The best wines from the Chardonnay Masters 2020

Despite being a grape that is grown in all of the globe’s major winemaking areas, our judges tasted some pleasantly surprising examples from countries less known for their Chardonnay prowess. Read on for the results in full, including top medallists from California and the Western Cape, as well as Romania and Greece.

In the many years we’ve run the Chardonnay Masters, this year’s results were the best. Such a high tally of topscoring wines is testament to better winemaking, along with an improved decision making when it comes to picking times, ensuring grapes are harvested when neither under- or over-ripe. After all, Chardonnay can, easily it seems, veer into two extremes – it can be picked early to create something that lacks the juiciness that comes with fully ripe berries, or it’s harvested late to yield a wine with high sugars, and therefore burning alcohol levels, coupled with dried fruit flavours and a lack of freshness. In between such opposites there’s quite a wide spectrum of appealing Chardonnay styles, providing diversity to the varietally defined category. Add to this the influence of source area, and you have a complex selection of wines, even though they are all made with the same grape.

Not only was the quality this year higher than ever, but the range of regions broader than in the past, with countries making delicious Chardonnays including Mexico, Turkey and Greece – none of which are traditionally associated with fine examples of the grape.

As for the overall stylistic success of the Chardonnay being made in 2020, that comes down to more than picking times. This is a grape where practices in the cellar are key to the resulting wine’s quality, expression, and overall level of interest.

This concerns techniques to augment texture and flavour in Chardonnays through lees contact and management, and oak influence, along with the common practice of malolactic conversion, which sees the tart-tasting malic acids transformed into softer lactic ones under the action of bacteria.

Not all Chardonnays that eschew this latter process are unpleasantly acidic: some that undergo it can become unpalatable if, rather than taking on a creamy taste, they develop one that’s overtly buttery.

What about oak and lees? In both cases, these should impart an additional richness to the wine’s texture, and some complementary flavours, from nuts to toast, matchstick and vanilla. The wood influence in particular should be in harmony with the base wine; it should not mask the characters of the Chardonnay, and, in general terms, a stronger, juicier wine can handle a more powerful influence from barrels – or more new oak.

Then there are the lees to consider, a byproduct of the winemaking process that can be stirred to bring a nutty richness or left undisturbed to scavenge oxygen from the wine, and bring about ‘reductive’ flavours, which can be pleasingly, gently sulphuric – like a freshly struck match – or, if not managed properly, turn nasty, adding aromas similar to rotten eggs.

TEXTURE AND FRESHNESS

In 2020 the top-scorers managed to achieve something important for Chardonnay – a wine with texture and freshness. This is a grape that’s capable of producing white wines with a certain weight, along with cleansing natural acidity.

Neither I nor my fellow tasters rated the bony samples, even if they offered high levels of refreshment. There are plenty of grapes grown worldwide that suit a linear, taut wine style. To try and create such a wine type with Chardonnay not only means missing out on its capability to turn out something more generous, but also risks disappointing the consumer, who generally opts for this grape when seeking a textural style of white (Chablis being the exception, but chosen for its unique style, which is based on this region’s site and climate specifics, rather than the base variety).

Now, let’s consider the outstanding samples. With so many Golds this year, I’ve picked out some personal favourites and unusual discoveries from the tasting, but all of those listed in the tables will satisfy the Chardonnay lover.

In the sparkling category, a mention has to go to Kent producer Gusbourne, whose blanc de blancs really was a brilliant example of pure Chardonnay traditional method fizz, with a bit more fruit than you might find in the equivalent from Champagne, such as the excellent example we had from Ayala, but with no less freshness, or biscuity complexity.

Moving on to the still wines, and dropping down to sub-£10 Chardonnay, I was delighted to taste a really delicious, fruity, gently creamy sample in the unoaked category, which hailed from Casablanca in Chile, made by Morandé.

We also tasted a rare example of an outstanding (if pricy) unoaked Chardonnay, which was the Acero – meaning ‘steel’ in Spanish – from the Marimar Estate in Russian River Valley, a property owned by Torres.

Back to sub-£10, but in the oaked sector, it turned out we had awarded Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay a Gold medal, confirming this really is a great big-brand bottle of Chardonnay for a bargain price.

Moving a little further up cost-wise, but not much, was a lovely cream, cashew and peach-flavoured Chardonnay from Romania, called Sole, and made by the reliable Cramele Recas.

Between £20 and £30, judging by the number of Golds awarded, this is a sweet spot price wise for fine Chardonnay, with the standout sample coming from Tempus Two in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

But the top scorers here were mostly from Australia, or California, although there were a few rivals from rather less likely sources, such as great bottles from Mexico (Vinicola San Lorenzo), and Turkey (Chamlija). Furthermore, there was a wonderful find from Alpha Estate in Greece, which was bright, toasty, textured and affordable.

Another source of excitement in this price band was a Gold medallist from pop star Kylie Minogue. Made for her by the first-rate Howard Park in Margaret River, this was the first time Kylie’s new-launch wine had been taste tested blind against its peers. Those who are sceptical about celebrity-backed wines should be reassured – this is a great glass of Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Master: Capensis from the Western Cape

BEAUTIFUL AND TEXTURED

Over £30 and we tasted a beautiful and textured Chardonnay from Daou in Paso Robles, and a more smoky, toasty type from Marisco in Marlborough. And at the very top end, over £50, the wow factor was certainly evident, in particular among the Californian Chardonnays of Stonestreet (Alexander Valley), Marimar (Green Valley) and The Barn (Sonoma County).

My highest scorer, however, hailed from South Africa. Capensis is a relatively new top-end white from the Western Cape, made by California’s Chardonnay experts, Jackson Family Wines. It’s outstanding, mixing creamy, toasty oak, and peach and apple fruit with the perfect Chardonnay texture: it’s soft and rich as it hits the tongue, zesty and bright as it slips down the throat, with a lovely lingering note of freshly roasted nuts.

It’s not cheap, at close to £100, but when viewed relative to the price of grand cru white Burgundy, which Capensis would rival for quality, it’s doesn’t seem so expensive either.

Please see the tables below, which feature all the medallists from this year’s competition.

Sparkling Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£30-£50
Centre Vinicole –
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
Cuvée Spéciale Blanc de Blancs Champagne France NV Silver
Centre Vinicole –
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
Collection Vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne France 2014 Silver
£50+
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Kent UK 2015 Master
Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs Champagne France 2014 Gold

Unoaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Morandé Morandé Estate Reserve Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay San Antonio Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Cramele Recas Paparuda Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Cramele Recas Umbrele Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Cramele Recas Brindle Ridge Chardonnay Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Mas la Chevalière L Chardonnay Languedoc-
Roussillon
France 2020 Silver
Vistamar Reserva Chardonnay Maule Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Mancura Etnia Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Mancura Guardian Chardonnay Maule Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Mancura Mito Chardonnay – Viognier Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Barton & Guestier B&G Réserve Chardonnay Pays d’Oc France 2019 Silver
Globus Wine King’s Parrot Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Bronze
Santa Helena Varietal Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Bronze
Vistamar Brisa Chardonnay Central Valley Chile 2020 Bronze
£10-£15
Santa Helena Santa Helena Reserva Central Valley Chile 2020 Gold
Cramele Recas Sole Chardonnay Timis Romania 2019 Gold
Maso Grener Vigna Tratta Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto-Adige Italy 2019 Silver
Viñedos Emiliana Adobe Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Vignobles Bonfils Domaine de Cibadiès – West Side Languedoc Roussillon France 2020 Silver
Viña Morandé Morandé Gran Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Vistamar Gran Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Vistamar Corte de Campo Coastal White Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Anaxagoras Denizli Turkey 2020 Silver
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Anaxagoras Denizli Turkey 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique Chardonnay Walker Bay South Africa 2018 Silver
Vinicola San Lorenzo Casa Madero Chardonnay Parras Valley Mexico 2019 Silver
Laroche L Chablis Burgundy France 2019 Silver
The Lane Vineyard The Lane Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
£20-£30
Giusti Wine Chardonnay IGT Trevenezie Dei Carni Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Jean Leon Jean Leon 3055 Penedès Spain 2019 Silver
£50+
Viña Chocalan Chardonnay Reserva Maipo Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Marimar Estate Acero Russian River Valley USA 2018 Gold

