The Global Rosé Masters 2020: results and highlights

We bring you all the medal winners and our top picks from this year’s Global Rosé Masters, which is the biggest single blind tasting of pink wines in the UK so far this year.

All the following recommendations hail from 2020’s Global Rosé Masters, a competition that sees all sources of pink wine judged side by side with only the most basic knowledge of style and cost.
While Champagne excelled in the pink sparkling category, and Provence was the dominant force in the still dry rosé and oaked rosé categories, there were plenty of other sources that featured.
Indeed, among the sparklings, it was a Crémant de Bourgogne that wowed for its quality and relative value, while among the still wines, we had an ultimate barrel-fermented rosé that was not from Provence.
Furthermore, among the Golds were stunning salmon-coloured drops from a broad array of locations, from Greece, to Priorat, and within Italy, both Sicily and the Tuscan coast.
As for the base standard of wines this year, it was undoubtedly better than ever before – and we’ve been running The Global Rosé Masters for almost a decade.
So, look below for a listing of all the medallists from this year’s competition, and read on to see our highlights, and to find out more about the tasting.

Dry sparkling rosé (12 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bortoluzzi Rosa di Gemina Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
Valdo Spumanti Valdo Marca Oro Rosé Brut Veneto and Sicily Italy NV Silver
Vigna Dogarina Spumante Rosé Brut Veneto Italy NV Bronze
Bosco del Merlo Spumante Rosé Brut Veneto Italy NV Bronze
Matahiwi Estate Matahiwi Estate Brut Rosé Wairarapa New Zealand NV Silver
Valdo Spumanti Valdo Floral Rosé Brut Veneto and Sicily Italy NV Silver
Colesel Spumanti Pavana Rosé Spumante Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
Maison Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Bourgogne France NV Silver
Fantinel Fantinel “One & Only” Rosé Brut Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
Maison Louis Bouillot Perle d’Or Rosé Bourgogne France 2015 Gold
Tenuta Montemagno TM Brut 24 Mesi – Metodo Classico Piedmont Italy NV Bronze
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Spéciale Rosé Champagne France NV Gold
Gusbourne Estate Rosé Kent UK 2016 Gold
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Rosé Champagne France NV Silver
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rosé Intense Champagne France 2008 Master

Sweet sparkling rosé (+12 g/l)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bosco Viticoltor Rosato Spumante Bosco dei Cirmioli Veneto Italy NV Bronze
Andreola Bollé Vino Spumante Rosé Extra Dry Veneto Italy NV Silver
Tenuta Montemagno TM Roses – Malvasia di Casorzo DOC Spumante Piedmont Italy NV Silver
Banfi Rosa Regale Piedmont Italy 2019 Silver

Still unoaked dry rosé (4 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Mirabeau en Provence Belle Année Provence France 2019 Gold
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Le Versant Grenache Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Biecher Le Chef Rosé Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Bodegas Luzón Luzón Rosado Colección Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Cielo e Terra Bericanto Rosato Vicenza DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Casa Girelli Canaletto Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Piquepoul Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Ensedune Cabernet Franc Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Griset Sauvignon gris Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Les Amours d’Haut Gléon Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Dievole Le Due Arbie Rosato Tuscany Italy 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Alceño Alceño Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
Gérard Bertrand Hampton Water Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Chivite Las Fincas Rosado Navarra Spain 2018 Gold
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Classic Provence France 2019 Gold
Lawson’s Dry Hills Pink Pinot Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Maison Gutowski M–G Grande Cuvée Provence France 2019 Gold
Born Rosé Barcelona Born Rosé Penedès Spain 2019 Gold
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Languedoc Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Holden Manz Hiro Franschhoek Valley South Africa 2019 Silver
Barton & Guestier Rosé d’Anjou Loire Valley France 2019 Silver
Bodegas Izadi Izadi Larrosa Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Vignerons de Tutiac Lion & The Lily Bordeaux France 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards The Ned Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards Leefield Station Pinot Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Paradis Secret Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Mission Hill Estate Winery Reserve Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Silver
Frescobaldi Alìe Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Rioja Vega Rosado Colección Tempranillo Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Pure Provence France 2019 Silver
Viña Leyda Leyda Rosé Leyda Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bodegas Príncipe de Viana Príncipe de Viana Edición Rosa Navarra Spain 2019 Silver
Bodegas Olivares Olivares Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Piera 1899 Pietra di Pinot Grigio Blush DOC delle Venezie Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
Bodegas Bilbainas Viña Pomal Rosado Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Raimat Raimat Rosada Catalonia Spain 2019 Silver
Santa Tresa Rosa di Santa Tresa Sicily Italy 2019 Silver
Château de Sannes 1603 Provence France 2019 Bronze
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Altitude Pinot Noir Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
Château Saint Jacques d’Albas La Chapelle en Rose Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Mission Hill Estate Winery Terroir Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Gold
Minuty Minuty Prestige Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Léoube Rosé de Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Léoube LOVE by Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Etoile Provence France 2019 Gold
Chamlija Rosé de Strandja Strandja Mountain Turkey 2019 Silver
Château de Sannes Aciana Provence France 2019 Silver
Maison Saint Aix AIX Rosé Provence France 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Domaine Haut Gléon Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Banfi Srl Cost’è Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Torre Mora Scalunera Etna Rosato DOC Sicily Italy 2019 Silver
Tenuta Moraia Rosato Maremma Toscana DOC Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Alpha Estate Rosé Single Vineyard Hedgehog Amyndeon Greece 2019 Silver
Poggio al Tesoro Cassiopea Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Château Des Demoiselles Charme des Demoiselles Provence France 2019 Silver
Roseline Diffusion Roseline Prestige Provence France 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage Winemakers Select Tempranillo Rose Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
Domaines Ott By Ott Provence France 2018 Master
Minuty Château Minuty Rose et Or Provence France 2019 Gold
Scala De Scala Dei Pla dels Angels Catalonia Spain 2019 Gold
Château Léoube Rosé Secret de Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château des Demoiselles Château des Demoiselles Provence France 2019 Gold
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel Provence France 2019 Gold
Gusbourne Estate Cherry Garden Rosé Kent UK 2019 Silver
Château Sainte-Roseline Cru Classé Lampe de Méduse Cru Classé Provence France 2019 Silver
Domaines Ott Clos Mireille Rosé Provence France 2018 Master
Château Léoube Rosé La Londe Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Sainte Roseline Cru Classé La Chapelle de Sainte Roseline Cru Classé Provence France 2019 Silver
Minuty Château Minuty 281 Provence France 2019 Master

Unoaked medium-dry rosé (4 g/l to 12 g/l)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bosco del Merlo Pinot Grigio Rosé DOC Veneto Italy 2018 Silver
Cantine di Ora Masso Antico Primitivo Rosé Puglia Italy 2019 Silver
Botter Vivolo di Sasso Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Mission Hill Estate Winery Estate Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Silver
Casa Vinicola Sartori Vero d’Oro Rosato Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Pasqua Mater Anna Pinot Grigio
Rosé delle Venezie DOC
Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
Siegel Wines Siegel Rosé Cinsault Colchagua Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodegas San Dionisio SF Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
Botter Pinot Grigio Rosato delle Venezie DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Cecilia Beretta Freeda Rosé Trevenezie Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Cantine San Marzano Tramari Rosé di Primitivo Salento IGP Puglia Italy 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo Rosé Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
Cantine di Ora Amicone Corvina Rosato Verona IGT Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
Cantine di Ora Il Casato – Schiava Valdadige DOC Trentino-Alto Adige Italy 2019 Bronze
Cantina di Bertiolo Villa San Martino Pinot Grigio Blush Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Bronze
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Pasqua 11 Minutes Rosé Trevenezie IGT Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Pinot Nero Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
Fantinel Sun Goddess Pinot Grigio Ramato Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Gold

