The best wines from The Tuscan Masters 2020

It may be one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, but Tuscany boasts some of the most forward-thinking winemakers out there, as our annual taste test of this Italian region proved. We bring you the medallists from 2020’s Tuscan Masters.

Old dog, new tricks: Tuscany

In the heart of the Old World there’s an ancient area of wine production that has the sheen of something modern. It’s been home to vineyards for centuries, and it’s the source of a famous, fine, and demanding grape, but it’s a region displaying a new-found dynamism, and as a result, drawing in a fresh set of drinkers. What am I referring to? Tuscany.

This part of Italy, encompassing the historic DOCGs of Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Montepulciano, and bastion of the brilliant-but-troublesome Sangiovese, is on trend. It’s cool, exciting, and developing, with a contemporary image that somehow seems at odds with the venerable regions found within its boundaries. Yes, Toscana – to use the correct Italian description of the area – is sexier than the long-established DOCGs it houses. Why is that? After all, the IGT Toscana classification came into being almost 30 years ago, although the Maremma Toscana DOC was formed in 2011 for the coastal part of the region. The reason relates to the freedom IGT Toscana offers producers, and the fact that we are seeing now the high-quality results of past experimentation. The finest wines of such trials, the so-called Super Tuscans of the 1970s and ’80s, now fit within legal regulations, while we are witnessing a wave of brilliant white wines under the Toscana label, along with excellent pale rosés, similar to the pinks that are so popular from Provence.

But the classics offer thrills too. Be they Brunello or Chianti Classico, the standards are higher than ever, with the former retaining its position as one of the world’s great fine wines, and the latter re-establishing its reputation with a new top tier for the greatest expressions, called Gran Selezione.

Toscana may have a trendy ring to it, and encompass a wide range of wine styles, but its sub-regions are reliable go-tos for delicious, ageworthy drops, including the DOC Bolgheri, created in 1994.

With such a variety of DOCs and DOCGs, and a range of grapes, as well as wine styles, some quality guidance is important. This is why we launched the Tuscan Masters, to blind taste the full gamut of wines hailing from this administrative Italian region.

Before we consider the stars of 2020, it is worth nothing that the wines of this part of Italy have a distinctive stamp. Whatever the grape, and notable in the reds especially, is an appealing brightness, as fine dry tannins mix with fresh acidity, even when the wine showcases ripe, fleshy, dark berry fruit flavours.

Rising stars

One of the rising stars of this region are the white wines. Often based on Vermentino, they mix a touch of peach with notes of pink grapefruit and bitter almond to yield something gently oily and palate-cleansing. In keeping with Toscana winemakers’ tendency to play with well-known French grapes, this area can craft wonderful barrel-fermented Chardonnays, like Banfi’s Fontanelle.

Regarding the reds, it would be wrong to single out one variety or source area as being better than another, as the quality levels are high from the classic and modern, although the expressions differ. Proving the value inherent in the Sangioveses of Chianti Classico, the sole Gold medal in the £15-£20 price band this year went to this region – the producer was Contessa di Radda. Not far behind this, however, in the same price category, was a Sangiovese from the Maremma, called Pactio, and a lovely one from Montalcino made by Ciacci Piccolomini.

Between £20 and £30, it was clear that the newer blends incorporating international grapes yielded wines with different tastes but similar high standards as the classics using Sangiovese. It’s why you see Arceno’s Il Fauno gaining a Gold with a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, and Lucente also picking up the same hard-to-achieve medal with a mix of Sangiovese and Merlot, while the third Gold in this price band, for Lunadoro’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, showed the brilliance of Sangiovese in this classic area of Tuscany.

Moving up to the finest wines of the day, ones at over £30, many of the top-scorers were made with the native grape of Tuscany. Be it Arceno’s brilliant, pure Sangiovese Strada al Sasso or Banfi’s always delicious Poggio alla Mura Brunello, which showed better than the same’s producer’s Summus. While the latter is a remarkable wine, because it uses Cabernet and Syrah blended with Sangiovese, despite sourcing all the grapes from Castello Banfi’s estate in Montalcino, it is a Toscana IGT – Brunello must be 100% Sangiovese.

We were also impressed by a pair of top Montepulcianos from Lunadoro, which enticed with their aromas of mandarin, cherry and cedar, and delivered so much appeal on the palate with flavours of stewed red berries, plums, and leather, along with a bright, zesty character, and fine dry tannins.

It was not until the retail price of wines surpassed the £50 barrier that we awarded our first Master. This went to Le Bolle, a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from Castello Vicchiomaggio, which, once more, showed the wonderful combination of Sangiovese and the top sites of Tuscany, impressing the judges with its ripe cherry and cedar characters, and bright plummy finish.

Powerful but balanced

But, for all the excellent wines created using the native grapes of Tuscany, we had some stars with French imports, in particular Excelsus from Banfi – an expressive, creamy, powerful but balanced red using Cabernet and Merlot grown in Brunello country, even though it cannot state that on the label.