Oaked Still Chardonnay

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Leyda Valley Chile 2020 Gold
Jacob’s Creek Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Chardonnay Oak Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
te Pa Family Vineyards Montford Estate Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Finca Albret Albret El Alba Navarra Spain 2019 Gold
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Gold
te Pa Family Vineyards Pa Road Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
L’Ecole No 41 Chardonnay Walla Walla Valley United States 2019 Gold
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Estate Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Marisco Vineyards The Ned Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Wakefield Taylors Chardonnay Clare Valley/Padthaway Australia 2019 Silver
Glen Carlou Vineyards Glen Carlou Chardonnay Paarl-Simonsberg South Africa 2019 Silver
Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Chardonnay Barossa Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Three Thieves Three Thieves Chardonnay California USA 2017 Silver
McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay Tumbarumba Australia 2019 Silver
Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Chardonnay Limarí Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Cavit Bottega Vinai Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto Adige Italy 2019 Bronze
Terrazas De Los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Nepenthe Altitude Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
£15-£20
te Pa Family Vineyards te Pa Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Santolin Wines Santolin Family Reserve Chardonnay Yarra Valley Australia 2019 Gold
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Legacy Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Domaine La Louviere La Souveraine Languedoc France 2019 Gold
Napa Cellars Napa Cellars Chardonnay California USA 2018 Gold
Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Silver
Cavit Maso Toresella Chardonnay Trentino DOC Trentino Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Matahiwi Estate Holly by Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2019 Silver
Matahiwi Estate Holly South Series Chardonnay Wairarapa New Zealand 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards Leefield Station Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards Marea Chardonnay Leyda Valley Chile 2020 Silver
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay California USA 2018 Silver
Vignobles Bonfils Domaine de Cibadiès – Le Jardin Languedoc Roussillon France 2019 Silver
The Lane Vineyard The Lane Beginning Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
McGuigan McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Nepenthe Pinnacle Ithaca Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Copper Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat Crocodile’s Lair Chardonnay Walker Bay South Africa 2018 Bronze
Viña Aresti Trisquel Series – Vichuquén Curicó Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodega Los Helechos Los Helechos Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana Signos de Origen La Vinilla Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Joel Gott Joel Gott California Chardonnay California USA 2018 Bronze
Tempus Two Tempus Two Copper Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2018 Master
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Vasse Felix Premier Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards The Mira Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Cambria Estate Winery Cambria Katherine’s Chardonnay California USA 2018 Gold
Alpha Estate Ecosystem Chardonnay Single Block Tramonto Florina Greece 2018 Gold
Vinicola San Lorenzo Gran Reserva Chardonnay Parras Valley Mexico 2019 Gold
La Crema La Crema Monterey Chardonnay Monterey USA 2018 Gold
Hahn Family Wines Hahn Chardonnay Monterey USA 2018 Gold
Chamlija Felix Culpa Strandja Mountains Turkey 2019 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Jaraman Chardonnay Clare Valley & Margaret River Australia 2019 Gold
Howard Park Kylie Minogue Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2019 Gold
te Pa Family Vineyards te Pa Reserve St Leonards Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2018 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines St Andrews Chardonnay Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Taylor Made Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
Azienda Vinicola Castelfeder Chardonnay Riserva Burgum Novum Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Miguel Torres Chile Cordillera Limarí Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2017 Silver
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Chardonnay Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay Hunter Ridge Australia 2018 Silver
Santa Rita Santa Rita Floresta Chardonnay Limarí Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa 2018 Silver
Sur Andino Altaluvia Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£30-£50
Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay South Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Marisco Vineyards Craft Series The Pioneer Chardonnay Marlborough New Zealand 2015 Gold
DAOU Family Estates DAOU Family Estates Reserve Chardonnay Willow Creek USA 2019 Gold
Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311 SE Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay Margaret River Australia 2018 Silver
Masciarelli Chardonnay Colline Teatine IGT Marina Cvetic Abruzzo Italy 2018 Silver
Chamlija Thracian Strandja Mountains Turkey 2018 Silver
Hahn Family Wines Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands USA 2018 Silver
Familia Torres Sons de Prades Conca de Barberà Spain 2018 Silver
Nals Margreid Baron Salvadori Chardonnay Riserva Alto Adige Italy 2017 Silver
Penfolds Reserve Bin Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2019 Silver
Jean Leon Jean Leon Gigi Penedès Spain 2017 Bronze
£50+
Capensis Capensis Western Cape South Africa 2016 Master
Stonestreet Winery Stonestreet Estate Chardonnay Alexander Valley USA 2016 Master
Marimar Estate Marimar La Masia Chardonnay Green Valley USA 2017 Master
Kenwood Vineyards The Barn Chardonnay Sonoma County USA 2018 Master
Tapanappa Wines Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Gold
Bird in Hand Ted South Australia Australia 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards Uva Mira Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Uva Mira Moutain Vineyards The Single Tree Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 Gold
Terrazas De Los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Grand Chardonnay Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay SE Australia Australia 2018 Gold
Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs Elena Saint-Emilion France 2019 Gold
Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton Chardonnay Oregon USA 2016 Silver
Hahn Family Wines Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands USA 2018 Silver
Familia Torres Milmanda Conca de Barberà Spain 2017 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Chardonnay Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The 2020 competition was held in December at 28-50 Wine Bar and Kitchen in Covent Garden, London, and was judged by David Round MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and Patrick Schmitt MW. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Chardonnay Master. This report features the medal winners only.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The judge’s view: Patricia Stefanowicz MW

“Sparkling Chardonnays are a wonderful way to approach the day. Though a minuscule group this year, and all expensive, the wines are glorious, demonstrating that traditional method sparkling wines made exclusively from Chardonnay are both exhilarating and worthy of attention. With bright flavours, lively acidity and textured mousse, these wines are, quite frankly, a wine lover’s delight.

The unoaked Chardonnays under £10 represent good everyday drinking. A notable surprise is the consistency and ‘quaffing ability’ of the Romanian wines. Chile’s delightful entry-level offering should also not be overlooked.

At higher price brackets there are some good, even very good, examples. Above £20, however, one has to ask, ‘Why so expensive?’ One supposes that low yields, selection in the vineyard (or winery) and careful production methods are the rationale, but producing unoaked Chardonnay is actually not that difficult in most regions around the world.

Oaked Chardonnays are what consumers normally expect, and there is much available to quench one’s thirst below £15. Silver and Gold awards abound with plenty of juicy orchard fruits, lively acidity and nicely judged oak balanced beautifully.

The group at £15-20 are far more variable. There are some lovely gems with yellow plums or peaches, zippy acidity and nicely integrated oak, but there are also wines which are ‘a disappointment.’ Sometimes, it seems, the wines are simply ‘trying too hard.’

As anticipated, oaked wines at £20-30 are a significant step up, showing layers of flavours, nicely defined fruit, and zesty acidity with nuances of nuts and spices from the judicious use of oak. Australia and California perform particularly well, but there are a few hidden treasures from South Africa, Chile, Turkey and Greece. Yum, yum!

And then we find the ‘mother-load’. Oaked wines above £30 are, quite simply, sensational. There are so many wines worthy of ‘diamond-status.’ While exhibiting orchard fruit flavours and smoky-toasty-vanilla oak in abundance, these wines have great freshness of gently citrus acidity, creamy texture across the palate, and incredible layers of aromatics and flavours that linger on the finish practically forever. The ‘stars’ are New World wines from the likes of Australia, California, Oregon and South Africa with a few surprises: delicious wines from Chile, Turkey and Spain.

