Results: Rosé Masters 2019 – Asia

If you think rosé wine is just an easy-drinking summer tipple then think again. Winemakers around the world are taking it seriously, and, as a result, are producing top-class expressions.

TO MANY wine drinkers, rosé captivates them with its romantic pinkish hue. It is usually the staple drink at a summer party; yet it can also be served in Michelin-starred restaurants with dishes crafted meticulously by the world’s leading chefs. It is a category that comes in a vast variety of colours and styles, all of which set a unique challenges for the panel judges in the latest round of the Rosé Masters – Asia.

“From a wine-merchant perspective, we find it hard to take rosé wines seriously. It is seldom that the wine drinkers would go for its complexity; instead, it is almost like a soft drink with a bit of alcohol, clean and simple,” said judge Ken Man, buyer & fine wine specialist at Ginsberg+Chan. The statement is true in that rosé is largely seen as “the fun and go-to summer drink”, in part thanks to viral trends on social media. But attitudes are changing. Eddie McDougall, award winning winemaker and wine critic, said: “The market is ever-growing and changing. Nowadays it is no longer as women-oriented as we used to perceive it as being. In the US, a lot of big guys are going for rosés, and the fad is growing even stronger than craft beers.” Thankfully, in our assessment things got off to a promising start with a clutch of Bronze medals in the entry-level category. Wine specialist and professional Anty Fung said they were “clean, crisp, easy drinking. As supermarket wine, they don’t shout complexity. For this price point, whichever wine gets everything correct deserves recognition if it’s good value for money.”

McDougall was particularly intrigued by the Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses, which he described as “obviously fruit forward, and it has a savoury element that keeps your mouth watering and wanting to have a second sip”. However, the panel spotted minor faults in the other samples, with a few tasting notes describing some of the principal pitfalls of entry-level rosé, such as, “artificial”, “cloying” and “oxidized”. Oak is another area where opinions on its use in rosé tend to diverge. Gérard Bertrand’s oaked rosé, Château La Sauvageonne La Villa, was one such wine. Wine writer Sarah Wong thought “the oak usage is distracting,” but others felt differently, appreciating its influence. She added: “I think rosé is made for a certain market. Wine producers may want to make the wine with a certain profile; in that case the most sought-after rosés are still light in style with pinkish hues to meet the perception of what the majority drinkers are looking for.”

Speaking of market recognition, we all know France has a well-established array of still rosés, particularly from Provence. Other wine regions, such as the Languedoc-Roussillon and the Rhône, have adopted the Provençal style, using the same grape varieties and production techniques. By and large, France is still the most important rosé-producing country in the world, and accounted for 28% of the total output in 2017. Living up to its reputation, the Provence wines shone in the competition, with four Gold medals awarded. Some of the most acclaimed expressions from famous wineries, for instance Château d’Esclans’s Whispering Angel and Maison de Grand Esprit’s Côtes de Provence l’Etre Magique Rosé, both enjoyed high scores for different reasons. The former performed well thanks to its concentration and zestiness, and a long and persistent finish that drew the judges’ attention. The latter was rather different. In place of sweet fruity notes, the rosé was deemed “serious”, with a somewhat orangey colour and complex, tangy flavours which belied its place in the rather humbly priced HK$200-HK$300 category. Moving beyond the classic French regions, global production has been on the rise since the early 2000s, rising from 18.3 million hectolitres in 2002 to an expected 25m hl in 2020, an increase of almost 10% in two decades. New-world regions in the southern hemisphere have also caught up with the pink craze, and have almost quadrupled rosé production over the past two decades. Refinement in quality is also rising, as our results showed. In several price categories, ranging from HK$100 to HK$300, Australian and New Zealand rosés excelled.

Australian Vintage (the parent company of McGuigan Wines, Tempus Two and Nepenthe) and Marisco Vineyards (parent company of Leefield Station, The Ned and The Kings Series), two leading wine producers in Adelaide Hills in Southern Australia and the South Island in New Zealand respectively, were the biggest winners. Both bagged a gold medal in the below-HK$150 price band, with rosés made with 100% Pinot Noir. Australian Vintage’s Altitude Pinot Noir Rosé and the Leefield Station Pinot Rose, were both “showy and vibrant”, noted Terry Wong, retail manager & sommelier at Ginsberg + Chan. The Leefield Station Pinot Rosé, with its immaculate and honest red fruit character charmed McDougall, who praised its “generous and intense style.” As an avid winemaker, McDougall added: “Most dry rosés are in blends now to create complexity. Great rosés along the Mediterranean coast tend to use varieties that ripen early, for example Grenache and Tempranillo. This way, the flavours can develop without many tannins. Pinot Noir, however, experiences more influence from the skin because it is picked later, and much more care is needed to tackle this delicate grape.”

McDougal himself makes a rosé under his Flying Winemaker brand, and talked about what style of rosé he was after. He said: “Stylistically, I am inspired by rosé wines that age. Not for decades but those that show their best after three to four years in the bottle. The wine must be dry, slightly salmon in colour in its youth and more onion-skin with time in bottle. It needs to be layered, lengthy and complex. “Technique-wise, the industry is being more thought-out now. I value the handling of the fruit with extra attention. In addition to not using sulphur, now I prefer pressing the grapes all the way through, followed by filtration, rather than cold settling.”

Among all the winners, there was one that raised a few eyebrows. Awarded a Silver medal, the Alpha Estate Rosé from Greece illustrated the increasingly mature winemaking behind Greek rosé. A blend of Xinomavro and Syrah, the rosé blend did not display ‘typical’ characteristics, but was still “very decent with impressive fruit notes,” said Jones. Moving slightly up to the range between HK$150 and HK$200, the Australian wines competing in category excited the panel, with the well-made Zilzie Selection 23 being awarded a gold. The rosé revolution has taken off. Our competition this year again proved that there is never a bad time to delve into the colourful world of pink wines.

