Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Global Sparkling Masters 2019: results in full

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


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

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

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

Repeated sampling

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

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

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

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

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

Quality fizz

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

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

Delicious options

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

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

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

The judges (left to right): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Simon Field MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Antony Moss MW, Andrea Briccarello, Patrick Schmitt MW

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.

Sparkling Masters 2017: results and analysis

While Champagne and Prosecco still rule the roost when it comes to fizz, producers from all over the world are crafting their own exciting styles of sparkling wine, as our blind-tasting competition shows. By Patrick Schmitt MW

The judges: Left to right (standing): Antony Moss MW, Christine Parkinson, Tobias Gorn, Patrick Schmitt MW, Michael Edwards, Clement Robert MS. Left to right (seated): Nicola Thomson, Ana-Emilia Sapungiu MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Lynne Sherriff MW

Which category of drinks has the most sparkle at the moment? Fizz. Not only has this style of booze been the major growth area for the wine business over the past decade, but also, if the forecasts are correct, there’s still mileage in the sector – estimates by the IWSR suggest an 8.6% growth over a five-year period from 2016-2020, taking the total market to almost 2.9 billion bottles. The reason for such an outstanding performance centres on the fact that fizz offers more refreshment than any other drink.

Somehow, something with bubbles does a superior job of cleansing the palate than something without – it’s why Coca Cola, with its carbonated edge, seems to invigorate dry mouths, even though it’s loaded with sugar. But it’s not just refreshment that makes sparkling wine so popular.

It’s the association with good times. OK, so Champagne may be the fizz most closely tied to important moments, from podium wins to major anniversaries, but other sparkling wines still have a celebratory edge, and are connected with fun, sociable occasions – even if they end up being used as an opportunity to mark nothing more than a group getting together for an evening. Of course, one shouldn’t see the category as simply Champagne and sparkling wine, as there is great diversity within both, and an increasing spread of styles and growing number of sources among the latter particularly. Nevertheless, presently, it is viewed as a two-part, or increasingly, three-part sector: Champagne, Prosecco and sparkling wine.

Indeed, Champagne and Prosecco have become the two stand-out successes in sparkling wine that everyone else wants to emulate and benefit from. The former represents the long-time pinnacle in image and quality – but also, with sales of Champagne for 2017 expected to surpass 310 million bottles, a sizeable winemaking machine too.

About the competition

The Sparkling Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti. The competition is exclusively for Sparkling and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top Sparklings were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those Sparklings that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Sparkling Master. The Sparklings were tasted over the course of a single day on 8 September at Bumpkin restaurant in London. This report features only the winners of medals.

The latter embodies the fun, easy and affordable side of sparkling wine, and acts as the volume-driver for fizz overall in the past 10 years – the production of Prosecco has risen by around 50m bottles from 2006-2016 to total almost 500m.

As a result, one can split the market into two main areas and a more diverse third. The first concerns Champagne and the relatively pricy traditional-method brut sparklers primarily made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that have been designed to take on the original.

The second comprises cheaper tank-method Prosecco and Prosecco alternatives, which often have reasonably high levels of residual sugar.

As for the third, that is made up of the many other types of fizz produced around the world in a range of styles and sugar levels, sometimes using native grapes, others employing Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Bearing all this in mind, the next question is, can the challengers to these two benchmarks deliver something as good, if not better for the price? And if so, where are they from, and who is behind them? Or, if not, which producers are ensuring that the benchmarks remain their category leaders today?

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