Asian Sparkling Wine Masters 2019: results

When it comes to sparkling wine, Champagne reigns supreme but other expressions made from Spain’s delectable Godello grape, a sparkling rosé from Adelaide Hills and Italy’s Trentino region emerged as top performers as well at our Asian Sparkling Wine Masters.

From left to right: Sophie Raichura, sales manager of the drinks business Hong Kong; Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and judge; Fergus Moore, the drinks business Hong Kong; Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Watson’s Wine; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong; Lina Anderson, former employee at the drinks business Hong Kong; and Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant

Held earlier this year at the Flying Winemaker’s tasting room in Central, the blind tasting competition chaired by drinks business Hong Kong editorial team brought together a panel of expert judges including Hong Kong’s seasoned wine educators and consultants to examine flights of sparkling wine expressions from around the globe, from Champagne to Prosecco, Cava to crémant.


Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong

Champagne lived up to its reputation and won two highly coveted accolades of Master both in the pricier category. Champagne Castelnau’s Blanc de Blancs 2005, made from grapes selected from crus of the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs, was a unanimous favourite among judges.

With a 8g/l dosage, the brut impressed the judges with its balance, concentrated fruit flavours and complexity. Hailing the wine “an exceptional beauty,” Hong Kong-based wine consultant Yu-Kong Chow, commented: “From its compelling nose of ripe white fruits and yeastiness to the combination of elegance and persistence in its fresh and rich palate, [the wine] captured the imagination.”

Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Hong Kong’s biggest wine retailer Watson’s Wine, agreed, adding that the fizz was “perfect to consume now with its full maturity.”

In the same HK$400 to HK$799 price band, Champagne Lanson Rose Label was another standout. A blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay and 15% Meunier, the wine delivered a lively and persistent palate with plenty of lemon and red fruits, taking home a Master. The house’s extra age brut won a Gold as well.


Tersina Shieh, experienced wine judge and marketer

Outside of Champagne, it’s almost guaranteed that the price ladder is rather lower but for any savvy-wine consumers that does’t mean quality is compromised. “Champagne will still dominate the market in terms of size but Prosecco and sparkling wines from Australia will see stronger growth in the coming years. This will be largely due to price performance, improvement to quality and more intensive promotion and marketing,” Chow, observed.

Encouragingly, there’s a trend among sparkling wine producers which is to push down sugar levels to reduce what the trade calls “excessive make-up”. This, in general when done right, leads to less cloying and more balanced bubbles, be it Prosecco, Cava, crémant or other sparkling wines.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant

Acidity for many is considered a key feature in a good sparkling wine. “Sparkling has to be simple or complex but it must have acidity to ensure the wine is fresh, has the necessary framework and structure and to support ageing. A flabby sparkling wine tastes like an alcoholic fizzy drink,” comments Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and independent wine judge, when asked about what makes a great sparkling wine.

Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Watson’s Wine

In Italy, much has been said about the rise of Prosecco for its approachability and favourable price points but there are plenty of overlooked fizz and Spumante that deserve recognition. One example is Mezzacorona Rotari’s Brut Trento Riserva 2014 made from Chardonnay. The wine is among the best value one can find with a price tag of less than HK$100. Speaking of the wine, Chow commented:, “What a great sparkling for such a price category! This Trento gem exudes a soft mesmerising floral scent with a background of white fruits and a touch of toastiness. The pleasing, delicate, refreshing yet balanced palate that finishes with an uplifting note just brightens the day.”

Also winning a gold was Spain’s Godelia Cuvee 2015, a lively fizz made from the indigenous Godello grape. Aged for 22 months on lees before riddling and disgorging, the wine packs plenty of freshness, citrus flavours balanced with bready yeastiness. Praising the wine, Shieh commented: “It is fresh with complexity from the time on lees and a crisp acidity. It has a high price quality ratio and it’s a good example to show consumers that bubbles don’t need to break the bank.”

Another wine that had judges raving was Sidewood Estate Isabella Rose Methode Traditionnelle 2013 from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Packed with plenty of red fruits, yeastiness, and layers of complexity from an extensive 54-month lees contact and ageing, the rosé is a crowd pleaser that ticked off every box.

It’s worth noting that there were silver medal winners in this competition worth seeking out. Azienda Agricola Andreola’s Dirupo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG, as judge Kwok acknowledged is “a very good example for high-quality Prosecco showing enormous typicity of the region.”

Click through the pages to check out all the results.

Asian Chardonnay Masters 2017: Results

Chardonnay, a grape variety that has mushroomed out from its spiritual home in Burgundy to practically every wine-producing country in the world, proved that with the right terroir and skills of its winemakers, it can produce thrilling, savoury and age-worthy expressions as found in our Asian Chardonnay Masters competition.

The judges (from left to right): Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, Hong Kong, Yvonne Cheung, director of Wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants, James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of Altaya Wines, Francesca Martin, founder & director of BEE Drinks Global, Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, Ivy Ng, publisher of the Drinks Business Hong Kong, Eddie McDougall, trained winemaker and founder of The Flying Winemaker and Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

A relatively neutral grape, Chardonnay is an ideal translator of local terroir and winemaking craft, thanks to its malleability through malolactic fermentation, lees contact and barrel ageing. The grape’s versatility has made it a favourite among wine producers. Despite soil types and climate, it’s one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in the world with more than 400,000 acres worldwide; as seen in our competition entries that encompassed Chardonnays from obscure regions such as China’s northwestern Xinjiang, Israel’s Judean Hills and South Africa’s Western Cape to more established sites in Champagne and Burgundy, Chile’s Casablanca Valley, northern and central Italy, and all the way to Australia’s Adelaide Hills and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay.

Close to 80 samples were submitted by wineries and importers for our Asian Chardonnay Masters held on 26 April at Hong Kong’s swanky HIP Cellar. The competition is the second instalment following our successful Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters in March. The samples were tasted blind and assessed over the course of one day by price bracket and stylistic difference (still or sparkling and within the still category, oaked or unoaked) to identify the best of Chardonnay in their own price range in the local market.

The results are encouraging as a cherry-picked panel of eight judges including a master of wine, top wine buyers/directors and trained winemaker gave out seven Masters, 15 Gold medals, 27 Silvers and 19 Bronzes. The wines are scored out of 100 points with the ones gaining 95 points or above being awarded the top accolade of Master. Wines scored higher than 90 points were given a Gold medal, those over 85 points a Silver medal and those over 80 points a Bronze.

“I think the overall quality is very good. When I say overall quality, we try to judge them in the context of price bracket. Some of the wines may be simpler or more obvious, and perhaps not designed for long ageing but they are well made in that context, and are good quality,” commented Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, who was one of the Panel Chairs.

Eddie McDougall, wine critic and ‘The Flying Winemaker’, agreed addeing: “The class of all the wines showed a good spread of stylistic expressions of Chardonnay. There were some very good examples of wines at approachable price points, which goes to show that quality Chardonnay doesn’t need a hefty price tag.”

In addition, Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts, noted a good representation of entries from almost all major wine regions. “I think different winemaking styles and philosophies are well represented in the competition as it covers all styles and wine regions as well different levels of quality,” he ssaid.

For James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of one of Hong Kong’s leading wine importers, Altaya Wines, tasting a diverse range of Chardonnays is a revelation. “For someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to taste or drink a lot of New World wines, it’s very interesting to see what’s currently out in the market at different price points because some styles have changed and evolved,” he explained.

The Judges

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, Founder & Owner, Taberna Wine Academy, Singapore
Yvonne Cheung, Director of Wine, Swire Hotels and Restaurants
Yang Lu, Corporate/Group Wine Director, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
Francesca Martin, Founder & Director, BEE Drinks Global
Eddie McDougall, Founder, The Flying Winemaker
James Rowell, Corporate and VIP Sales Manager, Altaya Wines
Jeremy Stockman, General Manager, Watson’s Wines, Hong Kong
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong 

Burgundian in style  

Different from aromatic grapes such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay is easier to cultivate and responds well to a wider range of winemaking techniques. Given its chameleon-like nature, it takes on a wide spectrum of aromas from green apple and tomato leaf to tropical fruits, peaches, cream and vanilla. The grape variety has undergone some stylistic changes from rich, buttery, full bodied wines, favoured in the 1990s to today’s trendier, crisp and less-oak dominated expressions. Burgundy is still held in high regard as the reference point for Chardonnay, but fine examples from the New World can rival if not surpass top Burgundy wines in quality and style.

“I think the biggest surprise for me was the fact that a couple of  the wines that seemed to be particularly Burgundian in style that is very restrained yet with finesse and complexity, but to my surprise they were not. So that was an interesting discovery for me,” commented Tan.

This is a sentiment echoed by Francesca Martin, founder of Bee Drinks and a Master of Wine candidate, as well. “There were certainly more New World wines in our line-up than Burgundy, however, many of these were of very high quality and a couple I would have put money on being from top villages in the Côte d’Or,” commented the Hong Kong-based wine consultant.

The Elephant Hill Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, which was awarded a Master title, stumped a few judges and led them to believe it was a Chassagne-Montrachet before its identity was revealed after the competition.

Meanwhile, a Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, another Master winning wine, was believed to have measured up to many Côte d’Or classic examples, Martin added noting that, “it was a lovely wine combining wonderful ripeness of fruit with a taut, linear structure” without sacrificing its own style to emulate Burgundy.

Elaborating on the ever-blurring line between Burgundians and top New World Chardonnays, Tan explained: “Chardonnay is a very competitive grape variety that producers around the world are now really getting the hang of understanding how the grape variety works in that particular region or environment and producing very good quality wines.

“Now it’s getting harder and harder to tell Burgundian wines apart from a premium New World wine. So that was a nice surprise for me, not actually a surprise but more a pleasant growing realisation that how well these non-European regions can compete not just in quality but in style with some top Burgundian wines.”

Chardonnay from Australia’s cooler climate in Adelaide Hills or even a South African Chardonnay Capensis by Jackson Family Wines impressed judges with their winemaking precision, proving South Africa’s massive potential. The latter was awarded a Gold medal.

Nonetheless, Burgundy’s Domaine Servin Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2015 proudly showcased unoaked pristine Burgundian quality and nabbed a Gold. And a few old guards from Europe including: a Laroche Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli 2014 from the Languedoc, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Blanc de Blancs 208 and Italy’s Mezzacorona Chardonnay Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2016 from Trentino-Alto Aldige and Monteverro Chardonnay 2013 from Tuscany all stunned and took home Gold medals.

Australia Setting the New World Benchmark

Among all the New World competitors, Australia by far stood out for the consistency of its Chardonnay quality and its value for money, bagging six out of the seven much coveted Master titles and seven Gold medals.

The country’s Chardonnay mania is such that today it’s hard to think of Australian wines without Chardonnay. The grape is now responsible for half of the country’s white wine production with 406,000 tonnes crushed in 2016 out of a total of around 808,000 tonnes, according to Wine Australia.

From Hunter Valley to cooler region such as Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Tasmania to warmer regions in Margaret River, the country provides a contrast of styles between the leaner, crisp style found in Adelaide Hills and riper, richer style in Margaret River.

