The Global Cider Masters 2020 Results

This year’s Beer & Cider Masters showed just how much the low- and no-alcohol sector of the category has improved in recent years, with some genuinely excellent brews receiving medals, writes Edith Hancock.


It could appear trite to call this year’s edition of the Global Beer Masters unprecedented. This is the eighth blind tasting we have carried out in 2020 with full social distancing precautions in place. But, to paraphrase Churchill, never in the history of db’s tastings have so many medals been awarded to so many alcohol-free beers made by just one brewer.

Over Skype, our judges tasted 76 beers and ciders, from crisp Pilsner to heady chocolate stout, but the category that shone most of all was low- and no-ABV.

The big winner was a company called Big Drop Brewing Co. Although just four years old, it has harnessed the expertise of some of Europe’s greatest brewing minds to create what founder and former City lawyer Rob Fink thinks are “exceptional beers, that just so happen to be alcohol-free”.

Two of Big Drop’s beers were awarded Gold medals – the Woodcutter Brown Ale and a Paradiso Citra IPA – while the brand’s Pine Trail Ale was handed a Master, the highest accolade possible that drinks can receive in our annual blind tasting series, and the first we have ever given to an alcohol-free drink. The Pine Trail Ale impressed, with pine and honey on the nose and a sweet malt flavour, resulting in a moreish beer, minus the ABV.

“Four years ago I was being laughed out of bottle shops and pubs,” Fink tells db. “I’d stroll in with my alcohol-free stout and they’d tell me all alcohol-free beer is rubbish. I’d be thinking ‘yes I know that, but we’re changing it!”

One thing that sets Big Drop apart from others in the category is that, rather than using traditional methods of removing alcohol, such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis, the beers are fermented naturally to 0.5% ABV; a process the team believes helps the beers retain balance. The brand recruited Johnny Clayton, formerly of craft brewer Wild Beer Co, to help come up with a base method in which, essentially, more grain than normal is used in the initial fermentation period to create the body and flavour that is normally supplied by alcohol.

Now after four years the beers have started receiving awards not just in low-ABV categories, but in overall beer competitions as well.

“The awards are an external validation of what we’re doing,” Fink says. “We were the first, we think we’re the best, and this is being confirmed with third parties – now quite regularly getting medals in full strength categories.”

Another Suffolk-based brewer, St Peter’s, also fared well in our low-and no-alcohol category, winning Silver medals for the alcohol-free versions of its original and golden ale. Our judges were struck by the unusual range of styles entered into this section, with stouts, porters, IPAs and even a sour beer making an appearance.

“The non-alcoholic category showed its growth is not only tied to changing consumer preferences but also increased quality in the beers themselves,” Shane McNamara, global technical manager at ZX Ventures, and one third of this year’s judging panel, said.

“Genuine variety and a focus on flavour has shown to benefit these types of beers, and I continue to watch with eagerness where this burgeoning segment of the beer landscape goes next.”

LAGER
While last year we saw a plethora of well-made Helles lagers entered into our competition, this year, McNamara said, was more of a “mixed bag”.

“Unbalanced bitterness and confusing aroma combinations led to what felt like beers that require further refinement and more intention from the brewer before release. “

However, that is not to say there weren’t a handful of standouts in the lager category, notably from retailer Aldi. The challenger supermarket’s Cape Cyan Natural Blonde Beer, produced by Storm Brewing Co in New Zealand, gained a Master for its balance and refreshing finish and light, but not out-of kilter, body.

IPAS
As we have seen, an increasing number of brewers perfect the art of stronger, hop-forward ales that appeal to younger beer drinkers, more outstanding beers were found in the IPA category this year than in previous editions of the Beer Masters. This, McNamara says, is “is certainly reflective of the market and its prevalence in terms of style. However, the variety of beers entered in the low-no ABV category show a more diverse approach to the segment, which wasn’t present in previous years.”

A special mention must go again to St Peter’s Brewery, which gained a Master medal for its classic IPA; a full-bodied ale with with a zesty character and the hallmark amber colouring we’ve come to love in English India Pale Ales.

Across the Irish sea, a producer perhaps better known for its whiskey than beer also gained Golds in the IPA and Pale Ale categories: Dublin’s Pearce Lyons Distillery. Produced exclusively for Aldi’s stores by the brewer, the judging panel found its Roadworks IPA – introduced to the supermarket’s shelves last year, to be accomplished and hitting all the right notes, and were impressed equally by its strong flavour and long, powerful finish.

PALE ALES
Much like the rise of the IPA, its slightly softer, entry-level cousin the Pale Ale has enjoyed enormous popularity over the past decade, and so the quality of these brews has only increased and the range diversified as brewers large and small compete for lager drinkers just starting to become interested in expanding their repertoires.

Another Irish brewer, Carlow Brewing Company, gained a Gold for its well-executed American ale O’Shea’s Pale New Dawn. “Tropical and grapefruit flavours” came through from the rose-gold liquid, with just a hint of the lime flavour that usually comes out in West Coast pale ales. Dry on the palate, with plenty of pine resin, it offered the salivating sensation that American-style pales are so beloved for in the first place. Meanwhile, Black Sheep Brewery, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, secured a Gold medal for Hop Stepper, a beer it launched last year specifically for Aldi.

CIDER
This is the second year we have run the Cider Masters, and 2020 saw a diverse range of products lined up for our judges.

“The cider category this year showed a wide diversity of entrants,” McNamara said, adding that the beverages that performed best were those that “expressed their naturality and balanced composition”, rather than more colourful, sweeter, flavoured variants.

“Cider has so many more dimensions to it than sweetness levels and overdone fruit infusions. This year reflected the industry’s renewed focus on craftsmanship and quality.”

FLAVOURS
It was a similar result for our flavoured beer category, where citrus-forward styles were favoured over anything overly sweet and fruit-infused. Here, St Peter ’s proved its versatility by picking up a Gold for its Citrus Ale, and securing Silvers for its Plum Porter and its interesting, nuanced Whisky Beer.

LOOKING AHEAD
And looking to 2021, we think it’s very likely that we’re going to see more diverse styles cropping up in the Beer Masters as more categories, from sour to the growing low-ABV segment, enter the mainstream consumer market.

“Less prevalent styles are always welcome,” McNamara said. “There has been a trend for a long time in the US to revive lost, forgotten and overlooked styles. To see this kind of interest from brewers in other parts of the world would only enrich the landscape.”

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Beer & Cider Masters provides a chance for your beers and ciders to star.

The top drops were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Beer or Cider Master. This report features the medal winners only.

The Global Beer Competition 2020 Results

This year’s Beer & Cider Masters showed just how much the low- and no-alcohol sector of the category has improved in recent years, with some genuinely excellent brews receiving medals, writes Edith Hancock.


