Organic Masters 2018: the results in full

We reveal all the medallists from the UK’s only blind tasting for certified organic wines, with some surprising results, including top scores for fizz from Surrey and Champagne aged in the sea, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc blend from Mallorca, plus a stunner from the Minervois.

The Organic Masters 2018 was judged by a panel comprising MWs and one MS at Opera Tavern in London. The judges were (left to right): Sam Caporn MW; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Susan McCraith MW; Alistair Cooper MW; Beverly Tabbron MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS

It’s safe to say that every wine region in the world has at least one producer who employs certified organic viticultural practices – a statement that this year’s Organic Masters certainly lends weight to. With medal-winning samples from a vast array of places, from Surrey in south-east England to the Spanish island of Mallorca, we found greatness in areas little-known for top-end wines, let alone organic vineyard management. Such results also proved that even challenging climates, such as those in the UK and Champagne, can produce class-leading wines using this restrictive approach.

Not only that, but organics spans all price bands, with plenty of entries this year sub-£10, and a handful over £50 too, highlighting that this form of viticulture can be employed to produce wines at the commercial end of the pricing scale, as well as in the territory of fine wine.

Importantly, the tasting proved that being organic, or more accurately, using organically-grown grapes, is a decision that need not be detrimental to quality. Although the choice to eschew synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides does generally leave one more vulnerable to yield losses, it should not negatively affect the style of the resulting wine. In fact, particularly where organic practices are combined with life-enhancing soil management, such an approach should heighten the wine quality, and, as some producers will insist, bring a more accurate reflection of site specifics, or terroir.

Although it is certainly possible to find drawbacks in the organic approach, any ambitious, quality-minded producer should be doing everything possible to augment soil health – after all, it is this substrate that is a great domaine’s most valuable asset.

So with that in mind, who were the star producers that managed to be both certified organic and a source of greatness? In the sparkling category, it was notable how many organic Proseccos we saw in this year’s tasting, and their consistent level of quality, with no fewer than eight Silver medals awarded across a range of price points. We also had a lovely good-value Cava from J. Garcia Carrión, along with a pleasant organic Lambrusco from Cantine Riunite, and, like last year, a brilliant fizz from Oxney, in England’s East Sussex.

But for the very top of the pile, just two Golds were awarded in the sparkling wine sector. One, as one might expect, went to a Champagne – and the biodynamic Leclerc Briant brand, resurrected in 2012 by American investors, and curated by respected sparkling winemaker Hervé Jestin. Although their range of Champagnes are excellent, it was the new cuvée Abyss that gain a top score, a blend that has been aged at the bottom of the sea. The other Gold was more of a shock, awarded to a pink fizz from England. This refreshing, pretty, strawberry-scented sparkling hailed from the organic and biodynamic Albury Vineyard of the Surrey Hills, and the judges felt it was a real find.

As for the still wines, it was exciting to see some good quality and great value organic wines from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, along with some well-known brands, such as Marqués de Cáceres and Quinta de Maipo, as well as longstanding Australian organic-only wine producer, Angove.

It wasn’t until the wines moved beyond the £10 mark that our first Golds were awarded, with, in whites, a wonderful and original sample from Mallorca, comprising Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Prensal Blanc, made by Oliver Moragues. Within the £10-15 category in reds, we saw Golds awarded to wines from areas well-suited to organic viticulture, such as the Languedoc, Sicily, Jumilla and South Africa’s Tulbagh region – the latter from Waverley Hills.

Moving beyond £15, but staying below £20, it was thrilling to unearth a wonderful organic dry Riesling from the Nahe, and, among the reds, a magnificent balanced, gently peppery Syrah from the Minervois, made without the addition of sulphites by biodynamic specialist of southern France, Château Maris. Despite its relative affordability, the judges awarded this latter sample the ultimate accolade, a Master.

At the higher end, over £20, the judges were wowed by a rosé from Domaine la Goujonne in Provence, and a Shiraz from Gemtree Wines in the McLaren Vale.

But our only other Master of the day’s tasting went to a further Syrah and another wine from Château Maris – this time the producer’s top drop, called Dynamic. Such a sample proved not only the quality of this brand, but also the potential of biodynamically-farmed vines in the cru of Minervois La Livinière – the Languedoc’s most celebrated place for Syrah.

In short, the day’s tasting drew attention to the wide range of places where organic viticulture is practised to glorious effect, whatever the wine style. Being organic may not be a guarantee of quality, but it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a farming decision to the detriment of vinous excellence. And this year’s Organic Masters proved that decisively.

Over the following pages are the results in full, followed by details about the competition and comments from the judges. 

Organic Masters 2017: results and analysis

Our annual Organic Masters competition shines a light on the best wines – of all types – that are produced with certified-organic grapes. This year’s event shows that there is quality and depth in this fast-expanding sector, writes Patrick Schmitt MW

While our Masters programme has always sought to recognise the best wines within long-established areas of the trade, whether that’s through tastings organised by grape variety or region, it has also been designed to draw attention to new market trends.