Moving to price brackets, as most judges noted in the competition medium priced Chardonnays under HK$400 (US$51) outperformed many heftily priced bottles. The finding is especially uplifting as most of them, fine examples of New World Chardonnay as we discovered in the competition, can give Burgundy a run for its money especially when prices for top Burgundy wines seem to be going nowhere but up.

Within the price band of under HK$400 (US$51), five Masters were given out to high performers from Australia. They were: Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills, Alkoomi Black Label Chardonnay 2016 from Frankland River, Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013 from Margaret River, and McGuigan The Shortlist Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills and Cape Mentelle Chardonnay 2015 from Margaret River, with the latter two from an even more modest sub-price bracket of HK$150 (US$20) to HK$300 (US$39).

“It was great to taste such a range and in our group we found that wines in the medium to premium range that wines are consistently showing technical precision and also a level of expression,” stated Yvonne Cheung, director of wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants.

Moving up to higher price bracket between HK$400 (US$51) and HK$799 (US$102), Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay from Piccadilly Valley and Elephant Hill from New Zealand received the top honour of Master. A Japanese Chardonnay from Suntory winery’s Tomi No Oka in Yamanashi near Mount Fuji set high standards for its Asian peers and nabbed a Gold medal for its “very restrained, savoury, elegant and balanced” style as the judges noted. The wine, however, bears the most hefty price tag, selling more than HK$800 in retail.

Chardonnay, a winemaker’s wine

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy

It’s worth noting that nearly all wines in the competition went home with a medal, which speaks loudly for the quality of Chardonnay found in the tasting. “I thought generally oak was very well integrated on the majority of the wines, adding subtle notes of toasty spice, rather than lots of overt vanilla. Lactic notes from malolactic fermentation, if apparent, were likewise well integrated and didn’t dominate on many of the wines. I feel that lees ageing and stirring are now having more of an impact on style and seemingly something producers are playing around with and paying more attention to. What I love about Chardonnay is the fact that it’s such a winemaker’s wine that the stylistic possibilities are seemingly endless. I very much felt during the tasting that there really is a style of Chardonnay for everyone,” commented Martin when asked about winemaking in Chardonnay.

Indeed, McDougall, a trained winemaker, believed that compared with other white grape varieties, winemakers are given more latitude to put their own stamp on the wine. “I believe that winemakers are far smarter when it comes to the selection of oak treatment in the wines. Across the board there was a lot more balance shown than my initial expectation. The stand-out examples really came about when the wines showed honesty in its fruit profile and a complex under-layering of either lees contact, barrel fermentation or the positive traits of sulfide development from wild yeast fermentation,” he added.

Likewise, the ones that disappointed, though small in number, were the ones that lacked balance between oak and fruit or had an overly elevated level of dimethyl sulfide, which according to him, showed traits of creamed corn.

Reduction, a winemaking technique that contrasts with oxidation, was mentioned by a few judges during tasting. When applied correctly, it adds to a wine’s complexity and flavour, otherwise, it can upset a wine’s balance and flavour profile.

“Reduction was certainly a dimension for a number of the wines with a few having a bit too much to be pleasant. This was only overdone on a couple of the wines however, many others displaying just a subtle touch of struck match character that I personally really enjoy. As with any of these things it’s all a question of balance. Reduction can certainly add an element of complexity, I believe, but in excess it becomes a fault and deters from the overall attractiveness of the wine, masking fruit and making the wine rather hard and harsh. Overall with this particular lineup I felt winemakers clearly had a good handle on where the balance lay,” Martin explained in detail.

Adding to the discussion, Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Hong Kong’s top wine retailer Watson’s Wine, delved deeper into the fine distinction between reduction and the otherwise struck-match character. “The subjective (but enjoyable!) discussion was between reduction and struck match/flinty notes. I thought in general they were factors that added complexity although a few were out of balance,” he said.

Value for money

Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts

Another finding perhaps most welcoming to consumers is that a few samples that were awarded Gold medals sell for less than HK$150 (US$20) retail. A Nepenthe Chardonnay 2016 won over the judges for its pure, focused, consistent and balanced style with good intensity. The Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peryroli, albeit an Old World style Chardonnay, still gripped the judges with its “pithy and integrated” nature, while a “technically sound” Chardonnay from New Zealand’s The King’s Bastard equally garnered the judges’ praise.

Moving up to the HK$150 (US$20) – HK$299 (US$39) range, Taylor’s Wines Jaraman Chardonnay 2015 stood out for its layers of flavours, bright acidity and its oily texture. In addition, its ‘St Andrews Single Vineyard Release’ of the same vintage knocked judges off their feet with its complexity, persistent finish and elegance. Another Chardonnay from Nepenthe’s ‘Ithaca’ 2015 also got a nod for its minerality and intensity.

Even a few technical wines under HK$100 (US$13) garnered judges’ praise for offering decent quality and great value, winning a trove of Silvers. “The technical wines were generally the less expensive ones and I think that is normal from large producers making wines for sale under HK$100. They were technically correct with sunshine fruit and balance – I think a customer is getting value for that price range,” Stockman pointed out.

Asian Chardonnay Masters 2018: Results and Analysis

Chardonnay, arguably one of the most versatile white grape variety that has been popularised in virtually all vine-growing regions, is also among the most maligned on earth: first too oaky then too lean. The ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ movement of the 1990s was a vocal market rejection of an oaky, overripe and buttery style that was like sticking your nose into a bucket of popcorn. What followed later was a withdrawal from the heavy-handed use of oak to create austere, lean and racy expressions with acidity sometimes so pronounced that it was like biting into a lemon. Regardless of stylistic differences, though, the Hong Kong market seems to have a shelf space to accommodate both, as the results from Asian Chardonnay Masters this year have shown.

From left to right: (first row: JC Viens, wine educator, Joao Pires MS, Jennie Mack, managing director of AWSEC, Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, Sarah Wong, wine judge and columnist; second row: David Wainright, director of Andromeda Wine, Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, Derek Li, group sommelier at JIA Group, and Allie Braithwaite, former employee at drinks business Hong Kong.

Nowadays, while both styles still exist, winemakers are generally refraining from excessive oak use to achieve a balance between acidity, oak and structure, a key point for the judges when reviewing all the samples.

Describing her perfect example of a Chardonnay, Sarah Wong, wine judge and columnist, said: “It is one that has fresh fruit. It should be balanced with crisp acidity levels, and good fruit intensity. Oak should be discreet and well-integrated into the wine”.

With balance in mind, the judging results showed that heavy oak use that overwhelmed Chardonnay’s own pleasant fruit profile was penalised, so were samples that were cloying, flabby and ripe, without an acidic backbone, or samples that were too green and racy, lacking fruit intensity and texture.

Chardonnay, a blank canvas for winemakers

About the competition

The Asian Chardonnay Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for single varietal Chardonnay wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong and Macau’s top sommeliers, wine buyers and wine educators. The top Chardonnay wines were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those samples that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 20 May at Hip Cellar. This report features only the medal winners.

Different from Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, regardless of its growing region, Chardonnay, can be deftly shaped by a winemaker’s skills, cellar techniques and barrel ageing, giving it a chameleon-like nature.

This means a clever winemaker can create a plethora of styles with a repertoire of techniques including malolactic fermentation, lees stirring and time spent in barrel. In a market like Hong Kong, consumers seem to be more receptive to different styles of Chardonnay from this wide spectrum.

Derek Li, group sommelier of JIA Group, said even heavily oaked Chardonnay has a spot on a restaurant’s wine list. “Chinese people would like to pick a Chardonnay with quite heavy influence of barrel ageing and Western diners prefer a mineral-driven style,” he said.

Jennie Mack, founder of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre (AWSEC), said: “Casual drinkers like fruity and sometimes oaky styles but more experienced wine drinkers prefer Chardonnays from Beaune, particularly Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.”

When it comes to high-value Chardonnays, Burgundy rules among Hong Kong’s deep-pocketed wine enthusiasts and collectors, added David Wainwright, independent wine consult and judge, who previously worked for auctions houses such as Christie’s and Zachys. “Burgundy still dominates, maybe a bit of California here and there,” Wainwright said, but stressed that at the same time, Burgundy, the spiritual home for Chardonnay, and in many cases still considered the pinnacle of a winemaking, is “aspirational” to many young wine drinkers.

Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong

Chardonnay from down under 

Joao Pires MS and Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines

The Master-winning Greywacke Chardonnay 2011 from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, made by Kevin Judd, the former winemaker at Cloudy Bay, is a prime example of what a balanced Chardonnay can taste like. With a creamy and silky texture, supplemented with abundant citrus zestiness, and spice nuance from barrel ageing, the wine was a surprise for judge Li.

“The wine is showing brilliant minerality, like crushed stone, and intense freshly picked white peaches. The palate is well integrated, with a balance of fresh acidity with good use of oak. The wine also has a long-lasting finish,” the sommelier said.

As well as Greywacke, a few other New Zealand Chardonnays also came in for high praise from the judges, proving that the country has more to offer than Sauvignon Blanc. Spy Valley Chardonnay 2015 is a lighter style with lively acidity, hints of floral notes on top of its citrus-dominated nose and costing less than HK$150 a bottle.

Aside from Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay is another region that has championed Chardonnay, accounting for 32% of New Zealand’s total plantings in 2016. Babich Irongate Chardonnay 2016, from the region’s now renowned Gimblett Gravels subzone, rich with gravelly soils, is a steely version of Chardonnay that impressed Wainwright. The quality of the Chardonnays from New World countries like the Greywacke and Babich wines is their value, both in the HK$200-HK$300 price band.

The judges

Eric Desgouttes, General Manger at Kerry Wines
Derek Li, Group Sommelier at JIA Group Holding Ltd
Jennie Mack, Managing Director of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre (AWSEC)
Joao Pires MS, Director of Wine at Melco Resorts & Entertainment, Macau

David Wainwright, Director of Andromeda Wine
Sarah Wong, Independent Wine Judge, Freelance Columnist at South China Morning Post
JC Viens, Managing Director of Grande Passione
Ivy Ng, former publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

In Australia, another country where Chardonnay has come of age, unburdened by oak and high-octane personality, the trend is to craft wines of more polished, nuanced flavours and smooth textures. It’s hard to make generalisations about a style for Chardonnay in Australia, and there are classics coming from regions such as Margaret River, as in the iconic Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay that commands strong market interest, or the richer and more generous style of Allegiance Wines Unity Chardonnay 2017 that equally impressed the judges, earning a Gold medal.

David Wainwright, Director of Andromeda Wine

There was also a more restrained ‘Burgundian’ version from the region’s Voyager Estate. The white is smooth, textured and has seamless tension that was lauded by Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, who called it “an excellent example of what Chardonnay should taste like”, one that suited the general trends in the market.

In Clare Valley, it was one Chardonnay by the region’s pioneering winery Wakefield Taylors Family Wines that bowled over the judges, not just for its craftsmanship but also for its price point, selling for less than HK$150.

Another value-for-money wine is McGuigan’s The Shortlist Chardonnay 2016 from Adelaide Hills, in the HK$100-HK$150 price band, with a thrilling smoky and lemony nose. As well as the well-established wine regions in the country, a relatively newer one, Pemberton, in western Australia also bagged a Gold medal with its Castelli Estate Chardonnay 2016.