Oaked dry rosé (4 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Gérard Bertrand Joy’s Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Chivite Las Fincas Rosado Fermentado en Barrica Navarra Spain 2018 Gold
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Desire Pinot Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Bronze
Finca Albret Albret Rocío Navarra Spain 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Juan Gil Juan Gil Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Copper Rosé Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Quinta Nova de Nossa
Senhora do Carmo
Quinta Nova de Nossa
Senhora do Carmo Rosé
Douro Portugal 2019 Bronze
Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Master
Terra Sancta Wine Terra Sancta Special Release First Vines Rosé Central Otago New Zealand 2019 Silver
Domaines Ott Château Romassan Provence France 2018 Gold
Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel Provence France 2019 Gold
Château d’Esclans Château d’Esclans Provence France 2018 Gold
Poggio al Tesoro Cassiopea Pagus Cerbaia Tuscany Italy 2017 Silver
Gérard Bertrand Clos du Temple Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Master
Château d’Esclans Les Clans Provence France 2018 Master
Château d’Esclans Garrus Provence France 2018 Master

The Global Sparkling Masters 2019: results in full

Our annual Sparkling Masters gives the judges the chance to hone in on which fizzes are hitting the spot in terms of taste, quality and value. This year, they were particularly impressed with the quality of crémants from the Loire.

Of all
the categories in the wine business, it’s sparkling where the competition appears to be the most intense. Whether its between regions, or countries, there seems to be a near-ceaseless urge to prove that one fizz-making area is better than another, with producers pitted against each other in a range of tastings.

It’s why we tend to see headlines such as ‘English fizz beats Champagne in landmark tasting’, ‘Aussie sparkling voted best in the world’, or ‘Discount crémant better than fizz costing five times the price’, and so on.

While we take no issue with the reporting, it is worth considering the nature of such comparisons. How are these tastings being conducted? And who are the judges? After all, with an issue as emotive as sparkling wine quality, it’s vital that such events employ professionals, and the organisers do their best to minimise any bias.

Repeated sampling

With such thoughts in mind, it is important to state that db’s tastings see samples judged ‘blind’, although the entries are organised loosely according to style, and presented in given price bands. As for the tasters, they must be Masters of Wine, or Master Sommeliers, and where buyers or writers are enlisted, it is because they are specialists in the category being judged. Not only that, but every entry is scored then discussed, ensuring that each taster’s result is scrutinised by a peer, and every wine is properly assessed. This may be a drawn-out process, often involving repeated sampling of the same wine, but it yields credible results, which are then shared in full here, and in the magazine too, with the addition of analysis and opinion.

In short, with the Global Sparkling Masters, you can trust the results, which have been arrived at via a rigorous tasting process, one conducted purely to assess quality, not to yield a particular outcome. So, the conclusions we draw from a day’s sampling are based on the nature of the samples submitted, and yes, sometimes the results do yield a sensational outcome, but that is by accident, not design.

So, what were the headline findings from this year’s Global Sparkling Masters? Initially, the tasting highlighted the broad sweep of places now making delicious traditional-method sparkling wine. We had Golds from bottle-fermented fizz-producing areas from the Loire to the Western Cape, Hungary to Hampshire, and New Zealand to Austria. In other words, if you thought the source of great sparkling wine was either France or Spain – or just Champagne or Cava – be prepared for a surprise as you scan the origins of our medallists this year.

Also, for those who believe that Prosecco is the go-to for little more simple-tasting fizz, then think again. When this tank-method sparkling was tasted blind against similarly priced bottled-fermented products, it did just as well or better, in many cases. This was true at higher prices too, with, for example, Andreola’s Dirupo Brut Prosecco picking up a Gold in the £30-£50 sparkling wine flight, along with a traditional-method fizz from Austria (Schlumberger Wein) and one from England (Louis Pommery).

We were also impressed by the quality-to-price ratio among the sparkling wines from two producers in particular: South Africa’s Pongracz and Hungary’s Törley. But if one were to pick out the source of the best-value fizz on the market based on this year’s tasting, it would have to be the Loire. As you can see in the tables, two names stood out for their crémants – the name for bottle-fermented fizz from France that hails from outside Champagne. These were Bouvet Ladubay and Langlois Château. The most keenly priced Gold-medal-winning fizz of the competition was the £11 Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Crémant de Loire Brut, which is made by Bouvet Ladubay for the supermarket. The sparkling wine garnered a high score for its combination of richness and refreshment, combining the cleansing flavours of apple and chalk, with more creamy characters, and a touch of honey-coated toast, which provided added interest.

Quality fizz

Such was the quality of this fizz for the money, the judges agreed that they would now be looking closely at crémant when selecting wines for their own events.
Bearing in mind the creep upwards of Champagne prices in this decade, it’s becoming more common for consumers to seek out a cheaper alternative to this famous fizz when pouring a sparkling wine for big, celebratory events.

And, if one goes to other aspirational traditional-method winemaking regions, such as Franciacorta in Italy, or the southern counties of England, such as Kent and Sussex, you’ll find brilliant quality, but also prices that are similar, if not higher, than an equivalent Brut NV from Champagne.

Delicious options

So it was exciting to find in this year’s Global Sparkling Masters that there are delicious options of creamy, gently toasty fizz on the market today at roughly half the price of grandes marques Champagnes.

Some of these were from the Loire, but there were a wide range of other sources providing an exciting set of choices for the open-minded sparkling wine lover. This is an extremely competitive area of the wine business, but like all areas of the drinks industry, it pays to look broadly in the search for quality and value.

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): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Simon Field MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Antony Moss MW, Andrea Briccarello, Patrick Schmitt MW

Rosé Masters 2019: results and analysis

We bring you the results in full from this year’s Rosé Masters, which saw pink wines from Provence get top results, although samples from Corbières and Tuscany also impressed our exacting judges.

The wines were tasted at Beach Blanket Babylon Restaurant and Bar in London’s Notting Hill

Of all the categories in the vast universe of fermented grape-based drinks, rosé is the most dynamic. With the rising call from consumers for pale pink wines, above all from Provence, it seems almost every corner of the wine world is now making a rosé, and in the lightest possible shade of pink.

With such an influx of new products, it has become more important than ever before to blind taste the latest entries to this fast-expanding sector, whether it’s range extensions from long-standing pink wine producers, or the latest vintage from famous rosé regions, as well as complete newcomers to the category. Over recent years, the Global Rosé Masters, which is the largest rosé-only blind tasting in the world, using the trade’s top palates, has unearthed some wonderful and unexpected sources of great rosé, and 2019’s competition was no different in this regard. It has also highlighted the general strengths and weaknesses in this important and increasingly commercial category of drinks.

In terms of the good points, it seems that more winemakers are mastering the challenge of creating something that is both fresh and delicate, as well as ripe and soft. This can be made harder if the wine must also – as the market demands – be extremely pale.