Similarly delicious was a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend called Arcanum, by Arceno, using grapes from the great southerly sites of Chianti Classico, to yield a wine with cassis, vanilla and notes of sweet balsamic and cigar box.

Therein lies the excitement of Tuscany. Just when you thought the star wines used Sangiovese from the classic areas, one comes across something remarkable using a set of grapes alien to Italy. But whether the variety is native to the region, or from outside the nation, there’s a Tuscan taste to all the wines.

That is based on something powerfully flavoured but bright, where the fruit is sweet and the tannins dry, the texture is fleshy and final impression taut. Such combinations are rare in the wine world, but prevalent in Toscana.

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

White Unoaked Tuscan

Company Name Vintage Medal
£15-£20
Banfi La Pettegola 2019 Silver

White Oaked Tuscan

Company Name Vintage Medal
£20-£30
Banfi Fontanelle 2018 Silver

Red Unoaked Tuscan

Company Name Vintage Medal
£15-£20
Querciabella Mongrana 2017 Silver

Red Oaked Tuscan

Company Name Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Tenute Piccini Collezione Oro Chianti Riserva 2017 Silver
£15-£20
Agricoltori del Chianti Geografico Contessa di Radda Chianti Classico 2016 Gold
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino 2015 Silver
Fertuna Pactio 2016 Silver
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2018 Silver
Rocca delle Macìe Famiglia Zingarelli 2017 Silver
Lunadoro Rosso di Montepulciano DOC Prugnanello 2018 Silver
Banfi Aska 2017 Bronze
Banfi Fonte alla Selva 2018 Bronze
Winemakers Club Italia at Monterinaldi RBW Chianti Classico Reserva 2016 Bronze
£20-£30
Tenuta di Arceno Il Fauno 2017 Gold
Tenuta Luce Lucente 2017 Gold
Lunadoro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Pagliareto 2017 Gold
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 Silver
Rocca delle Macìe Ser Gioveto 2016 Silver
£30-£50
Tenuta di Arceno Strada al Sasso 2017 Gold
Banfi Poggio alle Mura 2015 Gold
Lunadoro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Gran Pagliareto 2016 Gold
Lunadoro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva Quercione 2016 Gold
Querciabella Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 Silver
Campo alla Sughera Arnione 2015 Silver
Banfi Summus 2016 Silver
Rocca delle Macie Sergio Zingarelli 2016 Silver
Tenuta Licinia Lucinda Riserva 2016 Silver
£50+
Castello Vicchiomaggio Le Bolle 2016 Master
Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum 2015 Gold
Banfi Excelsus 2016 Gold
Querciabella Camartina 2015 Gold
Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Valadorna 2015 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Tuscan Wine 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 was judged by David Round MW, Simon Field 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 Tuscan Wine 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

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

Rosé Masters 2019: results and analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outstanding examples

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

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

Pioneering perfection

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

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

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

Increased quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinot Gris Masters 2019: the medallists

We reveal all the medallists from this year’s Pinot Gris Masters, which drew attention to the brilliant peach- and pear-scented whites from northern Italy, but also parts of the US, Canada, New Zealand and eastern Europe.

Italy’s Alto Adige was home to some of this year’s top-scoring Pinot Grigios

What do western Romania, northern Italy, Marlborough and Napa have in common? Aside from the obvious fact that they are all vine-growing regions, each one of these areas was home to a top-scoring entry in this year’s Pinot Gris Masters. If one adds Alsace to this list, then you have a handful of the great places for this grape, although it should be stressed that the stylistic range is broad, even within this select number of sources.

Indeed, Pinot Gris is a grape that requires much knowledge from the consumer, or, at least, guidance from the seller, be they a sommelier, shop manager, or tasting-note author. For a start, it’s a variety with two names – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, which of course mean the same thing. Although we have chosen to use its French moniker, Pinot Gris, to reflect it’s historical home – Burgundy (where it started life as a colour mutation of Pinot Noir) – it is best-known as Pinot Grigio, due to Italy’s dominance when it comes to volume production of the grape, followed by California (and Germany, where it goes by yet another name, Grauburgunder).

Whether the bottle carries its French or Italian name, however, is not simply a question of source – it also has stylistic implications. Those who choose Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy, but also parts of the New World, may not realise this, but they are buying into a specific type of wine: a fresh, bright, generally light style of white, often dominated by citrus flavours. Should they opt for Pinot Gris, however, it is usually because they are seeking something with more weight, generally with yellow fruit characters, and sometimes a honeyed note, even some residual sugar – and in certain cases, oak influence too. Consequently, the fine wine expression of this grape is almost invariably sold as Pinot Gris. They are, of course, many graduations along this scale, with weighty, barrel-matured Pinot Grigio, and fresh, linear, bone dry Pinot Gris available on the market today.