It could appear trite to call this year’s edition of the Global Beer Masters unprecedented. This is the eighth blind tasting we have carried out in 2020 with full social distancing precautions in place. But, to paraphrase Churchill, never in the history of db’s tastings have so many medals been awarded to so many alcohol-free beers made by just one brewer.

Over Skype, our judges tasted 76 beers and ciders, from crisp Pilsner to heady chocolate stout, but the category that shone most of all was low- and no-ABV.

The big winner was a company called Big Drop Brewing Co. Although just four years old, it has harnessed the expertise of some of Europe’s greatest brewing minds to create what founder and former City lawyer Rob Fink thinks are “exceptional beers, that just so happen to be alcohol-free”.

Two of Big Drop’s beers were awarded Gold medals – the Woodcutter Brown Ale and a Paradiso Citra IPA – while the brand’s Pine Trail Ale was handed a Master, the highest accolade possible that drinks can receive in our annual blind tasting series, and the first we have ever given to an alcohol-free drink. The Pine Trail Ale impressed, with pine and honey on the nose and a sweet malt flavour, resulting in a moreish beer, minus the ABV.

“Four years ago I was being laughed out of bottle shops and pubs,” Fink tells db. “I’d stroll in with my alcohol-free stout and they’d tell me all alcohol-free beer is rubbish. I’d be thinking ‘yes I know that, but we’re changing it!”

One thing that sets Big Drop apart from others in the category is that, rather than using traditional methods of removing alcohol, such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis, the beers are fermented naturally to 0.5% ABV; a process the team believes helps the beers retain balance. The brand recruited Johnny Clayton, formerly of craft brewer Wild Beer Co, to help come up with a base method in which, essentially, more grain than normal is used in the initial fermentation period to create the body and flavour that is normally supplied by alcohol.

Now after four years the beers have started receiving awards not just in low-ABV categories, but in overall beer competitions as well.

“The awards are an external validation of what we’re doing,” Fink says. “We were the first, we think we’re the best, and this is being confirmed with third parties – now quite regularly getting medals in full strength categories.”

Another Suffolk-based brewer, St Peter’s, also fared well in our low-and no-alcohol category, winning Silver medals for the alcohol-free versions of its original and golden ale. Our judges were struck by the unusual range of styles entered into this section, with stouts, porters, IPAs and even a sour beer making an appearance.

“The non-alcoholic category showed its growth is not only tied to changing consumer preferences but also increased quality in the beers themselves,” Shane McNamara, global technical manager at ZX Ventures, and one third of this year’s judging panel, said.

“Genuine variety and a focus on flavour has shown to benefit these types of beers, and I continue to watch with eagerness where this burgeoning segment of the beer landscape goes next.”

LAGER
While last year we saw a plethora of well-made Helles lagers entered into our competition, this year, McNamara said, was more of a “mixed bag”.

“Unbalanced bitterness and confusing aroma combinations led to what felt like beers that require further refinement and more intention from the brewer before release. “

However, that is not to say there weren’t a handful of standouts in the lager category, notably from retailer Aldi. The challenger supermarket’s Cape Cyan Natural Blonde Beer, produced by Storm Brewing Co in New Zealand, gained a Master for its balance and refreshing finish and light, but not out-of kilter, body.

IPAS
As we have seen, an increasing number of brewers perfect the art of stronger, hop-forward ales that appeal to younger beer drinkers, more outstanding beers were found in the IPA category this year than in previous editions of the Beer Masters. This, McNamara says, is “is certainly reflective of the market and its prevalence in terms of style. However, the variety of beers entered in the low-no ABV category show a more diverse approach to the segment, which wasn’t present in previous years.”

A special mention must go again to St Peter’s Brewery, which gained a Master medal for its classic IPA; a full-bodied ale with with a zesty character and the hallmark amber colouring we’ve come to love in English India Pale Ales.

Across the Irish sea, a producer perhaps better known for its whiskey than beer also gained Golds in the IPA and Pale Ale categories: Dublin’s Pearce Lyons Distillery. Produced exclusively for Aldi’s stores by the brewer, the judging panel found its Roadworks IPA – introduced to the supermarket’s shelves last year, to be accomplished and hitting all the right notes, and were impressed equally by its strong flavour and long, powerful finish.

PALE ALES
Much like the rise of the IPA, its slightly softer, entry-level cousin the Pale Ale has enjoyed enormous popularity over the past decade, and so the quality of these brews has only increased and the range diversified as brewers large and small compete for lager drinkers just starting to become interested in expanding their repertoires.

Another Irish brewer, Carlow Brewing Company, gained a Gold for its well-executed American ale O’Shea’s Pale New Dawn. “Tropical and grapefruit flavours” came through from the rose-gold liquid, with just a hint of the lime flavour that usually comes out in West Coast pale ales. Dry on the palate, with plenty of pine resin, it offered the salivating sensation that American-style pales are so beloved for in the first place. Meanwhile, Black Sheep Brewery, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, secured a Gold medal for Hop Stepper, a beer it launched last year specifically for Aldi.

CIDER
This is the second year we have run the Cider Masters, and 2020 saw a diverse range of products lined up for our judges.

“The cider category this year showed a wide diversity of entrants,” McNamara said, adding that the beverages that performed best were those that “expressed their naturality and balanced composition”, rather than more colourful, sweeter, flavoured variants.

“Cider has so many more dimensions to it than sweetness levels and overdone fruit infusions. This year reflected the industry’s renewed focus on craftsmanship and quality.”

FLAVOURS
It was a similar result for our flavoured beer category, where citrus-forward styles were favoured over anything overly sweet and fruit-infused. Here, St Peter ’s proved its versatility by picking up a Gold for its Citrus Ale, and securing Silvers for its Plum Porter and its interesting, nuanced Whisky Beer.

LOOKING AHEAD
And looking to 2021, we think it’s very likely that we’re going to see more diverse styles cropping up in the Beer Masters as more categories, from sour to the growing low-ABV segment, enter the mainstream consumer market.

“Less prevalent styles are always welcome,” McNamara said. “There has been a trend for a long time in the US to revive lost, forgotten and overlooked styles. To see this kind of interest from brewers in other parts of the world would only enrich the landscape.”

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Beer & Cider Masters provides a chance for your beers and ciders to star.

The top drops were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Beer or Cider Master. This report features the medal winners only.

The Sauvignon Blanc Masters 2020

We reveal the medallists from 2020’s Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters, including top-performing wines from Israel and Greece, as well as more traditional sources of greatness, such as France and New Zealand.