Results: Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2019

Chardonnay has remained a staple favourite in Asia, enjoyed by the glass and bottle in bars and restaurants and its popularity shows no sign of abating despite New World Sauvignon Blancs gaining traction and with sommeliers increasingly selecting lesser-known varieties to spice up their lists.

The eight judges for the drinks business Hong Kong’s Chardonnay Masters – Asia 2019 were split into two panels. One was led by Master Sommelier Darius Allyn, co-chair of the event, the other, by myself.

In the Unoaked Under HK$200 category Allyn thought South African De Wetshof Estate’s Bronze Medal-winning Limestone Hill 2018 was a fresh entry-level wine “with citrus and creaminess, with some intenseness and a soft and round pleasing style”. Of the Bon Vallon 2018, a Silver medallist from the same producer, Allyn said it had, “more aromatics, higher acidity, and clarity of fruit – I wish it had a little more on the finish”. On the same panel, Ken Man, buyer and fine wine specialist at Ginsberg+Chan said Bon Vallon had, “a decent amount of fruit, a decent wine for that pricing.”

Cavit’s Italian Mastri Vernacoli Chardonnay Trentino DOC 2018 (Silver medal) struck a chord with David Jones, senior account manager at Berry Bros & Rudd: “It built on the palate, with nice balance,” he said. Of Helan Mountain Premium Collection Fruity Chardonnay Wine 2017 (Bronze medal) from Pernod Ricard (Ningxia) Winemakers, Anty Fung, wine pecialist and manager of Hip Cellar, said: “Red apples and green apples and its soil character adds to an interesting balance.”

In the ‘Oaked Under HK$100’ flight, wine columnist Sarah Wong said of Marisco Vineyards’ Leefield Station Chardonnay 2017 (Bronze medal) from New Zealand: “I found citrus on the nose, it was a light and elegant in style, with good balance and finish.”

‘The Ned Chardonnay 2017’, also from Marisco Vineyards was favoured by Jeremy Stockman, general manager at Watsons Wine, who said, “it was a lighter style – crisp, vibrant, with grapefruit and I liked the touch of matchstick from the wood”.

Also taken with this wine was Terry Wong, retail manager and sommelier at Ginsberg+Chan: “There were melon and apple notes and minerality – it seemed good value at this price,” he noted. It bagged a Silver medal.

In the ‘Oaked HK$100-150’ category, of the De Bortoli Wines’ Villages Chardonnay 2017 from Australia, Jones noted its intensity, and said it was in balance.

Again from De Bortoli Wines, The Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 Allyn found more aromatic and intense. Fung said it was more extracted as well as lightly spicy. Both wines took Bronze medals.

In my panel, Bronze-winner Australian Vintage’s McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay 2017 drew praise from Sarah Wong, who said: “It slowly opened up, it was creamy with a buttery fairly long finish and was elegant.” Stockman most liked the Distell Fleur du Cap Series Privee Chardonnay from South Africa, which also picked up a Bronze; “its notes are on the bigger side with peach and melon rind in there, and a long finish with texture, which in this bracket worked very well,” he said. Terry Wong and myself were quite taken with Australian Vintage’s Silver-Medal Tempus Two Copper Wilde Chardonnay 2015: we both noted its citric and tropical fruit, with good length.

Onto the ‘Oaked HK$150-200’ category, where jones remarked on the “energy” and “lift” of Treasury Wine Estates’ Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay 2017. Allyn liked the “lifted aromatics” of this wine. Alynn’s panel all liked the McGuigan Shortlist Chardonnay 2017 from Australian Vintage – “it shows a lot of purity, structure and balance,” he said. Both wines took Silver medals, as did Distell’s Plaisir De Merle Chardonnay 2018.

Greywacke Chardonnay 2010 from New Zealand picked up a Gold Medal in the ‘Oaked HK$200-300’ flight. Sarah Wong commented: “It had structure, it was powerful and balanced, with struck matchstick and good intensity of fruit on the palate and a very long finish.” Stockman was keen on Vasse Felix Felius 2017 and Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2016 as well, both from Australia, and both of which won Silver medals. “They both had quite subtle complexity, with length on the finish. And I agree with Sarah on the [Greywacke Chardonnay], which I gave 91 points to; big in all aspects, so it remains very balanced.”

Terry Wong and myself were also fond of this robust balance – with him commenting it was made in a Burgundy style, with lots of minerality showing through. Terry Wong was also keen on Australian Vintage’s McGuigan Personal Reserve HR Chardonnay 2018 (Silver Medal), saying it had good length and acidity, with grapefruit and peach notes.

In the penultimate flight, Jones was drawn to Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ ‘One Giant Leap 2017’, from Australia, which won a Silver. “Good intensity and good richness but balanced,” he opined, “but with some freshness to it.”

Man’s top wine from this grouping was La Motte Wine Estate’s ‘La Motte Chardonnay 2017’ – it took a Silver; “lovely citrus fruits, very good acidity, and very nice balance and finish,” he said. This was also Allyn’s flight-favourite – which he said was quite delicate, and he found One Giant Leap the most complex aromatically. Fang most preferred Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ Jaraman Chardonnay 2019, a Bronze medallist. “It shows clarity, and fine citric fruit character with oak that’s not overpowering the fruit,” she said.

The judging concluded with wines above HK$500. The star of this group was Gold Medal-winning Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2017. My panel was unanimous on its notable high points. “It was elegant, tight, had good acidity, very restrained good fruit and a very long finish,” said Sarah Wong, who could have been speaking for us all.

“I thought the oak was extremely well handled,” added Stockman, “there was a nice cashew note to it and it was very well balanced with serious layers to it. It’s also still very tight and will improve with age.” Besides this wine, Terry Wong also praised Wakefield/ Taylors Wines’ St Andrews Chardonnay 2017, on its hints of “guava, lime and jasmine, with good acidity.”

Overall, with two Gold Medals awarded, 18 Silvers and 36 Bronzes at the end of the day, many at the long tasting table were looking forward to seeing more of these wines in the market.