US and South Africa 

Derek Li, group sommelier at GIA Group

Another top-medal winning wine from the blind tasting is Jackson Family Wines’ Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay 2015 from California’s cooler-climate Santa Maria Valley. This smoky and leesy Chardonnay is laced with citrus notes, lemon peel, toastiness and a pleasant struck-match whiff, a result of hydrogen sulphide during fermentation. The wine, harking back to a more classic Chardonnay style, impressed the judges enough to take home a Master.

Another Jackson Family Wines’ Chardonnay made with parcels picked from high-elevation vineyards in its Stonestreet winery in Alexander Valley also stood out, and earned a Gold medal.

This was a plusher example but had plenty lively acidity and structure. This year, another top-performing wine country from the competition was South Africa. With a record number of entries from the country, three won Gold medals.

Columnist Sarah Wong

Distell Wines, the South African wine giant, netted two Golds, with its Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cableway Chardonnay in Cape Town and its Fleur du Cap Series Privée Chardonnay made with grapes selected from two vineyards in Stellenbosch.

The Durbanville Chardonnay is a lighter version with a slight touch of wood, while the Fleur du Cap Chardonnay is a more bodied and dense wine with ripe fruits. Contrasting with larger-scale Distell, the Kershaw Elgin Clonal Selection Chardonnay is a small artisanal production by Richard Kershaw MW.

A restrained and site-specific white, the wine from the country’s Elgin Valley impressed the judges with its mineral style and white-fruit characters.

Aside from the regions mentioned above, this year the majority of the samples we received were from the New World, including entries from lesser-known regions such as China’s Ningxia region, Japan’s Yamanashi, and many more from Chile, Argentina, Israel, Italy, and France. Except for a few number of wines that had notes of unbalanced reduction and oxidation notes, most of the samples were well made and technically correct.

Asian Pinot Noir Masters: Results and Analysis

Winemakers and ardent wine lovers wax poetic about the fickle and temperamental red grape variety, much as the lead character in the movie Sideways, Miles Raymond, when he declared that only the most patient and nurturing growers can “coax” Pinot Noir into its fullest expression. Compared with other noble red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that virtually grows everywhere without much fuss, Pinot does require “coaxing” down from clone selection to disease management in the vineyards to colour extraction in the winery. In our Asian Pinot Noir Masters, the results showed that indeed the most patient and meticulous wineries are rewarded in crafting top Pinots.

Judges from left to right: James Kerr of Berry Bros & Rudd (observing), Sarah Heller MW; Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong; Darius Allyn MS; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing); Jude Mullins, International Development Director of WSET; Henry Chang, beverage manager of China Club; and Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong.

The Pinot Noir competition proved to be the most polarising judging session among all our Asian Masters series so far, with drastic variations in overall quality. The best should exemplify all the lovable traits that make people laud with Pinot including its delicate, lingering aromas and sweet juicy berry fruit, yet the worst (sadly in no short supply) demonstrate every fault that one can find with the grape; ranging from the extremes of bland and thin to overly alcoholic examples that lack tension and are prone to flabbiness.

With this in mind, our judges sat down to find the happy medium that best defines this most tricky of varieties.

Coaxing Pinot

Sarah Heller MW

Unlike Cabernet which is described as a “survivor” by Sideways Miles, Pinot is delicate, and selective with soil types and climate. Generally, the best quality Pinot Noir are found on calcareous soils and in cool climates. If too cold, however, the grapes will struggle to ripen, rendering green and weedy aromas but if where it’s planted is too hot, the wines can be jammy and alcoholic.

What complicates the matter even more is that there are around 50 Pinot clones alone in France, twice the number of Cabernet Sauvignon clones, and with each clone comes a problem. “Pinot Noir is notoriously fussy,” Sarah Heller MW, proprietor of Heller Beverage Advisory, stated. “Starting with its propensity to mutate, producing myriad clones each with its own issues. Many growers complain that Pinot is low-yielding, but that isn’t true with say the Abel Clone in New Zealand, so you have to figure it out as you go.”

Although they largely defy generalisation, though, all of the thin-skinned grape’s clones tend to bud early, so, as Heller put it: “The early budding makes the vine susceptible to frost, the thin skins make the bunches prone to rot, and they suffer from virtually all vine diseases.”

Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, and Jude Mullins, WSET International Development Director

In addition to clone and rootstock selections, in the vineyard, “pruning in the right way and at the right time to get balanced fruit set; and avoiding issues with pests humidity” are ever-present challenges, noted Darius Allyn MS, proprietor of Wineworks Consulting Services.

Once picked and sent to the winery, “figuring out the correct time, temperature, vessel and method of extraction is even more challenging than with more sturdy grapes because there’s more risk of losing the delicacy and fragrance that are essential to Pinot’s character. On top of this, it tends naturally to start a hot, fast fermentation, which burns off delicate aroma molecules and leaves a pale, thin wine,” Heller said, before concluding, “So, it’s tough.”

In terms of oak, “it generally needs to be applied judiciously so as not to overpower the delicate fruit character of the wine,” Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Asia, added.

Expanding Pinot Map

As Heller wryly put it: “Every ambitious winemaking region in the world that is cold enough (or thinks it is) is trying its hand at Pinot, along with some regions that were previously too cold for red grapes,” the reality is Pinot Noir hit its zeitgeist with the ‘Sideways Effect’, especially in New World regions.

About the competition

the drinks business Hong Kong Asian Pinot Noir Masters is our latest varietal judging of our successful Asian Masters series. A departure from traditional judging wines by region, the competition assesses wines purely by grape variety. 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 judged 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 an expert panel of five judges including a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier, Hong Kong’s top wine buyer and educator and sommelier on 20 September at Berry Bros & Rudd’s Hong Kong office in Central. This report only features the medal winners.

In the US alone, plantings of Pinot grew to 40,000 acres in 2012, eight years after Sideways‘ release, up from 24,000 acres when the movie was made, wrote Jancis Robinson MW in her book The Oxford Companion to Wine. In 2016, California crushed 253,995 tons of Pinot Noir, compared to 70,062 tonnes crushed in 2004, based on figures from the California Grape Crush Reports.

The wine is made in those cooler parts of the US moderated by cool ocean influences including Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Chalone, the Gavilan mountains of San Benito, the Central Coast of California, but most notably in Oregon, to such an extent its wine reputation rests largely on the red grape variety. As its Pinot-making credentials rose it was no wonder that Burgundians were among the first foreign investors dipping their toes into Oregon.

“Oregon is still an unsung hero,” commented Longworth, adding it was an area, “where there are some very high quality, impressive wines that have a minerality and elegance reminiscent of Burgundy, combined with purity and richness of fruit that is immediately appealing.”

Burgundy producer Domaine Drouhin, which has just celebrated 30 years in Oregon, for instance, has been making elegant Pinot from Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills for decades. Its Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hillsd Pinot Noir 2010 won the top accolade of Master at our competition for what the judges called its typicity, elegance and complexity. The wine “had the added delight of an emerging savoury, tertiary character that really showed the quality of the wine,” said Longworth in praise.

Equally impressed with the wine was Jude Mullins, WSET international development director. It is a wine where, “regional Pinot Noir character melded with classical varietal style to produce an outstanding wine”, she commented.

Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong

Similarly, Jackson Family Wines’ Gran Moraine Pinot Noir from the Yamill-Cerlton AVA in Willamette Valley was awarded a Gold medal, proving the prowess of Oregon Pinot, although both wines are in the higher price bracket of HK$400-HK$799.

But in terms of value, New Zealand, Australia and Chile are by far the top performers. New Zealand’s Martinborough, Canterbury, Marlborough, and Central Otago are proven prime sites for Pinot Noir, the country’s second most popular variety after Sauvignon Blanc. Boutique winery Luna Estate from Martinborough is a good example of a producer making elegant and balanced Pinots. Its single vineyard Eclipse Pinot impressed the judges with its abundant berry fruits, savouriness and its transparency.

Although Pinot is naturally not the first red grape to be associated with Australia, increasingly fine examples are made in cooler regions of the country from Tasmania, Geelong, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. Yarra Valley alone netted four Gold medals, three for De Bortoli Wines – 2016 Villages Pinot Noir, 2015 Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir and 2009 Riorret Lusatia Park Pinot Noir – and 2015 Santolin Wines Pinot Noir ‘Syme on Yarra’ Vineyard. The 2016 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir was one of a couple of the best value Pinots, costing less than HK$150 (US$19), but which gained high accolades.

Ripe Pinot 

The judges

Sarah Heller MW, Proprietor, Heller Beverage Advisory
Darius Allyn MS, Proprietor, Wineworks Consulting Services
Amanda Longworth, Head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros & Rudd, Hong Kong
Jude Mullins, International Development Director, WSET
Henry Chang, Beverage Manager, The China Club
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

In addition, judge Henry Chang, beverage manager of the eclectic private restaurant China Club, noted the fruity and more contemporary style of Pinot Noir would be a good match for time-constrained diners at high-end establishments and suggested a riper style of Pinot might find a measure of popularity in markets like Hong Kong.

“This is not only happening for lunch, but also an interesting topic about styles of wine, ‘Classic or Modern’,” he said. “If you ask people this question, they will tell you that they would rather choose the classic and traditional wine. Opening the bottle 45 minutes to an hour before consuming will increase the enjoyment of the bottle of wine together with well-matched food. In reality, who likes spending three to five hours on a meal? And how many fine dining restaurants will allow them to do so in Hong Kong?” Chang asked rhetorically.

Continuing, he emphasised the difference of matching wine with Chinese and western cuisine. “For western cuisine, food is served course by course, all flavours are individual so this is easier to do the wine pairing. For Chinese cuisine, almost nobody will enjoy their food served course by course. When there’re different flavours of food on the table, sweet, hot and spicy, strong and mild…etc. Most of our guests they will enjoy the full bodied and rich Pinot with their Chinese dishes,” listing the De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir and Cono Sur’s 20 Barrel Limited Edition Pinot Noir as examples of this riper style.

Darius Allyn MS

While referring to Santolin Pinot, Allyn lauded it as the archetypal example of the grape. “If I had to say, the first that comes to mind was Santolin ‘Syme on Yarra’. I found it well made and an expressive Pinot Noir with an archetypal profile. They are a young family winery in Yarra Valley, but focusing on small, crafted production with minimal intervention. So far so good for their wines to date,” commented the Master Sommelier.

In other parts of Australia, Adelaide Hills’ Wakefield Taylors Pinot Noir 2016 despite being young was already showing well in the blind tasting, and took home a  Gold medal for both its fruitiness and elegance; and especially as it costs less than HK$150.

In South America, Pacific-cooled wine regions such as Casablanca and Limari in Chile are making marks on the Pinot stage. The 2015 Pinot Noir from Cono Sur’s top premium ’20 Barrels Limited Edition’ range is an expressive example of Casablanca’s potential in Pinot, and was recognised for that by the judges with a Gold medal.

Old Guards in Europe 

It would be remiss not to discuss the fine examples of Pinot coming from Europe. Although lacking Champagne made from Pinot this time in the competition, the still wine samples submitted amply attested to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and even Austria’s Pinot Prowess.