In my view, rosé should have juicy flavours of red berries and peach, and a finish that is bright, if not biting. It should have appealing summertime aromatics of fresh red fruit, and a texture that ensures it slips down the throat with no harshness, but a soft acidity that makes one salivate.

Where the samples fail to get top scores, it is usually because the wines lack some of the riper fruit characters in the drive for delicacy and refreshment, with, sadly, some of the entries tipping into the herbaceous flavour spectrum, giving them a firm greenness that takes away from the pleasure of sipping rosé.

At the finer end of the rosé scale, where retail prices exceed £20, I am not in support of the school of thought that says oak has no place in pink wine. It’s a view I don’t understand: why should the colour of the drink dictate the winemaking approach? After all, one wouldn’t say that about white or red wine, so why would one about rosé?

Outstanding examples

While there are great examples of pink wine at high prices that see no oak influence, there are more outstanding ones that do (three of our four Master-winning wines were in the ‘oaked’ category). Where barrels have not been employed to add texture and complexity, producers have turned to other techniques to add palate weight, such as lees influence in tank, as well as the careful selection of ripe fruit, rich in flavonoids, and no doubt picked from older or lower-yielding vineyards.

Here, the pleasure comes from the fruit intensity, the balance between softness and freshness, and the layers of flavour that can come from a blend of sites and grape varieties, and ageing on fine lees. Aromatics are vital to the appeal of a rosé, and to capture them, producers must handle the grapes sensitively, with the chilling of the berries a necessity as soon as they are picked, as well as during the winemaking process.

Pioneering perfection

What about those top-end pinks that have some form of barrel influence, including a proportion of new oak? This is something that Château d’Esclans has pioneered and perfected in the rosé category, using its best wines from its oldest Provençal vineyards. Key to the appeal of these wines is the match between the soft ripe fruit flavours and the nutty, creamy characters imparted by the barriques – each of which is temperature controlled to retain the fresh berry characters of the Grenache that dominates in their wines. In essence, these wines are a hybrid, combining the complexity of a barrel-fermented Chardonnay with the aromatic appeal of a Mediterranean rosé.

However, Château d’Esclans no longer has a monopoly on such a style. As we’ve highlighted before, Gerard Bertrand has burst onto the upmarket rosé scene with great success, particularly his smoky, gently toasty Château La Sauvageonne La Villa from the Languedoc.

This year, there was another entrant to this tiny category of top-end oak-influenced fine rosés, and it didn’t come from France. For me, this year’s most interesting find was from Frescobaldi, and it was a barrel-fermented and aged rosé from Tuscany, called Aurea Gran Rosé. It employs a complicated winemaking process, but, like the great rosés of Château d’Esclans, the fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled barrels – which in the case of the Frescobaldi pink – are 600-litre French oak, with 20% of them using new staves. An added layer of complexity in this wine also relates to the addition of a small proportion of reserve wine from a previous harvest; a white produce from Syrah that has been aged in barrique for 20 months.

Increased quality

The addition of this particular wine to the ranks of our Gold medal-winning rosés also draws attention to a trend that’s gathering momentum in the pink wine category – the increased quality of rosés from Tuscany. These are often sourced from coastal locations, and employ a touch of Vermentino – which is, after all, the Italian synonym for Rolle, the white grape used widely in the rosés from Provence. Three first-rate examples of Tuscan rosés were sampled blind this year, one from Fattoria Sardi, one from Banfi, and another, called Alie – like the aforementioned Aurea – from Frescobaldi. These weren’t the only standouts from Italy, however, with the Scalunera Etna Rosato from Torre Mora another delicious pink, and using Sicily’s fashionable Nerello Mascalese, a grape that’s adapted to the rocky hillsides of this Italian island’s active volcano, Etna.

Elsewhere, we were highly impressed by the quality-to-price ratio seen in La Dame en Rose from the Languedoc, a Carignan, Cinsault, and Grenache stocked by UK supermarket Marks & Spencer, retailing for just £6. We were also pleased to see a lovely pink blend from Bordeaux called Lion & The Lily, along with a delicious Pinot rosé from Marlborough, made by Marisco Vineyards, and a benchmark Provençal example from Château Léoube. Corbières in the Languedoc was a source of a stand-out rosé from quality-orientated co-operative, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, called Château Haut Gléon, while the highest-scoring unoaked rosés in 2019 were made by Château Minuty, with its Minuty 281 the better-value option, while its £50+ Rosé et Or gained the ultimate accolade of Master.

A mention should go to Canada’s Mission Hill, which gained two Golds for its delicious blended rosé from its vineyards in Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley, as well as to Gusbourne in the UK, for its delicious sparkling rosé from Kent, although Coates & Seely’s pink English fizz from Hampshire came close in quality. We were also impressed by the style of sparking rosé from Champagne’s Nicolas Feuillatte, which is crafting a chalky style of fizz with a touch of crunchy red berry fruit.

Finally, although we’ve already written about Château d’Esclans, this year’s blind tasting once more proved that this producer is at the top of the pink wine pyramid, picking up three of the four Masters given out this year. Indeed, this Provence estate’s Les Clans, and its ultimate expression, Garrus, should be served, preferably ‘blind’, and in black glasses, to those who believe that wine can’t be both pink and serious, layered and ageworthy.

Such is the quality of these products that rosé should now be included in a list of truly fine wines.

The judges (left to right): Giovanni Ferlito, Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Andrea Briccarello, Tobias Gorn

Read on for the full list of medallists, judges comments, and more information about the competition.

Asian Pinot Noir Masters: Results and Analysis

Winemakers and ardent wine lovers wax poetic about the fickle and temperamental red grape variety, much as the lead character in the movie Sideways, Miles Raymond, when he declared that only the most patient and nurturing growers can “coax” Pinot Noir into its fullest expression. Compared with other noble red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that virtually grows everywhere without much fuss, Pinot does require “coaxing” down from clone selection to disease management in the vineyards to colour extraction in the winery. In our Asian Pinot Noir Masters, the results showed that indeed the most patient and meticulous wineries are rewarded in crafting top Pinots.

Judges from left to right: James Kerr of Berry Bros & Rudd (observing), Sarah Heller MW; Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong; Darius Allyn MS; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing); Jude Mullins, International Development Director of WSET; Henry Chang, beverage manager of China Club; and Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong.

The Pinot Noir competition proved to be the most polarising judging session among all our Asian Masters series so far, with drastic variations in overall quality. The best should exemplify all the lovable traits that make people laud with Pinot including its delicate, lingering aromas and sweet juicy berry fruit, yet the worst (sadly in no short supply) demonstrate every fault that one can find with the grape; ranging from the extremes of bland and thin to overly alcoholic examples that lack tension and are prone to flabbiness.

With this in mind, our judges sat down to find the happy medium that best defines this most tricky of varieties.

Coaxing Pinot

Sarah Heller MW

Unlike Cabernet which is described as a “survivor” by Sideways Miles, Pinot is delicate, and selective with soil types and climate. Generally, the best quality Pinot Noir are found on calcareous soils and in cool climates. If too cold, however, the grapes will struggle to ripen, rendering green and weedy aromas but if where it’s planted is too hot, the wines can be jammy and alcoholic.

