Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full

All the medallists and extensive analysis from the latest Malbec-only tasting from the Global Masters, featuring the best samples from Argentina and Chile, and a surprising discovery from Spain.

The entries were judged on 7 November in The London Marriott Hotel, County Hall

The Malbec revival may be a recent phenomenon, but this single grape has already been through several phases. In fact, during the course of this century alone, it has swung to stylistic extremes, before settling into a happy medium, meaning that the development of Malbec has many similarities to Chardonnay’s changing character over the same period.

What’s the basis for such a statement? It’s an opinion formed from many years of Global Masters tastings for both grapes – and you can read more about Chardonnay’s style today on pages 68-73. As for Malbec, there was a point in the past decade when it seemed that being bigger was definitely better. This applied to fruit sugars, new oak percentages, alcohol levels and, it should be noted, bottle weights too. The result was something heavy in every sense, as well as deeply red, powerfully flavoured, tannic, sometimes slightly raisined, and definitely sweet to taste, mainly due to the amount of vanillin extracted from the brand new barrels. Like it or not, one couldn’t fail to remember it, and Malbec on a label became a shorthand for juicy, rich red wine. Ally that style to marbled steak, and you had a highly successful partnership that catapulted Malbec on to the global stage, but particularly in major wine-importing markets where red meat is consumed widely – so the UK and US.

As for the source of such a memorable wine style, that was Argentina, specifically Mendoza, and its sub-region Luján de Cuyo. This warm region on the outskirts of the city of Mendoza, home to the country’s oldest plantings of Malbec, was ideally suited to producing concentrated reds.

However, with time, the style and sourcing of Malbec changed. Indeed, a few years ago, our Global Malbec Masters was seeing a new type of Argentine red. This was a lighter style, sometimes with peppery flavours similar to Syrah from the Northern Rhône, or a hint of celery and spicy salad leaves, like rocket, suggestive of fruit that hadn’t reached full ripeness. This was partly a result of cooler Argentine climes, primarily a widespread move into the high-altitude Uco Valley, and partly due to the winemaker, who was intent on finding a fresher, tighter, sharper style of Malbec by picking earlier. A less structured red was also evident, achieved by reducing the influence of barriques and handling the grapes in a gentler manner during fermentations – less pumping and pushing of the must will lower the tannin extraction.

The shift in our tastings notes was marked. While common descriptors had included ripe, fleshy black fruit, creamy coconut, dense tannins, warming alcohols, and glass-staining colours only a few years ago, a scan over the judges’ tasting notes more recently would see words appearing regularly such as red cherry and plum, medium-weight, green pepper, and celery leaf. In a fairly short period of time the Argentine Malbec style had shifted from forceful red to restrained wine, and division among the judges was evident as some welcomed the brighter style, others saw the more herbaceous elements as a weakness.

So what about now? Following a day spent tasting mostly Argentine Malbecs from a range of sources within this country, and across all price bands, it appears that this grape has found a middle-ground. Yes extremes in style are still evident, but for the most part, the Malbec making its way on to the market today has ripe, juicy red fruit, firm tannins, a touch of toasty oak, and a pleasant hint of spice. It is neither too sweet, nor too lean. And it is identifiably Malbec, with its deep colour, and firm structure.

From my own perspective, I’m pleased to see Malbec has found a sweet-spot. Although I could understand the urge to experiment with a light, even slightly green style of wine, there are plenty of reds that deliver such delicacy, particularly with the fast-development of cooler-climate Syrahs from the New World. In my view, Malbec’s strength, particularly when sourced from Argentina, is its ability to create a concentrated, structured red, and one that can happily carry high-toast new oak. It is also this type of wine that made Malbec identifiable, and successful. In the same way that most consumers won’t choose a Chardonnay when they want a delicate white, few would opt for a Malbec when they desire a light red.

As for backing away from extremes in ripeness and oak-influence, that is a healthy evolution for the top end examples, where it would be a shame to lose the fresh fruit flavours from high quality grapes, either by leaving the bunches on the vine so long that the inherent berry characters get baked, or through burying their appeal beneath a wave of barrel-sourced scents and tannins.

With such an extended stylistic analysis concluded, what were the sources of Malbec greatness in our 2019 tasting? While this tasting was primarily a health-check on the state of the grape in Argentina, there were some other countries that surprised the tasters for the quality of their Malbec. With the grape’s popularity assured, more places have been trying their hand with Malbec, while its native home, Cahors in South West France, has seen producers work to create a richer style of red from the grape – one that’s more in line with the character achieved with ease in Argentina. By way of example, last year’s Malbec Master was from Château Lagrezette – a historic Cahors property with Michel Rolland as consultant. But this year, although not a Master, the judges were amazed to find a Malbec from Spain rubbing shoulders with respected Argentine names from Norton to Colomé and Salentein. Gaining a Gold in the £20-£30 price band was Bodegas Clunia in Castilla y León, which had crafted a ripe, dense, toasty, juicy and structured red to rival the finest in South America. It was also the highest scoring sample from outside Argentina.

As for those that weren’t from this Latin nation, there were some good Malbecs from Chile – with medals awarded to Viñedos Puertas, Via Wines, Viña Indomita, Concha y Toro, Viña Cremashi, Viu Manent, Viña San Esteban and Morandé. There was also a delicious example from Wakefield Estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, which picked up a Silver, as did, much to the surprise of the judges, an example from Burgenland in Austria, made by Kraft aus Rust, and loaded with plum and cherry fruit, along with a peppery spice, not unlike the wines from this nation’s flagship red grape, Blaufränkisch.