In addition to go-to Burgundy for Pinot, a few of the judges highlighted Germany, Switzerland and Italy’s Alto Adige for their potential in growing honest Pinot faithful to their respective terroirs and the grape’s typicity. Most impressively in the competition, a Swiss Pinot from Domaine Jean-Rene Germanier SA in the sun-trapped Valais, bordering France and Italy, earned heaps of praise from the judges with the top honour of Master. Praised by Heller as the “perfect sensuous package that Pinot Noir should be”, the red wine had, “a perfumed, almost musky character, lovely cedar and mushroom savouriness and best of all, a luscious, slippery texture,” she explained.

Henry Chang, beverage manager of China Club

Germany Pinot Noir, increasingly, is seen as a more accessible alternative to ever-more expensive Burgundy. The grape known locally as Spätburgunder has become the country’s third most planted variety only after Müller-Thurgau and, of course, Riesling. Baden and the Palfz are the top regions generating buzz for Pinot and Weingut Burg Ravensburg’s Lochle Pinot Noir VDP Grosses Gewachs 2013 from Baden impressed judges with its fine structure and brightness.

“With warmer climate these days, they produce some surprisingly delicious Spätburgunder. In places there’s no longer the issues of ripeness, especially in Baden,” Allyn explained, a point echoed by Longworth who added as well that it was a place, “where quality wines are in hot demand, where you can get wines that have a great combination of concentrated fruit, finely structured tannins and zesty acidity”. Due to German Pinot Noirs’ small export quantity, “unfortunately, though we don’t see many in Hong Kong. The best quality ones are often snapped up locally or by UK buyers,” she said.

Click through the pages to see full results.

Special thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd for providing the venue for judging. 

Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters: The Results and Analysis

No other grape variety is more resilient and adaptable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Whether made in a single variety or in a blend, the grape’s characteristics are unmistakable with blackcurrant, cassis, spicy peppery notes, cedar and a leafy lift. Hailed by many as the king of red grapes, from its heartland in Bordeaux to adopted homes in Napa Valley, Australia, Chile or even as far as Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley or China’s Ningxia, Cabernet Sauvignon trumps other varieties for its faithful interpretations of terroir, vintage conditions, winemaking techniques and most importantly, its longevity that allows some of its best to age gracefully for decades.

Front row from left to right: Natalie Wang, Rebecca Leung, Eddie McDougall, Sarah Heller MW and Ivy Ng. Back row from left to right: Allie Braithwaite, Darius Allyn MS, Howard Palmes and Ron Taylor

Because of these attributes, it’s not hard to see why this grape has travelled so far outside of historical base in Bordeaux to other parts of the world with even the slightest interest in winemaking.

The authority of this red grape is so pronounced that many seasoned and aspiring winemakers across the globe consider making a world-class Cabernet or a Bordeaux blend – dominated with the grape – the final step to seal its reputation.

Think of Napa’s cult wines such as Screaming Eagle and Opus One, or Italy’s famous Super Tuscans or Lebanon’s Château Musar. Examples are legion.

In our Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2018 competition, results will show that the proven sites for the late-ripening grape are a reliable source for stellar wines with plenty of good value examples. A bunch of high performers from lesser known regions might also indicate the promises of the grape’s future elsewhere.

Samples are all judged blind by a panel of experts consisting of a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier, and five seasoned judges for the wines’ quality based on price and style (either as a 100% varietal or in a blend of at least 50% of the grape), irrespective of regions. The samples are primarily from the New World such as Australia, Chile, the US, Argentina and South Africa though there are a few Old World bottles in the mix.

A Balancing Act

Sarah Heller MW

There are more than 40 wine producing countries in the world, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape worldwide. High in tannins, acidity and colour, Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late and tends to find its greatest expression in warmer climates, which means you are not likely to find it planted side by side with Pinot Noir. Struggling to ripen or outright unripeness in less than ideal sites often results in excessive methoxypyrazine characters, giving out green, herbal, and stem notes, accompanied by astringent and austere tannins.

Therefore, ripeness even for a survivor-like grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon is key to make or break the wine. “Ripeness is somewhat tricky in Cabernet, in that right up until the point of ripeness it can be too green for many consumers who don’t want a hint of herbaceousness, but then once it’s overripe it loses any distinctive characters,” commented Master of Wine Sarah Heller, highlighting the fine line between unripe and ripe. “For me, Cabernet should have some herbal tones to add complexity, but they shouldn’t taste chemical or overly medicinal.”

The judges

Sarah Heller MW, Proprietor of Heller Beverage Advisory
Darius Allyn MS, Independent Consultant
Rebecca Leung, Independent Wine Educator, Wine Judge and Writer
Ron Taylor, Independent Wine & Spirits Educator and Wine Judge
Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker
Howard Palmes, General Manager of Fine Vintage Fine Wines Limited
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

This doesn’t mean tilting the scale towards the other end is preferred, which would produce equally unpleasant samples that are what Darius Allyn MS called “heady” wines. “In the vineyard, planting Cabernet Sauvignon in too warm a climate has detrimental effects. It changes its relative profile and makes a pretty ‘heady’ style of wine (that is; with the burn of higher alcohol on the palate and especially through the persistence),” the American Master Sommelier explains. A few lesser samples in the competition are faulted for eerily off-putting unripeness and over-ripeness.

But unlike the temperamental and delicate Pinot Noir, thick-skinned Cabernet can withstand some rough and tumble in the cellar with pumping and extracting. The grape also has a strong affinity with oak, a component that interacts with its primary fruit flavours to impart complexity and additional flavours of sweet spices, vanilla, coconut into the wine, if integrated harmoniously, leading Heller to warn of heavy-handed use.

“With Cabernet varieties the common mistake by winemakers is the overestimation of the wines’ fruit concentration and its ability to stand up to a new oak regime. I believe the wines that were marked down were just too oaky and the wine itself became lost,” remarked Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker.

Darius Allyn MS

“Apart from the faulty bottles, the over use of oak was the most obvious to me,” added independent wine & spirits educator Ron Taylor, echoing McDougall on oak, “and probably some bottles that needed more bottle development.”

Adding a further note, Allyn believes that medium toasted oak barrels are best to bring out the sweet brown baking spices without overwhelming the fruit and overall balance.

Strength of Oz

Australia was among the first countries to receive the gospel of Cabernet Sauvignon ahead of Chile or California. Having arrived in Australia in the early 1800s, it has become one of the country’s great success stories and this was reflected in our medal chart with the highest number of Gold medals (five in total) in addition to one Master, the ultimate accolade in our judging, going to Australian wines. 

Rebecca Leung

Today, Cabernet Sauvignon is Australia’s third most planted grape after Shiraz and Chardonnay, with regions such as Coonawarra and Margaret River anchoring their reputations on the red noble grape. The charm of the grape entices a much wider audience beyond the two regions, and wineries in Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale are also crafting juicy, layered and velvety reds often at a fraction of what Napa Cults would cost.

Wakefield Taylors Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 from Clare Valley is redolent with blackberries, mulberry, eucalyptus and plenty of dark berries and cigar box that only costs between HK$100 and HK$150. Moving upscale, the winery’s pricier version – ‘The Visionary Exceptional Parcel Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2014’ – was also lauded by the judges for its perfumed nose and concentrated fruits, and particularly impressed judge Howard Palmes, general manager of Fine Vintage Fine Wines Ltd. The Gold medal winning wine however bears a price tag of HK$800+.

Eddie McDougall

One great strength of Australia and Chile is that there’s no shortage of good value Cabernets. With competitive price, quality is not necessarily comprised. De Bortoli Wines, one of the larger privately owned family wineries in Australia, is a good source for great value Cabernet. Its ‘Deen Vat Series 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015’ from Victoria, for instance, impressed the judges with its supple concentration of fruits and structure.

Similarly, in the HK$150-200 price range, Barossa Valley’s Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 was awarded a Gold for its typicity of the grape, rich fruits and long ageing potential.

But one notable region stood out for crafting refined Cabernet with restraint and elegance, the relatively cooler wine region, Yarra Valley. Wines of real finesse and subtlety are found in producers such as Levantine Hill; its Samantha’s Paddock Mélange Traditionnel 2015, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, is a wine of strength and elegance, with lush flavours and a lingering finish that goes on and on, and was voted unanimously a Master.

About the competition

The Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-dominated blends, and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Master of Wines, Master Sommeliers, top wine merchants in Hong Kong and seasoned wine judges. The top samples were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and the wines that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above).

The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 18 April, 2018 at The Pawn, housed in a 19th century historic building in Wanchai.

This report features only the medal winners.

The Americas

Outside of Australia, one can always count on South America’s powerhouses of Chile and Argentina to churn out minty, plush, and fruity Cabernets. Chile’s proven sites in Maipo and Colchagua Valleys are home to the New World Cabernet kings such as Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, Santa Rita and Almaviva to name a few. In our judging, perhaps most stunningly, it was a Siegel Family Wines Single Vineyard Los Lingues Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 that took home a gold medal. Costing less than HK$100, the Chilean Cabernet specialist confirms that the country remains a steadfast source for value and quality.

Its neighbour Argentina’s Salentein Primus Cabernet from the sun-filled Uco Valley also took home a gold medal for its 100% Cabernet, which showed sumptuous black fruits and intense aromas. Although Uco Valley is more famously linked to the country’s national pride, Malbec, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon are expanding as well.

Ron Taylor

Moving northward to the US, Napa Valley naturally springs to mind when it comes to crafting world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. In the HK$400-800 price bracket, Trinchero BRV Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 produced from Atlas Peak, Napa’s highest appellation, perched 1,500 feet above sea level in the Vaca Mountains, earned heaps of praise from the judges for its refined structure and complexity in flavours, and therefore was awarded a Gold.

Ancient land with new promises 

Outside of the proven regions, in Israel the Upper Galilee region is raking in praises for its pure Cabernets and blends, which have become the country’s most commercially successful wines on the international stage. The hot Mediterranean climate poses a challenge for growers, leading Heller to comment that the wines tend to be “too ripe”, yet with wineries that enjoy higher altitude, finesse can still be achieved. Barkan Vineyards in the cooler northern Upper Galilee is known for producing high altitude wines, and its 100% Cabernet grown at 624 metres above sea level got a nod from the judges for its refined fruits and elegance.

Howard Palmes

Far away to the east, China, a country that is known more for its wine consumption power is now demanding respect for its wine producing prowess as well. In fact, almost all the judges after the tasting singled out China’s Ningxia as a Cabernet-focused wine region that deserves serious attention. “New and emerging regions such as Ningxia and Xinjiang in China are very interesting ones to watch out for,” remarked wine judge and writer Rebecca Leung.

The rise of China’s wine producing reputation corresponds with a nation-wide wine revolution on quality from family owned boutique wineries to state owned large scale wineries such as Changyu and GreatWall Winery. Ningxia in northwestern China, known as the country’s Bordeaux, in particular is making strides in the international wine scene. In our competition this year, judges were stunned when it was revealed after blind tasting that a Chinese wine, Helan Mountain Xiao Feng Cabernet Sauvignon by Pernod Ricard in Ningxia, was awarded the highest award of a Master medal.

The Pawn is a restaurant and bar housed inside a 19th century heritage site that was previously as its name suggests used as a pawn shop.