So, you want a wine that’s instantly recognisable, stylistically consistent and guaranteed to refresh fast? Well, an ideal solution is Sauvignon Blanc. With its hallmark pungency, citrus-based flavours and high acidity, wherever this grape comes from, one can expect certain traits, and Sauvignon’s always cool character has made it such a global success. Trialled broadly, and consumed widely, there are few places where Sauvignon isn’t grown, or sold. And it’s been a powerful force for wine generally, pleasing drinkers on the search for something reliable, bright, and with plenty of personality, while at the same time making the crisp, even green, a trendy trait. But what about the quality standard? Is that dependable too?

I remember chairing a Sauvignon Blanc Masters competition a number of years ago, and finishing a day’s judging feeling a little disappointed. As a grape renowned for its powerful aromatics, we had found ourselves searching to describe quite a large number of wines that were delicate on the nose and dilute in the mouth. As the judges agreed then, if there’s a white grape where one expects plenty of immediate flavour, it’s Sauvignon Blanc, so, where the wines offered little in the way of clear character, the scores were low.

Moving forward to the 2020 competition, and I’m delighted to say that we had no issue describing the wines, which were loaded with Sauvignon Blanc character. And this was true of the cheapest samples. Not only that, but the quality level was high and consistently so – with a large haul of very good sub-£10 Sauvignons with fruit, freshness, and a lasting flavour intensity. So, in short, the standard of Sauvignon Blanc is high today, and that’s true at a range of prices, and from a wide sweep of sources.

Within the sub-£10 samples of 2020, as the tables show, we had plenty of excellent wines, with a notably good base standard seen among the entries from New Zealand and Chile, although Eastern Europe also proved able to deliver plenty of Sauvignon bang for little in the way of buck. In general, the greener notes, such as capsicum, were more evident in the Marlborough-sourced samples, while the Chilean Sauvignon Blancs were more strongly citric in character.

Based on the entries in 2020, one needs to spend over £10 for Gold-standard Sauvignon, with three wines in the £10-£15 price band just nudging into this level of quality. More on the grassy, gooseberry and boxwood spectrum were the excellent wines from Marlborough’s Invivo and Yealands, while the Gold medal-winning South African from Durbanville Hills stood out for its oily texture and grapefruit-scented fruit, along with pleasantly chalky finish.

Having said that, we did find two Golds in the blended category under £10, one for Brancott, which featured a drop of Sauvignon Gris, and the other for Elgin, which had a touch of Semillon – both grapes brought a touch more texture to the dominant Sauvignon.

Back to the pure Sauvignons, and over £15 but under £20, and again it was South Africa and Marlborough that gained the Golds, including an organic expression from Stoneleigh. At a much higher price of around £35, there was a delicious sample with masses of ripe orchard fruits and pink grapefruit that hailed from Israel’s Tulip Winery – an expensive but excellent example.

The first wine to take home the title of Master among the varietal, unoaked samples was priced over £20, proving that paying a relatively high sum for Sauvignon Blanc does have a benefit. As for the wine that gained the ultimate accolade of the Global Wine Masters, it wasn’t from New Zealand, neither was it from South Africa, but Italy’s Alto Adige. Gaining very high scores from all the judges, this wine from Cantina Valle Isarco, a brilliant co-operative in this beautiful region, wowed for its intense, lingering layers of flavours of pear, tangerine and lime, with some lemongrass and chalk too, and a lovely freshness, without the sharpness that can beset Sauvignon Blanc.

However, the justification for high prices for Sauvignon Blanc tends to require more than just a mix of complementary characters derived from fruit and fermentation, but some influence from oak too. Despite a certain scepticism from Sauvignon lovers surrounding the suitability of marrying the sweet and creamy flavours of barrels with the fresh and firm nature of Sauvignon, when the grapes are fully ripe, often from planting in warm climes, or picking late, then the combination is delicious.

FIRST-RATE WHITE

Proving this, and at an impressively low price, was the barrel-matured blend from Domaine du Grand Mayne in south west France, which has the vanilla, pineapple and grapefruit flavours found in great white Bordeaux, but for a little under £15. Others at a similar price that successfully united creamy wood with fresh citrus fruit were from South Africa (Nederburg) and Australia (Nepenthe), while moving up in price we had a first-rate white Bordeaux from Château Doisy Daene, and a pear, tangerine and marshmallow-scented sample from Greece’s Alpha Estate.

The outstanding wines of the day, taking the barrel influence Sauvignon style to new heights, were both from California. In the tauter, fresher mould was Napa Valley’s St Supéry Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, with its orange and cream characters, while the more indulgent example was from Merry Edwards in the Russian River Valley, with a wonderful array of flavours from peach, pear, lime, toast and vanilla to cinnamon. Such a wine was also quite richly textured, but wonderfully bright too.

These latter samples clearly showed that Sauvignon Blanc is no one-trick pony. Depending on source and winemaking technique, supporting varieties and price positioning, Sauvignon Blanc can take on different guises. However, it never seems to lose its refreshing taste, nor citrusy aromatics, ensuring that it maintains its appeal for the Sauvignon lover, even when handled like a Chardonnay.

In other words, if you are a fan of Sauvignon’s cool crisp character, then you should be pleased with the quality on the market today. And if you want to explore the grape’s full stylistic spectrum, then you can do so safe in the knowledge that the medallists in this year’s Masters will deliver new and delicious experiences, without abandoning Sauvignon’s core citrus-fresh trait.

About The Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The 2020 competition was judged by David Round MW, Patrick Schmitt MW and Patricia Stefanowicz MW in December at London’s 28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Sauvignon Blanc Master. Here, we feature the medal winners only.

THE DB & SB AUTUMN BLIND TASTING

While our usual Masters competitions focus on a grape, region or style, our inaugural Autumn Tasting was open to all, and brought to light some exciting wines from parts of the world that might normally have been overlooked, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

This report contains the results from an entirely new tasting from the drinks business. Called the Autumn Tasting, it’s a drinks competition defined by the time of year when the samples are judged, rather than their source region, style, or base grape variety. While our existing tastings take a snapshot of a particular area, certain styles or a noble grape, this is something different. It’s the antithesis of our other, long-standing competitions, in that there are no restrictions to who can enter: all styles of wine are welcome.

And that’s why it came about. A producer of say, a Furmint from Slovenia, wanted us to judge their product using our professional processes, but couldn’t find a competition that could accommodate them. Others wanted something different. They didn’t want their £15 Pinot Noir, for example, to be compared with other £15 Pinot Noirs of the world, but any red wine in the same price band, allowing them to be assessed for quality against anything and everything.

However, the main purpose of this tasting is to assess the quality of the slightly unusual – the blends that are a bit different, the regions that are less recognised, and the varieties that are little-known. And that makes the Autumn Tasting a thrilling addition to our line-up. It also makes the results important for those in search of quality whatever the source or grape, including those who deliberately seek out anything that’s an alternative to the norm. So, with that said, what did we find that was delicious and good value among our varied set of samples?