Within Argentina, it was notable to see the breadth of Malbec styles, with this year, the competition’s first ever white Malbec – a fascinating arrival to the category with an oily texture, and peachy fruit.

Among the Malbec Masters for 2019, it was impressive to see Bodega Aleanna pick up this ultimate accolade for its El Enemigo Malbec sub £20, with the rest of this year’s Masters all awarded to wines over this price point, and mostly over £30.

The tasting proved a particular endorsement for the quality of Malbecs being made by Bodega Norton, but also Colomé, Atamisque and Salentein, along with Trapiche and Doña Paula. Interestingly, the latter two producers, who specialise in isolating special sites and bottling single vineyard Malbecs, gained strong Golds for their expressive wines. However, the Masters went to Malbecs that blended grapes from across a broader area, lending the wines a touch more complexity perhaps?

Having said that, among such stars of the day, was the single vineyard biodynamic Alpamanta Estate, which wowed for its fleshy cherry and blackberry frut, as well as tobacco and chocolate notes.

Another Master was awarded to Fincas Patagonicas, whose Black Tears Malbec is soft, dense and just plain delicious. While for me, the ultimate expression of the day turned out to be the famous Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino. The wine, which hailed from the 2017 vintage, was very much in its youth, with masses of taught tannins, but also intense pure blue, red and black berry fruit, and lingering characters of roasted coffee, pepper and plums. Certainly a great Malbec, but also a fine wine that’s capable of standing alongside the most celebrated reds of the world.

Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, as well as comments from the judges (who are pictured below), and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter.

The judges (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Andrea Bricarello, Jonathan Pedley MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, David Round MW

The world’s best Rieslings from the Masters 2017

Riesling is beloved by the wine trade, and our latest Riesling Masters showed why. With wonderful expressions from a wide range of countries and regions, there was something to appeal to every palate and budget, writes Patrick Schmitt MW


It has been said before, but if there is one thing that marks out a wine professional, it is a love of Riesling. While consumers will often declare a preference for a particular grape, very few outside the trade tend to pick Riesling as their favourite variety – and this is something the wine industry has found puzzling for decades.

What is it that the sommelier or wine writer adores that the consumer doesn’t – or has yet to discover? Following our Riesling Masters tasting this year, this grape’s traits could be summed up by a combination of two key aspects: it has both personality and precision.

Riesling, when made well, is instantly identifiable, bursting with aromas of lime zest, white peach, sliced apple, and fresh flowers. It may be pale to look at, but it has an intense and distinct character. And it also has a sharp edge – Riesling cuts, rather than covers the palate. It provides a tangy, taut and recognisable sensation.

One wonders whether such features may be alienating consumers? Riesling may simply have too much personality and an overload of cold precision. Perhaps. But it can’t be a lack of quality that’s putting people off. Indeed, like previous Riesling Masters, this competition yielded some of the highest proportions of Gold medals – and, in this latest round, as many as five Masters (which is the very highest accolade of the series, and awarded only to truly outstanding wines).

As one judge, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, said: “Even a rather dismal, rainy day couldn’t dampen enthusiasm for an amazing group of Rieslings.” Notable is the range of sources for highquality Riesling.

Even within Germany, the number of great regions for Riesling is broad. Of course, the Mosel and Rheingau shone, but so too did warmer areas such as Pfalz and Baden. Beyond this nation’s borders, France, with samples from Alsace, showed the quality attainable elsewhere in Europe, with the biodynamic wines of Domaine Schlumberger picking up two Masters, one for a bone-dry style, and a second for a medium-dry grand cru example.

Also hailing from this French region was a Gold medal-winning Riesling from Michel Chapoutier’s Schieferkopf brand – a project started by the famous Rhône-based winemaker in 2006. Austria, as one might expect, also served up some stunning examples, in particular from legendary producer Schloss Gobelsburg, which was awarded a Master for both its dry and sweet Rieslings, proving this country’s capability to make class-leading wines at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum.

Then there were wonderful wines in a range of sweetness levels from the US and Canada, notably samples from Washington State and Niagara in these respective countries.

However, if there was a stand-out nation in the Riesling Masters this year, it was Australia, which has managed to create wines that are for the most part bone dry, but deliver a fruity refreshment with Riesling that is rarely matched elsewhere.

A lime cordial, flint and citrus zest intensity with remarkable consistency were the hallmarks of the great Rieslings from Eden and Clare Valleys, ensuring that these places took home the highest proportion of Golds. And, standing tall among such giants was the St Hugo Riesling from Eden Valley, a wine from Pernod Ricard Australia that shows why this nation (and producer) should be just a famous for its Rieslings as its Chardonnays.

It’s important to note too that such greatness, whether from the Mosel, Pfalz, Alsace, Eden Valley or elsewhere, doesn’t come at an unpalatable cost. These great wines may not be cheap, but they are certainly affordable, leading one to safely believe that Riesling offers the most accessible fine white wine experience available today.

Not only that, but there is no white wine better suited to extended cellaring, as the grape’s low-pH brings remarkable natural stability, allowing the wine to slowly develop layers of honey and toast over time, without shedding its uplifting acidity. Also, interestingly, in the case of the sweet wines, Riesling tastes drier with age – even if the sugar content remains the same.

This ensures that fully mature wines actually take on even greater levels of freshness. And, bearing that in mind, if one is looking for the ideal apéritif, then, as those in the wine trade have done for decades, serve a well-made, old, sweet Riesling. There are few better ways to start an evening, and certainly none that offer superior value for money.

The Judges

The judges: (l-r) Patrick Schmitt MW, Alistair Cooper MW, Victoria Burt MW, Keith Isaac MW,
Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Mark Savage MW and sommelier Caroline Fridolfsson

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