What complicates the matter even more is that there are around 50 Pinot clones alone in France, twice the number of Cabernet Sauvignon clones, and with each clone comes a problem. “Pinot Noir is notoriously fussy,” Sarah Heller MW, proprietor of Heller Beverage Advisory, stated. “Starting with its propensity to mutate, producing myriad clones each with its own issues. Many growers complain that Pinot is low-yielding, but that isn’t true with say the Abel Clone in New Zealand, so you have to figure it out as you go.”

Although they largely defy generalisation, though, all of the thin-skinned grape’s clones tend to bud early, so, as Heller put it: “The early budding makes the vine susceptible to frost, the thin skins make the bunches prone to rot, and they suffer from virtually all vine diseases.”

Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, and Jude Mullins, WSET International Development Director

In addition to clone and rootstock selections, in the vineyard, “pruning in the right way and at the right time to get balanced fruit set; and avoiding issues with pests humidity” are ever-present challenges, noted Darius Allyn MS, proprietor of Wineworks Consulting Services.

Once picked and sent to the winery, “figuring out the correct time, temperature, vessel and method of extraction is even more challenging than with more sturdy grapes because there’s more risk of losing the delicacy and fragrance that are essential to Pinot’s character. On top of this, it tends naturally to start a hot, fast fermentation, which burns off delicate aroma molecules and leaves a pale, thin wine,” Heller said, before concluding, “So, it’s tough.”

In terms of oak, “it generally needs to be applied judiciously so as not to overpower the delicate fruit character of the wine,” Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Asia, added.

Expanding Pinot Map

As Heller wryly put it: “Every ambitious winemaking region in the world that is cold enough (or thinks it is) is trying its hand at Pinot, along with some regions that were previously too cold for red grapes,” the reality is Pinot Noir hit its zeitgeist with the ‘Sideways Effect’, especially in New World regions.

About the competition

the drinks business Hong Kong Asian Pinot Noir Masters is our latest varietal judging of our successful Asian Masters series. A departure from traditional judging wines by region, the competition assesses wines purely by grape variety. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be judged without prejudice about their country of origin. Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by an expert panel of five judges including a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier, Hong Kong’s top wine buyer and educator and sommelier on 20 September at Berry Bros & Rudd’s Hong Kong office in Central. This report only features the medal winners.

In the US alone, plantings of Pinot grew to 40,000 acres in 2012, eight years after Sideways‘ release, up from 24,000 acres when the movie was made, wrote Jancis Robinson MW in her book The Oxford Companion to Wine. In 2016, California crushed 253,995 tons of Pinot Noir, compared to 70,062 tonnes crushed in 2004, based on figures from the California Grape Crush Reports.

The wine is made in those cooler parts of the US moderated by cool ocean influences including Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Chalone, the Gavilan mountains of San Benito, the Central Coast of California, but most notably in Oregon, to such an extent its wine reputation rests largely on the red grape variety. As its Pinot-making credentials rose it was no wonder that Burgundians were among the first foreign investors dipping their toes into Oregon.

“Oregon is still an unsung hero,” commented Longworth, adding it was an area, “where there are some very high quality, impressive wines that have a minerality and elegance reminiscent of Burgundy, combined with purity and richness of fruit that is immediately appealing.”

Burgundy producer Domaine Drouhin, which has just celebrated 30 years in Oregon, for instance, has been making elegant Pinot from Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills for decades. Its Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hillsd Pinot Noir 2010 won the top accolade of Master at our competition for what the judges called its typicity, elegance and complexity. The wine “had the added delight of an emerging savoury, tertiary character that really showed the quality of the wine,” said Longworth in praise.

Equally impressed with the wine was Jude Mullins, WSET international development director. It is a wine where, “regional Pinot Noir character melded with classical varietal style to produce an outstanding wine”, she commented.

Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong

Similarly, Jackson Family Wines’ Gran Moraine Pinot Noir from the Yamill-Cerlton AVA in Willamette Valley was awarded a Gold medal, proving the prowess of Oregon Pinot, although both wines are in the higher price bracket of HK$400-HK$799.

But in terms of value, New Zealand, Australia and Chile are by far the top performers. New Zealand’s Martinborough, Canterbury, Marlborough, and Central Otago are proven prime sites for Pinot Noir, the country’s second most popular variety after Sauvignon Blanc. Boutique winery Luna Estate from Martinborough is a good example of a producer making elegant and balanced Pinots. Its single vineyard Eclipse Pinot impressed the judges with its abundant berry fruits, savouriness and its transparency.

Although Pinot is naturally not the first red grape to be associated with Australia, increasingly fine examples are made in cooler regions of the country from Tasmania, Geelong, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. Yarra Valley alone netted four Gold medals, three for De Bortoli Wines – 2016 Villages Pinot Noir, 2015 Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir and 2009 Riorret Lusatia Park Pinot Noir – and 2015 Santolin Wines Pinot Noir ‘Syme on Yarra’ Vineyard. The 2016 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir was one of a couple of the best value Pinots, costing less than HK$150 (US$19), but which gained high accolades.

Ripe Pinot 

The judges

Sarah Heller MW, Proprietor, Heller Beverage Advisory
Darius Allyn MS, Proprietor, Wineworks Consulting Services
Amanda Longworth, Head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros & Rudd, Hong Kong
Jude Mullins, International Development Director, WSET
Henry Chang, Beverage Manager, The China Club
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

In addition, judge Henry Chang, beverage manager of the eclectic private restaurant China Club, noted the fruity and more contemporary style of Pinot Noir would be a good match for time-constrained diners at high-end establishments and suggested a riper style of Pinot might find a measure of popularity in markets like Hong Kong.

“This is not only happening for lunch, but also an interesting topic about styles of wine, ‘Classic or Modern’,” he said. “If you ask people this question, they will tell you that they would rather choose the classic and traditional wine. Opening the bottle 45 minutes to an hour before consuming will increase the enjoyment of the bottle of wine together with well-matched food. In reality, who likes spending three to five hours on a meal? And how many fine dining restaurants will allow them to do so in Hong Kong?” Chang asked rhetorically.

Continuing, he emphasised the difference of matching wine with Chinese and western cuisine. “For western cuisine, food is served course by course, all flavours are individual so this is easier to do the wine pairing. For Chinese cuisine, almost nobody will enjoy their food served course by course. When there’re different flavours of food on the table, sweet, hot and spicy, strong and mild…etc. Most of our guests they will enjoy the full bodied and rich Pinot with their Chinese dishes,” listing the De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir and Cono Sur’s 20 Barrel Limited Edition Pinot Noir as examples of this riper style.

Darius Allyn MS

While referring to Santolin Pinot, Allyn lauded it as the archetypal example of the grape. “If I had to say, the first that comes to mind was Santolin ‘Syme on Yarra’. I found it well made and an expressive Pinot Noir with an archetypal profile. They are a young family winery in Yarra Valley, but focusing on small, crafted production with minimal intervention. So far so good for their wines to date,” commented the Master Sommelier.

In other parts of Australia, Adelaide Hills’ Wakefield Taylors Pinot Noir 2016 despite being young was already showing well in the blind tasting, and took home a  Gold medal for both its fruitiness and elegance; and especially as it costs less than HK$150.