Now, while the judges in this year’s Pinot Gris Masters, like those in former tasting competitions for this grape, tend to give the highest scores to the richer styles, this is not always the case. Pinot Gris can be picked early, or grown in cooler climates, to make something expressive without resorting to very ripe, sweeter and sometimes botrytised flavours associated with, in particular, the wines from the grands crus of Alsace.

As a result, you will see that this year we even awarded a Master – our ultimate accolade – to a Pinot Grigio from northern Italy, with a price tag of £9, called Antica Vigna. Hailing from the newly-formed Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC, this represents a white wine of outstanding value, with masses of peach, pear, lime and greengage fruit, and, while it does have a touch of oiliness to the mouthfeel, it finishes with a linear, crisp, dry sensation expected of Italian wines crafted from this grape.

Such a wine, along with the others at the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum, proved that this grape deserves a better reputation. And, especially when it comes to examples from Northern Italy, which is so closely associated with the cheaper end of the offer: inert, thin whites that offer refreshment, but little flavour. Indeed, the competition’s only other Master was also from the delle Venezie DOC of northern Italy, but a Pinot Grigio with a different character. Coming from La Ronciai winery, this had a delicious pineapple and cream flavour combination, due to the use of barrels for the fermentation of fully ripe fruit.

Also notable among the greats of this year’s tasting were wines from Cremele Recas in the Banat region of western Romania, along with those from Marisco and Te Pa in Marlborough, and Joel Gott in Napa, along with a lovely entry from Mission Hill in the Okanagan, not forgetting a range of fantastic samples from Alto Adige (Cantine Valle Isarco and Peter Zemmer) and the Veneto (along with the aforementioned Masters was a Gold for Tenute Salvaterra) as well as Fruili (Pradio) and Trentino (Cavit).

Although not a Gold-medallist, we also enjoyed an appealing creamy, pear and lime scented fizz from Ponte, which has taken Northern Italy’s Prosecco-making expertise to the grape, and to great effect too.

Finally, although this report has focused on the greatest expressions, it is important to note that general high standard seen among the wines made from Pinot Gris, which doubtless explains why this grape rose to such a crowd-pleasing status in the first place. Today, helped by tastings such as this, Pinot Gris deserves to reclaim a position as the base for characterful, refreshing, good-value offerings – not just basic, short-lived whites – while retaining its reputation for great, textural wines too.

The wines in the Pinot Gris Masters were judged over the course of one day at Balls Brothers wine bar and restaurant in Adams Court, London on 10 July by (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Beverley Blanning MW, Susan Hulme MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Andrea Briccarello, and Jonathan Pedley MW

The Tuscan Masters: analysis and results in full

An in-depth analysis of the top-performing styles, regions, and producers from the Tuscan Masters 2019 – the only competition to blind-taste all things Tuscan side-by-side, be it Brunello or Bolgheri, along with the blends of Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

Considering how famous Tuscany has become as a holiday destination for travellers from right across the world, it is perhaps surprising that this region’s wine offer is not better understood, or at least, fully appreciated for its diversity. Of course it’s home to some of the globe’s best known denominations – Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Montelpulciano – but such areas are primarily associated with one grape: Sangiovese, and the distinctive reds it yields, with their wonderful combination of bitter-sweet cherry fruit, and firm tannins.

However, Tuscany, and its Toscana IGT official classification for those wines that fall outside the rules of this region’s protected designations, comprises wines made from a broad sweep of grape varieties, and a wide range of styles. Importantly, such wines are individual, delicious, and, in our view, undervalued for their quality. Among such stars are the whites based on Vermentino; the rosés from the Tuscan coast, particularly the Maremma, and the reds based on blends of Sangiovese with French grapes, from Syrah to Merlot.

Nevertheless, we at db wanted to taste-test the stylistic diversity on offer from Tuscany, as well as discover the hot spots for excellence, and, notably, see if the price-to-quality ratio peaked within the great DOCGs of Tuscany, or outside them.

With this in mind, we launched the Tuscan Masters, a tasting designed to assess all styles of wine from this part of Italy using our usual sampling format. This ensures that the entries are judged without any knowledge of their specific source area, or base grape. The wines are arrange according to style, and grouped into price bands, but the aim is to assess the entries according to quality, and quality alone. This could mean of course that a traditionally-made Chianti Classico might be judged alongside a modern-style Merlot blend from the Maremma. But, with both being approximately the same price, the question the judges must ask themselves does not concern typicity, but excellence for the money. And, it should be noted that both entries could be equally good, but offer a different kind of wine.

So what did we find after a day tasting around 100 Tuscan wines? In general terms, Tuscany offers a vast amount for the wine lover. It yields wines of excellence, with a singular style, from light whites to rich reds, taking in a wide spread of prices, from the entry level to top end fine wine. Crucially, it is an area making wines to a very high standard, and, relative the number of entries, Tuscany received more top scores than any other wine region taste-tested through the Global Wine Masters programme. Our Master of Wine judges were enthused by the complexity of this region’s output, and the way the wines are crafted – which sees an emphasis on refreshment, even when the base product is a lower-yielding south facing vineyard planted with the great red grapes of Bordeaux.