Full results can be found on the following page.

Asian Sparkling Wine Masters 2019: results

When it comes to sparkling wine, Champagne reigns supreme but other expressions made from Spain’s delectable Godello grape, a sparkling rosé from Adelaide Hills and Italy’s Trentino region emerged as top performers as well at our Asian Sparkling Wine Masters.

From left to right: Sophie Raichura, sales manager of the drinks business Hong Kong; Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and judge; Fergus Moore, the drinks business Hong Kong; Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Watson’s Wine; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong; Lina Anderson, former employee at the drinks business Hong Kong; and Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant

Held earlier this year at the Flying Winemaker’s tasting room in Central, the blind tasting competition chaired by drinks business Hong Kong editorial team brought together a panel of expert judges including Hong Kong’s seasoned wine educators and consultants to examine flights of sparkling wine expressions from around the globe, from Champagne to Prosecco, Cava to crémant.

Champagne

Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong

Champagne lived up to its reputation and won two highly coveted accolades of Master both in the pricier category. Champagne Castelnau’s Blanc de Blancs 2005, made from grapes selected from crus of the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs, was a unanimous favourite among judges.

With a 8g/l dosage, the brut impressed the judges with its balance, concentrated fruit flavours and complexity. Hailing the wine “an exceptional beauty,” Hong Kong-based wine consultant Yu-Kong Chow, commented: “From its compelling nose of ripe white fruits and yeastiness to the combination of elegance and persistence in its fresh and rich palate, [the wine] captured the imagination.”

Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Hong Kong’s biggest wine retailer Watson’s Wine, agreed, adding that the fizz was “perfect to consume now with its full maturity.”

In the same HK$400 to HK$799 price band, Champagne Lanson Rose Label was another standout. A blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay and 15% Meunier, the wine delivered a lively and persistent palate with plenty of lemon and red fruits, taking home a Master. The house’s extra age brut won a Gold as well.

Elsewhere

Tersina Shieh, experienced wine judge and marketer

Outside of Champagne, it’s almost guaranteed that the price ladder is rather lower but for any savvy-wine consumers that does’t mean quality is compromised. “Champagne will still dominate the market in terms of size but Prosecco and sparkling wines from Australia will see stronger growth in the coming years. This will be largely due to price performance, improvement to quality and more intensive promotion and marketing,” Chow, observed.

Encouragingly, there’s a trend among sparkling wine producers which is to push down sugar levels to reduce what the trade calls “excessive make-up”. This, in general when done right, leads to less cloying and more balanced bubbles, be it Prosecco, Cava, crémant or other sparkling wines.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant

Acidity for many is considered a key feature in a good sparkling wine. “Sparkling has to be simple or complex but it must have acidity to ensure the wine is fresh, has the necessary framework and structure and to support ageing. A flabby sparkling wine tastes like an alcoholic fizzy drink,” comments Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and independent wine judge, when asked about what makes a great sparkling wine.

Graham Kwok, assistant brand marketing manager at Watson’s Wine

In Italy, much has been said about the rise of Prosecco for its approachability and favourable price points but there are plenty of overlooked fizz and Spumante that deserve recognition. One example is Mezzacorona Rotari’s Brut Trento Riserva 2014 made from Chardonnay. The wine is among the best value one can find with a price tag of less than HK$100. Speaking of the wine, Chow commented:, “What a great sparkling for such a price category! This Trento gem exudes a soft mesmerising floral scent with a background of white fruits and a touch of toastiness. The pleasing, delicate, refreshing yet balanced palate that finishes with an uplifting note just brightens the day.”

Also winning a gold was Spain’s Godelia Cuvee 2015, a lively fizz made from the indigenous Godello grape. Aged for 22 months on lees before riddling and disgorging, the wine packs plenty of freshness, citrus flavours balanced with bready yeastiness. Praising the wine, Shieh commented: “It is fresh with complexity from the time on lees and a crisp acidity. It has a high price quality ratio and it’s a good example to show consumers that bubbles don’t need to break the bank.”

Another wine that had judges raving was Sidewood Estate Isabella Rose Methode Traditionnelle 2013 from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Packed with plenty of red fruits, yeastiness, and layers of complexity from an extensive 54-month lees contact and ageing, the rosé is a crowd pleaser that ticked off every box.

It’s worth noting that there were silver medal winners in this competition worth seeking out. Azienda Agricola Andreola’s Dirupo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG, as judge Kwok acknowledged is “a very good example for high-quality Prosecco showing enormous typicity of the region.”

Click through the pages to check out all the results.

Asian Chardonnay Masters 2017: Results

Chardonnay, a grape variety that has mushroomed out from its spiritual home in Burgundy to practically every wine-producing country in the world, proved that with the right terroir and skills of its winemakers, it can produce thrilling, savoury and age-worthy expressions as found in our Asian Chardonnay Masters competition.

The judges (from left to right): Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, Hong Kong, Yvonne Cheung, director of Wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants, James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of Altaya Wines, Francesca Martin, founder & director of BEE Drinks Global, Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, Ivy Ng, publisher of the Drinks Business Hong Kong, Eddie McDougall, trained winemaker and founder of The Flying Winemaker and Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

A relatively neutral grape, Chardonnay is an ideal translator of local terroir and winemaking craft, thanks to its malleability through malolactic fermentation, lees contact and barrel ageing. The grape’s versatility has made it a favourite among wine producers. Despite soil types and climate, it’s one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in the world with more than 400,000 acres worldwide; as seen in our competition entries that encompassed Chardonnays from obscure regions such as China’s northwestern Xinjiang, Israel’s Judean Hills and South Africa’s Western Cape to more established sites in Champagne and Burgundy, Chile’s Casablanca Valley, northern and central Italy, and all the way to Australia’s Adelaide Hills and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay.