“The clear standout was the Helan Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Ningxia that won a Master medal. The wine has velvety tannins, is powerful, balanced, lively, showed great Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics and proved that Chinese winemakers are truly emerging,” enthused McDougall.

Another outlier that stood out from the competition to win the Master medal was a Greek wine by Domain Mega Spileo in Achaea. You would be forgiven if Greece is not yet on your wine radar, but the ancient Mediterranean country is making a strong comeback. Finally, I hadn’t previously thought of Greece as somewhere to look for great Cabernet,” admits Heller, “but we had some interesting examples from here as well.” 

As in Israel, the heat like is a challenge for winemakers but the winery, located on the site of a monastery with traceable winemaking history back to 1550, is making wines at roughly 800 metres above sea level. The 2011 showing more complexity of flavours and bottle development, impressed the judges with its supple fruits, velvety tannins and chocolate and cigar notes.

Overall, the majority of the wines showed good typicity across a wide array of price points, as McDougall sums up: “The spread of Cabernet Sauvignon’s across the board showed good typicity and regionality. It was wonderful to sample so many benchmark examples and see the level of consistency across the brackets.”

Click through the pages to see all the results and judge profiles

Asian Sparkling Masters 2017: Results and Analysis

Our inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters was a sure sign that Champagne, the holy grail of sparkling wine, is still the crème de la crème of all fizz and unapologetically reigns with its rich tradition, layers of complexity and razor-sharp precision in the winemaking process.

Judges at our latest Asian Sparkling Masters held on 30 January at HIP Cellar: (from left to right) Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine; Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and wine judge; Francesca Martin, director of BEE Drinks Global; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Derek Li, chief sommelier at Duddell’s; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing); Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker; and Anty Fung, general manager of HIP Cellar.

In our inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters competition on 30 January, an expert panel of judges including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, sommeliers and consultants blind-tasted a diverse spectrum of sparkling wines including Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Cremant de Bourgogne, Asti and, without exception, the famous French fizz came out swinging.

Champagne reigns 

To put it in perspective: Champagne alone is responsible for producing all five of the Master medal winning wines, the top accolade of our competition, which is awarded only to wines that have been unanimously scored 97 points or above by the judges. In addition to sweeping all the Masters, Champagne dominated the gold medal chart nabbing seven out of the eight awards given out.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and wine judge

Compared with other sparkling categories, its association with good times, zippy acidity and complex aromas cut through the competition and was ultimately rewarded with the biggest medal haul. “For this inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters, the entries were overall of high quality. The top houses showed well, proving their consistency,” Yu-Kong Chow, independent food&beverage consultant and wine judge, commented.

The region, encompassing 34,000 hectares of vineyards, sold more than 307 million bottles worldwide last year, and the lure of the frothy bubbles is expected to grow as demand from emerging markets is set to accelerate.

About the competition

The Asian Sparkling Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for sparkling wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, sommeliers and consultants. The top Sparklings were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those Sparklings that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 30 January, 2018 at Hip Cellar. This report features only the medal winners.

One of the top performers was Taittinger’s premium cuvée – Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs – made with Chardonnay from six of its grand cru sites. The 2006 vintage was reflective of the year’s fine integration and expression and scored 97 points, landing it the coveted Master title.

“It is a fine example of an excellent Champagne with its seductive delicate floral aroma, rich complexity and the balance of beautiful acidity. It ticks all the boxes,” declared Chow. 

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Hong Kong’s biggest wine retailer Watson’s Wine, agreed, describing the wine of having, “such freshness, balance and texture (creaminess).”

Moving down from the price ladder, Champagne Lanson Extra Age Brut and Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut – both in the HK$400-799 bracket – were equally impressive. The Rothschild Blanc de Blancs was a favourite among a couple of judges, and is believed to be more expressive than the Champagne house’s vintage 2008 cuvée, which carries a heftier price tag (Above HK$800).

“It actually shows even better than the vintage 2008 version – not to say the latter isn’t good it just wasn’t within its drinking window yet, thus it appears a bit more closed than the brut version,” commented Anty Fung, general manager of Hip Cellar.

Eddie McDougall, the Flying Winemaker, is another judge that gave a firm vote for the fizz, calling it “a classic”. He added: “I admired the elegance which was well supported by the complex layers induced by the methode traditionelle techniques.”

Lanson’s Extra Age Brut NV, a tri-vintage blend of Chardonnay (40%) and Pinot Noir (60%), landed a Master for its weight, length and balance. Different from most of our Master series competitions, with sparkling wines, notably Champagne, price tends to directly correspond with quality – as opposed to Shiraz, for instance, where it’s not uncommon that out-liers can sometimes outperform pricier samples.

Anty Fung, general manager of Hip Cellar

But that doesn’t mean there’s no value bottles within Champagne. The surprises among the top winning wines came from Champagne Castelnau Cuvée Blanc de Blancs Millésimé 2003 (HK$200-299) and Champagne R&L Legras Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (HK$300-399). 

The former from the torrid, frost-bitten and sun-scorched 2003 vintage, which saw the majority of Champagne houses forfeiting declaring a vintage, showed classic autolysis aromas and plenty of personality. “Its great complexity and length won me over, as were its great toasty and nutty characters,” exalted Chow. The Champagne R&L Legras Brut from Chouilly, the famous and most northerly village of the Côte de Blancs, meanwhile is a good example of precision with a dosage of 7 g/l. 

Non-vintage stars 

Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, and Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine

For Gold medal winning wines – scoring 93 points or above – the highest number were awarded to non-vintage cuvées, the bread and butter of the Champagne sector, proving that with careful grape selection, attentive and gentle pressing and extended lees contact, non-vintage specific cuvées do not lack for finesse and clear definition; as we found in Champagne Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Brut, Lanson Rosé Label Brut, Lanson Black Label Brut, Berry’s United Kingdom Cuvée Grand Cru Mailly and Champagne Thienot Brut. 

Two vintage cuvées – Champagne Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs 2008 and Lanson Nobel Noble Cuvée from the stellar 2002 vintage – were also gold medal decorated winners, carrying higher price tags (both in the above HK$800 range).

Gramona’s vintage Cava is the only other non-Champagne sparkling wine that managed to break Champagne’s choke-hold at the top of the medal charts. The 2012 Brut, a blend of local varieties Xarello and Macabeo, impressed the judges with its quality considering its accessible price tag (HK$200-299).

But with pleasing samples, there were a few cases where excessively green fruits, oxidation and cork taint made the judges scrunch their noses and turn their head away. 

“Overly oxidative, which I believe may be a problem during the vinification when the producer ferments base wine in the barrel to increase contact with oxygen. If not done properly, it may create some unpleasant aromas in the sparkling wine,” commented Derek Li, chief sommelier of Duddell’s. “On the other hand, some sparkling wine showed intense green notes. This may be related to the overall unripeness of the grapes themselves.”


The judges

Jeremy Stockman, General Manger of Watson’s Wine
Derek Li, Chief Sommelier at Duddell’s
Francesca Martin, Founder of BEE Drinks Global
Anty Fung, General Manager of Hip Cellar
Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker
Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and Rush Rich
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

One of the trends on the lips of producers and consumers nowadays is a move towards lower dosage.

“The recent trend is going for lower dosage sparkling especially in grower Champagnes. This is closely tied with consumers’ pursuit for single vineyard, special Cuvée, more premium examples of grower Champagne. They don’t need low or even any dosage in order to show balance, harmony and complexity,” commented Fung. 

Even contrary to popular convention that Chinese drinkers favour a more generous touch of sweetness, in more mature markets like Hong Kong and Japan lower dosage and zero dosage are much sought-after. “The standard of four(ish) g/l I think works well. I don’t believe Asia in particular looks for more sugar: my experience of top quality sparkling is that consumers appreciate in the same way as elsewhere,” Stockman noted.

Derek Li, Chief Sommelier of Duddell’s, and Eddie McDougall, the Flying Winemaker

This was echoed by Chow: “I think the more sophisticated segments of the Asian markets like Hong Kong seem to be following this flow with even zero dosage sparkling wines in vogue.”

In the on-trade sector in Hong Kong, not only are drier styles of wines attracting consumer interest, German grower Sekt, other premium New World bubbles and English sparkling wines are also piquing interest from consumers, Fung observed based on her on-trade experiences.

This doesn’t mean sweeter versions of sparkling wines are pushed out of the market. Outside Hong Kong and Japan, most drinkers in mainland China and other Southeastern Asian countries still prefer a higher content of dosage. “Hong Kong and Japan are sophisticated markets, preferences are generally towards refreshing and savoury styles. As you move into Southeast Asia a higher level of sweetness is preferred. China is still learning about the intricacies of sparkling wine so it’s still undefined as to what their preference are,” McDougall suggested.

Italy and beyond 

Moving towards higher dosage category, above 12g/l, in our competition one of the more commonly noted drawbacks is their overtly cloying and unbalanced sweetness. When the scale tilts too much towards sugar, the wine’s overall balance is sacrificed without the backbone of acidity.

“It’s when sweetness isn’t balanced, then you have a problem. The wine will become cloying, less refreshing thus less appealing to drink,” commented Francesca Martin, founder of BEE Drinks Global, adding that a Silver-medal winning Asti from Diama was a fine example of achieving balance between sweetness and acidity.

In the higher dosage category (over 12g/l), that’s when Italy’s strength in crafting fruity, refreshing fizz came through, with plenty to offer such as Asti Spumante and Prosecco. Mezzacorona Moscato Giallo Spumante, Stantero Fratelli & CIVASS 958 Santero Asti Secco, and Societa Agricola Giusti Dal Col Prosecco DOC Treviso Rosalia were noted examples of fizz that found the sweet spot in the lower price category under HK$149. Mas de Fer Rive di Soligo’s 2016 vintage Prosecco from Valdobbiandene DOCG region added another medal to Italy’s silver streak. Other illustrious names in Italy’s sparkling wine scene including Bellavista and Andreola took home Silver medals as well.

Francesca Martin, founder of BEE Drinks Global

It’s safe to say that with Prosecco’s growing global popularity, we’ll be sure to see more samples from the region climbing up the medal chart either for drier samples or in higher dosage category. Global sparkling wine consumption is forecast to grow by an average of 2% year-on-year through to 2021, and Prosecco is undoubtedly in the driving seat, according to the latest joint report by Vinexpo and IWSR. By then, Prosecco’s growth will far outstrip other major categories such as Champagne and Cava.

Outside of Italy, Austria made a savoury sparkling using its indigenous variety Grüner Veltliner. Treasury Wine Estates’ Marquis de La Mysteriale Champagne Cuvée Grand Esprit Extra Dry was given a Silver as well. Spain’s Félix Solis Avantis’ Vina Albali Bianco Brut and Prospero Gran Selezione Bianco Brut were two good value bottles for under HK$100, so was the François Labet Cuvée Splendid Blanc de Blancs Bru. LVMH’s more accessible Champagne G.H. Mumm NV also got a nod from the judges with a Silver medal.

In the rosé category, meanwhile, Schlumberger’s Rosé Klassik from Austria and Lanson Extra Age Rosé both took home Silvers.

You can scroll over the pages to see the full results. 