And it is Tuscany’s ability to produce wines with a typically Italianate bitter-sweet character, even with international grapes, that makes it so appealing. In other words, the great wines from this area of Italy are wonderful and inimitable.

Also, the best expressions weren’t from one particular area. Indeed, we awarded Masters – our ultimate accolade – to wines from all the major DOCGS of Tuscany, while we also saw excellence in the blends classified as IGT Toscana.

So, as you can see in the lists of results below, our handful of ‘Masters’ from the day’s tasting included reds from Montepulciano, Montalcino, Bolgheri and Chianti Classico, although, notably, the top expressions from Montepulciano and Montalcino actually employed non-native grapes, and hence they couldn’t carry the name of these famous denominations. This meant that our best wines of the day included two IGT Toscana reds: Banfi’s Bordeaux blend called Excelsus – using Cabernet and Merlot from the slopes of Montalcino – and Avignonesi’s Grandi Annate, a pure barrel-aged Sangiovese from Montepulciano. More in keeping with their source region, a further two Masters were awarded to a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from Cecchi, along with a Cabernet blend by Campo all Sughera, hailing from the home of Super Tuscan reds, Bolgheri – where Bordeaux grapes dominate.

Considering the styles on offer from Tuscany, starting with the lightest, it was clear that Vermentino is well suited to the Tuscan terroir, particularly the coastal part of the region, Maremma, and can be crafted to produce a range of whites, from the fresh, citrusy, light type, to more full-bodied, peachy style.

The latter richer version can also be suitable for barrel-fermentation and maturation, benefitting from the added nutty complexity of such vessels, just as riper styles of Sauvignon Blanc complement a touch of oak influence.

Among the great examples tasted in this year’s Tuscan Masters were a lovely, peachy, bright Vermentino from Cecchi, called Litorale, hailing from the Val delle Rose in the Maremma DOC.

Also delicious, and made in a similar mould – so bright, fresh, unoaked, but with masses of yellow fruit – was Banfi’s La Pettegola Vermentino, which also comes from the coastal part of Tuscany, using grapes grown in both the Maremma and Bolgheri, which is better known for its great reds from Bordeaux grapes.

However, when it came to a more powerful, barrel-influenced white wine, it was a Chardonnay that impressed, with Banfi’s Fontanelle earning praise from the judges for its combination of creamy toasty characters, and intense lemon fruit.

So what about rosé, or rather, rosato? After all, this is the wine world’s most fashionable category, attracting celebrities, not just as consumers, but as investors – even if such stakes are being taken in France, specifically Provence.

Well, we know from other tastings, notably our Rosé Masters, that Tuscany is the source of some great pink wines, with Frescobaldi’s Syrah and Vermentino Tuscan blend called Alie a gold medallist this year.

Banfi too has proved adept with rosato, particularly its Cost’é Rosé, IGT Toscana, which sees Vermentino prove an excellent component for a Sangiovese-based rosé, with the white grape playing a similar supporting role to the Grenache-based rosés from Provence, where Vermentino is commonly used, but labelled under its French synonym, Rolle.

However, in the Tuscan Masters, it was the brand Ventisei (meaning 26), from Avignonesi that took the top marks for its Rosato, using pure, organically-grown Sangiovese to produce a pink wine that was both refreshing and bursting with ripe red fruit.

Back to the reds, and starting with our Gold medallists among those wines enjoying the freedom of the IGT Toscana classification, one name that attracted plenty of praise, picking up three golds, was Arcanum, for its wonderful, structured reds employing Bordeaux grapes.

Using fruit from the southeast corner of Chianti Classico, this brand – which is owned by Jackson Family Wines – specialises in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, not Sangiovese, hence its wines are classified as IGT Toscana.

All the labels from this name were delicious, but the most impressive was the Merlot-dominated Arcanum ‘Valadorna’ from the 2013 vintage, with layers of fleshy ripe Morello cherry, sweet balsamic, vanilla and plenty of firm tannins to clean the palate.

Beyond Arcanum, two greats classified under the Toscana IGT tag hailed from Banfi, a name more closely associated with top Brunello, but skilled at much more.

Along with the aforementioned Master-winning Excelsus from Banfi, was this producer’s Summus brand, which sees Sangiovese from Montalcino blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to create something delicious, lifted, but also richer than a classic red from this part of Tuscany.

But Banfi also wowed the judges with its Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico, and its Aska Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, along with its single vineyard Poggio alle Mura, proving that it can craft outstanding wines respecting the rules of its regions, as well as through more experimental winemaking that breaks them.