Close to 80 samples were submitted by wineries and importers for our Asian Chardonnay Masters held on 26 April at Hong Kong’s swanky HIP Cellar. The competition is the second instalment following our successful Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters in March. The samples were tasted blind and assessed over the course of one day by price bracket and stylistic difference (still or sparkling and within the still category, oaked or unoaked) to identify the best of Chardonnay in their own price range in the local market.

The results are encouraging as a cherry-picked panel of eight judges including a master of wine, top wine buyers/directors and trained winemaker gave out seven Masters, 15 Gold medals, 27 Silvers and 19 Bronzes. The wines are scored out of 100 points with the ones gaining 95 points or above being awarded the top accolade of Master. Wines scored higher than 90 points were given a Gold medal, those over 85 points a Silver medal and those over 80 points a Bronze.

“I think the overall quality is very good. When I say overall quality, we try to judge them in the context of price bracket. Some of the wines may be simpler or more obvious, and perhaps not designed for long ageing but they are well made in that context, and are good quality,” commented Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy, who was one of the Panel Chairs.

Eddie McDougall, wine critic and ‘The Flying Winemaker’, agreed addeing: “The class of all the wines showed a good spread of stylistic expressions of Chardonnay. There were some very good examples of wines at approachable price points, which goes to show that quality Chardonnay doesn’t need a hefty price tag.”

In addition, Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts, noted a good representation of entries from almost all major wine regions. “I think different winemaking styles and philosophies are well represented in the competition as it covers all styles and wine regions as well different levels of quality,” he ssaid.

For James Rowell, corporate and VIP sales manager of one of Hong Kong’s leading wine importers, Altaya Wines, tasting a diverse range of Chardonnays is a revelation. “For someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to taste or drink a lot of New World wines, it’s very interesting to see what’s currently out in the market at different price points because some styles have changed and evolved,” he explained.

The Judges

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, Founder & Owner, Taberna Wine Academy, Singapore
Yvonne Cheung, Director of Wine, Swire Hotels and Restaurants
Yang Lu, Corporate/Group Wine Director, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
Francesca Martin, Founder & Director, BEE Drinks Global
Eddie McDougall, Founder, The Flying Winemaker
James Rowell, Corporate and VIP Sales Manager, Altaya Wines
Jeremy Stockman, General Manager, Watson’s Wines, Hong Kong
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong 

Burgundian in style  

Different from aromatic grapes such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay is easier to cultivate and responds well to a wider range of winemaking techniques. Given its chameleon-like nature, it takes on a wide spectrum of aromas from green apple and tomato leaf to tropical fruits, peaches, cream and vanilla. The grape variety has undergone some stylistic changes from rich, buttery, full bodied wines, favoured in the 1990s to today’s trendier, crisp and less-oak dominated expressions. Burgundy is still held in high regard as the reference point for Chardonnay, but fine examples from the New World can rival if not surpass top Burgundy wines in quality and style.

“I think the biggest surprise for me was the fact that a couple of  the wines that seemed to be particularly Burgundian in style that is very restrained yet with finesse and complexity, but to my surprise they were not. So that was an interesting discovery for me,” commented Tan.

This is a sentiment echoed by Francesca Martin, founder of Bee Drinks and a Master of Wine candidate, as well. “There were certainly more New World wines in our line-up than Burgundy, however, many of these were of very high quality and a couple I would have put money on being from top villages in the Côte d’Or,” commented the Hong Kong-based wine consultant.

The Elephant Hill Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, which was awarded a Master title, stumped a few judges and led them to believe it was a Chassagne-Montrachet before its identity was revealed after the competition.

Meanwhile, a Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, another Master winning wine, was believed to have measured up to many Côte d’Or classic examples, Martin added noting that, “it was a lovely wine combining wonderful ripeness of fruit with a taut, linear structure” without sacrificing its own style to emulate Burgundy.

Elaborating on the ever-blurring line between Burgundians and top New World Chardonnays, Tan explained: “Chardonnay is a very competitive grape variety that producers around the world are now really getting the hang of understanding how the grape variety works in that particular region or environment and producing very good quality wines.

“Now it’s getting harder and harder to tell Burgundian wines apart from a premium New World wine. So that was a nice surprise for me, not actually a surprise but more a pleasant growing realisation that how well these non-European regions can compete not just in quality but in style with some top Burgundian wines.”

Chardonnay from Australia’s cooler climate in Adelaide Hills or even a South African Chardonnay Capensis by Jackson Family Wines impressed judges with their winemaking precision, proving South Africa’s massive potential. The latter was awarded a Gold medal.

Nonetheless, Burgundy’s Domaine Servin Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2015 proudly showcased unoaked pristine Burgundian quality and nabbed a Gold. And a few old guards from Europe including: a Laroche Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli 2014 from the Languedoc, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Blanc de Blancs 208 and Italy’s Mezzacorona Chardonnay Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2016 from Trentino-Alto Aldige and Monteverro Chardonnay 2013 from Tuscany all stunned and took home Gold medals.

Australia Setting the New World Benchmark

Among all the New World competitors, Australia by far stood out for the consistency of its Chardonnay quality and its value for money, bagging six out of the seven much coveted Master titles and seven Gold medals.

The country’s Chardonnay mania is such that today it’s hard to think of Australian wines without Chardonnay. The grape is now responsible for half of the country’s white wine production with 406,000 tonnes crushed in 2016 out of a total of around 808,000 tonnes, according to Wine Australia.

From Hunter Valley to cooler region such as Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Tasmania to warmer regions in Margaret River, the country provides a contrast of styles between the leaner, crisp style found in Adelaide Hills and riper, richer style in Margaret River.

Moving to price brackets, as most judges noted in the competition medium priced Chardonnays under HK$400 (US$51) outperformed many heftily priced bottles. The finding is especially uplifting as most of them, fine examples of New World Chardonnay as we discovered in the competition, can give Burgundy a run for its money especially when prices for top Burgundy wines seem to be going nowhere but up.