If there were a slightly disturbing aspect to the Chardonnay Masters this year, it may be that there were very few European wines, especially at the top levels. So, one might wonder whether a reconstruction of the ‘Judgment of Paris’ might, yet again, be in order?

In conclusion, judging these wines is always a delight and a privilege with so many ‘practically perfect in every way’ wines on offer.”

The best Malbecs from the Global Masters 2020

While the South American powerhouse was rewarded in our competition, the Global Malbec Masters showed that other countries can hold their own when it comes to making exciting wines from this grape, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

If you were in doubt as to the power of brand Malbec, then look at the range of medallists in this year’s competition. Not surprisingly Argentina dominates – this is, after all, the country that made Malbec famous. It elevated a sidelined French grape into an international superstar, but witness where it’s now grown, and the styles of wine it produces. We even tasted a ‘white Malbec’, then, as the sampling continued, tried reds from Turkey, Spain, and South Africa, all made with Malbec, despite those countries having no history of handling the grape.

This is because this variety is such a draw for wine drinkers, who love its deep colour, its fleshy dark fruit, spice, and firm tannins. It’s also one of those grapes that makes one hungry, so closely associated is Malbec with marbled red meat. Or maybe it’s the prevalence of steak that makes consumers so thirsty for Malbec? Either way, the grape is a global force, and, as a result, its supply base is expanding.

This should be good for Malbec, as new sources and techniques, as well as better examples, will retain consumer interest in this grape.

This is true too for Malbec from Argentina, where the diversity of wines from this single grape has expanded, from the rich to bright, and now from the white to the rosé and of course, near-black wines it’s famous for. Argentine Malbec has also moved with the times stylistically, as winemakers gradually show more restraint in their approaches, reducing the proportion of new oak, or picking a touch earlier for greater freshness, even though they are still crafting generous, juicy reds.

So what wowed the judges in 2020? Well, the sole white Malbec in the competition made for a novel, refreshing, inexpensive and well-made addition to the category. It was a fairly simple wine with flavours of apple and pear.

Among the reds, but sticking with the cheaper end of the tasting, it was a Malbec from South Africa that was the only sample to pick up a Gold medal for a wine under £10. Hailing from Linton Park Wine Estate in Wellington, it was loaded with black cherry and prune-like fruit, and creamy vanilla-tasting oak, impressing the judges for its quality and depth at this price level.

Further surprises came in the £10-£15 category. One of these was the quality of Malbec from Bodegas Norton that had been produced without any oak influence. Using grapes from Argentina’s Lujan de Cuyo, it was an intense red with layers of flavour from blackcurrant to plums, with fine tannins and a pleasing touch of dried herbs, and more than enough juicy fruit to make up for the lack of barrel-derived sweetness.

In the same price band, but within the oaked Malbec category, the judges were amazed to find that the sole Gold awarded was from Izmir in Turkey. Made by Yedi Bilgeler Winery, it was an intense style, with blackberry and wild cherry aromas, milk chocolate, and a fresh, plum-like finish, making for an opulent but bright style of Malbec.

Over £15, but staying below £20, and we had our first Master-winning Malbec. Given to Finca El Origen’s Gran Reserva from Uco Valley’s sought-after sub-region of Los Chacayes, it gained high scores from all the judges for its mix of creamy oak and ripe, fleshy, black fruit, and dry, cleansing tannins, all for a higher-than-average but still affordable price.

Moving beyond the £20 barrier, the Malbecs became more intense, and specialist, with a pair of outstanding single vineyard expressions from high up in the Uco Valley. Both from Trapiche, and forming part of its Terroir Series, they were equally good, with a lovely balance between fruit and oak, ripeness and freshness, while containing an appealing herbal, peppery note. However, the flavours and structure did vary, with the Orellana using grapes from the La Consulta sub-region, while the Ambrosia was made with bunches from Gualtallary. Attracting just a point score below these two was a third single vineyard expression from Trapiche, using fruit from a site called El Parel, which yielded a notably spicy style of smooth, fresh Malbec.

As for the other Gold in this price category, that hailed from Norton, and formed part of its Altura range, which, like the Trapiche wines, uses grapes from high up in the Uco Valley.

It was notable how good the blends performed this year, especially when they included Cabernet Franc, which seemed to give a fresh red-fruit character to the wines, not unlike summer pudding. Wonderful and relatively affordable Malbec blends containing this grape included Argento’s Aresano Organic sample and Aleanna’s El Enemigo – which gained a Master. Other successful complements to Malbec based on this year’s results included Tannat and Petit Verdot (Amalaya) and Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah (Domaine Bousquet).

Turning back to the issue of varietal Malbecs, we had some outstanding wines from Catena and Terrazas de los Andes in particular, with the latter picking up a Master for its Lican Parcel, which uses grapes from the Uco’s Los Chacayes, giving another endorsement for this high altitude sub-region.

But we also had a Master at this top end for a delicious Malbec from Doña Paula, capturing the quality of grapes from its Alluvia parcel of vines at 1,350m above sea level in Gualtallary in the Uco Valley.

Made in one of the coolest climates for Malbec in Argentina, this is a wine with masses of concentration, loaded with pure, intense black fruit, some bright red berries, notes of cigar box, and a tight dry tannin texture. It is an impressive, powerful red without the alcohol heat and sweetness that can beset such a wine style.

And it is another example of why Argentina is still the benchmark for varietal Malbec – it manages to pack so much colour, flavour and energy into its wines.

See the tables below for all the medallists from this year’s competition.

White Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodega Trivento Argentina Trivento Reserve White Malbec Uco Valley &
Luján de Cuyo
Argentina 2020 Bronze

Unoaked 100% Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodega Norton Barrel Select Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2020 Silver
Beefsteak Club Beefsteak Club Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2020 Silver
Fecovita Botham Signature Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Bronze
Rigal Original Malbec South West France 2019 Bronze
Aldi Ireland Grapevine Malbec Uco Valley Argentina NV Bronze
£10-£15
Bodega Norton Colección Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2020 Gold
Bodega El Esteco Old Vines Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Malma Chacra La Papay Malbec Patagonia Argentina 2019 Silver
£30-£50
Bodega Krontiras Krontiras Natural Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Bronze