Likewise, Avignonesi, which took home a Master for its Grande Annata IGT Toscana Sangiovese from Montepulciano, also gained a top score – albeit a Gold rather than Master – for its Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Poggetto Di Sopra, complete with its fleshy red cherry fruit, leather, spice, orange zest and dry, fine tannins. Another delicious red from this same well-known area was crafted by Lunadoro, offering a layered, refreshing, traditional wine for sub £30.

Further brilliance was enjoyed among the top wines of Castello Vicchiomaggio – both its Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, and its Ripa Delle More, which sees Sangiovese from the same region blended with Cabernet and Merlot, meaning this wine must forego the name its famous source area, and taken on the IGT Toscana classification.

The judges were also delighted to see a Sangiovese from the more obscure Morellino di Scansano DOCG gain a Gold. Found within the Maremma, this outpost for lovely fleshy cherry-scented reds came from Cecchi.

Nevertheless, the greatest number of top scoring wines based on Sangiovese came from Chianti Classico, with Fattoria Astorre Noti in Ruppiano, Rocca delle Macie, Nittardi, and Querciabella all picking up Golds.

So, while Tuscany is one of the world’s greatest areas for wines, crafting bright whites and roses, food-friendly reds, and concentrated complex fine wines too, the Tuscan Masters highlighted something else. This is the quality and value of top Chianti Classico, a famous name that seems to have fallen somewhat out of fashion relative to its Tuscan neighbours – be they the Bordeaux blends of Bolgheri or the pure Sangioveses of Brunello. In other words, don’t forget Chianti Classico in the search for fine wine from Tuscany. Indeed, it may be the source of Italy’s most keenly-priced great reds.

The wines for the Tuscan Masters were judged over the course of one day at Les 110 de Taillevent in London on 11 July by (left to right): Matthieu Longuère MS, Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, and Jonathan Pedley MW

The results in full from the Syrah Masters 2018

We reveal the results in full from this year’s Global Syrah Masters, which saw great names and regions rewarded, as well as some less-familiar areas that are turning out remarkable wines from this wonderful, if somewhat unfashionable grape.

Sampling Syrah: Keith Isaac MW and Jonathan Pedley MW (right)

If one were to draw up a list of the most sought-after, saleable grape varieties in the world right now, I’m saddened to say that Syrah probably wouldn’t feature. Other so-called Mediterranean varieties such as Grenache and Tempranillo seem to elicit more excitement among wine lovers, although all of the above lag Pinot Noir for the ultimate in premium image and general popularity, with Cabernet not far behind.

So why isn’t Syrah more sexy? Based on another major tasting within our Global Masters series for noble grapes, the quality of wine made from Syrah today is not the problem. In fact, of all the red grapes we consider in a raft of annual wine competitions, Syrah consistently yields the most number of Gold medals, and above: we had no fewer than 8 Masters from this year’s tasting. This is remarkable considering the calibre of our judges and the high scores necessary across the board to achieve such a result.

So, if Syrah is the source of delicious wines, surely this grape should be in vogue? Of course, but there are issues around its image, not helped by the fact wines made from the variety are generally labelled Syrah if they are from Europe, and most commonly Shiraz when they are from outside, especially from Australia. This may be yielding some confusion for consumers, and, while there are broad stylistic implications associated with each name, they don’t always hold true. Generally, Shiraz denotes a richer riper style of red from the grape, with Syrah used for something lighter and more floral. But, as our extensive tastings have shown, there are plenty of concentrated wines labelled Syrah, and some of the new styles of Shiraz from Australia, particularly where whole bunches go into the fermenters, can be surprisingly delicate, even Pinot-esque.

Then there’s the grape’s lack of lustre as a producer of fine wine. This is, of course, misplaced: for some, the greatest red wine in the world is made from Syrah: La Chapelle in Hermitage. However, this historic home of the grape, the northern Rhône, produces wines sold according to appellation, eschewing varietal labelling, meaning that some of the world’s best expressions of Syrah don’t actually overtly promote the grape.

Meanwhile, the upmarket image for the grape in the US especially has been damaged by the success of inexpensive Australian Shiraz, particularly sold under the brand Yellow Tail. Or so I’m told. And in this market particularly, where fashion is so important to sales – and wine is almost entirely merchandised by variety – one major player in the market commented that if the wine says Syrah on the label, it doesn’t move, but if you take it off, it can become a best-seller. The implication being that people actually love the taste of Syrah, just not the image.

But while commerciality is key in the wine industry, our Global Masters tastings seek to identify the sources of quality – by place and producer. Now, while the base level may be unusually high for Syrah, there are of course areas where the results are much better than others, and, as this year’s results show, some of these come as no surprise (Barossa, Hermitage), others are a revelation (Turkey, Greece, Switzerland…). So, whatever the source, let’s consider the standouts.