Within the price band of under HK$400 (US$51), five Masters were given out to high performers from Australia. They were: Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills, Alkoomi Black Label Chardonnay 2016 from Frankland River, Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013 from Margaret River, and McGuigan The Shortlist Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills and Cape Mentelle Chardonnay 2015 from Margaret River, with the latter two from an even more modest sub-price bracket of HK$150 (US$20) to HK$300 (US$39).

“It was great to taste such a range and in our group we found that wines in the medium to premium range that wines are consistently showing technical precision and also a level of expression,” stated Yvonne Cheung, director of wine for Swire Hotels and Restaurants.

Moving up to higher price bracket between HK$400 (US$51) and HK$799 (US$102), Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay from Piccadilly Valley and Elephant Hill from New Zealand received the top honour of Master. A Japanese Chardonnay from Suntory winery’s Tomi No Oka in Yamanashi near Mount Fuji set high standards for its Asian peers and nabbed a Gold medal for its “very restrained, savoury, elegant and balanced” style as the judges noted. The wine, however, bears the most hefty price tag, selling more than HK$800 in retail.

Chardonnay, a winemaker’s wine

Ying-Hsien Tan MW, founder & owner of Singapore-based Taberna Wine Academy

It’s worth noting that nearly all wines in the competition went home with a medal, which speaks loudly for the quality of Chardonnay found in the tasting. “I thought generally oak was very well integrated on the majority of the wines, adding subtle notes of toasty spice, rather than lots of overt vanilla. Lactic notes from malolactic fermentation, if apparent, were likewise well integrated and didn’t dominate on many of the wines. I feel that lees ageing and stirring are now having more of an impact on style and seemingly something producers are playing around with and paying more attention to. What I love about Chardonnay is the fact that it’s such a winemaker’s wine that the stylistic possibilities are seemingly endless. I very much felt during the tasting that there really is a style of Chardonnay for everyone,” commented Martin when asked about winemaking in Chardonnay.

Indeed, McDougall, a trained winemaker, believed that compared with other white grape varieties, winemakers are given more latitude to put their own stamp on the wine. “I believe that winemakers are far smarter when it comes to the selection of oak treatment in the wines. Across the board there was a lot more balance shown than my initial expectation. The stand-out examples really came about when the wines showed honesty in its fruit profile and a complex under-layering of either lees contact, barrel fermentation or the positive traits of sulfide development from wild yeast fermentation,” he added.

Likewise, the ones that disappointed, though small in number, were the ones that lacked balance between oak and fruit or had an overly elevated level of dimethyl sulfide, which according to him, showed traits of creamed corn.

Reduction, a winemaking technique that contrasts with oxidation, was mentioned by a few judges during tasting. When applied correctly, it adds to a wine’s complexity and flavour, otherwise, it can upset a wine’s balance and flavour profile.

“Reduction was certainly a dimension for a number of the wines with a few having a bit too much to be pleasant. This was only overdone on a couple of the wines however, many others displaying just a subtle touch of struck match character that I personally really enjoy. As with any of these things it’s all a question of balance. Reduction can certainly add an element of complexity, I believe, but in excess it becomes a fault and deters from the overall attractiveness of the wine, masking fruit and making the wine rather hard and harsh. Overall with this particular lineup I felt winemakers clearly had a good handle on where the balance lay,” Martin explained in detail.

Adding to the discussion, Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Hong Kong’s top wine retailer Watson’s Wine, delved deeper into the fine distinction between reduction and the otherwise struck-match character. “The subjective (but enjoyable!) discussion was between reduction and struck match/flinty notes. I thought in general they were factors that added complexity although a few were out of balance,” he said.

Value for money

Yang Lu, corporate/group wine director of Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts

Another finding perhaps most welcoming to consumers is that a few samples that were awarded Gold medals sell for less than HK$150 (US$20) retail. A Nepenthe Chardonnay 2016 won over the judges for its pure, focused, consistent and balanced style with good intensity. The Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peryroli, albeit an Old World style Chardonnay, still gripped the judges with its “pithy and integrated” nature, while a “technically sound” Chardonnay from New Zealand’s The King’s Bastard equally garnered the judges’ praise.

Moving up to the HK$150 (US$20) – HK$299 (US$39) range, Taylor’s Wines Jaraman Chardonnay 2015 stood out for its layers of flavours, bright acidity and its oily texture. In addition, its ‘St Andrews Single Vineyard Release’ of the same vintage knocked judges off their feet with its complexity, persistent finish and elegance. Another Chardonnay from Nepenthe’s ‘Ithaca’ 2015 also got a nod for its minerality and intensity.

Even a few technical wines under HK$100 (US$13) garnered judges’ praise for offering decent quality and great value, winning a trove of Silvers. “The technical wines were generally the less expensive ones and I think that is normal from large producers making wines for sale under HK$100. They were technically correct with sunshine fruit and balance – I think a customer is getting value for that price range,” Stockman pointed out.

Asian Pinot Noir Masters: Results and Analysis

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

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

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

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

Coaxing Pinot

Sarah Heller MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding Pinot Map

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

About the competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripe Pinot 

The judges

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

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

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

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

Darius Allyn MS

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

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

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

Old Guards in Europe 

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

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

Henry Chang, beverage manager of China Club

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

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

Click through the pages to see full results.

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

Asian Rosé Masters 2018: Results and Analysis

Rosé, the pink wine that has forever been linked with sun-soaked summers, beach holidays and cruise trips, has more depth and complexity than one might have thought. Top medal-winning wines from our inaugural Asian Rosé Masters competition prove that a great rosé is more than a pretty pale colour, the frivolity of marketing gimmicks, and celebrity tie-ins.

From left to right: Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker; YK Chow, independent wine consultant; Ivy Ng, former publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at Asia Wine and Spirits Education Centre (AWSEC); Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong; Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at Arcane.