Asian Rosé Masters 2018: Results and Analysis

Rosé, the pink wine that has forever been linked with sun-soaked summers, beach holidays and cruise trips, has more depth and complexity than one might have thought. Top medal-winning wines from our inaugural Asian Rosé Masters competition prove that a great rosé is more than a pretty pale colour, the frivolity of marketing gimmicks, and celebrity tie-ins.

From left to right: Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker; YK Chow, independent wine consultant; Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at Asia Wine and Spirits Education Centre (AWSEC); Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong; Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at Arcane.

Much like a white or a red wine, a well-crafted rosé shows no shortage of aromas, flavours and complexity. Popular opinion often goes that rosé in general is a no-frill, carefree, easy and light drink, giving rise to the idea floated around by some marketers calling for the exemption of rosé wine from any kind of serious critiquing because of its so called “ephemeral summer-friendly nature”. This, however, sounds suspiciously like sloppy natural winemakers advocating faulty wines. An honest, well-made rosé demands – and should be given – the same kind of attention and respect reserved for a white Burgundy.

This year’s competition, as judge Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director of Michelin-starred restaurant Arcane, pointed out, showed the high level of quality found in all the samples around the world, and a concerted effort among winemakers to reposition the pink wine.

To put it lightly, Bartolomei reminisced that in the past, producers made rosé as a “solution” to deal with leftover reds and whites, or excessive red wine must. But with rosé’s profitability and commercial success (in France, for instance, rosé’s volume sales have surpassed white wine), today’s rosé winemaking is hardly a necessity to dissipate stocks but a new field for winemakers to experiment with wine styles from colour extraction, sugar level to virtually undiscriminating use of all red varieties such as Cinsault, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo to produce still and sparkling wines.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and judge

This lends the winemaker a creative hand to develop a new dimension of rosé wine, as Junwan Kim, head sommelier of Zuma noted. “It’s a chance to establish a new dimension of rosé wine by creative winemakers, unlike white or red winemakers who stick to traditional grape varieties. But winemakers certainly shouldn’t treat rosé wine as byproduct or additional wines when they make red or white wine,” as the sommelier deduced.

In addition, more premium rosés with a bit of barrel ageing, body and texture are increasingly embraced by the on trade and sommeliers for more versatile food pairings, according to Corine Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC, when speaking about the new and recent ‘Rosé Gastronomique’ trend. Cantonese food in particular, as she singled out, is a match made in heaven for rosé wine especially for signature dishes like BBQ pork and fried rice.

Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker

This is echoed by Bartolomei, who believes rosé is becoming a starter-to-finish, full menu-worthy food wine.

“Until 15 years ago, you would never thought of suggesting it for the whole meal,” he exclaimed, as most associate it as an aperitif. “The key of the change has been the offer. More and more producers are offering nowadays very high quality and various types of rosé wines. That gives the sommelier the chance to propose it for a lot of dishes with different consistencies, flavours and fat content.”

The industry’s efforts to elevate rosé’s profile is best demonstrated in our Asian Rosé Masters Results with three wines winning the highest accolade of Master – one from Australia which is stunning value for money at under HK$150, and another two from France’s Languedoc and Champagne, respectively. New World regions such as Australia and New Zealand gave the traditional rosé historic base, Provence, a run for the money with the highest number of Gold-medal winners. Silvers are abound in countries such as Italy and Spain, traditional markets for the pink wine, and many medal winners from this year’s competition more encouragingly are mainly from the commercially viable price category of HK$100-HK$300.

Rosé from down under 

About the competition

The Asian Rosé Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for rose wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong’s top sommeliers, sommeliers and wine educators. The top rosé wines were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those rosé that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 4 July, 2018 at The Flying Winemaker’s office in Central. This report features only the medal winners.

The beauty of blind tasting, as we have stressed again and again in the past, is that we can put all wines regardless of wine regions on the same level playing field, without bias and preconceptions. Judged only by price and style (still, off-dry and sparkling), the competition saw the most number of Gold medal and Master medal winners under HK$150. Out of the total seven gold medals we have given out, five came from this price band, confirming that there’s plenty of quality in value – all from down under in Australia and New Zealand.

“French producers still led the category at the top end of the spectrum, with gems from Australia and New Zealand giving a run for the money, particularly at the lower price range,” Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and wine judge, commented after all the identifies of the wines are revealed.

At this level, judges are looking for approachable wines that are well balanced with abundant fruit characters and refreshing acidity. One stand-out is actually Jacob’s Creek Le Petit Rosé, a Provence style light coloured rosé produced from southeastern Australia. This crisp wine with plenty of berry and floral notes, perhaps is the quintessential quaffable rosé, and yet more stunningly, costs less than HK$100. Similarly, New Zealand’s Yealands Wine Group’s two value wines – Babydoll Rosé and Clearwater Cove Rosé – made from Pinot Noir grape in Marlborough impressed the panel with its depth of fruit character and liveliness. The three wines all achieved Gold medal in the under HK$100 price band.

Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at one Michelin-starred restaurant Arcane in Wanchai

Moving slightly higher up in the HK$100-HK$150 price bracket, it is another leading Australian wine producer, Australia Vintage, parent company of McGuigan Wines, Tempus Two and Nepenthe, that proved to be the biggest winner. The McGuigan Rosé from Australia’s cool climate Adelaide Hills is lauded by Bartolomei for its “long finish and great complexity” with a “fresh floral and very clean” nose, earning the top prize of Master, the highest scoring Australian wine in this competition.

Another high-scoring rosé is also from Adelaide Hills. The bone dry, full-bodied Nepenthe Altitude Rosé 2017 is redolent with red fruits, and subtle cranberry and grapefruit notes, earning it a Gold. The Marisco Vineyards’ The Ned Pinot Rosé, blended from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Marlborough, is a crowd-pleaser noted for its strong and focused core of fruits and razor-sharp acidic edges.

In the HK$151-HK$200 category, it is a copperish-coloured Romato from Italy’s venerable Marchesi Frescobaldi estate’s Attems rosé made in Northern Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia that swept the judges away with its incredibly long lingering flavours, flinty minerality and red core fruits.

Shades of rosé

Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC, Hong Kong’s oldest wine and spirits education centre

So far, most of the samples are Pinot dominated rosé made in the non-impassive stainless tanks with gentle pressing and short maceration to emulate Provence’s light-coloured style, still arguably the most popular category among consumers, which also makes it the most successful one by far in export market.

“I think nowadays, a consumer is trained to think that pale pink rosés are where the quality lies and more than half of the world market for rosé is made pale. Producers can’t sell dark rosé abroad even if the quality of the wine is fantastic so the darker rosés are made for local consumption (especially in the New World) and the paler ones for the international market,” explains Kyle Oosterberg, wine director of The Flying Winemaker, organiser of the Rosé Revolution tasting events in Asia.

Admittedly, Provence rosé is coveted around the globe, but in this competition, with a wide spread of wines from across the globe, Provence entries performed well mostly in the Silver medal chart with fine representations from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s ‘Miraval’, Chateau Routas Rosé and Chateau d’Ollieres Prestige Rosé.

The age old question 

The judges

Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC
Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong
Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at Arcan, a one Michelin-starred restaurant in Wanchai
Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker
Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and wine judge
Ivy Ng, former publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

Within France, another challenger came from Provence’s neighbour to the west, Languedoc. The sunny region bagged one Master medal with Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa 2017. Made from Grenache, Mourvedre, Vermentino, Viognier, the wine is a more complex version of rosé with six months of ageing in oak, giving it an extra layer of subtle toastiness on top of berry fruit flavours. The Grenache varietal is co-fermented with Vermentino and Viognier to ensure a seamless integrity, and the efforts are righteously awarded by the judges.

This brings out a ticklish quality of the wine that has both rosé condemned and praised for – age, in the form of oak ageing and ageing potential.

Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong

Granted many love rosé for its early drinking ability, a character that differs drastically with tannic reds, as nearly all samples of the competition are from either 2017 or 2018 vintage. Yet this ephemeral quality made many question rosé’s ageing potential, leading people to believe rosé is meant to be drunk young.There are however exceptions to the rule, as we have seen from top rosé from Bandol or Chateau d’Esclan’s premium Burgundian style ‘Garrus’, and also the top medal winner Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa that can age and improve over years.

This Languedoc rosé is a fine example of how oak and barrel ageing can compliment rose’s overall quality if a wine has enough fruit core and acidity. For most producers, the key to rosé is its fruitiness, thus most are fermented in stainless steel tank to retain the fresh fruits. But with thicker skinned grapes with higher acidity such as Mouvedre, Tempranillio and Grenache, oak and barrel is applied more liberally in line to produce a more age-worthy rose.

“like with many other wines, oak needs to be applied judiciously, and this would be no different for rosé as well. When done well, they taste fresh and vibrant in their youth, yet becoming more complex and mellowed as they grow older with dried fruits coming to the fore as the fresh fruits are nudged into the background. The texture would also transform becoming softer and more velvety,” Chow analysed.

“An early indication of such an example is evidenced by the stellar performance and potential of the 2017 vintage of Château La Sauvageonne La Villa from Gérard Bertrand in this competition,” he praised.

The key however as wine educator Mui succinctly summarised still hangs in balance. “Whether oak/barrel can improve the quality, it still depends on the balance of everything, i.e. oak, fruit flavours, acidity, body etc.” she demurred. “This is still the same for wines of all colours”.

Judges unwrapping all the wine samples after blind tasting to reveal wine identities

Of course, with more ageablity comes with higher price tags. “It depends on producers to be honest. Some styles of rose can be aged. For example, Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes can be aged for more than 5 to 6 years. But we can’t expect same longevity from wines under HK$1,000 per bottle,” Kim from Zuma restaurant exclaimed.

Another category of rosé that can withstand longtime ageing is top cuvée from Champagne. The Champagne Lanson Rosé Label Brut Rosé NV, A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier with racy acidity is a vibrant, flinty, superb sample of rosé that won over the judges with a much deserved Master, with firm certainty of ageing potential. The Champagne house’s Extra Age Brut Rosé with additional five years of ageing before release has more richness and bottle maturity on the front. The more vivid pink-coloured bubble was awarded a Gold as well. Both wines fall into the pricier HK$400-HK$800 price category.

Overall, the samples are correctly made except a couple that showed hints of rotten egg, which could be excessive sulfur dioxide.

Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2017: Results

Well-priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the New World dominated the medal chart of our inaugural Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters, impressing judges with their quality and approachable price points.

All the judges for the Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters. First row (from left to right): Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, Jennie Mack, managing director of Asian Wine Service & Education Centre, and Wallace Lo, hotel sommelier of The Park Lane Hong Kong. Second row (from left to right): João Pires, director of Wine, Food & Beverages at City of Dreams Macau, Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at BBR Hong Kong, Wendy Chan, general manager of wine & spirits at Telford International, Alan Liu, beverage and country store manager of The American Club Hong Kong and Peter Nicholas, winemaker and general manager of Boutique Wines

The Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters is the Asian edition of our popular Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters where all the entries are judged solely by grape variety instead of region of origin. The entry requirements state that the wines needed to be made from a minimum of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. The samples were blind tasted and assessed by price bracket and stylistic difference (oaked or unoaked) to identify the best of Cabernet Sauvignon in their own price range in the local market.