In South America, Pacific-cooled wine regions such as Casablanca and Limari in Chile are making marks on the Pinot stage. The 2015 Pinot Noir from Cono Sur’s top premium ’20 Barrels Limited Edition’ range is an expressive example of Casablanca’s potential in Pinot, and was recognised for that by the judges with a Gold medal.

Old Guards in Europe 

It would be remiss not to discuss the fine examples of Pinot coming from Europe. Although lacking Champagne made from Pinot this time in the competition, the still wine samples submitted amply attested to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and even Austria’s Pinot Prowess.

In addition to go-to Burgundy for Pinot, a few of the judges highlighted Germany, Switzerland and Italy’s Alto Adige for their potential in growing honest Pinot faithful to their respective terroirs and the grape’s typicity. Most impressively in the competition, a Swiss Pinot from Domaine Jean-Rene Germanier SA in the sun-trapped Valais, bordering France and Italy, earned heaps of praise from the judges with the top honour of Master. Praised by Heller as the “perfect sensuous package that Pinot Noir should be”, the red wine had, “a perfumed, almost musky character, lovely cedar and mushroom savouriness and best of all, a luscious, slippery texture,” she explained.

Henry Chang, beverage manager of China Club

Germany Pinot Noir, increasingly, is seen as a more accessible alternative to ever-more expensive Burgundy. The grape known locally as Spätburgunder has become the country’s third most planted variety only after Müller-Thurgau and, of course, Riesling. Baden and the Palfz are the top regions generating buzz for Pinot and Weingut Burg Ravensburg’s Lochle Pinot Noir VDP Grosses Gewachs 2013 from Baden impressed judges with its fine structure and brightness.

“With warmer climate these days, they produce some surprisingly delicious Spätburgunder. In places there’s no longer the issues of ripeness, especially in Baden,” Allyn explained, a point echoed by Longworth who added as well that it was a place, “where quality wines are in hot demand, where you can get wines that have a great combination of concentrated fruit, finely structured tannins and zesty acidity”. Due to German Pinot Noirs’ small export quantity, “unfortunately, though we don’t see many in Hong Kong. The best quality ones are often snapped up locally or by UK buyers,” she said.

Click through the pages to see full results.

Special thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd for providing the venue for judging. 

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.

Syrah Masters 2015: the results

 A move away from high-alcohol blockbusters towards wines of greater restraint was the keynote of this year’s Global Syrah Masters, writes Lucy Shaw.


WHILE THE meaning behind the name Syrah is much disputed, DNA profiling at UC Davis in 1998 found the variety to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-east France: Dureza from Ardèche and Mondeuse Blanche from Savoie.

Jancis Robinson MW states in Wine Grapes that this crossing first took place in the RhôneAlpes region, most likely in Isère. Syrah’s style and flavour profile vary dramatically depending on where it’s grown.

In cooler climates the wines are medium to full-bodied with notes of blueberry, blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hotter regions like the Barossa Valley, Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known there) has a jammier character, softer tannins and notes of liquorice, spice, prune and leather. Syrah is a vigorous, mid-ripening variety with small berries and a short window for optimum harvesting. Its tannins are much more gentle than Cabernet Sauvignon and it generally has more weight on the midpalate.

The variety thrives all over the world, from Chile and South Africa to Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. While the grape reaches its apogee in Hermitage and the Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône, Syrah has also found a happy home in Australia – with fine examples hailing from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and the McLaren Vale – having been introduced to the country by James Busby in 1832.

In our inaugural Syrah Masters competition, 150 wines from 14 different countries, including Israel, Turkey, Thailand and Switzerland, were submitted.

Judging took place on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. Served blind and assessed without prejudice about their country of origin, the wines were arranged according to their price band as well as style, from low-priced to high, and unoaked to oaked, in order to make the competition as fair as possible. Furthermore, the varietal Syrahs were assessed separately from the blends.

At the entry level, judges were looking for deep colour, juicy fruit and full-bodied softness.

At the top end, they were seeking the aromatic, perfumed Côte-Rôtie style. Of the 150 wines that entered, 131 received a medal, making it our most successful Masters competition to date. Among them, 25 wines were awarded Gold meals while a quintet scooped the top accolade of Master, three of which hailed from Australia, one from the Rhône and one from the lesser-known Syrah hub of Switzerland.

The majority of wines to enter were from the New World, though there were a decent number of entries from France. Two-thirds of the wines were made from 100% Syrah, the other third being Syrah-dominant blends.

A positive trend to emerge from the tasting was an evolution in the style of New World Syrah towards elegance and restraint and away from the high-alcohol monsters of the past. “If I could use one word to sum up the wines today it would be ‘restraint’, which is a surprise. I was expecting more blockbusters from the New World,” noted Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor, who admitted to being a sucker for the “peppery, floral character” of the Syrahs from the northern Rhône, but also found the Swiss Syrahs to be a “pleasant surprise”.

Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust was also full of praise for the wines on show. “There was a clear progression through the price points and a greater concentration and depth of fruit. Good judgments were made with the winemaking – there was very little overoaking going on. Brett and Syrah often go together, but it was only detectable in a couple of the wines at a low level and contributed to the complexity,” he said. “Some of the wines approached the softness and silkiness of Pinot,” Moss added.

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Syrah Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. This report features only the medal-winners

“There were a lot of well-balanced wines in the pack – you don’t need a slab of wildebeest to drink them.” Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines was also pleasantly surprised by the approachability and balance of the wines. “The Australian Shirazes showed more restraint and were far less extracted than I was expecting,” he said.

“The aromatic profile was uplifting and more balanced than I thought – they weren’t blockbusters. People should think again about Syrah. It’s a misunderstood variety. It’s easy to drink on its own and should be on more people’s radars.

“The wines are surprisingly approachable, versatile, have a lot of flavour and are never too tannic. Syrah doesn’t have to be a blend to be a great wine; it’s more of a textural wine, savoury and earthy.” For wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW, the overall quality of the wines on offer was higher than he experienced at The Drinks Business Cabernet Sauvignon Masters earlier this year. “I gave more medals at this tasting than ever as the standard was pretty high,” he said. “There were a lot of Silver and Gold medals.

Syrah is a friendly and more of a forgiving style of wine than Cabernet. When great, Cabernet is magnificent, but the overall quality was higher at this tasting. There weren’t many astringent examples. “Syrah is capable of such extremes – it can have perfumed Pinot elegance or the same structure, density, tannin and acidity levels as Cabernet. For everyday drinking wines, Syrah is like Malbec – a quaffer.

“Most of the reds made today, even at the premium level, are designed to be drunk young and Syrah, with its intense fruit, deep colour, compatibility with oak and rounded, supple tannins, is friendly and approachable young,” he said, admitting like Griffiths, to favouring the style of Syrah from the northern Rhône.


“The thing I love about young Syrah is the pure aromatics. When wines from the Côte-Rôtie really shine they are floral, elegant, graceful and refined,” he said. As for which countries impressed the most, the judges were all pleasantly surprised by the Syrahs from Switzerland, while most were delighted to discover more elegance and restraint from Australia than they were anticipating.

“I was expecting to taste Barossa Shirazes that you could stand a spoon in but there has been a positive stylistic shift towards more elegant wines with a focus on perfume and less use of American oak. There weren’t many wines with that old-school, coconut-style of oak.