Oaked 100% Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Linton Park Wine Estate Linton Park Estate Malbec Wellington South Africa 2018 Gold
Finca La Celia Graffigna Malbec San Juan Argentina 2019 Silver
Indómita Irresistible Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bodega El Esteco Don David Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega El Esteco Blend de Extremos Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Tapihue Wines Clava Reserva Valparaíso Chile 2018 Silver
Viña Santa Ema Gran Reserva Malbec Maipo Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Zorzal Vineyards & Winery Zorzal Terroir Único Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Indómita Zarper Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Malbec Reserve Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Solon Atica Malbec İzmir Turkey 2019 Gold
Tapihue Wines Q Gran Reserva Valparaíso Chile 2018 Silver
Finca La Celia Graffigna Glorious Selection San Juan Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Trivento Argentina Private Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Trapiche Perfiles Textura Fina Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Norton Winemakers Reserve Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Argento Artesano de Argento Organic Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Finca Ferrer Finca Ferrer Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Finca El Origen Reserva Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Terrazas de los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Luján de Cuyo
and Uco Valley
Argentina 2018 Silver
Zorzal Vineyards & Winery Zorzal Gran Terrior Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Uco Valley Estate Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Estate Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Trapiche Perfiles Calcareo Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Trapiche Medalla Malbec Luján de Cuyo
and Maipu
Argentina 2017 Bronze
Mascota Vineyards Unánime Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Bronze
Fecovita Botham 79 Series Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Estate Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Finca El Origen Gran Reserva Malbec Los Chacayes Argentina 2018 Master
Viña Aresti Trisquel Series – Curicó Costero Curicó Valley Chile 2018 Gold
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Single Vineyard Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Finca Ferrer Colección 1310 Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Finca La Celia La Celia Elite Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Malma Family Reserve Malbec Patagonia Argentina 2018 Silver
Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Finca La Anita Finca La Anita Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Selected Vines Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Château Lagrézette Cuvée Marguerite Occitanie France 2016 Silver
Algodon Wine Estates Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2017 Silver
Mendoza Vineyards R&B Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Bronze
Mendoza Vineyards MV Gran Reserve Mendoza Argentina 2018 Bronze
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Malbec Maule Valley Chile 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Orellana Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Bodega Norton Altura Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Grupo Colomé Colomé Lote Especial Malbec El Arenal Salta Argentina 2018 Silver
Millaman Paya de Millaman Curicó Valley Chile 2017 Silver
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Coletto Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Bodega Norton Privada Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Argento Single Vineyard Altamira Organic Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Alta Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas Clunia Clunia Malbec Castilla y Léon Spain 2018 Silver
Bodega Los Helechos Los Helechos Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Bodega Argento Single Block Black Mendoza Argentina 2017 Silver
Viu Manent Single Vineyard San Carlos Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Bronze
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Taylor Made Malbec Clare Valley Australia 2019 Bronze
£30-£50
Bodega y Viñedos Catena Catena Alta Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2016 Gold
Fincas Patagónicas–
Bodegas Tapiz
Black Tears Uco Valley Argentina 2015 Silver
Château Lagrézette Le Pigeonnier Occitanie France 2016 Silver
Doña Paula Winery Selección de Bodega Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
£50+
Terrazas de los Andes Parcel Nº 12 Licán Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Parcel Alluvia Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2015 Gold
Terrazas de los Andes Grand Malbec Luján de Cuyo
and Uco Valley
Argentina 2017 Gold
Terrazas de los Andes Parcel Nº 2 Los Castaños Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Finca La Anita Magna Finca Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2017 Bronze

Unoaked Malbec Blend

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Aldi Ireland Vignobles Roussellet French Malbec Syrah Loire Valley France NV Bronze

Oaked Malbec Blend

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Morandé Estate Reserve Malbec Maule Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Cono Sur Organic Malbec Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Silver
The Show The Show Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Vistamar Vistamar Reserva Maule Valley Chile 2019 Silver
£10-£15
Bodega Argento Artesano de Argento Organic Malbec Cabernet Franc Mendoza Argentina 2019 Gold
Domaine Bousquet Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
£15-£20
Aleanna El Enemigo Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Domaine Bousquet Gaia Mendoza Argentina 2017 Bronze
£20-£30
Bodega Norton Lote Negro Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Gold
Domaine Bousquet Grand Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2017 Gold
Algodon Wine Estates Gran Cuvee Mendoza Argentina 2012 Gold
Bodega Amalaya Amalaya Malbec Cafayate Argentina 2019 Gold
Algodon Wine Estates Malbec Bonarda Mendoza Argentina 2014 Silver
£30-£50
Trapiche Iscay Malbec – Cabernet Franc Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Global Malbec Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The 2020 competition was judged over two days in November at the Novotel London Bridge Hotel, and judged by Patrick Schmitt MW, David Round MW and Simon Field MW.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Malbec Master.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The best Riojas from the Wine Masters on sale in 2020

With the judging now finished for this year’s Rioja Masters we can bring you the results in full, listing all the medallists, and drawing attention to the best Riojas on sale in 2020, whatever the style and category.

There’s a place in the wine world that’s proving particularly resilient in its popularity. Unlike the rise and fall of many a mainstream vinous source, from Chianti to claret, California rosé to German Riesling, the demand for Rioja, particularly in its reserva form, just won’t die down, despite its near ubiquitous state. Rather, it’s still a growing category, spearheaded by many strong brands, from Campo Viejo and Marqués de Cáceres to Faustino and Riscal. After years of chairing our annual Rioja Masters, and confirmed in particular this year, I think I know the reason for such enduring appeal. It’s primarily a question of style and value.

You see, Rioja has this appealing character of being juicy, oaky, and fresh. It has ripe cherry fruit from the Tempranillo and Garnacha that dominate its blends, vanilla and chocolate from the oak barrels used in its maturation, and a bright acidity from the cool nights in this relatively high-altitude continental region – vineyards are generally between 300m and 500m above sea level, but they can reach up to 800m or more. Then there’s the price charged for a taste of this likeable mix. Rioja is relatively affordable. You don’t have to stray much over £20 for brilliance. There’s also plenty of good quality, juicy quaffing reds below £10 too. And between these two price points, Rioja consistently delivers something that has a draw.

Such widespread adoration for the region’s produce does create one problem for Rioja, albeit a minor one, and that concerns its image among fine wine collectors – the people who happily regularly spend sums in excess of £100 on Bordeaux or Burgundy don’t seem to snap up Rioja. In my view, they are missing out. The greatest expressions from this region are delicious, ageworthy, and unique. Plus, unlike most great wines, Rioja’s finest bottles are often released when they are ready to drink.

Among the classifications, which are increasingly numerous, it is the reserva age statement, with its minimum of 12 months in oak, that offers the biggest bang per buck. It seems this period of time delivers the right amount of barrel-sourced vanillin and tannin to suit the fleshy red berry fruit of Rioja. It’s a bit like adding a desirable amount of cream to your strawberries – of course tastes differ, but you want something that improves the base ingredient, not smothers it. Having said that, there are plenty of lightly-oaked crianzas that are delicious, as well as joven wines from Rioja that give one a chance to indulge in the fresh berry flavours of this region, undiluted, and in a wonderful youthful state.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, gran reserva Riojas should be celebrated for offering the drinker something rare and historic in the wine world – a drop that’s fully mature on its release, and sometimes pleasingly light and fresh, despite having powerful flavours.

Finally, we have, among the reds, the eclectic wonders of the ‘vinos de autor’ category, a place for experimental and ambitious winemaking. If you love reds with weight, oak influence, and elegance, then look out for this classification, where you generally have a wine style that’s a bit bigger in all areas, be it texture, wood flavours, or fruit ripeness. These can be great wines, and should be judged according to how well they compare relative to the world of powerful wines, rather than Rioja. So often they do admirably on this front, but can fail if you were expecting something with the light, spicy lift of a traditional Rioja.

Rioja is a rare place in the world of wine. Not just because it offers fully ripe wines with a fresh acidity, but because it boasts a broad sweep of wine styles. Such complexity adds interest. Meanwhile, strong brands take away the risk that comes with drinkers experimenting.

In any case, the quality standard that comes with the Rioja tag is high. Of all our tastings, the Rioja Masters generally sees us award the highest number of Golds relative to the quantity of entries, and, I should add, the fewest Bronzes or lower. There’s a reason why Rioja’s appeal endures. As noted above, it relates to style and quality. But as the diversity of Rioja character seen in our Masters shows too, it’s also an issue of choice. This Spanish region now makes a wine to sate all tastes – even those of the aforementioned fine wine collectors, who should have no trouble finding what they want, whether it’s among the concentrated wines of Rioja’s vinos de autor, or the aged elegance of the gran reservas. And it’s high time they started their search.

For now, see the tables below, which illustrate the range on offer in Rioja today, and the highlights from the two days of judging the competition.

