Chardonnay Masters 2019: the results in full

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 fortified wines from the Global Masters

We count down the ten top-performing samples from db’s Fortified Masters competitions, taking in sensational wines from Australia to Portugal.

While today’s trends may be focused on finding low-calorie and reduced-alcohol options in the world of drinks, those in the wine trade know well that the ultimate in drinking pleasure comes at the opposite end of the spectrum: products that are richly flavoured, often sweet, and with a warming spirit-sourced edge to them. Such drinks are known collectively as fortified wines.

However, as with any category, even if home to some of the globe’s most delicious drinks, there are variations in style and quality, hence the need to asses them, using experience palates.

With this in mind, once again we held a Fortified Masters blind tasting earlier this year, as part of our Global Masters series, taking in key wine styles.

While this competition always sees a high medal count, we have picked out the top performers, those wines with plenty of personality, and a balancing spirit influence, rather than a dominating heat.

We’ve also added to these with a few fortifieds from former tastings to give a greater geographic scope for the following top 10.

So read on to find out which are the best of their types in a range of categories, from Port and Madeira to Sherry, taking in a broad sweep of regions and nations, including France, Spain and Portugal, and not forgetting Australia too.

Meanwhile, click here to find out the results in full from the Global Masters, and search under Fortified to see the medal-winners in this competition category.

Syrah Masters 2017: the results in full

While it may be less popular than other red grape varieties, Syrah, or Shiraz, is made by producers who really have a passion for the wine type, as the expressions in our annual Syrah Masters prove. By Patrick Schmitt MW

Of all the major red grapes, Syrah must be the hardest to classify. Not only does if have two names – Syrah and Shiraz – but each reflects a different personality. This is a variety that can produce restrained and delicate wines, or, depending on climate and treatment, something rich and powerful.

In terms of pure quality too, it can display different extremes, yielding something simple and inexpensive, or fine and pricey – indeed, it can make the greatest varietal reds in the world after Pinot. Purely in terms of image, however, Syrah doesn’t have the pulling power of Pinot.

While people may love the wines of the northern Rhône, and crave the complexities of Hermitage, they don’t tend to eulogise about Syrah itself – which is, of course, the base grape of these great French wine regions. As for Shiraz, this is associated with the juicy generosity of Aussie reds, but people forget such ripeness can be reached in other places, from California to Tuscany.

And they also sometimes fail to remember that Syrah can make elegant wines outside of its European heartland of the Rhône, something proven by the increasing number of refreshing examples from New Zealand – particularly Hawke’s Bay – and coastal Chile, above all Leyda and Limarí.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Syrah masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers on 20 July at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington

Its many faces, of course, make it interesting to blind taste. Where does it excel, which styles emanate from which areas, and what are the overarching winemaking trends with this grape? All were questions answered by our Syrah Masters 2017. Initially though, one thing that is clear from this year’s competition is the sheer quality of Syrah being produced today. Indeed, there isn’t a Global Masters with better results – it yielded the highest number of Golds and Masters in the series so far.

That may be connected to the complexities of commercialising Syrah. In essence, it is only produced by people who love the grape, and in places where it performs brilliantly, quite simply because, at the moment, it’s not particularly easy to sell.

It should be said that there were wines in this year’s Syrah Masters that failed to gain top medals. Sometimes that was because there was a green pepper and olive character that verged on the bitter, no doubt because the grapes were picked a little too early. At other times it was because of a sulphurous whiff that didn’t clear with swirling – Syrah is a grape that is prone to producing sulphur dioxide either during or after fermentation. And then there were wines with raisined flavours and elevated alcohol levels, examples where it was clear the berries were exposed to excessive sun, or the bunches were harvested too late.

Also, a few wines had seen too much new oak, masking the inherent characters of the variety with barrel-sourced flavours, particularly vanillin. But such negatives were rare. In the main, the judges witnessed wines with balance, albeit in different styles, which in turn were reflective of a range of source areas.

Not only that, but they also enjoyed the characters of sensitively handled Syrah, from its black pepper, black cherry and blackberry flavours, to its firm tannins, intense colour, and bright acidity. As for where Syrah excels, the results confirm what the professionals doubtless expect: the best wines were from the Northern Rhône, the Barossa, and the aforementioned areas of New Zealand and Chile.

The surprises were the quality of wines possible with this grape in parts of South Africa, Italy and Portugal, with a Gold-medal-winning example from the Alentejo.

Considering the price bands, Syrah can make good wines at low cost, but it seems there is a sweet spot for this grape at £15-£20, with two Masters achieved at what is a relatively low price for an outstanding wine. Because of the high number of top scoring samples, mentioning all the Gold and Master winners in this article would risk producing little more than a list.

Nevertheless, certain names are worth picking out. In particular Wakefield Wines for their juicy but refreshing range of high-quality wines at price points from around £10 up to almost £50. Also, the skill of Penfolds with Syrah shone in this blind tasting, particularly its St Henri Shiraz, which, without the sweetness of ageing in new oak barriques, provides a pure expression of great Australian Shiraz in all its juicy, spicy and textured glory.

Langmeil too, showed the wonders of Australian Shiraz from the Barossa, as did Château Tanunda, Kalleskie and Yalumba, while Yangarra highlighted the brilliance of the same grape grown in the McLaren Vale, and McGuigan the complexity of Shiraz from the Hunter Valley.

Jacob’s Creek too proved its ability to craft lovely Shiraz at accessible price points when blended across south Australia, particularly this brand’s innovative ‘double barrel’ range, which sees its wines finished in aged whiskey barrels. Beyond Australia, New Zealand wowed with several examples of Hawkes Bay Syrah, particularly from Church Road and Elephant Hill, while South Africa impressed with its examples from Saronsberg in Tulbagh and Cloof in Darling.

More surprising was the great Syrah blend from Monte Da Ravasqueira in the Alentejo and a varietal example from Planeta in Sicily. In short, the Global Syrah Masters highlighted the best places for this grape, the top producers, as well as the quality available in the market. It also showed that the more you pay, the better the wine.

This may sound like an obvious point, but with some grapes in the Global Masters, this isn’t the case. In other words, Syrah is a safe bet at all prices, but a particularly savvy choice for fine wine lovers.

The judges (left-right)
Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business; Emma Symington MW, Wine Australia; Patricia Stefanowicz MW, consultant; Clément Robert MS, 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen; Matthieu Longuère MS, Le Cordon Bleu; Ana Sapungiu MW, Oddbins; Tobias Gorn, Boisdale; Beverly Tabbron MW, Hallgarten Druitt; Clive Barlow MW, consultant

Over the following pages are the results in full from this year’s Syrah Masters, along with comments from the judges.