Considering the white wines first, the base level of entries was very high, with a raft of Silvers, which was impressively in the sub-£10 sector – and we were particularly impressed by the quality to price ratio in the wines from Moldova’s Château Vartely, as well as those from Spain (Jumilla and VDP Castilla) along with some delicious inexpensive Vermentinos from the Tuscan coastal area of Maremma, including an organic version.

But it was over the £10 mark that we saw the Golds and above start to come in. These included a benchmark Galician Albariño, an indulgent Tuscan Viognier, and some beautiful Chardonnays – including one aged in Bourbon barrels for extra caramelised interest, and two blockbuster versions not from France or the US, but from Italy and Spain.

Although it didn’t receive Gold status, a strong Silver medal was awarded to an Austrian Grüner Veltliner in a can, and we had a stunning Slovenian Furmint from 1971. The rosés contained some exciting results too, and while we had some lovely dry pink drops from Provence, it was one from Priorat that wowed, along with another from Chile – in an amazing bottle too.

We also had a couple of outstanding sweet wines, both of which were from Puklavec – a Slovenian producer that manages to craft wines of great quality and personality.

HIGH STANDARDS

But the majority of entries in the inaugural Autumn Masters were red, and the standard was extremely high. And there are a couple of stand-out wine regions to mention after days of blind tasting – Spain’s Jumilla and Italy’s Maremma. Each one of these areas is not the most famous source region of their country. And each of them yielded distinctive, delicious wines from a hot, dry climate. But that’s where the similarities end.

Jumilla is mainly a red wine-producing area based around one notable grape: Monastrell. The region matches this hardy grape to a tough climate, which can be almost arid in some years. But very old vines, amazingly planted without rootstocks, makes this region the largest single area of ungrafted vines in the world. It is a viticultural relic. For this reason it should be treasured. Almost all the output from these old vineyards is managed organically, much of it certified, because this soil-climate-grape combination is natural, and needs no inputs. And as for the wines, one can now point to the number of Silvers and Golds picked up by these Monastrell-based reds from Jumillla in this blind tasting – and that’s when these wines were compared with the competition worldwide. We even had a Master winner from the region’s Bodgeas Fernández at under £30.

However, what really impressed the judges was the quality and character of the wines from Jumilla at lower price points, including those samples for less than £10. In short, it’s clear that if you want a wine of personality that’s made with native grapes, that has a unique character, and that’s organic, inexpensive and delicious, then look to Jumilla.

Next, we had the wines from the Maremma. Here we had some great examples at lower price points, but the entry point to this region is typically more expensive than Jumilla. Pick up something over £15, however, but still at under £20, and you can find fine wine. Often the source of blended wines, including those uniting the native Sangiovese to Bordeaux varieties, there’s something wonderful about the texture of these wines, as they manage to be both fleshy and fresh, combining ripe, juicy black cherry fruit with bright acid and dry tannins.

EXCEPTIONAL RESULTS

One area to look out for is Turkey’s Strandja mountains, where the brilliant Chamlija winery is based. Whether it was this producer’s reds from native grapes or international varieties, the standard was high, and the results exceptional.

Another result that should be mentioned was the great wines from Australia’s RedHeads, including a delicious, bright blend based entirely on traditional Italian grapes, from Sangiovese to Valpolicella. And from the US’s Columbia Valley, Charles Smith wowed our judges with both its Syrah and Merlot.

Importantly, in all these cases, it was the nature of The Autumn Tasting that allowed these wines to shine. It is also particularly important for our tasters, (me, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and David Round MW), and you, the buyer, to see that wines from obscure native grapes, and lesser-known parts of the wine-producing world, can yield brilliant results, and those on a par with, or better than bottles from famous areas, and international varieties.

And only with the format of the Autumn Tasting could so important a conclusion be drawn, taking the risk out of trialling new wines.

Please read on for the results in full from 2020’s Autumn Tasting, along with some information about the competition.

About the competition

The Autumn Tasting was conducted at 28-50 Wine Bar & Kitchen, Covent Garden, London during the week beginning 5 October.

The judges for the wine tasting were Patrick Schmitt MW, David Round MW, and Patricia Stefanowicz MW.

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Autumn Tasting provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master.

 

The Spring Tasting 2021

We bring you the best wines from The Spring Tasting, featuring an exciting range of new releases that are due to hit the shelves over the coming months.

While other seasons are associated with a particular drink, be it warming reds for winter, refreshing rosés for summer, or rich whites for autumn, when it comes to spring, the theme is less about style, but newness. That’s because this is a moment for the fresh, from the green shoots in the garden to the latest releases from Champagne, just-bottled rosés from Provence, or en primeurs from Bordeaux. And so, with our Spring Tasting, it was a privilege to be able to sample in February a broad array of wines destined for springtime release without having to worry about stylistic constraints, but focus on nothing more than what’s delicious and good-value among the brand new. It was a preview of those wines due to hit the shelves as the vegetation emerges and the days lengthen; these are the bottles to pop when celebrating life after dormancy.

So, The Spring Tasting united wines by the timing of release, rather than their particular style, source area, or grape variety – which are the bases of the drinks business’s other tastings, such as the Sparkling Masters, the Chardonnay Masters or the Tuscan Masters.

And, because we were looking for the best of this year’s upcoming releases, we enjoyed some novel comparisons. For example, we sampled £15 Californian Chardonnay alongside similarly priced Hungarian Furmint, sub-£10 Chilean Cabernet next to Russian Saperavi, and Chilean blanc de blancs with organic Cava – all tasted blind, of course, with the wines’ origins and grapes only revealed to us after the tasting was concluded, and medals assigned.

In short, we were not looking to test the typicity of a wine according to its source region or dominant grape variety, but simply to find quality, wherever it comes from, within a broad type, if narrow price range. This makes for fascinating outcomes, which we shall briefly consider below, before picking out the most exciting finds of The Spring Tasting 2021.

Among our sparkling entries, it was Cava that came out on top, proving a point made after previous db tastings about this Spanish sparkling wine region: it can be the source of fine, ripe, biscuity styles of fizz at keen prices – particularly the organic Parxet Cuvée 21 for under £15 in this competition. Beyond this, there were three fine samples in particular. One was an excellent fruity but fresh, bready fizz from Chile – made by Valdivieso – another a pale salmon-coloured rosé sparkling from Russia, with ripe strawberry, fresh apple and biscuit characters, and a further one was a pretty, peachy, creamy-textured pink sample from Château Léoube in Provence.