Much like a white or a red wine, a well-crafted rosé shows no shortage of aromas, flavours and complexity. Popular opinion often goes that rosé in general is a no-frill, carefree, easy and light drink, giving rise to the idea floated around by some marketers calling for the exemption of rosé wine from any kind of serious critiquing because of its so called “ephemeral summer-friendly nature”. This, however, sounds suspiciously like sloppy natural winemakers advocating faulty wines. An honest, well-made rosé demands – and should be given – the same kind of attention and respect reserved for a white Burgundy.

This year’s competition, as judge Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director of Michelin-starred restaurant Arcane, pointed out, showed the high level of quality found in all the samples around the world, and a concerted effort among winemakers to reposition the pink wine.

To put it lightly, Bartolomei reminisced that in the past, producers made rosé as a “solution” to deal with leftover reds and whites, or excessive red wine must. But with rosé’s profitability and commercial success (in France, for instance, rosé’s volume sales have surpassed white wine), today’s rosé winemaking is hardly a necessity to dissipate stocks but a new field for winemakers to experiment with wine styles from colour extraction, sugar level to virtually undiscriminating use of all red varieties such as Cinsault, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo to produce still and sparkling wines.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and judge

This lends the winemaker a creative hand to develop a new dimension of rosé wine, as Junwan Kim, head sommelier of Zuma noted. “It’s a chance to establish a new dimension of rosé wine by creative winemakers, unlike white or red winemakers who stick to traditional grape varieties. But winemakers certainly shouldn’t treat rosé wine as byproduct or additional wines when they make red or white wine,” as the sommelier deduced.

In addition, more premium rosés with a bit of barrel ageing, body and texture are increasingly embraced by the on trade and sommeliers for more versatile food pairings, according to Corine Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC, when speaking about the new and recent ‘Rosé Gastronomique’ trend. Cantonese food in particular, as she singled out, is a match made in heaven for rosé wine especially for signature dishes like BBQ pork and fried rice.

Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker

This is echoed by Bartolomei, who believes rosé is becoming a starter-to-finish, full menu-worthy food wine.

“Until 15 years ago, you would never thought of suggesting it for the whole meal,” he exclaimed, as most associate it as an aperitif. “The key of the change has been the offer. More and more producers are offering nowadays very high quality and various types of rosé wines. That gives the sommelier the chance to propose it for a lot of dishes with different consistencies, flavours and fat content.”

The industry’s efforts to elevate rosé’s profile is best demonstrated in our Asian Rosé Masters Results with three wines winning the highest accolade of Master – one from Australia which is stunning value for money at under HK$150, and another two from France’s Languedoc and Champagne, respectively. New World regions such as Australia and New Zealand gave the traditional rosé historic base, Provence, a run for the money with the highest number of Gold-medal winners. Silvers are abound in countries such as Italy and Spain, traditional markets for the pink wine, and many medal winners from this year’s competition more encouragingly are mainly from the commercially viable price category of HK$100-HK$300.

Rosé from down under 

About the competition

The Asian Rosé Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for rose wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong’s top sommeliers, sommeliers and wine educators. The top rosé wines were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those rosé that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 4 July, 2018 at The Flying Winemaker’s office in Central. This report features only the medal winners.

The beauty of blind tasting, as we have stressed again and again in the past, is that we can put all wines regardless of wine regions on the same level playing field, without bias and preconceptions. Judged only by price and style (still, off-dry and sparkling), the competition saw the most number of Gold medal and Master medal winners under HK$150. Out of the total seven gold medals we have given out, five came from this price band, confirming that there’s plenty of quality in value – all from down under in Australia and New Zealand.

“French producers still led the category at the top end of the spectrum, with gems from Australia and New Zealand giving a run for the money, particularly at the lower price range,” Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and wine judge, commented after all the identifies of the wines are revealed.

At this level, judges are looking for approachable wines that are well balanced with abundant fruit characters and refreshing acidity. One stand-out is actually Jacob’s Creek Le Petit Rosé, a Provence style light coloured rosé produced from southeastern Australia. This crisp wine with plenty of berry and floral notes, perhaps is the quintessential quaffable rosé, and yet more stunningly, costs less than HK$100. Similarly, New Zealand’s Yealands Wine Group’s two value wines – Babydoll Rosé and Clearwater Cove Rosé – made from Pinot Noir grape in Marlborough impressed the panel with its depth of fruit character and liveliness. The three wines all achieved Gold medal in the under HK$100 price band.

Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at one Michelin-starred restaurant Arcane in Wanchai

Moving slightly higher up in the HK$100-HK$150 price bracket, it is another leading Australian wine producer, Australia Vintage, parent company of McGuigan Wines, Tempus Two and Nepenthe, that proved to be the biggest winner. The McGuigan Rosé from Australia’s cool climate Adelaide Hills is lauded by Bartolomei for its “long finish and great complexity” with a “fresh floral and very clean” nose, earning the top prize of Master, the highest scoring Australian wine in this competition.

Another high-scoring rosé is also from Adelaide Hills. The bone dry, full-bodied Nepenthe Altitude Rosé 2017 is redolent with red fruits, and subtle cranberry and grapefruit notes, earning it a Gold. The Marisco Vineyards’ The Ned Pinot Rosé, blended from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Marlborough, is a crowd-pleaser noted for its strong and focused core of fruits and razor-sharp acidic edges.

In the HK$151-HK$200 category, it is a copperish-coloured Romato from Italy’s venerable Marchesi Frescobaldi estate’s Attems rosé made in Northern Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia that swept the judges away with its incredibly long lingering flavours, flinty minerality and red core fruits.

Shades of rosé

Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC, Hong Kong’s oldest wine and spirits education centre

So far, most of the samples are Pinot dominated rosé made in the non-impassive stainless tanks with gentle pressing and short maceration to emulate Provence’s light-coloured style, still arguably the most popular category among consumers, which also makes it the most successful one by far in export market.

