The best wines from The Global Riesling Masters 2020

One of the favourite grapes of the true wine connoisseur, Riesling comes in many types, from sparkling to dry, from medium to sweet. But our annual blind-tasting test showed that there are delights in all categories. Read on for an analysis of the results and a list of all the medallists from the 2020 competition.

If you want proof of Riesling’s versatility, then look at the spread of top medals in this year’s competition. Held for pure Riesling only, we had fantastic entries for sparkling wine, dry still wines, medium dry and sweet ones, including an outstanding Icewine at the end of the tasting. It shows that not only can Riesling be used to make a wide array of wine styles, but in each case, it can achieve excellence. This is rare in the wine world, where noble grapes tend to create something exceptional in one or two styles, with only Chenin Blanc, and perhaps Furmint, being other grape varieties that can I can think of that are capable of yielding excellent sparkling, dry and sweet results.

So, starting with the sparkling Riesling, with had a small taste of Sekt, with two delicious examples from Kessler in Württemberg, with the second notable for its fresh chalky edge, and intense, lime-like fruit. Then we came across another sparkling, which was a touch pricier, but with a more powerful flavour combination of peach, citrus and biscuit, and then the bright, firm, hallmark Riesling acidity. We awarded this a Gold, and later learnt that it was from Thirty Bench in Canada, and not Germany, as had been presumed.

Among the still wines in the tasting, starting with the driest Rieslings, the quality was high, and while a few of the wines seemed a touch dilute, there seemed to be fewer incidences of fiercely acidic samples, the sort that finished firm, as opposed to fresh.

Notable among the dry samples were two wines in particular. The first of these was the Riesling Les Princes Abbés from Domaines Schlumberger in Alsace, which impressed the judges with its combination of tangerine, lime and beeswax in a textured, slightly evolved and dry style.

The other Golds in the dry category were pricier, and both came from Australia’s Clare Valley. The cheaper of these, from Wakefield/Taylors, was a brilliant example of its type, with masses of juicy lime, and a dry, stone-like finish – it was bright, but not sharp.

The other, from Kilikanoon Wines, was similarly dry and fresh, and also loaded with lime, but being an older vintage – it was from 2011 – it had the lovely flavours of aged Riesling, from toast to a touch of kerosene. But running both these wines close were a sweep of excellent Rieslings, as you can see from the high number of Silvers, even under £15.

In other words, if you opt for dry Riesling, particularly from Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley, then you can be assured a high standard of wine, with clean citrus fruit, and Riesling’s wonderful crisp character.

When it came to those Rieslings with just a touch of residual sugar, the medium-dry style, again the standard was high, with any sweetness more than offset by the high natural acidy of this grape variety.

Within the ‘medium-dry’ flight we tasted some lovely floral peachy samples from Chile (Cono Sur) and a good value wine from New Zealand (Hunter’s). Among the Golds was a ripe and bright Riesling mixing peach and pear with fresh lime zest, which hailed from Casablanca in Chile (Casas del Bosque) and soft, pure, persistent sample from the Pflaz in Germany (Ruppertsberger Weinkeller Hoheburg).

CRISP FINISH

At higher prices, there were two brilliant Rieslings from Domaines Schlumberger, representing a pair of Alsace grands crus: Saering and Kessler, with the former showing a touch more ripe peachy fruit, honey and tangerine, and the latter more pear and apple, along with chalk and salt characters on its crisp finish.

Germany was the source nation of the final Gold in this sweetness category, with the powerful Rheingau Grosses Gewachs Riesling from Weingut August Eser, loaded with apricot richness, a touch of sweetness, and a stony, dry, lime-fresh finish.

The rest of our outstanding wines came at higher sweetness levels, notably the Riesling Rotschiefer from the Mosel’s Weingut Sorentburg, with peach and strawberry, a whiff of kerosine, and a persistent clean citrus note.

Then came our first Riesling Master, which was from the same winery, but this was its old vine expression from the 2017 vintage, which was a highly impressive wine, with apricot, marmalade and beeswax, a touch of sweetness, and then a long, apple-like bright finish.

