The Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2020

The Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2020, which took place at Mr Wolf restaurant in Hong Kong’s Central district, saw a panel of five expert judges blind-taste more than 30 Chardonnays. The results showed that the wines on offer were diverse with attractive qualities.

One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, Chardonnay is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Versatile in style, the wine can pair well with an array of cuisines.

“Generally, it is smooth and gentle, with an aromatic profile that varies according to the region and climate where it is grown. In terms of the use of oak, over oaked Chardonnay is no longer the mainstream; instead, winemakers are using it in moderation to give their wines a buttery mouthfeel and toasty vanilla aromas,” said Zachary Yu, sommelier and director of SommTech.

The competition celebrated Wakefield Taylors One Giant Leap Chardonnay 2018, whih achieved the top accolade of a Master medal in the competiion. Judged in the Oaked Under HK$100 category, the wine offered exceptional value for its price point.

“The expression is very fresh with a bouquet of beautiful floral and citrus notes; the profile is very well balanced, especially the oak. With this price tag, the wine is a great surprise,” said Tersina Shieh, an experienced wine judge and marketer.

The overall 2018 vintage in South Australia’s Clare Valley was warm and dry. The weather was relatively calm and winemakers were spared from major heatwaves, resulting in the highly aromatic wines with very pure and distinct characteristics.

Two of the estate’s other Chardonnays, namely Wakefield Taylors Jaraman Chardonnay 2018 and Wakefield Taylors St Andrews Chardonnay 2018, were also recognised with Silver medals in the competition.

Margaret River estate Vasse Felix is another Australian winery the judges raved about in the competition, as it scooped two Gold medals. In the Oaked HK$151-200 category, Vasse Felix ‘Filius’ Chardonnay 2018 caught the panel’s attention due to its “elegant, juicy, generous, lingering and highly drinkable” profile, according to Yu.

Meanwhile, moving up to the price bracket between HK$301-500, Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2018 was another high performer. Anty Fung, a wine specialist and manager of Hip Cellar, said, “the wine shows great finesse. It has good tension, mineral structure and a long finish.”

The competition also proved that Sauvignon Blanc powerhouse, Marlborough in New Zealand, boasts equally outstanding Chardonnay production. Marisco Vineyards Craft Series ‘The Pioneer’ Chardonnay 2016 picked up a Gold medal in the Oaked HK$201-300 flight.

Shieh found it to be “a pleasant wine with a nice blend of fruit and oak flavours and good acidity”. Hailing from the same region, Leefield Station Chardonnay 2018 took home a Silver medal for achieving “a good balance of oak, fruit and creaminess”, according to Yu.

Again from the same price range, another highlight of the competition was a Gold medal winning Bourgogne Blanc by Francois Labet, one of the region’s pioneers of organic viticulture. The panel was impressed by the performance of Francois Labet Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2018.

Eva Ma, senior marketing executive of EMW Fine Wines, said, “The nose is so complex, which unveils hints of chestnuts and smokiness. On palate, it exudes a sweet flavour with much freshness.”

Greek wine is on the rise around the world and the country never ceases to surprise drinkers with its continually improving quality. Bearing a price tag between HK$100-150, Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Tramonto 2018 impressed our judges.

“I am captivated by the palate, which offers notes of Meyer lemon, orange peel and yuzu. It’s a very perfumed Chardonnay with impressive palate weight and a refreshing finish. It’s an excellent wine that offers great value,” said one of our judges.

The panel also enjoyed some exciting discoveries from regions that aren’t well-known for Chardonnay, such as Barkan Vineyards Classic Chardonnay 2019 from Israel, which offered pretty lemon and white flower aromatics.

Another appealing expression was Emiliana Gamma Reserva Chardonnay 2019 from Chile, liked by Shieh for its intense acidity and juciness; and Cavit Maso Torsella Chardonnay Trentino Superiore DOC 2019 from Trentino in Italy, which hooked Ma with its perfumed nose and balanced structure. The comeption highlighted that there are great value Chardonnays being made around the world to suit all palates.

Unoaked

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under $100HKD
Barkan Vineyards Classic Chardonnay Judean Hills Israel 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana S.A. O Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana S.A. Gamma Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver

Oaked

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under $100HKD
Marisco Vineyards Ltd The Ned Chardonnay, 10.99 – Marlborough, New Zealand Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Bronze
Marisco Vineyards Ltd Leefield Station Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Silver
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors One Giant leap Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Master
$100-$150HKD
Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Tramonto Florina Greece 2018 Gold
Cavit s.c. Maso Torsella Chardonnay Trentino Superiore Doc Trentino Italy 2017 Silver
Australian Vintage McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylor Made Chardonnay French Oak Clare Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors Wakefield Jaraman Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Silver
$151-$200HKD
Australian Vintage McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Pinnacle Ithaca Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
Treasury Wine Estate Penfolds Bin311 Chardonnay Tumbarumba Australia 2017 Silver
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix ‘Filius’ Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix Estate Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Bronze
Wakefield / Taylors Taylors Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2018 Silver
$201-$300HKD
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay Trentino Italy 2018 Bronze
Francois Labet Francois Labet Bourgogne Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne France 2018 Gold
Marisco Vineyards Ltd Marisco Vineyards Craft Series ‘The Pioneer’ Chardonnay, Marlborough New Zealand 2016 Gold
$301-$500HKD
Vasse Felix Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Vina Concha y Toroa Concha y Toro Amelia Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Bronze