“There were a few wines where the alcohol was on the high side but generally they were under control,” noted Pedley. “There’s a great diversity now of Shiraz styles from Australia – the ones from Western Australia tend to be more refined.” The South African Syrahs were another surprise, with Pedley finding “no burnt notes in the wines” as can be the case with reds from the country.

There seemed to be a lack of consistency in the Chilean Syrahs, with the most refined examples coming from the Leyda Valley and the worst falling into the “stewed and jammy” bracket. One of the day’s disappointments was the failure of New Zealand Syrah to wow the judges, with many finding the wines from Hawkes Bay a bit green and short on the finish.

But while the results were overwhelmingly positive, the truth remains that Syrah is a hard sell at the top end as it continues to be blighted by associations with cheap Australian Shiraz, particularly in the US. “There is Syrah planted in California’s Santa Rita Hills that is better quality than the Pinot Noir there but it doesn’t sell for some reason, which is sad,” said Moss. “It’s hard to get people to pay more for premium Syrah but as a variety it is capable of the very highest quality.”

Left to right: Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association; Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines; Michael Palij MW of Winetraders; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor of the drinks business; Lucy Shaw, managing editor of the drinks business; Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor; Adrian Garforth MW of Blackrock Wines; Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Robert MacCulloch MW of Domaine Direct; and wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW

The judges (left to right): Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association; Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines; Michael Palij MW of Winetraders; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor of the drinks business; Lucy Shaw, managing editor of the drinks business; Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor; Adrian Garforth MW of Blackrock Wines; Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Robert MacCulloch MW of Domaine Direct; and wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW

Please click through for the results; page one for unoaked Syrah and Syrah blends, pages two and three for oaked Syrah and pages four and five for oaked Syrah blends.

Champagne Masters 2014: The medalists

This year’s competition showed that efforts to create the upmost in luxurious sparkling wine stretched beyond the top-end offerings and into categories that previously didn’t fare well.


Judges, left to right: Simon Field MW, buyer, Berry Bros. & Rudd; Jamie Hutchinson, owner, The Sampler; Sue Daniels, wine buyer, Marks & Spencer; Rebecca Palmer, associate director & buyer, Corney & Barrow; Michael Edwards, journalist, author, Champagne expert; Anthony Foster MW, director/buyer, Bonhote Foster; Marcel Orford-Williams, buyer, The Wine Society; Patrick Schmitt, editor-in-chief, the drinks business

Bearing in mind the high price of Champagne, particularly grandes marques, one should expect a large collection of medal-winners in any competition devoted to this sparkling wine region. But having awarded silvers to almost half the entries in this year’s Champagne Masters cheapest category – Brut NV under £30 – we realised that the sector’s base level was now home to very high quality fizz, and undoubtedly fewer disappointing examples compared to 2011, when we first held the competition. Furthermore, former weak points in the tasting – the extra brut and rosé categories – both contained first-rate wines in 2014, proving that Champagne with very low levels of sugar can be attractive, while pink Champagne is a serious fizz too. In essence, the results attest to the fact that viticultural and winemaking improvements across the region are really becoming evident now in the wines, whatever the style.



Initially, the non-vintage category at all prices yielded some impressive results, and in particular, proved the quality available among Champagne’s most famous names. Commenting after the tasting’s results were revealed, chair of the judges and Berry Bros buyer Simon Field MW said, “The grandes marques are really on form at the moment,” before adding, “Showing well across the piece were, not to my great surprise, Charles Heidsieck and Deutz.” He then mentioned his particular respect for Louis Roederer, which, like Heidsieck, achieved the top award of the tasting: a Master for its Brut NV. “Hats off to Roederer’s Brut, demonstrating [chef de caves] Monsieur Lecaillon is primus inter pares when we are discussing Champagne masters!”

Findings from the tasting

• Champagne’s grandes marques performed well in this year’s competition, particularly Charles Heidsieck, Louis Roederer and Deutz.
• Brut NV Champagnes proved high quality and good value, while rosé and extra brut styles did better than in previous competitions, suggesting a quality improvement among wines in these fashionable categories.
• Blanc de Blancs Champagnes gained good scores, particularly more expensive examples.
• Charles Heidsieck was the outstanding house in this year’s competition, a testament to the skill of its late chef de caves, Thierry Roset, who died suddenly aged 55 in October this year.
• Some lesser-known houses also performed well, such as Chassenay d’Arce and Ployez Jacquemart.
• The overall quality standard was extremely high.

Nevertheless, it was Charles Heidsieck that performed the best overall in this year’s competition. Not only did this house achieve a Master for its Brut Réserve, but also its Brut Millésime 2000, while it gained a gold for its Blanc des Millenaires 1995 and a silver for its Rosé Reserve. Indeed, while we are paying tribute to winemakers, such a successful outcome for Charles Heidsieck Champagnes is testament to the skill of the late Thierry Roset, chef de caves at the house, who sadly died suddenly in early October aged 55.

Also impressive were the scores of Charles Heidsieck sister house Piper- Heidsieck, which achieved the only gold in the NV category for Champagnes priced £30-40 for its Brut Essential, while it gained a silver for its Brut NV in the under £30 category. Another notable success was Jacquart, which gained a silver for its Brut Mosaïque – a Champagne that has undergone a quality improvement since former Veuve Clicquot winemaker Floriane Eznack joined the brand in January 2011. It also earned silvers for its new prestige cuvée Alpha, with the 2005 vintage, as well as its blanc de blancs 2006 and its extra brut NV.

Meanwhile, the little-known brand of Chassenay d’Arce picked up silvers for its Cuvée Première Brut NV, Pinot Blanc Extra Brut, and a gold for its blanc de blancs 2005 as well as its prestige cuvée, named Confidences.

Meanwhile, Field mentioned further houses which impressed him in the tasting, which was conducted, like last year, at The Dorchester hotel. “I was pleased that some of the less lauded houses such as Lanson and Piper were able to rise to the challenge too.” He added, “This indicates to me a confidence across the region and an overall qualitative consistency.”

Finally he said that he was pleased to see Cattier, Palmer and Henriot “all showing their worth”, describing them as “three houses I admire”. In particular, he commented that he was “encouraged” to see large co-op Palmer making “such good wines”.

Chardonnay Masters 2014: The results

Proving that few grapes can beat the malleability and creative potential of Chardonnay was last month’s Masters tasting, where top-price pours and cheaper oaked styles fared well.

Chardonnay-Masters-JudgingIF THE chef’s universal test is an omelette, then a winemaker’s should be a Chardonnay. With its relatively delicate flavours the grape is able to transmit winemaking tweaks more clearly than any other variety, making it the ultimate tool to judge cellar technique. And like that egg- based dish, the wine from Chardonnay may seem uncomplicated to make, but it’s also easy to get wrong. If it’s good, however, the wine trade will undoubtedly sit up and salivate.

It’s for these reasons that our annual Chardonnay Masters is such a popular and revealing judging session. Not only does it give us a chance to see the trends at work in winemaking, but also discover some of the hottest talent in the global vinous scene. Furthermore, as the grape can only be grown in few places with great success – despite its appearance almost everywhere there are vineyards – the tasting highlights places of brilliance.