Finally, we had some very sweet Rieslings, including a delicious Auslese from Weingut August Eser. Although the wine had more than 100g/l of residual sugar, it was still a beautifully clean and fresh expression.

Our final wine of the tasting turned out to be another Master. It was layered with fruit flavours from mango to apricot, along with dried apple and raisins. It was unctuous too, with almost 190g/l of sugar, but offset by a tangy freshness. It had the characters of great Icewine, which we later learnt it was, and from Canada’s Andrew Peller Estates.

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

Sparkling

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Kessler Sekt Kessler Jägergrün Riesling Brut Württemberg Germany NV Silver
£15-£20
Kessler Sekt Kessler Riesling Reserve Vintage Württemberg Germany 2016 Silver
£20-£30
Thirty Bench Wine Makers Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling Beamsville Bench Canada NV Gold

Dry (0-4 g/l)

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling Washington State USA 2019 Silver
RockBare Rockbare Clare Valley Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Reillys Wines Reillys Watervale Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
McGuigan McGuigan Cellar Select Riesling Hilltops Australia 2018 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Aldi Exquisite Collection Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
£15-£20
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés Alsace France 2016 Gold
Gatt Wines High Eden Single Vineyard Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2017 Silver
McGuigan McGuigan Shortlist Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Kilikanoon Wines Mort’s Block Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Kilikanoon Wines Mort’s Block Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Reserve Parcel Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Gold
Tempus Two Tempus Two Pewter Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines McGuigan Shortlist Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2020 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines St Andrews Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2020 Silver
£30-£50
Kilikanoon Wines Mort’s Reserve Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2011 Gold
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterle Alsace France 2017 Silver
Kilikanoon Wines Mort’s Reserve Riesling Clare Valley Australia 2017 Silver
Weingut Baron Knyphausen Erbacher Hohenrain VDP Grosse Lage GG Rheingau Germany 2019 Silver

Medium-dry (5-12 g/l)

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Hunter’s Wines Hunter’s Riesling Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Ruppertsberger Weinkeller
Hoheburg
Imperial Riesling Palatinate Germany 2019 Silver
Ruppertsberger Weinkeller
Hoheburg
Riesling Pfalz Organic Palatinate Germany 2019 Silver
Schmitt Söhne Thomas Schmitt Private Collection
Riesling QbA Dry
Mosel Germany 2019 Silver
£10-£15
Cono Sur Cono Sur Single Vineyard Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Cono Sur Reserva Especial Riesling Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Weingut Baron Knyphausen Riesling Charta Rheingau Germany 2018 Silver
Charles & Charles Charles & Charles Rieling Washington State USA 2018 Bronze
£15-£20
Ruppertsberger Weinkeller
Hoheburg
Imperial Riesling Organic Palatinate Germany 2019 Gold
Viña Casas del Bosque Riesling Casablanca Valley Chile 2019 Gold
Gatt Wines Eden Springs Eden Valley Australia 2017 Silver
£20-£30
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering Alsace France 2017 Gold
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kessler Alsace France 2017 Gold
Cembra Cantina di Montagna Vigna Cancor Trentino Italy 2017 Silver
£30-£50
Weingut August Eser Hattenheim Nussbrunnen Riesling GG
Trocken VDP Grosse Lage
Rheingau Germany 2019 Gold

Medium (13-45 g/l)

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Ruppertsberger Weinkeller
Hoheburg
Ruppertsberger Hofstück Riesling Palatinate Germany 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Thirty Bench Wine Makers Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling
Triangle Vineyard
Beamsville Bench Canada 2017 Silver
Thirty Bench Wine Makers Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling
Wild Cask
Beamsville Bench Canada 2017 Silver
Viña y Bodega Estampa Inspiración Riesling Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Weingut August Eser Oestrich Lenchen Riesling
Kabinett VDP Grosse Lage
Rheingau Germany 2019 Silver
£20-£30
Weingut Sorentberg/
Castelfeder Winery
Sorentberg Riesling Rotschiefer Mosel Germany 2018 Gold
£50+
Weingut Sorentberg/
Castelfeder Winery
Sorentberg Riesling Von 1000
Alten Reben
Mosel Germany 2017 Master

