Grenache Masters 2019: the results in full

The inaugural Global Grenache Masters showed that this undervalued grape is capable of producing great wines at keen prices, particularly in the Rhône and Rioja, along with Priorat and the Barossa.

IF YOU were in any doubt as to the versatility, or quality of Grenache, then the drinks business’s first tasting competition devoted entirely to this grape should conclusively alter your view. Not only did we have a broad range of styles – red, white, rosé, even sparkling – but an extensive sweep of prices, from the sub £10 unoaked sample to £50-plus fine wines. As for the quality element, Grenache proved it can, in the words of fellow judge Jonathan Pedley MW, “stand shoulder to shoulder with the other ‘first division’ black grape varieties.”

So why did we launch a Global Masters for Grenache? It’s primarily because we at db have a fondness for the grape and don’t believe it receives the recognition it deserves. If one considers all the column inches that are devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot, Syrah or Malbec, then Grenache – as far as globally planted grapes go – is comparatively underrated and overlooked.

CAPABLE OF GREATNESS
And it does do a number of things very well. One of those is inexpensive wine – Grenache makes a brilliant soft and ripe ‘house’ red (unlike inexpensive Pinot – a grape that has parallels with Grenache – which rarely produces appealing modestly priced wine). It’s also a variety that’s capable of greatness – Grenache can make wines of immense complexity, with a great ability to age, and, importantly, ones with a combination of powerful flavours and a light body.

Then there’s its disease resistance – Grenache is impressively impervious to wood diseases, hence the amazing stock of old vines, which us wine lovers can help protect by raising the grape’s popularity.

Grenache is also a grape of surprising versatility – it’s great for rosé and fortified wine, while it’s also a variety that can withstand heat extremes in the vineyard, an important trait if some climate change predictions come true.

The judge’s view: Jonathan Pedley MW

The tasting showed that while Grenache does have traits that give rise to some caricatures, from a quality perspective it can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other first-division black grape varieties. I also think that the tasting showed definitively that Grenache can make damn good wines both on its own or in a blend. I guess that the latter has never been in doubt, but in this tasting we saw unblended wines that were complete in every way. A straight Grenache will always tend to be relatively high in alcohol, low in acidity, not particularly deep in colour and have a ripe fruit character more in the red rather than the black spectrum. Further, the tannins will usually be supple and approachable, rather than tough and severe. However, none of these characteristics prevents a varietal Grenache from showing wonderful complexity and achieving seamless harmony in the bottle.

As for styles, it was good to see a broad cross section of styles among the red wines. At one end of the scale we had some classic ‘big hairy monsters’, while at the other extreme were some fragrant, perfumed, and, dare one say it, almost pretty, wines.

I have always felt that the structure of Grenache is ideally suited to producing wines that are not just approachable when they are young but are actually a pleasure to drink (in stark contrast to grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon). What is more, given that Grenache grew in places that were not highly thought of in the past (Soledad, Languedoc, Aragón), good examples have always represented excellent value for money. The tasting confirmed this supposition, with a couple of Golds going to wines in the £10-£15 bracket.

It is also widely planted, although it’s suffering declines in the extent of its reach. In 1990, Grenache was the world’s most planted red grape, but now you’ll find more Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo in the ground.

As for our conclusions from a day spent assessing wines made from the grape, much of what we had thought was borne out by this competition.

To focus on the reds, it was clear that the structure of Grenache is well suited to producing wines that are a pleasure to drink when they are young, and unadorned by expensive winemaking techniques employing barriques. By way of example, we awarded a Gold to a sub-£10 Grenache blend from Terroir Daronton in the Rhône for being a lovely glass of red for the price, with plenty of ripe red fruit and a soft, as well as refreshing finish.

For just a touch more cash there were some delightful reds from Spain in the £10-£15 category of wines. In particular, we were impressed by a fleshy, medium-weight sample from Rioja employing old bush vine Garnacha. It gained a Gold, as did another one with similar traits, this time from nearby Aragón, the Spanish wine region widely considered to be the native home of this grape.

Further up the price ladder it was Australia that wowed with its rich, layered, but still lifted results with Grenache, in particular producers Reillys, Byrne, Kalleske and Yangarra. Together, these top-scoring wineries proved that both the Barossa and McLaren Vale are natural homes for Grenache, with wine quality helped by the presence of very old vines in these regions.

COMPREHENSIVE VIEW
We were also pleased to see a couple of lovely examples from Chile, both crafted using historic bush vines – one from Loncomilla in Maule and the other from new label Clos de Luz. While this country is best known for its Cabernet blends, it was interesting to see that Grenache has found a suitable home here too – after all, this is a country with, for the most part, a Mediterranean climate, and, importantly, granitic soils, which the grape likes, along with hot sandy sites.

On the subject of soils, among those awarded the ultimate accolade of Grenache Master was Scala Dei, pioneering producer of Priorat, where Grenache grown on weathered blue slate has helped build the global reputation for this Spanish region as a source of some of the country’s greatest reds. Although Grenache is enjoying increasing prominence in South Africa and California, and has a long presence in Sardinia – where’s it’s called Cannonau – we were not presented with samples from these places, and while we saw plenty of wines from the south of France, we didn’t assess anything from the spiritual home of Grenache: Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Nevertheless, the number of areas represented, as well as range of styles, gave us a fairly comprehensive view of the state of Grenache today, while confirming many of its sources of quality: the Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia; Aragón, Catalonia and Rioja in Spain, and the Rhône in France. It also showed us that Grenache can make delicious wines on its own, as well as in a blend, while the competition highlighted the grape’s ability to successfully yield a light, juicy red, as well as a complex, barrel-aged blockbuster.

In short, Grenache is a tough, heat-resistant grape that can produce crowd-pleasing results at all levels. It’s for these reasons that we believe Grenache is set for a higher profile in the global wine business.

Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter.

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

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