When it came to the white wines made without oak influence, we had an array of lovely samples from a range of places, taking in some good value Sauvignon from Russia (Lefkadia), a refreshing canned white from South Africa (Elgin Vintners), along with a range of well-made Sauvignons and Chardonnays from Australia and Chile (The Lane and Montgras, respectively). Over £15 and impressive wines ranged from a Turkish Albariño (Chamlija), Tuscan Vermentino (Banfi) to a Friulan Ribolla Gialla (Castello di Buttrio). As for the standout sample among this part of the tasting, that turned out to be a thrilling discovery, as it hailed from Greece, and comprised a native grape called Malagousia, which was saved from extinction by the producer of our only Gold medallist in this category: Vangelis Gerovassiliou. Intensely flavoured, it has powerful characteristics, from peaches to rose petals, and a salty, mouth-watering edge.

Among the barrel-influenced whites, we had more top-scoring wines, which is in keeping for a category where one would expect to find that more ambitious winemaking yielded greater complexity. Notable among them was the caramelised character of the Robert Mondavi Bourbon barrel-aged Chardonnay, which married masses of sweet oak flavour to bright ripe fruit for under £15. It might not be subtle, but it’s certainly an effective way to bring richness to a white wine. Showing more elegance, but without being thin and dilute, were the excellent Chardonnays from New Zealand, be they from Marlborough (Brancott and Stoneleigh) or Hawke’s Bay (Church Road), with the latter, in my view, one of the world’s great sources of fine, textured Chardonnay for relatively little money – that is, in comparison with the great examples from California or Burgundy. But on the subject of Californian excellence, the Chardonnay from 7Cellars in Carneros was a delicious creamy, peach-and-citrus drop that definitely deserves a mention.

As for rosé, it was a delight to have an early taste of Provençal pink from the most recent 2020 harvest, with the excellent organic samples from La Commanderie de la Bargemone proving the peachy quality of this latest vintage. However, when it came to a top-value pick, it was a Tuscan rosé from Tua Rosa that wowed, using pure Sangiovese to yield a fruity-fresh example for just £8.

If the regions of Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough stood out for the quality of their barrel-fermented Chardonnays in the whites, then it was Toscana and Jumilla that were notable for their oak-influenced reds. While these two regions differ in many respects, both offered excellent wines for relatively good prices, judging by the results of this, our first tasting of 2021. When it comes to Jumilla, a Spanish region with amazing stocks of very old-vine dry-farmed Monastrell, the wines offer something rich, even a touch sweet but still bright, thanks to the dry tannins and natural acidity that come with old vine wines from this variety.

As for the reds from Toscana, the range here is wide, from the entry-level to fine ageworthy type, and from the fleshy black cherry and vanilla scented drop to the pale, light and lifted sort, with the latter most commonly seen within the classic areas of this Italian area, notably Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. But even the so-called Super Tuscans based on French varieties, above all Cabernet Sauvignon, had an Italian elegance, finishing with a mouth-cleansing combination of dry tannin and fresh acidity. Mastering both the classic and modern faces of Toscana were Banfi and Piccini, with style depending on source area and base grape, but quality remaining high whatever.

Other wines of note included some wonderful Syrahs in a range of styles from the peppery to fleshy, with the quality of Syrah particularly high from Chile’s Leyda (MontGras), Adelaide Hills (The Lane), Israel (Tulip), Greece (Ktima Gerovassiliou) and Hawke’s Bay (Church Road). There were two further delicious wines from Greece, hailing from Domaine Skouras, which employed native grapes Agiorghitiko to yield wines with ripeness and warmth, but also refreshment – a result of a dry tannin texture and salty stony edge.

NEAR-PERFECT SCORES

As for the red wine Masters – those that achieved near-perfect scores were from just two countries: Spain and Italy. Two of them were Brunellos (Poggio Il Castellare and Banfi’s Poggio alle Mura), and highlighted the appeal of Sangiovese from this famous site, where the grape displays its wonderful ability to be light in weight but strong in flavour, while combining ripe, fleshy fruit, with a taut tannin texture. As for the Spanish entries, one showed the delicious appeal of Garnacha from Priorat, with the first-rate sample from the region’s oldest winery, Scala Dei – a mouth-filling mass of juicy-red-berry fruit, white pepper, toast and rock dust. The other was very different: rich, concentrated, with masses of intense dark cherry, tannins, and creamy oak, but also a bright almost sour cherry lift, ensuring this wine, from Legaris in Ribera del Duero, was still easy to drink.

But that wasn’t everything. The tasting finished with some wonderful sweet wines, and a final Master. Coming from Hungary’s famous sweet wine-producing area of Tokaj, the Gold Label Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos from the Royal Tokaji Winery highlighted why this central European region is so revered. Seducing with dried apricots, raisins and honey, the intensely sweet wine then finished with zesty lime and grapefruit to enliven the palate, and leave one refreshed, despite the initial sugary hit.

 

The Prosecco Masters 2021

Prosecco has taken the world by storm, thanks to its easy-drinking qualities. And now, with rosé expressions having been given the green light, there is more choice than ever for the world’s fizz lovers. We reveal the stylistic trends and best wines from The Prosecco Masters 2021.

So you work in marketing, and you’re considering how to create a new category of drinks? What’s the best approach? And where should one draw inspiration? Prosecco is the ideal place to look for ideas. That’s because it has managed, in a relatively short space of time, to become a 500 million bottle a year business, taking sparkling wine mainstream, well beyond it traditional association with celebratory times. As a result, almost any occasion is ripe for sipping this light, aromatic Italian fizz, which is now by far the largest sparkling wine type in the world in terms of volumes sold.

If you are involved in marketing, then you’ll want to consider every aspect of its success, starting with the four p’s of product, price, place and promotion. And Prosecco scores well on all counts, with its fairly low cost, broad distribution, combined with positive Italian associations and its easy-to-pronounce memorable name.

But, when it comes to lasting success, it’s the product that’s key – both in terms of style and quality. And it’s this aspect that the annual Prosecco Masters seeks to consider, providing, in essence, a health check on the category.

When it comes to this year’s results, it’s clear that the base standard is high for Prosecco. Even at the cheapest end of the category, the wines were clean, refreshing, with fresh, ripe fruit. This is key to Prosecco’s performance, as it means that the customer isn’t disappointed.

Not only that, but with wine taste and style fairly similar at the lower end of the price spectrum, it’s a drink that offers a predictable, consistent experience. It’s not one of those categories where there are swings in sweetness levels, differences in texture, or variations in fruit expression.

While this relates to the region: Prosecco uses, in essence, one grape to create one style of wine, it’s also connected to technology – the region’s producers employ state-of-the-art winemaking equipment to create pristine fizz, which tends to be bottled to order. As proof of this, among almost 200 samples in 2021’s Prosecco Masters, there were fewer than a handful of wines where I detected a touch of tired fruit.