“I think nowadays, a consumer is trained to think that pale pink rosés are where the quality lies and more than half of the world market for rosé is made pale. Producers can’t sell dark rosé abroad even if the quality of the wine is fantastic so the darker rosés are made for local consumption (especially in the New World) and the paler ones for the international market,” explains Kyle Oosterberg, wine director of The Flying Winemaker, organiser of the Rosé Revolution tasting events in Asia.

Admittedly, Provence rosé is coveted around the globe, but in this competition, with a wide spread of wines from across the globe, Provence entries performed well mostly in the Silver medal chart with fine representations from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s ‘Miraval’, Chateau Routas Rosé and Chateau d’Ollieres Prestige Rosé.

The age old question 

The judges

Corinne Mui, COO and senior wine educator at AWSEC
Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong
Stefano Bartolomei, manager and wine director at Arcan, a one Michelin-starred restaurant in Wanchai
Kyle Oosterberg, wine director at The Flying Winemaker
Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and wine judge
Ivy Ng, former publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

Within France, another challenger came from Provence’s neighbour to the west, Languedoc. The sunny region bagged one Master medal with Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa 2017. Made from Grenache, Mourvedre, Vermentino, Viognier, the wine is a more complex version of rosé with six months of ageing in oak, giving it an extra layer of subtle toastiness on top of berry fruit flavours. The Grenache varietal is co-fermented with Vermentino and Viognier to ensure a seamless integrity, and the efforts are righteously awarded by the judges.

This brings out a ticklish quality of the wine that has both rosé condemned and praised for – age, in the form of oak ageing and ageing potential.

Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Zuma Hong Kong

Granted many love rosé for its early drinking ability, a character that differs drastically with tannic reds, as nearly all samples of the competition are from either 2017 or 2018 vintage. Yet this ephemeral quality made many question rosé’s ageing potential, leading people to believe rosé is meant to be drunk young.There are however exceptions to the rule, as we have seen from top rosé from Bandol or Chateau d’Esclan’s premium Burgundian style ‘Garrus’, and also the top medal winner Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa that can age and improve over years.

This Languedoc rosé is a fine example of how oak and barrel ageing can compliment rose’s overall quality if a wine has enough fruit core and acidity. For most producers, the key to rosé is its fruitiness, thus most are fermented in stainless steel tank to retain the fresh fruits. But with thicker skinned grapes with higher acidity such as Mouvedre, Tempranillio and Grenache, oak and barrel is applied more liberally in line to produce a more age-worthy rose.

“like with many other wines, oak needs to be applied judiciously, and this would be no different for rosé as well. When done well, they taste fresh and vibrant in their youth, yet becoming more complex and mellowed as they grow older with dried fruits coming to the fore as the fresh fruits are nudged into the background. The texture would also transform becoming softer and more velvety,” Chow analysed.

“An early indication of such an example is evidenced by the stellar performance and potential of the 2017 vintage of Château La Sauvageonne La Villa from Gérard Bertrand in this competition,” he praised.

The key however as wine educator Mui succinctly summarised still hangs in balance. “Whether oak/barrel can improve the quality, it still depends on the balance of everything, i.e. oak, fruit flavours, acidity, body etc.” she demurred. “This is still the same for wines of all colours”.

Judges unwrapping all the wine samples after blind tasting to reveal wine identities

Of course, with more ageablity comes with higher price tags. “It depends on producers to be honest. Some styles of rose can be aged. For example, Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes can be aged for more than 5 to 6 years. But we can’t expect same longevity from wines under HK$1,000 per bottle,” Kim from Zuma restaurant exclaimed.

Another category of rosé that can withstand longtime ageing is top cuvée from Champagne. The Champagne Lanson Rosé Label Brut Rosé NV, A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier with racy acidity is a vibrant, flinty, superb sample of rosé that won over the judges with a much deserved Master, with firm certainty of ageing potential. The Champagne house’s Extra Age Brut Rosé with additional five years of ageing before release has more richness and bottle maturity on the front. The more vivid pink-coloured bubble was awarded a Gold as well. Both wines fall into the pricier HK$400-HK$800 price category.

Overall, the samples are correctly made except a couple that showed hints of rotten egg, which could be excessive sulfur dioxide.

Asian Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling Masters 2017: the results

The consistency of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and the diversity of Riesling impressed a panel of expert judges at our latest Asian Masters, underlining the two white grape varieties’ immense market potential in Hong Kong.

Judges from left to right: Amanda So, department manager at Ponti Trading Ltd; Tersina Shieh, independent wine consultant and wine judge; Sarah Wong, freelance wine writer and judge; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Peter Nicholas, winemaker and general manager of Boutique Wines Hong Kong; Nellie Ming Lee, wine consultant; William Chan, sommelier and manager of Cuisine Cuisine; and Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Waton’s Wine and Natalie Wang, online editor of the drinks business Hong Kong

Riding the wave of the growing popularity of white wines in Hong Kong, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, two aromatic white varieties, are tempting discerning drinkers who are looking beyond all-rounded Chardonnay for varietal diversity, although the latter still remains the most popular white wine variety in the local market, accounting for more than 60% of total white wine sales.

Capable of adapting to different terroir, Sauvignon Blanc can produce wines of vibrancy, freshness and zippy acidity when grown in the cool to moderate climates of the Loire Valley, Northern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. Its flavour profile ranges from herbaceous notes of gooseberry, green bell pepper and fresh cut grass to riper tropical aromas of passion fruit and pineapple, in addition to toasty notes for those fermented in barrel.

Riesling, on the other hand, is a white variety that has a broader style spectrum making everything from sparkling wine to still wine on a wide scale of sweetness, from off-dry to some of the most luscious in the world. Among all the 46 samples submitted for our Riesling competition, none were oaked, but they represented all of the major Riesling producing countries, with Australia, Germany and Austria leading the pack.

“I found that the best wines to be those that showed regional characteristics rather than those that appeared to be copying a more international style,” winemaker and wine educator Peter Nicholas commented.