White Rioja Joven

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Campo Viejo Viura-Tempranillo Blanco 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Viura Malvasía 2019 Silver
Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco 2019 Bronze

White Rioja Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£15-£20
Eguren Ugarte Reserva 2017 Bronze
£30-£50
Rioja Vega Tempranillo Blanco Reserva 2017 Gold

White Rioja Vinos de Autor

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Rioja Vega Blanco Colección Tempranillo 2019 Silver
£15-£20
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro Don Quintín Ortega White BF 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Remírez de Ganuza Remírez de Ganuza 2016 Silver

Red Joven

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Garnacha 2019 Silver
Fincas de Azabache Tunante 2019 Silver
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega 2019 Silver
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2018 Bronze
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Tempranillo 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Tempranillo 2019 Bronze

Red Crianza

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Faustino Faustino Crianzo ITNOW 2017 Silver
Zinio Bodegas Sancho Garcés Crianza 2017 Bronze
£10-£15
Fincas de Azabache Azabache Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Crianza 2018 Silver
Rioja Vega Edición Limitada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Crianza 2017 Silver
Bodegas Valoria Viña Valoria Crianza 2016 Silver
Compañia de Vinos Heraclio Heraclio Alfaro 2017 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Crianza 2016 Bronze
£15-£20
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Crianza 2017 Gold
Fincas de Azabache Crianza Garnacha 2018 Gold
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Cuvée 2017 Gold
Hermanos Frias del Val Crianza 2016 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Crianza 2018 Bronze
Zinio Bodegas Zinio Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada 2016 Bronze
£20-£30
Fincas de Azabache Culto 2017 Silver

Red Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Muriel Wines Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2016 Gold
Bodegas la Eralta Señorío de La Eralta 2016 Silver
£10-£15
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Reserva 2014 Gold
Bodegas Valoria Viña Valoria Reserva 2014 Gold
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Reserva ITNOW 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Art Collection Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino V Reserva 2015 Bronze
Bodegas y Viñedos Leza Leza García Reserva 2016 Bronze
£15-£20
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva de Familia 2017 Gold
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega Reserva 2015 Gold
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Borisa 125 Reserva 2017 Silver
Eguren Ugarte Reserva 2014 Silver
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro Ortega Ezquerro Reserva 2014 Silver
Zinio Bodegas Sancho Garcés Reserva 2015 Bronze
£20-£30
Zinio Bodegas Zinio Reserva 2016 Gold
£30-£50
Remírez de Ganuza Viña Coqueta 2009 Gold
Remírez de Ganuza Fincas de Ganuza 2014 Gold
Bodegas Faustino Icon Edition Especial Selección 2015 Gold
£50+
Remírez de Ganuza Remírez de Ganuza 2006 Master

Red Gran Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10-£15
Bodegas la Eralta Señorío de La Eralta 2014 Gold
£15-£20
Bodegas Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2013 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Gran Reserva 2013 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Faustino I Gran Reserva 2010 Bronze
Bodegas Faustino Faustino I Gran Reserva ITNOW 2010 Bronze
£20-£30
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Rioja Vega Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2012 Silver
£30-£50
Bodegas Campillo Campillo 57 Gran Reserva 2012 Master
£50+
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 1978 Gold

Red Vinos de Autor

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Rioja Vega Tinto Colección Tempranillo 2018 Gold
£15-£20
Viñas Leizaola Caminos de Sacramento 2018 Gold
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Garnacha 2018 Silver
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro OE Garnacha 2018 Silver
£20-£30
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Selección de Familia 2017 Master
Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres Generación MC 2018 Gold
Hermanos Frías del Val Selección Personal Premium 2016 Gold
Bodegas Campo Viejo Dominio de Campo Viejo 2016 Silver
£30-£50
Viñas Leizaola El Sacramento 2016 Gold
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega Venta Jalón 2014 Gold
Bodegas Ysios Ysios 2015 Silver

Red Organic

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£50+
MacRobert & Canals Barranco Del San Ginés 2016 Gold

Judges’ comments

Andrea Briccarello: “Rioja is still a strong brand in the UK, and I could see why during the tasting; the region offers great value for money, particularly the joven and crianza wines. I have a soft spot for white Rioja, so I really enjoyed the vinos de autor part of the tasting. “The crianzas and reservas were stunning, especially in the £10-1£5 range, with plenty of fresh, vibrant juicy red-fruit notes and spicy undertones, offering a lot of value. “There is much to like when it comes to Rioja; it all comes to style, more traditional or more modern, young and juicy (joven or crianza) or leather and tobacco (reserva or gran reserva). “The biggest surprise was the quality of these wines; which had hardly any faults. There were plenty of great wines that delivered in every glass.”

Patricia Stefanowicz MW: “The 2020 Rioja Masters was exemplary, and the wines demonstrate yet again why Rioja is well respected for quality, reliability and value. There are excellent wines in every category, from joven through crianza to reserva and gran reserva. The white wines showed well, and the vinos de autor expressed experimentation and excitement with a masterful touch. The judges awarded every wine in the tasting with a medal, perhaps a first? “The reds showed bright acidity and judiciously managed tannins throughout the different categories. The white Riojas exhibited lovely orchard fruits, purity of flavour and racy acidity in balance. “One or two reservas were serious wines with balanced acidity and lovely oak integration.”

About the competition

The Rioja 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 other regions such as Tuscany and Champagne, along with styles from rosé to sparkling. The competition is exclusively for Rioja wine, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Rioja Master. The entries were judged on 9 and 10 November at the Novotel, London Bridge.

The judges in The Rioja Masters 2020 were Andrea Briccarello, David Round MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and Patrick Schmitt MW

This report features the medal-winners only. Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unoaked

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

Oaked

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

Chardonnay Masters 2019: the results in full

We bring you a full report on the Chardonnay Masters 2019, including all the medallists, the names to watch, and the go-to regions for great barrel-fermented whites – Burgundy included, but Australia-dominated. Co-chair of the judges, Patrick Schmitt MW, reports

There are several benefits to the blind tasting format employed by our Global Wine Masters, which sees us sample entries by style and grape variety, rather than origin. One of these is to assess the overall quality and character of a category, be that a noble grape such as Chardonnay, or trending sector, from sparkling to rosé. Another is to isolate the great names and domains in the sector, including the best value producers along with those star, if sometimes pricy, performers. A further highly important element to our approach is to find out the hot spots for the type of wine being tasted. And, over the years, the Global Masters has drawn attention to a number of such areas, such as the excellence of pink wines from the Tuscan coast, the brilliance of Sauvignon from Styria, or Pinot Gris from Slovenia, while highlighting the rising quality of sparkling wines from Kent and Sussex, as well as the outstanding value of traditional method fizz from the Loire. There are many more that could be mentioned, such as the reliability of Clare Valley as the source of deliciously intense bone dry Riesling that doesn’t break the bank, or the brilliance of Cabernet Sauvignons from Sonoma, which tend to be a touch fresher, and a whole lot cheaper than the equivalents from neighbouring Napa.

Some of the greatest revelations have come from our Chardonnay tastings, which we’ve held annually since 2013. While such a competition has yielded so much discussion around winemaking techniques, such as the direct influence on style of picking dates, lees management, barrel regimes etc, we have devoted fewer words to the connection between place and quality, and so it’s this aspect to our results that I’m choosing to focus on this year, with a nod to past medallists from this major tasting.

And… if I am to pick out one overwhelming positive origin-based conclusion from these tastings, it is the excellence of Chardonnay from Australia, particularly Hunter and Yarra Valleys, along with Clare/Barossa, and Margaret River in the west of the country. The standout, however, has been the Adelaide Hills. I note this with a pang of sadness, aware that as much as one third of this area’s vineyards have been destroyed by the savage bushfires that swept through this beautiful area just before Christmas.

Over the years, we’ve seen Adelaide Hills deliver not just Australia’s top Chardonnays, but, relative to the global competition in the same price category, the best examples on the planet. As proof of the area’s excellence, in this year’s tasting, three of our six ‘Chardonnay Masters’ were from the Adelaide Hills (with a fourth also hailing from Australia). Examples from Penfolds using Adelaide Hills fruit have wowed in the past, but the most consistent wonders have hailed from Australian Vintage with Nepenthe, Tapanappa, with its Tiers vineyard in particular, and Bird in Hand with its Chardonnays at all levels. Indeed, after years of blind-tasting Chardonnay from around the world, I can say with confidence that a go-to place for fine, barrel-influenced Chardonnay is the Adelaide Hills, and bearing in mind the recent devastation of the region, I urge you to secure some stock from the great names mentioned above, both to benefit the region, but also yourself – prices are likely to go up.