This is a wine style where the freshness relates to a number of factors, including the fizz and, the bright acidity, but also, notably, the just-picked taste of the fruit that’s used to make the product. Be it crisp apple, ripe pear, or sweet peach, with Prosecco there’s nothing faded in the taste.

It’s a pristine drinking experience. And, combine that with its aromatic, distinctive nature, and you have something pleasing and easy to identify. Such traits have also been key to the remarkable performance of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in this century.

But that’s not to suggest there aren’t differences in Prosecco. One reason for variation relates to sourcing, in particular, whether the grapes were grown in the hillier historic areas of the region, the DOCGs of Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and Asolo, as opposed to the generally flatter plains of this part of Italy, which are used for the much larger Prosecco DOC. Generally, the DOCG offerings are a touch more expensive, and are deemed to be better quality, but is this always the case?

From both parts of Prosecco, there were outstanding samples, suggesting that top sites in the DOC can rival those of the DOCG.

However, in my experience from this year’s competition, and previous ones, the DOCG sparkling wines tend to have a purer, more defined fruit expression than the DOC Proseccos at similar prices. The former also tend to have a bit less sugar too, requiring the fruit in DOCG wines to be faultless and fully ripe, while allowing the taste of such fine grapes to shine, without the masking effect that can arise from perceptible sweetness.

In other words, if you like combination of ripe peach and crisp apple, then good DOCG Prosecco will provide it. And if you are content with a simpler sweet pear sensation, then DOC will deliver it.

As for a further general point, when it comes to low-sugar Prosecco, the DOCG of Asolo appears an especially good place to go, as the fruit character from this lesser-known and smaller area tends to be richer, and riper, making it in need of less sweetness.

Furthermore, if you want something with a distinctive personality, a Prosecco with greater complexity, then seek out the Rive classification, which is used for the best sub-regions of the DOCGs, where hillside vineyards tend to yield sparkling wines with intensity, and layers of flavour.

The go-to producer for these styles is Andreola, which manages to capture Prosecco at its best, with its orchard fruits, citrus zest, and floral aromatics, even a chalky character, more commonly associated with Champagne or English sparkling wine.

For richness, sweetness, power, and complexity, then Cartizze is the pinnacle of Prosecco – but it’s pricy. Nevertheless, it presents the ultimate expression of tank-method fizz. And should, in my view, be richly sweet, and refreshingly racy – a style perfected by Bisol1542.

The subject of sweetness levels is important for Prosecco. That’s because some of the drink’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s not too dry, or firm, but soft and creamy-textured. And for that, a fairly high level of sugar is required, around 13g/l-15g/l being a level that provides richness without tasting saccharine.

But, as noted, lower levels, including Extra Brut (sub-6g/l), can be palatable if the fruit is fully ripe. Nevertheless, such a style can surprise your average Prosecco drinker, who is used to Prosecco’s gentle, pleasing sweetness.

Finally, what about rosé? As the newly allowed sub-category of DOC Prosecco – bear in mind that DOCG regions have not authorised this colour variant – there is much excitement about its arrival. While this is justified on the basis that pink fizz is popular, and so too in Prosecco, in terms of the product, Prosecco rosato is not a markedly different proposition in terms of taste.

Made by adding 10-15% wine from Pinot Noir to the white wine base for making Prosecco, the character of the wine is similar to its long-standing blanco variant: the Prosecco Rosés I tasted combined plenty of the usual peach and pear fruit you find in blanco Prosecco, but with a hint of crushed strawberry, and sometimes a touch of bubblegum.

One thing I did notice related to colour: of the some 40 Prosecco rosés I sampled, all of them were pretty much the same shade of pale salmon pink. It seems producers are not going to risk anything deeper in terms of colour appearance. That’s doubtless because the pale hue of Provencal rosé has influenced the world of pink wine producers, sparkling ones included, especially the commercially-savvy ones in Prosecco.

About the competition

The Global Prosecco Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and forms part of its successful Masters series for noble grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; major wine styles, from sparkling to rosé; and famous regions including Rioja, Champagne and Tuscany. The competition is exclusively for Prosecco. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Prosecco Master. This report features the medal winners only.

Read on for the list of all the medal-winning wines in this year’s Prosecco Masters, as well as further information about the competition. 

And you can click here to read my read top 10 Proseccos for all styles and occasions, compiled using the highlights from this the 2021 competition. 

The Global Rosé Masters 2021

We bring you all the medallists from this year’s Global Rosé Masters – taking in top-scoring wines from Greece, Turkey, Italy and France – and reveal our top five pink wine trends of today.

IT’S SAFE to say that the majority of the current discussion about rosé centres on the branding: how it looks, where it’s seen, and with whom. After all, famous names aren’t just sipping pale-pink drops, but producing them, with pretty-looking celebrity-backed bottles becoming more numerous by the year, adding to this pink category’s cachet. It’s been a valuable development for a part of the wine sector that once had a cheap image, based on off-dry examples, from Mateus rosé to Blossom Hill. Indeed, the new power of upmarket rosé, and the potential for further growth, including at a luxury level, has precipitated high-profile investments in the category, from fashion house Chanel to Bordeaux’s Castéja family and then, most notably, luxury-goods conglomerate, LVMH, with its 55% shareholding in Whispering Angel producer Château d’Esclans.

But has rosé’s new-found, premium-level success simply come about because it’s pretty and pink? How good are the wines, what are the styles, and who’s leading in terms of quality? It’s the answers to such questions that prompted us to launch a rosé-only blind tasting for all styles and categories in 2014, with the inaugural Global Rosé Masters. And it’s been revealing, bringing to light the changes taking place in this increasingly popular area of the drinks industry, from the shifting standards, to emerging characters, which we can update for 2021. Taking in the leading brands from benchmark regions, along with new releases from obscure areas, our comprehensive tasting is a health check of rosé today, while providing a guide to fresh sources of pink potential, perfect for the more adventurous buyer.

Before we reveal the results in full from this year’s tasting – which you can see below – we bring you our thoughts on the pink wine category.

1. There’s a high base standard in rosé today

If this year has taught me one thing, it’s that the base standard of rosé is high, and newly elevated. While celebrities may have enticed drinkers into the delights of pink wine, the character of rosé has kept them coming back. The entry-point, pricewise, of dry rosé was full of Silver medal-winning wines, as pink producers master the challenge of creating something pale, textured and refreshing – ticking the three key boxes needed for rosé success at present. Whether it was pink wine from Romania or Spain, France, Italy or Portugal, there were sub-£10 wines with a pretty ballet-shoe appearance, ripe berry fruit, a touch of creaminess, and a bright, palate-cleansing finish. Achieving this requires careful management in the vineyard and cellar, but the techniques are clearly better understood in 2021 than ever before, judging by the increased number of good scores at lower prices in this year’s competition. Where the points awarded dropped, it was for those wines that had overtly herbaceous flavours, suggesting the use of some unripe fruit, or those with an ersatz nature, with jammy, confected flavours mixed with a sharp citric acid edge. In other cases, lower scores were awarded if the wines were too light in feel and flavour, or simple, with short-lived characters.

