the traffic. Not that our panel of judges could be swayed by such trivialities as the weather, but on warmer days, particularly in less Mediterranean climates, rosé has a way of springing to the forefront of consumers’ minds.

If this year’s competition proved anything, it’s that rosé is far from simply a light-hearted beverage made for drinking without thinking, but a serious wine capable of complexity. With more than 200 still and sparkling entries, styles ranged from light, fresh and fruity with classic notes of strawberry and raspberry, to more weighty, textured examples that offered layers of more complex aromas like garrigue, grilled nuts, nectarine and passion fruit.

The wines that had seen wood wore it well, proving that when applied fastidiously, a level of oak ageing or barrel fermentation can add another more serious layer of intrigue to a rosé. Colour, though a vitally important commercial consideration (with a paler hue currently in vogue) was not a defining factor, and while a great many of the wines judged were consciously pale, there was a broad sweep of colours on show, from deep pink and salmon to cherry, peach and coral – a reminder that looks aren’t everything.

As judge Tobias Gorn points out: “It is great to have light-coloured, fresh and elegant rosés, but the current trend of the ‘paler the better’ – being the more elegant and prestigious – is getting a bit over the top.

“Some darker rosés are equally great. I suppose it’s a bit like in many other cases in the drinks industry: the colour is great to be enjoyed, and is important, but mustn’t lead the flavour profile and hold back wines from achieving greater recognition and well-deserved fame.”
And as veteran judge Patricia Stefanowicz MW adds: “Much more relevant than the feast for the eyes, is the balance of dryness (or sweetness), fruit and flavour, acidity, and body.”

And while rosé might be a firm favourite with consumers, at the commercial end, driven by vast volumes of easy-drinking, fruity styles from France and Italy, and the sweet white Zinfandels and blushes produced in the US, producers aren’t resting on their sun loungers. Indeed, as this competition showed, rosé producers are making marked efforts to elevate the rosé category. As one of our judges, Jonny Gibson, owner and head tutor at the Sussex Wine School, notes, observing this year’s entries: “There seems to be quite a lot of experimentation going on in the rosé category. Higher-altitude and north-facing vineyards being planted specifically for rosé, different picking times, some skin contact, blending in a small amount of white wine (Vermentino in Provence) and the use of lees stirring and oak. I saw a video about the unique cooling equipment that Château d’Esclans have had made to keep their barrels cooled to different temperatures.”

The industry’s efforts to produce wines of outstanding quality were demonstrated by the fact that this year’s Global Rosé Masters yielded an impressive five Masters, (with one Master-winning wine demonstrating stunning value at under £15), a handful of Golds and many more Silver medals besides. And while France, specifically Provence, may have accounted for the largest number of wines judged, it did not sweep the board (but nevertheless accounted for two Masters), with several wines from less traditional rosé-producing countries achieving high praise. A pink from Greece scooped a Gold, while an English sparkling rosé was also among the wines to achieve the highest accolade of a Master.

Jonny Gibson, owner and head tutor at the Sussex Wine School

Under £10/£10-£15

Inevitably, still rosés made up the lion’s share of the wines judged, with a great many falling into the commercially crucial £10-and-under category. At this level, judges were not only looking for quaffable crowd-pleasers, but wines that were balanced, with plenty of fruit and lively acidity. One stand-out performer came in the shape of Barton & Guestier’s B&G Reserve Rosé from the Languedoc, which was the only wine in this price band to achieve a Gold medal. Wines hailed from regions as diverse as Italy, France, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Australia and the UK.

However, it was Spain, particularly Rioja, that performed strongly within this price brand, with rosados from Marqués de Cáceres doing well across the board. Indeed, this producer’s paler and more delicate Excellens rosé was the highest-scoring Spanish wine in the competition.

Moving up a rung into the £10-£15 category, Provence started to make its mark, with our first Master of the day awarded to Chateau la Coste’s Grand Vin Rosé, which, at under £15, was the best-value wine of the competition. Provence’s Château Gassier also scored a Gold for its Esprit Gassier, along with Domaines Fabre’s Cuvée Dédicace Côtes de Provence. But while Provence performed strongly, judges felt that style had perhaps taken over from substance, with several producers presenting paler-than-pale expressions at the cost of concentration and complexity.“Perhaps aiming for paler oeil de perdrix (eye of the partridge) colour is stripping out flavour punch also? At this price point, though, there were some lovely surprises from Italy, Spain and Lebanon,” said Stefanowicz.

Gold medals were also awarded to Fattoria’s Sardi rosé from Tuscany, Planeta’s rosé (a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Nero d’Avola) from Sicily, and, representing the Cape, Holden Manz’s 2017 Rosé. Elsewhere, Lebanon’s Château Ksara earned itself a Silver medal for its Sunset rosé from the Bequaa Valley, along with Wakefield/Taylors Pinot Noir Rosé, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills.

Scaling the price ladder further, at £15-£20 expectations increased, with judges looking for a little more than a well-made wine but expressions with depth and finesse. While there were no Masters to be found in this category, there were three stand-out performers: Mirabeau’s Azure, from Provence – the producer’s first on-trade exclusive – Pink Vines’ PR- Provençal Rosé, and Alpha Estate’s Xinomavro Rosé from Amyndeon in Greece, which were all awarded a Gold.