“It was a great tasting, very interesting range of styles”, commented Peter Nicholas, general manager of Hong Kong-based wine merchant Boutique Wines. Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berrry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong agreed: “I thought the wines are generally very good, particularly in the lower price points. Excellent quality for value and for money. I thought the quality was very impressive.”

Held on 14 March at the club house of Crown Wine Cellars, located in a UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage site in Hong Kong, the competition received more than 100 entries from both the New and Old Worlds. Quality of wines was impressive across the board as nine judges gave out a total of four Masters (wines scored 95 points or above), 12 Gold medals (wines scored 90 points or above), 37 Silver medals (85 points or above) and 42 Bronzes (80 points or above).

Old Guards

The judges

Jennie Mack, Managing Director & Senior Wine Educator, Asia Wine Service & Education Center
João Pires, Master Sommelier, Director of Wines, Food & Beverages, Altira Macau, City of Dreams Macau & Studio City Macau
Wallace Lo, Hotel Sommelier, The Park Lane Hong Kong
Alan Liu, Beverage and Country Store Manager, The American Club Hong Kong
Eric Desgouttes, General Manager, Kerry Wines
Wendy Chan, General Manager – Wines & Spirits Division, Telford International Company Limited
Amanda Longworth, Head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong
Peter Nicholas, General Manager, Boutique Wines
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

The results affirmed that Australia, Chile, Argentina and the US have come of age in crafting first-rate pure Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-dominated blends that display the typicity of the grape variety, characterised by high tannins, juicy blackcurrant flavours and spicy peppery hints. Different from delicate Pinot Noir, Cabernet regardless of its growing regions and climates, is famous for its ability to show this typicity without fail.

“Cabernet Sauvignon is no doubt a benchmark grape variety in the same way Chardonnay is for whites. Made all over the world, one can enjoy an entry-level Cabernet or high-end Bordeaux or California, for instance, but its DNA profile is paramount,” João Pires MS, director of Wines, Food & Beverages, Altira Macau, City of Dreams Macau & Studio City Macau, commented. “And this DNA is always related to typical blackcurrant aroma profile, tannic edge, full-bodied rich style, spicy peppery hints and considerable length.”

Australia led the Masters category with three wines clinching the prestigious title. They were: Levantine Hill Estate Samantha’s Paddock Mélange Traditionnel 2013, a blend of Cabernet (81%), Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Yarra Valley; Taylors Wines The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Shiraz Malbec 2012. The country has proven time and again that it’s capable of crafting masterful Cabernets that can command top market prices and indeed all three wines are in the HK$800+ (US$103) price range. The country’s warmer regions such as Coonawarra and Margaret River are established Cabernet sites. In addition, Clare Valley in South Australia is also shaping up to be a prime site for high quality Cabernet as seen in Taylors Wines’ The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Cabernet that impressed the judges with its purity of fruit, texture and quality of tannins.

Chile’s Maipo Valley excelled in the top-rated, best value Cabernet Sauvignon category, confirming its superiority among New World Cabernets. Alto Maipo, which encompasses Puente Alto and Pirque, delivered the most top-rated Chilean Cabernet examples. World-class Cabernets are produced here as we found in Santa Rita’s ‘Casa Real’, Viña Ventisquero’s ‘Enclave’ and Cousiño-Macul ‘Finis Terrae’. All three of which received Gold medals. 

Moving inland to Chile’s neighbour – Argentina – it’s known that the Mendoza wine region is defined by Malbec; but as previously noted in our global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters competition, there’s been a surge of beautiful Cabernets made by producers there in recent years. This is also confirmed by our Asian masters results where Bodega Vistalba’s Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon, a pure expression of the red grape, was awarded a Gold medal. The result is extremely encouraging as this high performer only sells between HK$150 and HK$199, making it arguably the best value Gold medal winner among all the entries. 

Newcomers in town

Throughout the competition when the wines’ identities were finally revealed, many judges’ jaws were left on the floor as lesser-known Cabernet samples from Israel’s Central Hills and Upper Galilee, Japan’s Yamanashi, China’s Shanxi province and the US’s Washington State not only stunned judges with their superb quality, but outperformed many of the traditional Cabernet strongholds in Australia and Chile.  

The biggest surprise was a Japanese Cabernet from Suntory’s Tomi Winery located in Yamanashi to the southwest of Tokyo near Mount Fuji. The wine was unanimously given the ultimate accolade of a Master. Its fine-grained tannins, well executed texture and structure left a few judges convinced of its probable provenance from a top Bordeaux estate. Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Hong Kong’s leading wine merchant Kerry Wines, who gave out close to 100 points to this velvety and savoury red, said, on top of its typicity, its outstanding quality, “its minerality is really riveting. It’s truly a special wine”.

A Bordeaux blend red from China’s Chateau Rongzi in Xiangning County in Shanxi also nabbed a Gold, confirming that the Asian country can produce medal-worthy top reds. “It was quite a surprise that Japan and China are doing an exceptional job. Some of the judges like myself even guessed they were fine Bordeaux. That is a really big WOW, and I do think these wine regions really deserve a bit more attention, especially from a restaurant’s or sommelier’s point of view,” Wallace Lo, hotel sommelier of Park Lane Hong Kong, exclaimed after learning the where the wines were from.

Equally meriting the judges’ praise was a pure Cabernet from Chateau St. Michelle in Washington State. The wine impressed judges with its complexity, structure and fruitiness, in short, it’s a wine that “checks every box of quality Cabernet” Jennie Mack, managing director of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre, commented during assessment. Indeed, when talking about American Cabernet, much of the attention is turned and rightly so – onto Napa or Sonoma in California. Washington State has steadily emerged as a key Cabernet player in the past two to three years, however, to the extent that the grape has now become the region’s dominant grape variety.

Across the Atlantic ocean in the holy land of Israel, two wines – Altitude 624+ by one of the country’s largest wineries Barkan Vineyards in Upper Galilee and Gva’ot Winery from Shomron in Central Hills – sit comfortably in the privileged league of Gold medal winners. Cabernet, being one of the three most widely planted wine grapes in Israel along with Carignan and Merlot, provides a firm backbone either in blend or unblended versions as were seen in these two examples. Such is the power of this versatile and masculine grape variety. Both wines were high-scoring performers, and the Altitude 624+ wine seems to deliver much for its price in the HK$200-HK$299 range.

Winemaking techniques

Judges doing blind-tasting and assessing samples

When it comes to winemaking techniques, it was evident that most of the Cabernet samples were well polished and true to their style, but there were a few instances of what the judges called ‘technical wines’, referring to wines that are clearly heavily influenced by human factors. It’s worth noting that technical wines are not faulty wines but rather more uniform expressions that seem as if they have been made to a ‘recipe’. But with excessive oak use or over extraction, the tannins are drying and coarse, giving an unpleasant sensation on the palate.

I think nowadays, it is not that often to find a really ‘bad’ wine in tasting, but it is more like tasting a lot of wines that are trying to be technical. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they are just wines that are trying to fit in all the boxes in a tasting sheet, nothing more,” Wallace Lo, added.

A few samples with high alcohol levels were not yet well integrated with quality fruit and lacked balance, a few judges pointed out. Wines with “well integrated with fine-grained tannin and a depth of finesse and elegance” in particular are what Wendy Chan, general manager of Wines & Spirits Division, Telford International Company Limited, was looking for when judging the samples.

The colour of most Cabernet samples was deep and luscious, varying on the spectrum from purple to dark ruby. This is a firm indication of the grape variety’s thick grape skin and its predominant dark fruit character. “Personally, I like to see good depth of colour,” added Nicholas, a factor he focused on when judging the wines.

Most of the wines are from recent vintages with the oldest being 2010. Freshness was generally found in nearly all the samples and the judges had a special liking for wines with lively freshness and vibrant acidity. “For me, herbaceousness is an integral part of Cabernet Sauvignon. It just depends on the level. The green bell pepper characters should sit behind and complement the fruit characters. The classic example is the Cru Classé Bordeaux where the herbaceousness sits well behind the fruit, oak and developing aromas and flavours,” commented Nicholas.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Hong Kong Asian Masters Cabernet Sauvignon is the Asian edition of our successful global Masters series. A departure from traditional judging wines by region, the competition assesses wines purely by grape variety. 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 judged 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 an expert panel of nine judges including a Master Sommelier, Hong Kong’s top wine buyers and educators on 14 March at the historic Crown Wine Cellars. This report only features the medal winners.

Value for money

Even more encouraging than the quality of Cabernet the judges discovered from New World countries was the unpretentious and approachable retail price points for these top wines, led by Chile in particular. Aside from the four Masters (all in the HK$800 price bracket), between HK$100 and HK$400 five wines picked up a Gold, of which three –unsurprisingly – are from Chile.

Even moving to lower-price brackets below HK$100, it is clear there are some great producers really pushing the envelope to challenge profit margins and quality to produce three Silver medal-wines that were well balanced, pleasant and honest Cabernets. They were Viña I Wines, Palo Alto and Veramonte, not to mention the other Silver medals Chile bagged in the HK$100 to HK$200 range.

“Below HK$300, there were quite a lot of Silvers and even Golds, but between HK$400 and HK$800 it was quite difficult because there was a lot of ambition in the wines, sometimes they get a little bit lost with what they are trying to achieve. Definitely some of the biggest surprises for lower price point wines there,” BBR’s Amanda Longworth commented.

Between HK$400 and HK$800, only three Golds were awarded as judges become increasingly conscious about the price tag in correlation to quality. They Golds went to; Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Alexander Valley, Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Viña Ventisquero Enclave 2012. 

This sentiment was echoed by Alan Liu, beverage and country store manager of The American Club in Hong Kong: “Some lower price point wines performed actually better and have better balance than higher price point wines. Also, the quality from New World countries is better than what I expect.”

However, when it comes to ultra-premium wines including the top performing Japanese and Chinese wines, their higher-than-normal retail price points could intimidate consumers (both were in the HK$800 or above range). “Japanese or Chinese wines are still a relatively new category. It will take a lot of time for them to get where Bordeaux is, if they actually get there. From a consumer’s point of view, they are not familiar with Chinese or Japanese wines, so for them to pay top price for the wine is going to be hard,” Pires added.

Click through the pages to see all the results

Asian Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling Masters 2017: the results

The consistency of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and the diversity of Riesling impressed a panel of expert judges at our latest Asian Masters, underlining the two white grape varieties’ immense market potential in Hong Kong.

Judges from left to right: Amanda So, department manager at Ponti Trading Ltd; Tersina Shieh, independent wine consultant and wine judge; Sarah Wong, freelance wine writer and judge; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Peter Nicholas, winemaker and general manager of Boutique Wines Hong Kong; Nellie Ming Lee, wine consultant; William Chan, sommelier and manager of Cuisine Cuisine; and Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Waton’s Wine and Natalie Wang, online editor of the drinks business Hong Kong

Riding the wave of the growing popularity of white wines in Hong Kong, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, two aromatic white varieties, are tempting discerning drinkers who are looking beyond all-rounded Chardonnay for varietal diversity, although the latter still remains the most popular white wine variety in the local market, accounting for more than 60% of total white wine sales.