And, as this year’s tasting showed, one of these places is England. Our first flight of the day considered sparkling Chardonnay, taking in a mixture of blanc de blancs from Champagne and a range of English counties, including Sussex and Hampshire. Just two golds and three silvers were awarded, split almost equally between English sparkling Chardonnays and those from Champagne, proving that the Brits can create traditional method fizz that is comparable in quality with Champagne, if different in style. With Wiston Estate the sole gold from England, the tasting also reinforced the belief that its creator, Dermot Sugrue, is one of this small industry’s greatest winemakers.

Moving onto still wines, it was notable that the unoaked Chardonnay category yielded no golds in 2014. “At the cheaper end the oaked Chardonnay seemed to do better, so if you are going to do a sub £10 Chardonnay then having some carefully judged oak seems to add something,” commented judge Martin Gamman MW. Nevertheless, a few names stood out in this category, with the Co-op supermarket’s Chablis, made by Jean-Marc Brocard, one of just two silvers in the under-£10 unoaked Chardonnay category, proof that this region is one of the very few areas that delivers real character from the grape without a heavy wood influence.

That said, it requires the economies of scale and low margins of a multiple retailer to hit a sub-£10 price point for Chablis today.

Another star was a new Chardonnay from Giusti, a producer in Asolo and one of only two wineries to achieve the top title of Master in our 2014 Prosecco Masters. Italy was the source of another silver in the unoaked category, although this time in the £10-20 price band, with Zonin’s IGT Toscana Chardonnay impressing the judges, along with Valdivieso Reserva Chardonnay from Chile.


However, the majority of entries in the competition had seen some oak in their production, and looking at the cheapest category, it was pleasing to see the brand leaders performing well. Indeed, the top three best scoring Chardonnays in the oaked under-£10 flight were from three of the biggest names in the business: Hardys, Jacob’s Creek and Torres, representing Australia and Chile. “With inexpensive New World Chardonnay I look for something with some oak and balanced, bright acidity,” commented another judge, Clement Robert, head sommelier at London’s Medlar Restaurant and 2013 Moët UK Sommelier of the Year. Considering further this category, he also described the general standard of the wines as “good to very good”, and was pleased to see no obvious signs of added acidity.


Notable in the next price band, £10-20, was the strong performance of Chardonnays from Chile. Leading the nation in this category was the Viñas Errázuriz Group, which took one of only two Masters in the entire competition for its £15 Arboleda Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay. Exciting the judges was its combination of ripe fruit, toasty oak and a refreshing grapefruit tang, all for a sub-£20 wine. The group’s slightly cheaper Errázuriz Max Reserva also did well in the same category, gaining one of the 16 silvers. Using Chardonnay from the same region of Aconcagua Costa, it seems this area of Chile is a region to watch for high-quality Chardonnay, although Leyda- sourced Chilean Chardonnays from a number of producers, including Santa Rita, did well too.

Proving that New World Chardonnays from as broad a set of sources as Lake Ontario Canada and Hawke’s Bay New Zealand are able to compete with Burgundy in the same price range, among the silvers awarded in the £10-20 band were two Côte-d’Or whites from Domaine Pierre Labet, including its Beaune Clos du Dessus Des Marconnets. In other words, those New World Chardonnays in this price band that gained silvers are making wines of equivalent quality to good village- level Burgundy.

Moving up to the higher price points however, it was notable how good the Chardonnays were from Australia, California and South Africa – the latter perhaps a somewhat underestimated source of high quality Chardonnay. In Australia specifically, the judges were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Taylors Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay from the Clare Valley, which had plenty of ripe fruit, but also an appealing smoky and subtle sulphidic character, palate-cleansing citrus and well-judged toasty oak. This wine was awarded a gold in the £20-£30 band, along with the Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay from Cambria Estate Winery in California’s Santa Maria Valley, heralding from the Jackson Family’s impressive stable of wines. The latter wine was a wonderful example of a more classic Californian Chardonnay, with richness, warmth, but also complexity and just enough acidity to offset the generosity. Sommelier Clement Robert, having tasted the wine blind and scored it highly, was particularly pleased, as he later revealed he had previously chosen this Chardonnay to serve by the glass at his restaurant.


At even higher prices, once more, Australia’s Bird in Hand Chardonnay, made by highly respected winemaker Kym Milne MW, was given a gold for its Nest Egg label, highlighting the quality of fruit from the Adelaide Hills. But it was a Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley that scored even more highly, with the region’s Oakridge winery achieving a Master for its 864 Chardonnay. Made in a slightly leaner manner, but with a fashionable struck- match character, touch of toast, and lovely grapefruit flavours, not everyone liked the style, but at least it attracted plenty of discussion, and all agreed it was an excellent wine.
Over £50, without the presence of grand cru Burgundy in the tasting, we had few wines, but those that were commanding such high prices thankfully performed as well as one would expect for the expense. At the very top were Penfolds Yattarna, the wonderful white equivalent of Australia’s flagship red, Grange, and the boutique South African producer, Uva Mira, which produces intense Chardonnay from its high-altitude vineyards on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains in Stellenbosch.

So what made the best examples great? For the judges it was the intense flavours from a broad set of complementary components, coupled with freshness. Summing up, David Bird MW commented, “You can mould Chardonnay into a simple wine or a lovely oaked example, but it is very easy to overdo it, and too many still think that you can produce a superb Chardonnay by sticking lots of wood in it.” Continuing, he concluded, “It is hard to produce a great wine from Chardonnay, but when you do, it is the greatest wine in the world.”

The wines were judged blind using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses at Broadway House in London. Wines were awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, with only the very highest scoring entries being given the accolade of a Master.


Judges left to right: Keith Isaac MW, Justin Knock MW, Clement Robert, Sarah Knowles, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Catriona Felstead MW, Patrick Schmitt, David Bird MW, Matthew Hemming MW, Beverley Blanning MW, John Atkinson MW, Michael Palij MW, Martin Gamman MW (not pictured)

Riesling Masters 2016: the results

Quality across the board was encouragingly high in our latest Global Riesling Masters competition, with producers from the Old and New Worlds impressing with their sweet and dry expressions, finds Rupert Millar.

The Global Riesling Masters has established itself as one of the most popular tastings in the Masters series, not only because of the lingering affection for the variety held by most of the trade, but also because this faith is rewarded by an impressive level of quality and consistency.

“Riesling is always strong, and this was borne out again,” said Jonathan Pedley MW, while Hugo Rose MW agreed it was a “high-quality tasting overall – with few wines rejected or not being awarded a medal. I think the results will show strength at every level; there was a strong showing from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and Austria.”

The judges were especially positive about the diversity of styles in the dry and sweet categories, the ripe character of the German and Austrian wines from the 2015 vintage, the ‘personality’ of many of the New World wines and the value of wines made at all levels with this variety. Yet, there were also concerns about the perennial problem of levels of sweetness and sulphur in certain wines.

About The Competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Riesling Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the sweetness of the style, the blind-tasting 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 and one Master Sommelier on 24 November at The Dead Doll’s House in London. For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes

Overall, two Masters were awarded; fittingly one went to a dry wine and one to a sweet. In the dry camp was an Austrian wine from Kremstal, a 2011 ‘Riesling Privat Senftenberger Pellingen 1 ÖTW’ from Weingut Nigl, and in the sweet corner a 2007 vendanges tardives from Domaine Charles Sparr in Alsace. Both were in their respective £20- £30 brackets.