2. Top-end rosé offers ripeness and refreshment

A second major finding from this year’s sample is the improved balance of characters in the more premium segment, those samples priced over £10. Among the great examples, which hailed in particular from Mediterranean climes, be they Provence, the Languedoc, Tuscany, or Greece, the pleasure of the pink wines came with this combination: flavours of ripe white-fleshed peach, a texture that was slightly oily, and a finish that showed a dry brightness from a fine, chalky tannin component and a gently bitter orange and grapefruit zest note. And while I don’t mind what colour my rosé comes in, I did find that such a style does come with the paler samples.

In contrast, I found a stronger correlation between a bubblegum pink appearance and more confected flavours, although there were some very pale roses with jammy characters.

3. Oaked rosés are becoming more common and getting better

As for a third general discovery from this year’s Global Rosé Masters, that came with the oak-influenced wines. It seems that more producers are turning to wood to impart a bit of complexity and additional texture to their rosés, and the results can be delicious. Sometimes, at the top end (Clos du Temple/Garrus), this influence is obvious, with new oak flavours evident, from vanilla to toast, and complementary to the ripe fruit. In other wines, it’s there in a more subtle way, with just a hint of creaminess in a wine that’s led by the flavours from the grapes used. In both cases, the end result is successful. What’s less appealing is a note of wood shaving that doesn’t seem integrated with the fruit flavours, giving it prominence at the start or finish of the drinking experience. And what’s poor is when the porous oak staves bring about oxidative characters, often seen first in an orangey appearance, and tasted with flavours of bruised apple.

4. Provence sets the benchmark for rosé quality but the Languedoc is catching up

Fourth, in terms of sourcing, Provence does set the benchmark for wine quality for pale dry rosé, with or without oak influence. But, running it close, and in some cases matching it in terms of quality, and sometimes bettering it in terms of value, is the Languedoc. Notable here were the wines from the Vranken group, Foncalieu, Bonfils, and, leader of the pack, Gérard Bertrand, whose Château la Sauvageonne La Villa is an outstanding example of barrel-influenced rosé for a relative song – it’s at least half the price of Garrus, and one fifth the cost of Bertrand’s range-topping Clos du Temple, the world’s priciest still rosé, which is around £200.

5. Bordeaux and Tuscany are regions to watch for fine rosé

As a fifth point on these rosés, there are two areas to watch for serious, top-end, fine pink wine. One is Bordeaux, which we’ve picked up on before with the rosés of Chateau Brown in Pessac-Léognan, and this year, with the delicious, juicy but bright pink wine from Vignobles André Lurton, called Diane. The other area is Tuscany, where the Frescobaldi family in particular is creating delicious, textured rosés using a range of grapes from Syrah to Sangiovese, and, like Provence, white grape Vermentino too (known as Rolle in France).

And finally… don’t forget ‘gris’ when it comes to textured, pale rosés

As a final observation, it was notable how good some of the Gris wines were this year. Barely pink in appearance, they had a surprising textural richness, sometimes due to the character imparted by old-vine Grenache Gris (Domaine Royal de Jarras), or Pinot Gris with a little residual sugar (Fantinel’s Sun Goddess) – a style of wine that reaches a delicious height as a blanc in Alsace.

As for my conclusions about sparkling wine, for powerfully flavoured, crowd-pleasing fun, pink Moscato is spot on, and for something less saccharine, the new Prosecco DOC rosés coming on stream offer a lovely, soft, peachy-fresh pink fizzy option. For something more serious, dry, and classic, then pink Cava is a fine, good-value alternative to the obvious, which is of course rosé Champagne. And here, the high-point was reached with a crisp, chalk, hazelnut, cranberry and apple tasting sparkling wine from Nicolas Feuillatte – which, at around £35 a bottle, comes at a great price for pink fizz from this French region.

Read on to see all the medallists from this year’s competition as well as how to enter future Global Wine Masters. 

About the competition

The Global Rosé Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and forms part of its successful Masters series for noble grape varieties, such as Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir; major wine styles, from sparkling to fortified; and famous regions including Rioja, Champagne and Tuscany. The competition is exclusively for rosé. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and
those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Rosé Master. This report features the medal winners only.

The Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2021

We bring you the results in full from this year’s Global Cabernet Masters, featuring Gold medallists from Israel and Turkey, Italy and Spain, along with Chile, Australia and California.

AMONG THE major globally planted red grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon is the only one that’s been immune to the fall and rise in consumer tastes this century.

Pinot Noir has been in vogue, Merlot has been maligned, and Syrah seemingly sidelined, while Cabernet has remained constant in its appeal. It’s a curious situation, but best explained by the reliable, and easily identifiable wines it yields. Cabernet’s black fruit, deep colour, and firm structure create the archetypal red wine – the sort of intense, dense and dry experience that people associate with a black-grape-based drink. Not only that, but Cabernet can reliably deliver this experience at all prices – depending, of course, on where’s it grown.

And Cabernet’s ability to survive shifting vinous fashions unscathed may also be connected to its versatility. It can be the base of inexpensive wines in a variety of styles, from the simple and fruity to sweet and chocolately, or the backbone for some of the greatest and most long-lived reds of the world. Furthermore, it can be managed in such a way as to produce something concentrated and powerful, or elegant and cool-tasting, prone as it is to producing green-tasting pyrazines.

It’s also a grape that seems able to move with the times – winemakers have used Cabernet Sauvignon to make bold expressions when the market wanted them, and, when it tired of these, more balanced ones in response.

Today, they seem to be doing a bit of everything with Cabernet, which again explains the grape’s lasting appeal, while, judging by this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon Masters, cutting back on the extremes – we didn’t see any wines that were obviously under-ripe or over-ripe. Neither did we taste wines that were too light, nor excessively heavy. And at the very top end, among the finest drops of the day, we had a broad  selection of beautifully balanced wines – when, one suspects, a decade ago one might have been chewing through the samples, due to the combination of dried fruit and large amounts of tannin, both berry and barrel sourced.

So here is a grape that offers a constancy of quality, but a diversity of expressions, without the sort of stylistic extremes that might give it a bad name.

Read on to see this year’s top performers, and find out more about the competition, and click here to see the top 10 Cabernet-related trends of 2021.

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from a famous region for the grape or a lesser-known winemaking area of the world.