Capable of adapting to different terroir, Sauvignon Blanc can produce wines of vibrancy, freshness and zippy acidity when grown in the cool to moderate climates of the Loire Valley, Northern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. Its flavour profile ranges from herbaceous notes of gooseberry, green bell pepper and fresh cut grass to riper tropical aromas of passion fruit and pineapple, in addition to toasty notes for those fermented in barrel.

Riesling, on the other hand, is a white variety that has a broader style spectrum making everything from sparkling wine to still wine on a wide scale of sweetness, from off-dry to some of the most luscious in the world. Among all the 46 samples submitted for our Riesling competition, none were oaked, but they represented all of the major Riesling producing countries, with Australia, Germany and Austria leading the pack.

“I found that the best wines to be those that showed regional characteristics rather than those that appeared to be copying a more international style,” winemaker and wine educator Peter Nicholas commented.

“In today’s market place homogeneity is something to be avoided and authenticity to be lauded.”

More encouragingly for the consumers, both in the Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling categories, well-priced wines bagged the most medals; with several of the Gold medal winners costing under HK$400 a bottle.

“I think the wines are really good, especially for the Sauvignon Blanc flight and great value for money for these lower priced wines. Both are quite good, well presented, maybe one or two wines are not so typical, but in general, the wines showed great typicity,” said Tersina Shieh, an independent wine consultant – a comment William Chan, manager of Cuisine Cuisine, heartily agreed with.

Held on 26 June at the award-winning Cuisine Cuisine restaurant inside the Mira Hotel, the wines were served blind and assessed by eight experienced judges, including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, educators and consultants. The wines were arranged not according to country but by their price band as well as style – oaked or unoaked, their sweetness (in the case of Riesling) and whether they were a blend or pure varietal expression – to make the competition as fair as possible.

New Zealand Benchmark  

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, the biggest wine retailer in Hong Kong

Although the Loire is the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is where the grape has found a spiritual home, and the country’s wine industry and international reputation was built on the white grape variety.

Different from the Loire’s greener, more savoury style, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is known for being more on the fruity, aromatic side that packs more pungent aromas of grapefruit, gooseberry, passion fruit and other tropical fruits.

Style wise, it would be erroneous to dismiss New Zealand Sauvignon as a one-trick-pony producing only fruity and aromatic dry whites. In fact, in addition to some regional diversity the grape is very versatile, capable of making lusciously sweet wines, more substantial dry whites when blended with Semillon and even sparkling wines made usually using the traditional method.

Among the two Masters and seven Gold medal winners, out of a flight of 33 Sauvignon Blanc samples judged, six – one Master and five Gold medals – unsurprisingly came from New Zealand, primarily Marlborough.

“The very good Sauvignon Blanc that I saw was what I expected of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is consistency,” commented Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, the biggest wine retailer in Hong Kong.

Compared with Riesling, Sauvignon is more predicable in a sense in terms of style and quality, Stockman added. “A Muscato can be horribly sweet and dry, whereas a Sauvignon Blanc in particular, you know what you are going to get. It’s just about the style you like and quality. And I think people like about that,” he added speaking of the variety’s potential in Hong Kong.

The Judges

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine
Peter Nicolas, winemaker and wine educator at AWSEC Hong Kong
Sarah Wong, freelance wine writer and wine judge
Tersina Shieh, independent wine consultant and wine judge
Amanda So, department manager of Ponti Trading
William Chan, general manager and sommelier of Cuisine Cuisine
Nellie Ming Lee, wine consultant
Ivy Ng, publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong 

In terms of pricing, he believes it’s easier to find better quality Sauvignon Blanc in the market than Chardonnay of the same price band. “Chardonnay tends to be excellent on more expensive level. And with cheap Chardonnay, you see a lot of poor examples,” he explained.

Indeed, five of the seven Gold medal winners are priced under HK$200 (US$25.6) a bottle, with one – The Crossing Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – below HK$100 (US$12.8).

Among the high performing Kiwi samples, Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2016, a classic Marlborough Sauvignon from Wairau Valley at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, was awarded the highest honour of a Master. The Crossings Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 impressed judges with their perfumed and refined aromas that landed them Gold medals. Equally impressive were Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Yealands Estate Land Made Sauvignon Blanc 2016. Both are stellar examples of classic New Zealand Sauvignon and each was rewarded with a Gold medal as well.

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2015, a more ambitious barrel fermented Sauvignon, stunned the judging panel with its complexity and layers of flavours, a style more reminiscent of Sancerre.

Speaking of the grape’s current market in Hong Kong, Amanda So, department manager of wine merchant Ponti, noted that discerning consumers are looking beyond the obvious Sauvignon style.

“Customers nowadays are starting to look for more complex Sauvignon Blanc with high skill treatment, not just the easy going, food friendly Sauvignon Blanc,” she stated.

Other regions:

All the wines were tasted blind by the judges and assessed by their variety and price at Cantonese restaurant Cuisine Cuisine in Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Outside of New Zealand, the Kiwi-coined fresh, intensely perfumed style with zesty acidity was also found in cool climate regions in Chile, Australia and the US.

Chile’s San Antonio in Casablanca, particularly the Leyda Valley, stood out among its peers, while in Australia, Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills also left clear marks on the variety. Bird in Hand Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from Adelaide Hills, for instance, despite its youthful age, already showed a lot of potential with its intense aromas and mineral edges, for which it won a Gold medal.

From California, where Sauvignon Blanc is occasionally known as ‘Fumé Blanc’, it was the toasty flavours and fuller body that took precedent and had the judges talking. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County won the judges over for its complexity and weight, and its price also reflected the extra efforts in the cellar, moving up to the HK$300 (US$38.4) to HK$399 (US$51) price bracket.

“American Fumé Blancs, a Sauvignon Blanc that is usually barrel fermented, so is less acidic, more creamy and sometimes smokey, are most enjoyable with their voluptuous lemon curd-like flavours,” commented Nellie Ming Lee, a Hong Kong-based wine consultant.

Outside of Loire, across the Alps, Sauvignon Blanc has found success in northern Italy’s Alto Adige, Friuli and Collio with the best examples showing pungency and purity of fruit. A few Italian producers have also opted for oak to give more texture and body as seen in Attems’ ‘Cicinis DOC Sauvignon Collio 2015’.

Encouragingly, Greece has been churning out top-winning examples of Sauvignon Blanc in recent years, led by Alpha Estate in northern Florina. The winery’s single vineyard ‘Kalyva’, an oaked 100% Sauvignon Blanc, won a Master, leaving a few of the judges stumped over its origin.

“I was surprised by the wines from Greece. It is positive that we have new wine regions to choose from in Hong Kong. The wines from the classic regions showed great typicity to their origin and variety,” stated Sarah Wong, a freelance wine writer in Hong Kong.

Asian Syrah Masters 2017: the results

Syrah, the noble grape variety that has expanded from its home base in the Rhône Valley to inspire ‘Rhône rangers’ in California and feverish followers in South Australia, came under close scrutiny at our Asian Syrah Masters competition.

A cherry-picked panel of judges blind-tasted and assessed a wide array of Syrah samples at Hip Cellar on 29 August. From left to right: Francesca Martin, founder and director of BEE Drinks Global; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Jude Mullins, international development director of the WSET; Darius Allyn, Master Sommelier; Amanda Longworth, head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros & Rudd, Hong Kong; Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker; Ying-Hsien Tan MW, executive director of Taberna Wine Academy Pte Ltd; Jennie Mack, co-founder of AWSEC and Natalie Wang, online editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing).

Many industry heavyweights such as Jancis Robinson MW have suggested the red grape has, “two distinct personalities” – the powerful, rich, and concentrated Shiraz from Australia and the fresher and more perfumed Syrah from the Northern Rhône.

Never having being eulogised as an immensely fashionable grape, as Pinot Noir is, or an overtly adaptable variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape has had its fair share of boom and bust.

Outside of France, in the late 1990s, staunch followers in California dubbing themselves ‘Rhône rangers’  pushed up plantings 400 acres in 1992 to 6,800 acres, followed by waves of increased plantings in Australia and Chile. Yet, almost during the same period in the Languedoc, a mysterious vine disease affecting the grape led critics to speak of “Syrah decline”.

But the resilient red variety has never strayed too far from centre stage and has steadily climbed to be one of the world’s six most planted varieties of either colour. As shown in our Asian Syrah Masters, the grape’s consistency and malleability ranging from almost Pinot-like elegance to high-octane powerhouses demonstrate the variety’s enduring appeal.

This probably explains why the Asian Syrah Masters is the best performing red grape variety competition in our Asian Masters series so far. A cherry-picked panel of judges including wine educators, a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier and top merchants in Hong Kong, handed out five Masters and 15 Gold medals, 21 Silvers and 29 Bronzes after blind-tasting samples from Switzerland, South Africa, Chile, Australia, Italy and France.

Winemaking skills 

Unlike Pinot Noir, where care and attention is essential in crafting a fine wine, Syrah is relatively more forgiving, which is not to say the variety is tolerant of winemaking faults. In fact, if picked too early, the wine can be too astringent and take on unpleasant whiff of burnt rubber; and due to the fact that it is reduction-prone, without sufficient racking and aeration during fermentation, it can reek of rotten eggs or dirty drain.

But given the choices available to winemakers such as whole bunch fermentation, freedom with new or old oak, use of stem and extraction technique, styles of Syrah can vary vastly, making it, “one of the more exciting varieties for winemakers to work with,” commented Francesca Martin, director of BEE Drinks Global and one of the judges for the competition.

Indeed, from the lighter, fresher style in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, to lesser known examples from the Valais in Switzerland or Washington State in the US, to the upcoming Swartland in South Africa, and eventually to Australia, there are abundant styles that vary enormously with climate and winemaking techniques.

“In terms of the styles I’m coming across from around the world, the finest examples still show these varietal and regional characteristics that make for interesting individuality,” commented Ying-Hsien Tan MW, executive director of Taberna Wine Academy Pte Ltd.

Darius Allyn MS was one of the judges for our Asian Syrah Masters competition

Amanda Longworth, head of Marketing & Wine Services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong, agreed: “It can have a lot of colour, and also a lot of tannins – so depending on where it’s from, producers may treat it more like Pinot Noir – to gently extract tannins, or treat it more like Merlot with more assertive extraction techniques such a pumping over.”

“I noticed in this tasting that there were more and more wines that have the distinctive notes of whole bunch and carbonic maceration techniques. It’s really obvious to pick out the wines that are really going for a style that reflects those of the classic Cornas or Hermitage,” added Eddie McDougell, the Flying Winemaker.

But the challenge for winemakers when dealing with the grape is not to mask its regional and varietal characters with excessive winemaking techniques, Tan noted.

“There also seems to be a convergence of techniques by winemakers around the world that emphasises depth of colour, rich fruitiness and in some non-European countries a focus on tannic structure that tends to first, anonymise the wines subduing their regional and varietal distinctiveness and second, a tendency to produce wines that seem to be over extracted without such firm, dry tannins. It often feels like one is chewing on a twisted muscle,” he elaborated.

Nonetheless, “It was interesting to acknowledge how Syrah/Shiraz wines can produce various expressions that could appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers. It is quite rare that Syrah/Shiraz wines disappoint,” Jennie Mack, co-founder of AWSEC asserted.