Now, while there were plenty of pleasing reds sub £10, the first Gold medal winners were seen once we had surpassed that key price point. As is so often the case with wine, the price-quality sweet spot comes above £12, and, if I was to choose a price band where you can maximise the amount of wine you can get for your buck, it would probably be beyond £12 and below £19 for Syrah. But even at £15 or lower, we saw some brilliant wines, notably from Washington State’s Ste Michelle, as well as the Barossa (Graham Norton, Andrew Peace, Wakefield/Taylors), Colchagua (MontGras) and Florina in Greece, where it seems that Syrah reaches delicious completion when blended with a touch of this nation’s native Xinomavro at the country’s Alpha Estate.

Over £15 but still below £20, and the number of Golds increased dramatically, with Argentina (Trivento, MP Wines) this time featuring, as well as Turkey (Kavaklidere), and New Zealand (Church Road). Among the blends, we also had our first Master, which was impressive at this still relatively low price, with Kalleske’s Moppa Shiraz benefitting from a touch of Petit Verdot and Viognier, giving some added structure and aromatics respectively to this intense, juicy and soft Barossa Shiraz.

Between £20 and £30, we had no fewer than 14 Golds and one Master, showing the potential for Syrah to perform at the entry-point price-wise of the fine wine market. Noteworthy in this band was the excellence of a Syrah from California, hailing from the Yorkville Highlands AVA, based in the southern Mendocino County, and produced by Copain – a winery within the Jackson family portfolio. Coming close in quality, however, were some more rarified Syrahs from names already mentioned (such as Wakefield/Taylors, Alpha Estate) as well as new ones to the Gold standard (representing Australia’s Barossa were: Jacob’s Creek, St Hugo, Langmeil, Tempus Two; Argentina’s Uco Valley: Trapiche, Salentein; South Africa’s Tulbagh: Saronsberg, and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay: Craggy Range).

And, coincidentally, between £30 and £50, we had the same tally at the top-end, with 14 Golds and one Master. Regarding the latter, the judges were seriously impressed by the Ebenezer Shiraz from Barossa, and produced in tiny quantities by Hayes Family Wines. The tables show the other lovely wines in this category, but we were pleased to see after the tasting was concluded that great wines from Barossa; the Valais (Switzerland’s Domaines Chevaliers) and Marlborough (New Zealand’s Giesen) had been rubbing shoulders quality-wise with Hermitage (Romain Duvernay).

Once we were over £50, however, we couldn’t help but award a clutch of Masters, with the Barossa’s Savitas and Levantine Hill wowing the judges, as did the Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne from Chapoutier, and the Hickinbotham Brooks Road Shiraz from McLaren Vale – all celebrated wines attracting glorious scores. But there was another region among the Masters, and that was a wine from a relatively new area for top-end Syrah (if becoming famous for great reds from Sangiovese and Merlot) – the Maremma in Toscana. Hailing from Conti di San Bonifacio Sustinet, this turned out to be just on the entry-point of this price band, retailing for £50, making it all the more appealing among these illustrious labels.

Although that was the only Master for Italian Syrah, there were also two Golds in this price category awarded to this country – a delicious sample from Lazio, produced by the Famiglia Cotarella, as well as one from Cortona, made by Fabrizio Dionisio in Toscana.

We were also thrilled to see strong performances from famous names in Syrah such as Mission Estate (New Zealand) and Château Tanunda, Bird in Hand, Langmeil, Henschke, Gatt and Schild Estate (Australia).

In all, the tasting had rewarded the renowned along with the less familiar, as it was talent, not repute, that the Syrah Masters sought to reward through its blind-tasting format.

Please see below for the list of medallists from the Global Syrah Masters 2018.

For more information on this competition, or any of the Global Masters, please contact Sophie Raichura on:
+44 (0)20 7803 2454 / +852 3488 1008, or sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The judges (left to right): Roberto della Pietra, Tobias Gorn, Jonathan Pedley MW, Keith Isaac MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Jonny Gibson

Chardonnay Masters 2014: The results

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

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

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

ENGLAND SPARKLES

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

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

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

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

OAKEY-DOKEY

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

CHILEAN CHALLENGERS

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

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

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

TOP-END TRIUMPHS

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

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

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

Chardonnay-Masters-Judges

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

Prosecco Masters 2017: the results

This year’s Prosecco Masters showed that despite the rapid expansion in the sector, quality across the board has risen, with the wines having improved since 2016’s competition. By Patrick Schmitt MW

Ask any member of the wine trade to name the European drinks phenomenon of our time, and one can be pretty sure they will mention Prosecco.

A drink that barely existed 20 years ago has become the best-selling fizz in major sparkling-wine markets, such as the US, Germany, and particularly the UK.

Indeed, it’s now outselling Pinot Grigio in Britain, while in several European nations, Prosecco is one of the few areas of the wine business in growth, single-handedly propping up markets that would otherwise be showing a decline in drinks consumption.

But ask those same people why Prosecco has become so successful and one can expect a range of responses. Some credit the drink’s popularity to the catchy name, others its Italian origin, or the stand-out packaging.