“In today’s market place homogeneity is something to be avoided and authenticity to be lauded.”

More encouragingly for the consumers, both in the Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling categories, well-priced wines bagged the most medals; with several of the Gold medal winners costing under HK$400 a bottle.

“I think the wines are really good, especially for the Sauvignon Blanc flight and great value for money for these lower priced wines. Both are quite good, well presented, maybe one or two wines are not so typical, but in general, the wines showed great typicity,” said Tersina Shieh, an independent wine consultant – a comment William Chan, manager of Cuisine Cuisine, heartily agreed with.

Held on 26 June at the award-winning Cuisine Cuisine restaurant inside the Mira Hotel, the wines were served blind and assessed by eight experienced judges, including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, educators and consultants. The wines were arranged not according to country but by their price band as well as style – oaked or unoaked, their sweetness (in the case of Riesling) and whether they were a blend or pure varietal expression – to make the competition as fair as possible.

New Zealand Benchmark  

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, the biggest wine retailer in Hong Kong

Although the Loire is the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is where the grape has found a spiritual home, and the country’s wine industry and international reputation was built on the white grape variety.

Different from the Loire’s greener, more savoury style, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is known for being more on the fruity, aromatic side that packs more pungent aromas of grapefruit, gooseberry, passion fruit and other tropical fruits.

Style wise, it would be erroneous to dismiss New Zealand Sauvignon as a one-trick-pony producing only fruity and aromatic dry whites. In fact, in addition to some regional diversity the grape is very versatile, capable of making lusciously sweet wines, more substantial dry whites when blended with Semillon and even sparkling wines made usually using the traditional method.

Among the two Masters and seven Gold medal winners, out of a flight of 33 Sauvignon Blanc samples judged, six – one Master and five Gold medals – unsurprisingly came from New Zealand, primarily Marlborough.

“The very good Sauvignon Blanc that I saw was what I expected of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is consistency,” commented Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine, the biggest wine retailer in Hong Kong.

Compared with Riesling, Sauvignon is more predicable in a sense in terms of style and quality, Stockman added. “A Muscato can be horribly sweet and dry, whereas a Sauvignon Blanc in particular, you know what you are going to get. It’s just about the style you like and quality. And I think people like about that,” he added speaking of the variety’s potential in Hong Kong.

The Judges

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine
Peter Nicolas, winemaker and wine educator at AWSEC Hong Kong
Sarah Wong, freelance wine writer and wine judge
Tersina Shieh, independent wine consultant and wine judge
Amanda So, department manager of Ponti Trading
William Chan, general manager and sommelier of Cuisine Cuisine
Nellie Ming Lee, wine consultant
Ivy Ng, publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong 

In terms of pricing, he believes it’s easier to find better quality Sauvignon Blanc in the market than Chardonnay of the same price band. “Chardonnay tends to be excellent on more expensive level. And with cheap Chardonnay, you see a lot of poor examples,” he explained.

Indeed, five of the seven Gold medal winners are priced under HK$200 (US$25.6) a bottle, with one – The Crossing Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – below HK$100 (US$12.8).

Among the high performing Kiwi samples, Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2016, a classic Marlborough Sauvignon from Wairau Valley at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, was awarded the highest honour of a Master. The Crossings Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 impressed judges with their perfumed and refined aromas that landed them Gold medals. Equally impressive were Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Yealands Estate Land Made Sauvignon Blanc 2016. Both are stellar examples of classic New Zealand Sauvignon and each was rewarded with a Gold medal as well.

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2015, a more ambitious barrel fermented Sauvignon, stunned the judging panel with its complexity and layers of flavours, a style more reminiscent of Sancerre.

Speaking of the grape’s current market in Hong Kong, Amanda So, department manager of wine merchant Ponti, noted that discerning consumers are looking beyond the obvious Sauvignon style.

“Customers nowadays are starting to look for more complex Sauvignon Blanc with high skill treatment, not just the easy going, food friendly Sauvignon Blanc,” she stated.

Other regions:

All the wines were tasted blind by the judges and assessed by their variety and price at Cantonese restaurant Cuisine Cuisine in Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Outside of New Zealand, the Kiwi-coined fresh, intensely perfumed style with zesty acidity was also found in cool climate regions in Chile, Australia and the US.

Chile’s San Antonio in Casablanca, particularly the Leyda Valley, stood out among its peers, while in Australia, Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills also left clear marks on the variety. Bird in Hand Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from Adelaide Hills, for instance, despite its youthful age, already showed a lot of potential with its intense aromas and mineral edges, for which it won a Gold medal.

From California, where Sauvignon Blanc is occasionally known as ‘Fumé Blanc’, it was the toasty flavours and fuller body that took precedent and had the judges talking. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County won the judges over for its complexity and weight, and its price also reflected the extra efforts in the cellar, moving up to the HK$300 (US$38.4) to HK$399 (US$51) price bracket.

“American Fumé Blancs, a Sauvignon Blanc that is usually barrel fermented, so is less acidic, more creamy and sometimes smokey, are most enjoyable with their voluptuous lemon curd-like flavours,” commented Nellie Ming Lee, a Hong Kong-based wine consultant.

Outside of Loire, across the Alps, Sauvignon Blanc has found success in northern Italy’s Alto Adige, Friuli and Collio with the best examples showing pungency and purity of fruit. A few Italian producers have also opted for oak to give more texture and body as seen in Attems’ ‘Cicinis DOC Sauvignon Collio 2015’.

Encouragingly, Greece has been churning out top-winning examples of Sauvignon Blanc in recent years, led by Alpha Estate in northern Florina. The winery’s single vineyard ‘Kalyva’, an oaked 100% Sauvignon Blanc, won a Master, leaving a few of the judges stumped over its origin.

“I was surprised by the wines from Greece. It is positive that we have new wine regions to choose from in Hong Kong. The wines from the classic regions showed great typicity to their origin and variety,” stated Sarah Wong, a freelance wine writer in Hong Kong.

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