Hence the addition of a Prosecco Masters to the competition calendar four years ago, at a time when this Italian sparkling was in the ascendancy but suffering from the incorrect perception that it all tasted similar. Over the years of blind analysis of Prosecco, we have highlighted the stylistic diversity and quality available, as well as the leading producers, and top terroirs of this popular category.

The story is similar with rosé, another part of the industry that has expanded significantly this decade, and, again, contains surprising stylistic diversity, along with a broad range of quality levels.

Consequently, our Rosé Masters, launched in 2015, has witnessed the rise of barrel-fermented pink wines, the march towards ever-lighter colours – inspired by the market success of Provençal rosés – and the expanding variety generally: be it the increasing extremes in appearance, sweetness levels, and palate weight.

About the competition

The Organic Masters is a competition created and run by The drinks business and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti, and wine styles such as rosé and sparkling. The competition is exclusively for wines made from certified organically-grown grapes. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blindtasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers and organic wine specialists on 5 May at The Pig & Butcher in London. This report features only the winners of medals.

SOUGHT-AFTER
This year, we decided to continue in our search to blind taste test the fashionable, which explains the addition of another category to our competition series with the Organic Masters. While organic wines aren’t new, they are becoming increasingly sought-after, and, like rosé and Prosecco, suffer from a number of perceptions that require testing.

Confirming the increasing demand for organic wines, both major international trade shows for wines and spirits this year have installed dedicated sections for the category.

ProWein, held in March, hosted its first ever Organic World, a showcase of 30 international organic wine producers in a designated area, while Vinexpo Bordeaux will this month contain its inaugural WOW!, standing for World of Organic Wines, which promises the participation of 200 growers.

In 2016, market-research agency Wine Intelligence noted that organic wines might be one of the most important trends for the wine industry, saying the number of organic exhibitors at ProWein had grown from 17 producers in 2005 to roughly 600 last year, a rise of more than 3,000% in 10 years. But what is organic wine? For the sake of our Organic Masters, it is a product made from organically-grown grapes.

Furthermore, they must be certified, and we accepted a range of certifying bodies, as these tend to be country-specific.

Importantly, they all exclude the use of artificial chemicals in the vineyard. Although the judges were fully aware of the criteria for the competition, they were asked to assess the wines as they would any other – according to quality first. The wines were served blind, grouped into price bands, and loosely arranged according to style within their colour categories.

It was, of course, only a snapshot of the organic category, but was revealing, nonetheless. One positive conclusion drawn for the tasting was the realisation that England can produce first-rate sparkling wine with organic grapes.

A climate famous for its challenging growing conditions, above all because of damp, was the source of two Golds in the competition, and only five were awarded, although there were three Masters – the highest accolade reserved for exceptional wines only. The pair of sparkling Golds came from Oxney in East Sussex and Albury in Surrey, for those are looking to tap into two trends: the rise of English fizz and organic produce. Other top-scoring wines came from less surprising sources.

We had a lovely Chardonnay from Angove in Australia, for example, a producer based in the hot dry climate of McLaren Vale, and an experienced hand at organic grape growing. Another Chardonnay that impressed was also from the New World, but from a producer that has had plenty of practice with organics, but doesn’t exclusively produce organic wine.

This was New Zealand’s Babich, which earned a Master for its Headwaters Organic Chardonnay from Marlborough, and a Gold for a Pinot Noir under the same label, proving that this region can produce first-rate results with organically grown grapes, and, great wines with varieties other than Sauvignon Blanc, which is, of course, the bread and butter for this New Zealand wine region.

A further top performer was Domaine Bousquet. A family-owned operation in Argentina’s Mendoza, this organic specialist hails from Carcassonne in southern France, but has been growing grapes in the Gualtallary valley in Tupungato for 20 years. Wowing the judges was its single-vineyard expression Ameri, a Malbec-dominant blend that also contains Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot, from a plot at 1,250m altitude.

LONG-TIME FOCUS
Our final stars of the day were from Australia and France.

The former nation gained a Master for the Ernest Allen Shiraz from Gemtree Wines in the McLaren Vale, a part of Australia that appears home to a high proportion of organic and biodynamic producers. The latter country also produced a Master, this time from the Languedoc, home to Château Maris – a property famous in this region for its long-time focus on organic and biodynamic practices.

The success in the competition of its Dynamic label also confirmed the belief that the relatively new ‘cru’ of La Livinière in the Minervois really does produce a superior level of Syrah – and, as one judge said, a “real terroir-driven wine”.

The judges: Left to right (top row): Sarah Knowles MW, David Round MW, Clive Barlow MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Dee Blackstock MW (bottom row): Sam Olive, Patricia Stefanowich MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS

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