But the basic, simple reason for the impressive performance for this single type of fizz is the nature of the liquid – it’s a pleasing, slightly sweet fizz with a pear and peach flavour. Importantly, it’s not demanding of the drinker; Prosecco succeeds because it is simple. Indeed, it is proof that a drink doesn’t have to be sophisticated to give pleasure.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s all the same.

About the competition

The drinks business Prosecco Masters, now in its fourth year, is a competition exclusively for the Italian sparkling wine. This year’s event saw more than 100 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The Proseccos were tasted over the course of one day at Café Murano in London’s Covent Garden on 15 March. This report features only the medal-winners.

BEST EXPRESSIONS
And with that in mind, in 2015, we launched the Prosecco Masters. As with all our Masters tasting competitions, the aim is to uncover as much as possible about any single category.

Our plan is to understand not only the overall level of quality, but also the sweet spot in terms of price, and the broad stylistic trends. Finally, importantly, we want to know who is producing the best expressions today.

To deal with the overall quality level first, it was pleasing to discover in this year’s Prosecco Masters that not only is the base standard high, but also a marked improvement on last year’s competition.

The number of medals confirms this, but the general impression from the judges, a number of whom had judged in previous Prosecco Masters, was that, at all levels, this is a better product.

And this came as something of a surprise, because, as is often the case, rapid sales expansion doesn’t usually correlate with increasing quality, quite simply because when there is a rush to supply demand, producers can be tempted to push yields, speed up while DOC Proseccos under £15 received seven Gold medals, DOCG expressions beneath the same price point picked up three.

However, with just one Master awarded to a DOC Prosecco, and four to DOCG examples, one can see that the best sites really do produce the top-level wines.

As one judge, Nick Tatham MW – another Italian wine expert – said after the tasting: “There is certainly a grey area between DOC and DOCG: towards the top end of the DOCG, where the Proseccos were at winemaking processes, and over the longer term, plant in places less suited to the production of high-quality grapes. But with this year’s competition producing 21 Gold medals and five Masters – the highest accolade reserved for outstanding examples only – it is clear that Prosecco is managing to ramp up supply without sacrificing quality, that is, based on the entries assessed in this year’s tasting.

However, and touching on the second point raised above – which is, finding a sweet spot in terms of price versus quality – it was notable that the inexpensive DOC classified Proseccos (as opposed to the pricier DOCG examples) were a source of very good fizz.

As one of the judges, Italian wine expert Alex Canetti, said: “The base level was really good, which is great, because that’s what really counts.”

Interestingly, not all the DOCG Proseccos, which must come from the hilly areas of either Conegliano Valdobbiadene or Asolo, showed an overt step up in quality.

So, higher price points, there was a significant difference in quality, but at lower price points the difference between DOC and DOCG was not clear: we tasted some very good DOC Proseccos and then we went on to try some disappointing DOCGs.” Similarly, sparking-wine expert Roberto della Pietra, who also judged in the competition, said he was “pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the DOC Prosecco”, noting “the great fruit and great balance”. Like Tatham, he said that he was “expecting more of a step up to DOCG.”

GREATER SUPPLY
So what was key to DOC quality? Well, with so much planting over the past five years in the valley floors across this vast zone – the Prosecco DOC covers five provinces in the Veneto and a further four in Fruili Venezia Giulia – there is a much greater supply of grapes, giving producers the opportunity to select the best bunches across a large area.

In other words, the DOC may not encompass the hilly terroir that benefits the DOCG’s best expressions, but the DOC gives producers the chance to select grapes from a diverse range of sites to create something that is balanced and consistent. Or, put simply, as Canetti says: “Producers of DOC Prosecco have access to more fruit.” Also aiding the quality of Prosecco at all levels, and particularly the entry point, is the pristine winemaking processes in this part of Italy.

Canetti explains: “All the top stainless-steel tanks, the best presses, and general winemaking technology comes from northern Italy, so Prosecco benefits from that.” Agreeing, judge Jonathan Pedley MW added: “With the help of stateof-the-art technology, the Italians are able to make something as clean as a whistle, as well as carefully selecting yeasts to accentuate Prosecco’s aromas.” On the subject of aroma, as well as flavour, it seems that, broadly speaking, Prosecco seems to be becoming fruitier, peachier even, and less sweet.

Prosecco classifications

> The Prosecco DOC production area covers the northeast Italian territories of: in the Veneto, five provinces (Treviso, Venice, Vicenza, Padua, Belluno), and in Friuli Venezia Giulia, four provinces (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine).
> Prosecco DOC totals approximately 20,000 hectares.
> Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG covers the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, while there is also the smaller Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, produced near the town of Asolo.
> Prosecco DOCG totals approximately 6,600ha.
> Superiore di Cartizze is a hill within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG which is famous for producing the most concentrated expression of Prosecco – and often too, the sweetest. It covers 107ha and is home to the most expensive vineyard land in Italy, with an estimated value of €1.5m-€2m per hectare.
> While Cartizze is at the top of the Prosecco Superiore DOCG quality pyramid, the Consorzio recently-introduced the Rive delimitations, which are named after particular sub-zones with distinct and high-quality terroirs.