I should also mention the other Australian Master in the 2019 tasting, which went to Clare Valley’s Taylor/Wakefield Wines. This producer, named after the Taylor family in Australia, but called Wakefield Wines abroad (due to trademark laws on the ‘Taylor’s’ brand from the Port producer by the same name), has been a big hitter with its Chardonnays in many of our tastings, but also with its Rieslings, Shirazes and Cabernets in our competitions for each one of these varieties. In short, I have been repeatedly impressed by the quality of their output.

Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champagne Masters 2019: the results in full

An extensive report on this year’s Champagne Masters, including all the medallists, a look at the top-performing categories, the best wines of the competition, and the styles of fizz we liked – and those we weren’t so enamoured with too…

Tell anyone outside the wine trade that you’ve spent a day tasting Champagne, and one can hardly expect sympathy – jealousy is the most common reaction. However, assessing this fine French fizz is hard work. If I consider all the Global Wine Masters competitions the drinks business runs, the Champagne Masters is the most challenging. It requires intense concentration to fairly and accurately judge a delicate drink, with many components to consider, from the quality of the bubbles, to the acid-structure of the wine, character of the fruit, along with lees-aged flavours – and, where relevant, quality of the reserve wine – along with integration of the dosage, where present.

Stylistic preferences
There’s a further element that makes this competition demanding for the taster, and especially the chair. This concerns stylistic preference. I know my own leanings from more than a decade’s worth of regular Champagne sampling, and that is for a relatively rich style of fizz with clearly identifiable aromas/flavours from extended ageing on the lees and protection from oxygen, such as grilled nuts or toasted bread. This type of sparkling is termed ‘reductive’ by the trade, referring to fact that these roasted characters tend to emerge in the absence of exposure to air during the process, and in the headspace too (which explains the increased prominence of smoky/toasty aromas in larger formats, where the ratio of oxygen to fizz is altered).

However, I am aware that not all tasters share my preference for these traits. I find some judges much more forgiving of the opposing, oxidative style of fizz. While I enjoy the honeyed flavours found in older bottles, and the softer sparkling sensation too, I am less keen on the more aldehydic characteristics that can emerge from the less protective handling of Champagne making, such as the taste of bruised apples. But for others, this can be seen to add an extra layer of flavour.

Dryness in Champagne can be another source of debate, while rosé style is always a subject of extended discussion. But the results of a competition such as the Champagne Masters does not reflect one person’s preferences but the collective views of a professional jury. And the word ‘professional’ is key, because these are tasters that may have different stylistic predilections, but have the experience to know that it’s necessary to put aside personal tastes in the desire to fairly assess the fizz in front of them. In other words, whether you favour more oxidative or reductive flavours in fine Champagne, it is the overall quality of the fizz that’s being rated.

Having said that, before leaving the question of style, it was certainly the case that extremes of either Champagne type performed less well. As long-standing Global Masters judge and fellow chair, Jonathan Pedley said after the tasting: “It was interesting to see that the debate over the degree of reduction/oxidation in premium wines is alive and well, in this case in the context of Champagne. Every taster has their own preference or tolerance, but that the consensus we edged towards is that a reductive or oxidative component in a wine can add complexity and interest, but if sulphidic aromas on one side or aldehydic on the other come to dominate the nose then complexity is lost.”

The tasting also revealed marked differences in the character of older Champagnes. There are too many factors to list that could be the cause of this, but this year’s competition showed (again), how some more mature Champagnes, be they in the vintage or prestige cuvée category, had delicious flavours of honey, dried fruit, coffee and lightly toasted brioche, while others seemed to have characters that were probably more kindly described as a touch tired. Pedley said: “I remain fascinated by the way Champagne ages: the right sort of development brings glorious nutty, honeyed complexity, whereas the wrong sort of age results in grim cabbagey staleness.“

On the subject of pure quality, however, there was agreement: the general standard of Champagne was high. I have written about the reasons for this in previous reports from former tastings, but it is clear that improved vineyard management, coupled with a good run of vintages and a better understanding of when to pick the grapes is yielding base wines that are clean, fresh, and have a fruity depth. In contrast, Pedley said that 25 years ago, “many wines were green and unripe, often with clumsy dosage masking raw acidity”.

Complexity and richness
It has also been noted before following a Champagne Masters tasting, that the non-vintage category contains wines of greater class, complexity, richness, and softness, something ascribed not only to better management of the fruit in the vineyard and cellar, but also the increased use of reserve wine – now commonly up to one third of the blend, and taking in a broader span of harvests than historically.

Having said that, the lesser-scoring Champagnes of this category were those where this reserve wine component seems to sit uncomfortably with the younger ‘base’ wine – something one imagines would be solved by a longer time spent maturing post-disgorgement. In keeping with our results last year, we witnessed a very good base standard of relatively affordable Brut NV Champagne from the grower-cooperative brands of the region: with Collet, Castelnau and Nicolas Feuillatte all gaining Silvers in the sub-£30 price brand, and Palmer, along with Pannier, taking a Gold in the £30-£50 flight.

In this latter price category, the quantity of Golds awarded was notable. Beyond the co-operative brands, the top maisons performed admirably, be they the region’s biggest names, Moët and Veuve Clicquot, along with slightly smaller houses, Piper and Pommery. We were also impressed by the NVs from more boutique operations, as well as relative newcomers to the negociant Champagne model: Comtes de Dampierre (founded in 1986) and Brimoncourt (launched in 2009).

The latter also gained a Gold for its extra brut in the £50-plus category of NV Champagne, and, with a dosage of just 2g/l, showed how the selection of ripe wines can yield a rounded and pleasurable fizz, even when the sugar level is extremely low. The same was true of the Henri Giraud Esprit Nature, which, despite its dryness, had the creaminess of a white Burgundy, no doubt due to this producer’s use of oak casks to age its reserve wines.

The sole Master among the NVs was Pommery’s Brut Apenage, which showed some youthful zesty chalky characters, a touch of white peach, and some honeyed, biscuity notes from extended ageing, making it both refreshing, but also ripe and layered in style.

The entries were judged on 04 October at Ametsa restaurant in the COMO Hotel, Belgravia, London

Beautiful fizz
Moving into the vintage Champagnes, it was houses Piper and Charles Heidsieck that shone, both of which share a parent company in EPI. Piper, however, achieved the only Master in this category – which it picked up for its latest expression from the first-rate 2012 harvest. This beautiful fizz combined characters of beeswax, bitter lemon and toasted hazlenuts, and was layered and textured, but still taut and mouth-cleansing. Alfred Gratien, Castelnau, Lanson and Pannier were further high performers in the vintage category, and at less than £50 at retail – showing the relative value of this Champagne type, especially when compared with Prestige Cuvées. “Given the psychotic pricing of the Prestige Cuvées, the traditional Vintage bracket can offer high quality at an almost sensible price,” said Pedley.

Nevertheless, it was within this peak of the Champagne pyramid that we unearthed the greatest expressions, with four Masters awarded, almost two thirds of the total. And the producer mix of these great Champagnes was varied, with Heidsieck houses Charles and Piper wowing with their Blanc de Millenaires and Rare cuvées respectively, along with a cooperative-grower brand, Collet (for its Esprit Couture 2007), and aforementioned comparatively young négociant name Comtes de Dampierre, with the Prestige 2004.

Commenting on this aspect of the tasting, Pedley said: “There were some splendid wines here, but the predatory pricing can leave you gasping for air. It is also worth saying that within this category there is a marked diversity of style. A couple of the wines seemed to be relatively youthful and fruity, whereas others followed the more familiar mature and complex pattern. I guess that Prestige Cuvée wines will always be more subject to the whims of the winemaker or marketer than, say, a traditional vintage wine.”

