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

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

Rosé Masters 2017: the results

This year’s Rosé Masters showed that while Provence still rules when it comes to making rosé, other regions – such as England, Turkey and Greece – are giving it a run for its money. By Patrick Schmitt MW

Let’s face it, hosting a tasting competition according to whether a wine were white or red would be ridiculous, quite simply because the colour provides a limited indication as to the character of the wine, and the breadth of style is practically endless. But, somehow, with rosé, such an approach – creating a wine competition just for a specific colour – is quite normal, and that’s because rosé is an indication of style, albeit loosely.

If you see something pink, one assumes it’s light in body, youthful, fresh, and tastes of summer berries. As for whether or not it’s sweet or dry, that too, tends to be judged by appearance – one suspects that the paler the pink, the drier the rosé.

But, although rosé is still, for the most part, a relatively simple, refreshing, strawberry-scented drink best served straight from the fridge, the range of styles has expanded vastly over the past few years. Not only that, but the quality levels have broadened too, with rosé moving successfully into the sphere of luxury drinks.

As for assessing the sweetness level according to hue, that is a dangerous game, particularly now every pink wine-producing corner of the world seems intent on creating a rosé as pale as those from Provence.

This diversification in style and quality, even if there seems to be an increasing standardisation in appearance, makes a tasting competition for nothing but rosé an extremely interesting experience. And, thanks to the current popularity of Provençal pinks, an exercise of great commercial significance.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters is a competition for all styles of rosés from around the world. This year’s event saw almost 200 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters. The best wines were awarded medals which ranged from Bronze through to Gold as well as Master, the ultimate accolade given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were tasted over the course of one day at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington on 17 May. This report features only the medal winners.

NEW SOURCES
So what did this year’s Rosé Masters teach us? Well, we learnt much about the category, but, as with all our Masters tastings, the competition confirmed the superiority of certain places, while drawing attention to new sources of greatness.

And both outcomes are extremely useful. To tackle the former, in sparkling, once again we saw that the pinnacle of pink winemaking performance was found in Champagne. Here is a place already famous for making the best sparkling wines in the world, and this year’s Rosé Masters proved that this is just as true for pink, as well as for white variants.

Greatness was found at all price bands over £20 too, with Gremillet taking a Gold at the cheaper end of the Champagne spectrum, Lanson and Comtes de Dampierre doing similarly brilliantly in the mid-priced area, and then, at the top, Laurent-Perrier, particularly for its range-topping Alexandra Rosé from the 2004 vintage; which gained the ultimate accolade of the day: the title of Master.

This was well deserved, certainly, but such quality comes at a high price: this prestige cuvée rosé retails for more than £250.

As for those areas less well known for brilliance, in the sparkling rosés, the surprises came in the form of a lovely and relatively inexpensive pink fizz from Tuscany, along with, notably, a couple of first-rate examples from England. The judges awarded two Golds to Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex, both for vintage expressions, but from different harvests and with different dosages.

It was further evidence that England is becoming a serious source of fizz.

Moving to the still dry rosés – which made up the majority of the tasting – the competition showed that at lower price points (those wines under £10 in UK retail), the sources of quality were varied, although, as one might expect at these low prices, it was hard to achieve a Gold medal.

Nevertheless, the judges were highly impressed with the quality achieved for a wine costing a little over £10, which came from Rioja – and that was the Izadi Larrosa, hence its Gold-medal winning score.

Indeed, Rioja proved itself a first-rate source of good-value rosé based on Grenache and Tempranillo, with the region’s Ontañon Clarete also gaining a Gold.

(Rioja can also create brilliant top-end rosé – with the region’s Marqués de Murrieta the only winery to get a Gold in the £30-£50 price band, aside from famous Provençal producer Château d’Esclans.)

But staying in the sub-£10 sector, it was notable that a broad range of places are now making bright, appealing pink wines, including some areas that are less well known for rosé.

These included Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, home to the excellent Château Ksara Sunset Rosé, and Penedès, home to the Ecologica La Pluma Rosé, made using organic Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedès in the northeast of Spain.

Once the judges began sampling wines from beyond the £10 barrier, but below £15, Provence, as one might expect, provided the benchmark in terms of quality and style. With a mix of just-ripe red fruits, a touch of peachy, oily palate weight and a refreshing finish, these extremely pale, rather delicate pinks are only made difficult to taste because they are hard not to swallow.

However, there is much quality variation in Provençal rosé, with some wines showing a leanness, and sometimes even a hard herbaceousness – and only the best had mastered the balance of fruit sweetness and citrus freshness, as well as that gently viscous mid-palate, cut short with that all important bone-dry bright finish.


And you can see the producers that shone this year, some of which one would expect to perform well – from Mirabeau to Château Léobe, along with the wines from Famille Sumeire, Domaines Ott, Maison Saint Aix, and Château d’Esclans.

HIGH-QUALITY ROSÉ
But among the more pricey rosés, there were surprises.

One of these concerned the quality of pink wines from Greece, with La Tour Melas, Ktima Biblia Chora and Alpha Estate all gaining good scores from the judges.

Although none of these producers gained a Gold, the fact they were awarded Silver medals, and in the higher price bands of £15 and above – where the judges tend to be meaner with the scores – the results showed that Greece is making really high-quality rosé.

The final revelation from this year’s Rosé Masters concerned one particular producer, that, significantly, isn’t within the hallowed terroir of the Côtes de Provence. The appellation is the Languedoc, and the producer is Gerard Bertrand. Gaining one Master, one Gold and two Silvers, it is clear that Gerard Bertrand is the new name to watch in rosé.

Not only that, but for those who thought that luxury, barrel-aged rosés were the sole preserve of Sacha Lichine’s winery in the Côtes de Provence, then try Bertrand’s Château La Sauvageonne Rosé La Villa. From a plot high in the Languedoc, this layered, oak-matured rosé can play the role of a lip-smacking apéritif as well as a more grown-up, textured wine for serving with food.

Indeed, this particular wine is the first time we have come across a true rival for the barrel-aged Garrus by Château d’Esclans, and Bertrand’s range-topping rosé is half the price.

NEW TERROIRS
So, once again, our Global Masters tasting concept achieved its double aim of identifying new terroirs while testing the quality available in those that are already well-established.

And, concerning the latter, Provence may still be king, but it had better watch out – there are producers from outside this famous rosé region that are not only making pink wines with the same ballet-shoe hue, but in a similar style, and, most importantly, to an equally high standard.

Top row (left to right)
• Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief, the drinks business
• Antony Moss MW, director of strategic planning, WSET
• Jonathan Pedley MW, wine lecturer and consultant
• Christine Parkinson, group head of wine, The Hakkasan Group
• Clive Barlow MW, wine trainer and consultant
• Clément Robert MS, group head sommelier and wine buyer, 28º-50º
Bottom row (left to right)
• Elizabeth Gabay MW, wine writer, Provençal rosé specialist
• Dee Blackstock MW, wine buyer and consultant
• Beverly Blanning MW, wine writer and lecturer
• Patricia Stefanowicz MW, wine educator and consultant

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