In the past, when deriding the drink, it was tempting to dismiss it as smelling of fermentation esters (pear drops/banana) and tasting of sugar, but based on this year’s tasting, it seems Prosecco has much more character from the raw material, rather than production process, and a more refreshing precise edge, as richer fruit flavours allow for lower sugar levels.

But this is not to suggest that the majority of Prosecco has become much more complex.

Indeed, the judges agreed that while the quality of the wines was impressive, Prosecco is still, for the most part, a jolly and unsophisticated drink.

“Charm is what we want and get from Prosecco,” said Canetti, adding: “It’s all about fun with your friends.” Nodding in agreement, Tatham added: “It’s important that Prosecco has immediate appeal,” suggesting that there wasn’t a place for subtlety in this category.

Nevertheless, there were stand-out Proseccos from the blind tasting, examples with plenty of personality, layers of flavour, and a lovely acid-sugar balance.

Notable among the DOC examples was Martini’s 2016 vintage Prosecco, which the judges applauded for its mix of fresh fruits and floral scent, and its pristine lively character, although other producers in this classification were close in terms of quality.

WOWING THE JUDGES
Moving onto the DOCG Proseccos, La Marca wowed the judges among the examples between £15 and £20, although there were plenty of excellent wines in this price band.

Over £20, and the superior nature of Italy’s best sites for the Prosecco region’s Glera grape shone through, despite the high number of strong entries this year.

And, as a result, we saw Riunite’s Rive Prosecco take home a Master for its Colbertaldo. Also, Borgo Molino achieved this ultimate accolade for its Prosecco from the DOCG of Asolo, a hilly and picturesque area that generally produces fruitier styles than the more famous Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco.

As for the final Master of the day, nestled among the many Gold medallists was an exceptional Cartizze, from Foss Marai, which combined the rich, plush-textured sweetness one would expect from this revered pinnacle sub-region of Prosecco, combined with a mouth-watering lime-zest finish. After the last of the Proseccos had been sampled, the judges agreed it had been a highly enjoyable tasting, featuring wines with plenty of instant appeal.

It had proved that Italian producers are mastering the Glera grape in the vineyard, and honing their winemaking skills to get the most from this delicate variety.

Also, at the top end, it showed that some Prosecco producers are successfully extending the boundaries of quality with this fruity, youthful, sparkling wine style. So, while this Charmat-method fizz is not a rich, ageworthy product for pairing with powerfully-flavoured foods, it is, when grown in the right place, and handled with care, a brilliant apéritif; a drink with plenty of character, a crowd-pleasing creamy texture, and an uplifting citrus zest.

• See below for a list of the judges and the following pages for all the medal-winning Proseccos in this year’s competition. 

Left to right: Anthony Foster MW, Jonathan Pedley MW; Nick Tatham MW;
Roberto della Pietra; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW; Alex Canetti

The best Proseccos for 2018

With its slight sweetness and fruity characteristics, Prosecco is one of the most popular wines available. We bring you the category’s best bubbles from this year’s Prosecco Masters tasting.

While all the competitions in the drinks business’s Global Masters series are important, some are more commercially significant than others. For wine buyers in the UK, particularly those in the supermarket or pub sectors, few parts of the drinks business are more marketable than Prosecco – an area of trade that has grown to such an extent that demand outstripped supply last year. For this reason, the Prosecco Masters is one of the most hotly anticipated tastings in our series – both for the judges and the wider trade, most of whom now handle this product in some way.
But what has made Prosecco such a success? It is a question that can be best answered after a day sampling more than 100 wines from this category, covering every style and price point, including the niche producer and big-brand player.
Nevertheless, before the tasting began, our judges had a pretty clear idea of what they where looking for, believing they know what makes this sparkling wine such a hit with today’s drinkers. Would a the competition alter or confirm their views? Well, in short, it reinforced them, while also drawing attention to the sweet spots in the category, and areas of relative weakness. For them, Prosecco is popular for its fizzy pear and peach flavours, along with slightly sweet character. It’s best enjoyed while it’s young and fresh, and sells best around the £10 mark in UK retail – and preferably below this psychological cut-off.
But what was less well understood were the gradations in quality according to source area and winemaking approaches; essentially, the qualities that justify the higher prices for premium Prosecco.
One element that is clear from the day’s tasting is the high level of appeal at the entry-level end of the category. Prosecco is, in part, sought after because it delivers a consistent flavour and quality – and that was seen among the DOC samples under £10. Nothing was outstanding, but few samples secured less than a Bronze medal. And between £10 and £15, we not only had our first Gold – Ponte’s DOC Extra Dry – but also a remarkably high proportion of Silvers. This is not easy, gaining such a medal requires agreement between a group of exacting judges who are looking for more than just orchard-fruit flavours in their fizz.
Logo