The top wines are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stand out as being outstanding in their field receive the ultimate accolade – the title of Cabernet Sauvignon Master.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

Read more

The top 10 Cabernet trends of 2021

The Global Pinot Grigio Masters 2021

Anyone who dismisses Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris, as nothing more than an entry-level tipple does so at their peril – it’s a grape of quality and versatility, as proved by the medalists from this year’s Global Masters.

THERE’S NOTHING wrong with associating Pinot Grigio with the provision of simple, inexpensive, and light refreshment, because the grape does that job particularly well. After all, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay can be divisive in style, and, should you step beyond these best-known white grapes, you may end up straying beyond your planned budget – and Pinot Grigio is often at the entry point on wine lists, or retailers’ shelves.

However, should you only link this grape with crisp, bargain whites, you’d be doing it a disservice. Pinot Grigio is one of the world’s most versatile varieties, and more winemakers are embracing its many faces. As we saw during this year’s Global Pinot Grigio Masters, the grape can yield delicious sparkling wine; sweet whites with varying degrees of residual sugar, and dry whites in a range of styles, from the delicate to full-flavoured creamy oak-aged statements.

And with each case, the results can be outstanding, proving that Pinot Grigio can be used to craft truly fine wines. Indeed, the high points in this year’s Masters tasting show that this grape is underrated for its quality potential, as well as for its versatility. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to move away from Pinot Grigio when climbing the vinous ladder, or trying something barrel-fermented or sweet.

Read on for the judges comments and the results in full from this year’s Global Pinot Gris Masters, while click here for my top 10 Pinot Grigios of 2021, and click here for eight surprising facts about the grape, which were drawn from 2021’s competition.

Judges’ comments

Andrea Briccarello
“The tasting confirmed once again the consistency of many producers particularly in the Veneto: the wines were very solid with plenty of easy drinking and crisp style. It also proved that Pinot Grigio’s place on wine lists is not going to leave at any point soon, because the wines are clean and fresh, zingy and can be complex too. While I enjoyed the wines form the east of Italy, I was pleasantly surprised by the New World  versions as well, which showed plenty of varietal character and great style.”

Simon Field MW

“The tasting was positive, and the anticipation of dull wines was not actually borne out; the best examples married notes of lemon pith, almond essence and a keen acidity. Overall we saw consistent, very good value samples in the sub-£10 category and lots of Silvers in the £10-15 bracket. I found that the fantastically named Californians (Ménage à Trois and Three Thieves) were less flamboyant than their names may have suggested; quite serious, in fact. There were examples from Trentino and Abruzzo that fared well, and were a credit to their regions.”

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Pinot Gris Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from a famous region or a lesser-known winemaking area of the world.

The top wines are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stand out as being outstanding in their field receive the ultimate accolade – the title of Pinot Gris Master.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at:
sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2021

We reveal all the medallists from this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters, and consider why the wines were more consistent, balanced, and ultimately better than ever before.

After almost a decade blind tasting Pinot Noir from around the world as part of our Global Masters series, I can confidently report that the quality of wines from this single variety have improved more than any other grape I’ve consistently sampled over the same period. The change has been so marked that this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters featured very few wines that didn’t gain a medal, and among those that did, the majority achieved a Silver or higher. It was a remarkable performance for a variety famed for its pernickety nature, and, consequently, notable for producing wines of variable quality – something that’s been highlighted in previous competitions, where we’ve seen huge swings in scores from wine to wine.

And such a marked improvement in the reliability of Pinot quality is doubtless testament to advancements in viticulture practices and cellar management for this fragile grape. This change, I should imagine, is to the benefit of all wines – making good Pinot is the winemaking equivalent of fitness training at base camp, on Everest.

I think the changes come down to a number of factors, some long term, such as finding the best sites for a grape variety that likes warmth, but not extreme heat; dry conditions, but not drought; plenty of sun, but not scorching rays. It’s also down to vine age, with Pinot Noir generally thought to start delivering really appealing results around 10-12 years after planting, meaning that those newer Pinot areas that were attracting comment for their potential, are now starting to deliver the expected results.

Then there are those developments related to the vine’s management; the changes during the growing season that can yield improvements by the year end, such as the level of bunch shading, or yield control – be it due to winter pruning to reduce bud numbers, or green harvesting to drop excessive berries, even dividing the bunches themselves to aid the disease-free development of flavonoids. The aim of such approaches can be to reduce yields to enhance flavour and concentration, but also to reduce sunburn, and extend the growing season, allowing for slow ripening, favoured for the creation of Pinot’s sought-after characters: sweet berry fruit; a light body; fine, ripe tannins, and fresh acidity. It’s a combination that requires skill to achieve, and experience of when to pick, as gaining Pinot’s soft ripe fruit and tannin is hard to do when you’re also attempting to bring in berries that will yield wines with a bright acidity and a delicate feeling on the tongue. It’s why Pinot can swing in either stylistic direction without careful vineyard management and harvesting decisions: the wines can be thin, astringent and green, or hot, jammy and dull. In between is something that’s unusual in red wines, a wonderful result that slides down the throat like a ripe white, while carrying the flavours of a fine red wine.

It’s why the expectations are so high for Pinot – which is the source of the world’s most valuable wines – and also why the disappointments can be acute.

But great Pinot is not all about the vineyard management. The climate, and the vagaries of the weather during the growing season are out of the winemakers’ control, even though the effects can be mitigated. Soil type, while fixed, is another factor to consider – and it’s notable that, to make great Pinot, you don’t need to have a clay-limestone soil, the basis of the most revered Pinot vineyards in the world, those of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or.

Indeed, our medallists this year represented a wide range of types, among which were slate (Ahr), granite (Casablanca, Valais), silty-clay (Willamette), sandstone (Russian River), and chalk (Champagne).

Finally, winemaking is key with Pinot. In this regard, it seems there has been a major stride forward, with an apparent sensitivity among cellar hands when working with this grape. I say that based on the taste and texture of this year’s entries, where, in terms of the former, the wines were dominated by fresh, Pinot fruit characters – not bitter stems (from the inclusion of green woody components in the ferments), or sweet chocolate (from too much new oak). As for the texture, the wines had plenty of tannins – which are needed for the dry feeling they impart – but these were fine and ripe, suggesting extraction regimes that were gentle.

The colours of the wines too were telling – they were mostly pale ruby, which, again, suggested sensitive handling of the berries during the winemaking process.

But these observations are general to the overall competition, and click here to read my 11 key findings from this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters.

Meanwhile, please click here to read my review of the 10 best wines from this year’s tasting, and scroll down to see all the medallists from the 2021 Global Pinot Noir Masters, starting with sparkling and rosé.

About The Global Pinot Noir Masters

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Pinot Noir Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from a famous region or a lesser-known winemaking area of the world.

The top wines are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stand out as being outstanding in their field receive the ultimate accolade – the title of Pinot Noir Master.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

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