Pristine wines
As for the rest of the categories, it was perhaps notable that none of the Blanc de Noirs picked up a Gold. Although the sample set was small, it does support a long-held belief that Champagne benefits from Chardonnay. Meanwhile, the pure Chardonnay Champagnes did reach some high points, with pristine wines from Delamotte and Vollereaux particular. Finally, with the pink fizz, we saw a delicious NV sample from Charles Heidsieck, along with its wonderful vintage rosé, and an outstanding one from sister house Piper.

Indeed, the latter’s Rare Rosé 2008 wowed, with its creamy coffee aromas and zesty, fresh mouthfeel with a touch of exotic fruit flavours. But it should be added that this category, relative to the price of the Champagnes judged in the tasting, performed the least well, with some of the entries marked down because of a lack of autolytic character, or barely perceptible red berry fruit, as well as, on occasion, a phenolic note. Drawing attention to the inflated prices of pink Champagne relative to other styles, Pedley said: “I do enjoy a good rosé Champagne but to my dying day I will resent having to pay a premium to have a dollop of Pinot Noir added to the blend (or direct pressed for that matter).”

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

The judges, left to right: Patrick Schmitt MW, Anthony Foster MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Antony Moss MW, Jonathan Pedley MW

Rioja Masters 2019: the results in full

A full report on the top wines and leading styles from this year’s Rioja Masters, the most comprehensive annual blind tasting of current releases from this flagship Spanish region in the UK.

The Rioja Masters was held in Les 110 de Taillevent in London’s Cavendish Square

Before analysing the results in detail from this year’s Rioja Masters, it should be stated that this single tasting achieved a higher tally of top medals than almost any other competition in the Global Wine Masters series. Considering just the most glistening results, the judges awarded as many as 26 Gold medals, and, remarkably, a total of six Masters, which is the ultimate accolade, and given out only when the wine is outstanding.

What does this tell us? It shows us that Rioja is making wines right now of a style and quality that is first-class, and at all levels – although certain categories did perform better than others. It also confirms that the consumer is a good judge too – Rioja is one of the retail and restaurant’s sector most popular wine regions.

And if one is to sum up why this large Spanish wine region delivers so much, and without charging a hugely-inflated price, then it comes down to two key elements: the successful match between the terroir and the grapes of the region, and the particular approach to maturation in this part of Iberia.

Regarding the former, the mix of native Spanish grapes and this high, dry, barren plateau, yields wine with plenty of ripe fruit, but a cleansing natural acidity. As for the latter, the common practise of extended ageing before release, notably in barrels, produces a style of wine that’s soft, layered, and generally ready to drink on release, even at the top end – where rival European fine wine region so often advise buyers to cellar their latest orders for several years before opening.

Rioja’s present success also reflects recent change, and this is an area of Spain that may have an old-fashioned image, but shows marked dynamism. This was certainly clear at the start of this year’s tasting, which focused on the proportionally small white wine offering from Rioja (representing just 8% of production). Whereas this aspect to the region would have – as little as a decade ago – been dominated by Viura-based wines that were either light and simple, or, as a result of long-barrel-ageing, heavy and oxidative, today we are seeing clean, ripe whites of great character, as well as oak-influenced versions with nutty complexity and texture, but fresh fruit too.

The personality of the wines without the traditional Rioja treatment of barrel-ageing, governed by the region’s classifications – from Joven to Gran Reserva – hails from a change to the laws several years ago, allowing a greater range of white grapes to be planted for use in Rioja Blanco. Among these is the aromatic Verdejo grape – with Marqués de Cáceres gaining a Silver for its great value grapefruit-scented Don Sebastian branded version – as well as Tempranillo Blanco. This grape, sister to flagship Riojan red grape Tempranillo – is increasingly being used to produce varietal whites and to great affect, with orchard fruits, and an oily texture that complements a touch of new oak influence – both Viña Pomal and Rioja Vega being brilliant examples of this, and hence their Golds in this year’s Masters.

Indeed, if there was new and distinctive arrival to the world of Spanish whites, albeit niche, it is Tempranillo Blanco. As for the more traditional offer from Rioja, which sees Viura aged for years in barrique to produce something rich, waxy, and vanilla-scented, then this is still on offer, and made to a high standard with the Lar de Paula Blanco Reserva, a Gold standard wine with a strong character.

While Rioja is also able to craft fresh, red-berry rosés too, and sometimes with oak-influence as well, we saw little from this particular category in 2019, but that doesn’t mean one should not forget this offering from Rioja, particularly as the market for pink wines strengthens, diversifies and premiumises.

Moving to reds, however, the mainstay of Rioja’s output, we began the tasting with the youngest category, classed Joven. Interestingly, as Rioja’s classifications concern ageing times, rather than necessarily quality levels, we had Joven reds from the most basic to some of the region’s priciest. While the tasters were very excited to find delicious, fruity, youthful reds at keen prices from Marqués de Cáceres and Rioja Vega in particular, they were also excited by the quality at the top end from Faustino, with its Faustino & Eneko label – something crafted by the producer for the revered Spanish Michelin-starred chef, Eneko Atxa. In contrast to the more common output from Faustino – a Riojan leader in the Gran Reserva category – this expression spends just eight months in oak, allowing the rich red fruit flavours to shine.

Moving to the Crianza category – the classification for reds that have spent a minimum of one year in oak – we once more saw some delicious wines, on top of a big bank of Silver medallists, showing the high base standard in this category, which is such a big seller in Spain. It was here we found some of the best-value wines of the tasting, with sub £15 Crianzas from Viña Albina and Marqués de la Concordia both picking up Golds, while the higher-priced versions from Bodegas Corral and the Rolland-Galerreta label also impressing greatly. At the highest end of the price spectrum, the judges were wowed by the juicy, fleshy, layered pure Garnacha from Baigorri, highlighting the quality attainable from this grape when the vines are old and the site just right.

As for the Reservas, where a minimum of three years ageing (one of which must be spend in oak) brings an altered style of wine, we were delighted to find a delicious, classic, complex and bright red from Bodegas Muriel that retailed below £15, with its Fincas de la Villa Reserva awarded a Gold.

However, it was over £15 that most of the top medals were seen, while the first Master of the day was given to the slightly (but not much) pricier Eguren Ugarte Martin Cendoya Reserva. Notably, over £30, every sample picked up a Gold – or above, with a pure Graciano from Viña Pomal awarded a Master, which also showed that not just Tempranillo or Garnacha can, on their own, make top wines in Rioja.

We then finished the day with two final classifications in Rioja, both of which are divisive. The first, Gran Reserva, can create debate according to the judge’s preference, even though our judges are focused on quality, regardless of their personal tastes. While some are forgiving of more traditional, long-aged, and lighter styles of Gran Reserva, seeing it as a unique offering in the world of fine wines, others desire more weight, fruit and youth in this category. Not only did we see both styles, but each were able to deliver greatness, with the brilliant source of affordable and traditional Gran Reserva Rioja – Bodegas Faustino – gaining a Gold for its sub £20 sample from the 2009 vintage, and Viña Pomal also picking up the same medal for its richer, juicier and younger (and slightly pricier) Gran Reserva from 2012. At the top end of this category was the Remírez de Ganuza Gran Reserva from 2005, a delicious blend of barrel-sourced characters, mature fruit, and freshness, showing what a first-rate producer Fernando Remírez de Ganuza is.