Austria led the pack in the Gold medal leagues with five; Germany and Australia garnered four apiece, France two and there was one apiece for South Africa and New Zealand. There was a good haul of Silver medals across the board, even if it remained the highest medal colour for entries from the US, Chile and Canada.

Perhaps Riesling’s greatest strength is the diverse range of styles it’s capable of producing. Naturally, therefore, it was a key talking point at the tasting, particularly as a lot of the wines didn’t always conform to classical stereotype. Rose mentioned the “old school” and “new wave” but, crucially, pointed out that, “new wave doesn’t always mean New World; there were some from Germany”.

The richer wines from Germany and Austria are a clear consequence of the warm 2015 vintage. Alcohol levels were quite high and the fruit profile was often more tropical and peachy than the citrus and lime one might expect. “Stylistically, there was a trend away from fresh green apple to tropical,” said Roberto Della Pietra.

The judges: (from l-r) Patrick Schmitt MW, Matthew Forster MW, Roberto Della Pietra, Jonathan Pedley MW, Rupert Millar, Hugo Rose MW and Clement Robert MS

“Germany and Austria have certainly benefitted from 2015,” said Pedley, “and because it was such a star vintage a lot of the top wines are gorgeous for drinking now – will they age though?” he pondered. Australia also performed very strongly, and there were a number of lean, rather racy wines – “with bottle age too”, noted a pleased Pedley – that stood in contrast to their riper, often younger, European cousins.

Matthew Forster MW praised the New World wines in particular for their diversity, saying it was clear that producers were “really exploiting” the potential of Riesling. He added: “The tasting showed there’s space for both styles, and I felt some of the Austrian wines were the apogée of that dry, full-on style – and the Australians were very good too.”

Austria and Australia in particular seemed to be the two countries where the judges had favourites, with the New World perhaps having the edge. Rose stated that, generally speaking, he was: “More impressed with the New World than the majority of wines I would call ‘classic’. They had more definition and personality.

“The classics had beautiful balance but perhaps not those other qualities.” Pedley noted he would have liked to have seen a few more Alsatian wines (despite one winning a Master) and Della Pietra commented on the scarcity of Chilean wines.

Clement Robert MS said he was “more impressed by the sweet wines rather than the dry and Pedley agreed that there were some “very good sweets”, but added there seemed to be something of a qualitative gap in the “medium” category – indeed, there was only one Gold in the category and the number of Bronze medals exceeded the Golds.

What made some of the ‘medium’ wines so hard to judge was the sugar levels were more uneven. Admittedly, the range of category, from 12-45 grams per litre, is broader than most, but nonetheless some seemed closer to dry wines while others might almost have deserved to be in a sweeter category.

Pedley added that it was a neat example of one of the reasons consumers remain so wary of Riesling as they have, “no idea if it will be sweet” – or, at least, how sweet it will be. Even though wines put into the Riesling Masters are categorised by sweetness levels (as well as price), with bands for wines under 4g/l, from 4- 12g/l and more than 45g/l, it is clear that even for the trade it’s not a simple thing to pin down exactly.

What chance then for the consumer? As Pedley summed up, sweet Rieslings are one of the variety’s greatest strengths but also, “its curse”. “Sweetness, but also the ‘egginess’ from sulphur, is what holds Riesling back from consumers,” countered Robert, for whom the issue of the (over-) use of sulphur and filtration is clearly a sore point.

Although he professed to be “impressed by cleaner, more fruit-driven wines”, he still felt quite a few showed the signs of reduction or stripped-out flavours. As he admitted: “You will always find very good Riesling with a lot of sulphur – Egon Müller for example.” Nonetheless, he continued: “It’s still difficult to appreciate sulphured wines.

A lot of winemakers still use too much sulphur and you end up with reductive wines.” There were definitely wines that were “refined and austere”, Pedley noted, but “in a good way”, and he added it was good to see producers from all countries “aiming for that leaner style”.

Patrick Schmitt MW and Jonathan Pedley MW

One aspect of the tasting that was particularly pleasing was the value for money Riesling represents – yet another reason to lament that sweetness levels mean many drinkers still steer clear of it. Forster said that while the, “quality was very high at all levels, wines under £10 show real value for the consumer”. Rose agreed: “We were pleased with many of the lower-priced wines.

They were clean and well made, giving a lot to the consumer. They are not banal wines.” With experience at several Masters tastings now, Pedley declared that the general standard was higher than for other varieties.

Like Forster, he particularly praised wines below £10. “You’ll find Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay at £10 and below that can be dilute and disappointing,” he said. Meanwhile, he added: “The price of top-quality Riesling remains very reasonable. It’s one of the great-value wines.”

The Malbec Masters 2017: results and analysis

Argentina may have single-handedly tranformed the fortunes of the once-ignored Malbec grape, creating a global star, but other countries are getting in on the act, with expressions that impressed our judges, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

The modern history of wine has witnessed many phenomena, but no grape has risen as quickly from obscurity to mainstream popularity as Malbec. Despite the variety’s global presence, just one country should be credited for this turnaround: Argentina. This single nation has reinvented Malbec, elevating it from a French rustic rarity to the sumptuous Latin blockbuster it is today.

But like the formation of new landscapes, change occurs beneath the surface, and Argentine Malbec makers are still busy behind the scenes tweaking styles while seeking new expressions. At the same time, other parts of the world are waking up to the power of Malbec, crafting their own examples in the hope that they too can win some share of this successful red wine trend.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Malbec masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. 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 and Master Sommeliers on 7 September at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington.

Whether it is the stylistic evolution in Argentina, or new products from elsewhere, our Malbec Masters serves to identify the overriding winemaking developments concerning this single grape and, at the same time, the best producers at a range of price levels.

In line with the market, the competition is dominated by samples from Argentina, although we did see a growing number from Chile, while Cahors in France – the native home of Malbec – also featured. But it was the consistent quality of Argentine Malbec, particularly at entry level prices, that really impressed the judges, and explained why this grape and-country combination has become so popular.

Nevertheless, if there were a sweet spot, it was among those samples priced between £10-£20, where the wines were not only concentrated and complex but also relatively good value, coming close in quality to examples priced much higher – where, to draw on a cliché, bigger wasn’t necessarily better.

So what did the judges like? Certainly a combination of Malbec’s juicy, fleshy, ripe dark fruits combined with its plummy freshness, and firm but fine tannins. Malbec complements ageing in barriques, and the best wines had found a pleasing balance between fruit concentration and barrel-sourced flavours and tannins.

Where wines were marked down, however, it was usually because there was some jammy, or baked character to the fruit, or, conversely, too much greenness, with some wines containing pyrazines, evident in a whiff of bell pepper (although in small doses this character was favoured by some of the judges). Restrained styles, however, were rewarded by the judges, including those Malbecs with overt peppery aromas, reminiscent of Syrah from the Northern Rhône. While their aromatic complexity excited the panel, we did wonder whether the consumer of Malbec, who is, for the most part, used to ripe and rich expressions, would be so enamoured.