The Sparkling Masters – Asia 2020 results

Sparkling wine, in all its forms, is amazingly popular. In our annual blind tasting, we look at fizzes from all over the world, and discover some gems, occasionally from surprising locations. By Alice Liang.

The year-round popularity of sparkling wine has never subsided. The editorial team of drinks business Asia gathered with a panel of judges, comprising wine professionals from different sectors in Hong Kong, to give a verdict on flights of the versatile wine in various expressions, including Champagne, Prosecco and Cava.

When seeking out a good sparkling wine, acidity is always the key to upholding the freshness and structure. A flabby sparkling wine tastes like an alcoholic fizzy drink, or even worse, a soda water, as Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and independent wine judge, said during the judging process.

Champagne, a synonym for celebration, has been facing a tough time during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for the reigning king of sparkling, the quality of the wine held its own in the competition. Champagne Castelnau was founded 1916 and underwent a rebranding in 2017.

Champagne Castelnau Brut Réserve – the flagship wine of the house – took home a Master, thanks to panel being impressed by its “mesmerising” character. Shieh said: “It is so fresh and lean, with attractive brioche notes. It benefitted from lees contact, as the tension is well delivered.”

And Champagne Castelnau Millésime 2006, the vintage expression of the house, won a Gold medal. As Anty Fung, wine specialist and manager of Hip Cellar, noted: “It is another vinous example with lots of autolytic character, grip and acidity that lingers.” Both wines are priced between HK$400-HK$800, meaning they offer exceptional value.

English fizz has been attracting attention from professionals. The emerging category has even been spoken of as ‘the new Champagne’. Catching up with the Champagne, it was Gusbourne from Kent that shone from this sector.

Made from a blend of estate-grown Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Gusbourne Estate Rosé 2015 was another Gold winner, with a price tag in the HK$300-HK$500 band. Fung said: “I can taste the fresh red fruit quality wrapped in a Comte cheese rind. The sparkling wine has good length and balance, and is a great example of what a rosé sparkling wine should be.”

Meanwhile, the layered and balanced profile of Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2014, predominantly made with Chardonnay from a Burgundian clone, caught the eye of Eva Ma, senior marketing executive of EMW Fine Wines, who said: “The wine illustrates a New World-style méthode traditionnelle; it is slightly oaky but well integrated.” The wine was awarded a Silver medal.

Looking at the Bronze winners, we saw the presence of organic sparkling production, which is also growing strong around the world. Emiliana, the Chilean winery from the Central Valley, is one of the dedicated vineyards practising organic and biodynamic agriculture in the country; its Etnico Sparkling Wine NV “exudes a lovely white floral and lychee scent with lean structure” commented Ma.

Moving back to the Old World, Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva NV is an organic Cava that showed a high price- to-quality ratio. Shieh described the fizz as: “Bubbly and zesty, the wine is brilliant for the price.” It is worth mentioning that both wines bear a favourable price point between HK$100 and HK$200.

The panel tasted a variety of sparklers from around the world, including Joseph Vallet Splendid Blanc de Blancs Brut from Bourgogne, Dynasty 5° Sparkling Wine from China and Andreola Mas de Fer Rive di Soligo, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG 2018 from Italy. The tasting proved that no matter where in the world you look, there is something sparkling being made that will appeal to the most discerning of consumers.

White Sparkling Brut

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
$100-1500HKD
Dynasty Wines Dynasty 5° Sparkling Wine Tianjin China NV Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana Etnico Sparkling Wine Casablanca Valley Chile NV Bronze
Domaine Pierre Labet Joseph Vallet Cuvée Splendid Blanc de Blancs Brut Bourgogne France NV Bronze
$200-300HKD
Azienda Agricola Andreola Mas De Fer Rive Di Soligo Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
$400-800HKD
Champagne Castelnau Brut Réserve Champagne France NV Master
Champagne Castelnau Champagne Castelnau Millésime 2006 Champagne France 2006 Gold
Champagne Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2006 Champagne France 2006 Silver
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs Kent UK 2014 Silver
Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve Kent UK 2015 Bronze

Rosé Sparkling Brut

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
$100-150HKD
Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva Cava Spain NV Bronze
$300-500HKD
Gusbourne Estate Rosé Kent UK 2015 Gold
Champagne Castelnau Rosé Champagne France NV Silver

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.

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