The other controversial category, dubbed Vinos de Auto, which loosely translates as winemaker signature wines, creates discussion as such stylistic variation exists within a sector of Rioja designed to bring together wines that fall outside the traditional rules of the region. In effect, this is a sort of Super Tuscan equivalent for Rioja. As one might expect, the stylistic variation is broad, from intense, concentrated – sometimes over-extracted reds – to lighter, softer examples, although generally the wines lean towards the former type. Among the greats, reds that would compete on a world-stage with any powerful fine wines, were samples from Altos de Rioja, Concordia, Lan, Leizaola, and Ollauri.

In short, it was highly apparent that Rioja can deliver brilliant wines at a wide span of price points, and in a broad range of styles. It can produce something juicy, easy, and fresh at the bistro-level – be it white, red or Rosado – along with something fine, bright, and ready-to-drink at the finest end. Furthermore, it can yield something impressive, and powerful too, allowing the region to compete with top-end showy wine from around the world, while also sating a desire for something fine and delicate too – a growing sector, if one is to judge by the rising demand for great Pinot or Piedmontese reds.

In fact, whether you love big reds, or something more delicate, Rioja can provide something to suit, and, relative to great wines from Europe or beyond, this famous Spanish region offers impressive value for money. While we did see high-priced, high-scoring wines, the majority of our samples were sub £50, and, as noted at the outset, this tasting was near-record-breaking in the tally of top medals.

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 Rioja Masters 2019 judges (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Simon Field MW, and Jonathan Pedley MW

Global Cider Masters 2019: the results in full

We bring you a full report on all the medal-winners from the inaugural Global Cider Masters, which saw traditional and modern ciders shine, as well as an ice cider from Asturias in Spain.

It may have been just a single day of tasting, but our Global Cider Masters revealed a huge amount about this category. Not only did it highlight the skilled producers and class-leading sources, but it also draw attention to the stylistic diversity of cider, and the weaker points within the sector. Overall, importantly, it proved that cider is an exciting drinks category, and one that is perfectly placed to benefit from the key consumer trend of the moment: the demand for so called ‘craft’ products, which tend to be tied to a particular locality.

In terms of the origin of our top performers, the range of countries that shone in the Masters was notable, with samples from Spain and South Africa achieving high scores, along with, in particular, the bastion of traditional cider, Somerset.

Attracting favourable comments from the extremely experienced judges was the character and quality of Sheppy’s Somerset Traditional Cider, and its Oak Matured Vintage version, along with Sxollie Granny Smith Cider – using apples from Elgin in South Africa – and, at the end of the tasting, an ice cider from Pomaradas y Llagares de Sariego in Asturias, Spain.

Notable too about such results was the range of styles these standout ciders covered, from West County style to New World, and Ice Cider too, prompting chair of the judges, leading cider authority and personality, Gabe Cook, to comment on the need for clear segmentation when it comes to selling cider. “There are massive and significant differences in cider style, and yet, if you go to a bar or pub, it is just listed as ‘cider’; there is no stylistic categorisation,” he said, adding, “For example, you could have a bold, rich, tannic Herefordshire cider, or a lean, acid-driven and fruity one from Kent – it would be like comparing Sauvignon Blanc with Malbec.”

As a result, he urged the drinks trade to train its staff on the complexities of cider, and requested that drinks menus and blackboards highlight the basic style of cider on offer by featuring them under a brief range of headings.

While he was complementary about many of the ciders from a range of categories in the Global Cider Masters, be they ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ in style, he was critical of certain entries in the flavoured category because they failed to show any cider character.

“With some of the flavoured ciders there was no fermented apple character in there; the overriding character was artificiality and sweetness, making them effectively an RTD, and that, I believe, brings the industry into disrepute,” he said.

Summing up, as the day’s tasting came to an end, he spoke of cider’s potential, but also its problem. “Cider’s great opportunity and challenge is that the stylistic variation is vast – from coolest 330ml can with jazzy packing or hopped cider for beer heads, or even traditional-method ciders made in Epernay, employing the winemaking technology of the Champagne industry.”

Continuing, he observed, “Cider is made more like a wine, but presented more like a beer, and at the moment, it sits between beer and wine. However, this means it has the opportunity to appeal to both ends; there is a cider for every single person who likes alcoholic beverages.”

Furthermore, he said of an upsurge in demand for well-made cider of all types, “It has the story, the authenticity, and the quality; it has to happen… I believe, without a doubt, that craft cider is about to have the most amazing growth.”

Indeed, it was just such forecast dynamism for this category that prompted the drinks business to launch the Global Cider Masters, a competition that is, like all tastings in the Global Masters, designed to highlight quality, critique style, and promote emerging trends, due to the competition’s unique sampling process and the use of highly-experienced judges only.

About the competition:

More than 50 ciders were tasted ‘blind’ over the course of one day on Tuesday 13 at the Brewhouse & Kitchen on Geffrye Street in Hoxton, London.

The judges were:

The judges (left to righ): Gabe Cook (chair); James Waddington; Sam Nightingale; Shane McNamara; Patrick Schmitt

Gabe Cook, The Ciderologist (panel chair)

Gabe Cook is The Ciderologist, an award-winning, global cider expert attempting to change the way the world thinks and drinks cider. As well as chairing a number of cider competitions, Gabe is a cider writer, educator, industry consultant and the de facto “go to” independent voice on all matters cider.

James Waddington, Crafty Nectar

James Waddington is co-founder of Crafty Nectar, the UK’s leading online destination for craft cider. He is on a mission to share his love of the fermented apple, connecting consumers with ciders sourced directly from the UK’s best cider makers.

Sam Nightingale, Nightingale Cider Co.

Sam Nightingale is founder and cider maker at the Nightingale Cider Co. In 2015 Sam swapped his job in sound recording for muddy boots and overalls, and returned to his family farm to re-join his brother Tim, and concentrate on doing what he loved – making cider in Kent.

Shane McNamara, ZX Ventures

Shane McNamara is global technical manager at ZX Ventures, the innovation group within AB InBev, the world’s leading global brewer. He was formerly senior technical officer at the Institute of Brewing & Distiller in London, and a chair in the Global Beer Masters by the drinks business.

Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business

Patrick Schmitt oversees all the competitions that fall under the Global Masters series by the drinks business, which include tastings for every major grape variety, wine region, and beer category. He is editor-in-chief of the drinks business.

To find out more about the Global Cider Masters, please click here, or, to find out more about the competition series, visit the Global Masters website, or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

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THE GLOBAL CIDER MASTERS SEES SOMERSET SHINE

Over the following pages are the results from 2019’s competition. The Global Masters only publishes the winners of medals.

Prosecco Masters 2019: see the results in full

We bring you all the medalists from this year’s Prosecco Masters, along with some comments on the highs and lows of the 2019 competition.

Following a report earlier this year on the best performers from the Prosecco Masters 2019, including five samples that we felt were class-leaders in their category, we have listed all the entries that picked up a Bronze or better, including our top accolade of Prosecco Master.

These can be seen below, and, with the number of Golds increasing for pricier Proseccos, it shows that going up the price ladder does bring greater returns in terms of quality, as does opting for a Prosecco Superiore DOCG over a DOC, with the former covering the hilly region between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, along with a further area near the town of Asolo. (Click here to read more about classifications in Prosecco).

Before looking through the results in full, we have re-produced some judges’ thoughts on what they liked, as well as what wasn’t so appealing – with, initially, one judge’s more personal reflection on the Proseccos, and then another, from our panel chair, giving a more detailed analysis of the samples.

Our rigorous judging process ensures that each sample gets a thorough assessment, and due to the calibre of our tasters, gaining a medal in the Global Wine Masters is a significant achievement.

Click here to read more about the Global Wine Masters, and please click here to see a review of five outstanding Proseccos from this year’s competition.

The Proseccos were tasted over the course of one day at Balls Brothers wine bar, London, EC2N, on 4 April. The judges in the 2019 Prosecco Masters were (left to right): Nick Tatham MW, Alex Canetti, Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, David Round MW, Simon Field MW

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