Sweet (+46 g/l)

Winery Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Schmitt Söhne Thomas Schmitt Private Collection
Riesling Kabinett
Mosel Germany 2019 Silver
Schmitt Söhne Thomas Schmitt Private Collection
Riesling Auslese
Mosel Germany 2018 Silver
£30-£50
Weingut August Eser Oestrich Doosberg Riesling Auslese
VDP Grosse Lage
Rheingau Germany 2019 Gold
£50+
Peller Estates Winery Signature Series Riesling Icewine Niagara Peninsula Canada 2018 Master

About The Global Riesling Masters

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Global Riesling 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 by David Round MW, Patrick Schmitt MW and Patricia Stefanowicz MW in December at London’s 28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen. 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 Riesling 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

Judge’s comment: Patricia Stefanowicz MW

“After a glorious day of judging the Riesling Masters in 2020, it is difficult to understand what is not to love about the Riesling grape variety. This great grape shows its range of styles beautifully, far beyond its ‘homeland’ of Germany, Alsace and Austria. Dry Rieslings can sometimes appear ‘acidic’ or ‘stretched’. Not this category here. With just a tiny bit of residual sugar and ripe fruit, these wines have purity of citrus flavours, ranging from lemon-lime in the Clare Valley (Australia) through tangerine to orange zest (Eden Valley, Australia). Apple, pear, honey and minerality are more apparent in the wines from Germany or Alsace. Many of them have a lovely accent of lemon or orange blossom adding interest.”

The Global Riesling Masters: the results in full

We bring you a full report on this year’s Global Riesling Masters, including all the medallists from the tasting, which took in Rieslings from Alsace to Kamptal, Rheingau to Washington State, and a couple of wines from Kazakhstan.

Mention the word Riesling to mainstream wine drinker and then a trade professional, and the response will be markedly different. In the eyes of the former, the grape signals something sweet and perhaps cheap. As for the latter, Riesling is the noble source of fine whites with high acidity. It’s a divide that is also getting greater, as it seems that the Rieslings being made today are getting drier, fresher and pricier, although the bargain off-dry end of the offer is gradually disappearing – and it’s probably being replaced by Prosecco.

While the reduction in entry-level Riesling may be good for the grape’s image, crafting a delicious bone dry wine from Riesling is far from easy. As a result, if there was a single criticism of the wines in this year’s Riesling Masters, it concerned the level of acidity in the dry wines. For the most part, the wines were delicious, with fresh citrus fruit flavours that made one’s mouth salivate like licking just-sliced lime, but occasionally, the finish was so intensely acidic, it left a hardness that made even our Riesling-loving panel of judges wince.

In the same way that Chardonnay makers moved to something austere in an attempt to distance themselves from a previous paradigm of fat, buttery whites, I wonder if some Riesling producers are going to an extreme form of dryness to provide a contrast to something sweet, and possibly too saccharine, that was made by – and for – an older generation.

Another reason why acidities may be too intense in some samples concerns an urge to minimise the ‘kerosene’ character in young dry Riesling. Hailing from the presence of TDN (1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2- dihydronaphthalene), which is believed to form in warmer areas and from high sunlight exposure, it could be the case that producers are harvesting grapes earlier, or allowing canopies to shade the bunches more, to reduce the incidence of the aroma compound. Such an approach would result in less ripe grapes, so, while the kerosene character is diminished, the resulting wine, if fermented to dryness, will have a marked acidity.

Personally I would prefer a dry Riesling with some kerosene aromas and a softer acidity, than a pure lime-scented white with a hard finish. And our judges felt similarly.

So, if there is a message to the producers of dry Riesling, please pursue a softer style of wine, even if it means a touch more TDN.

As for the great Rieslings in our tasting, whatever the sugar level, they combined the grape’s intense citrus freshness, often with a slightly chalky sensation on the finish, and riper characters from beeswax to peach, along with a hint of white flowers. Such examples displayed cleansing, if not sharp acidity, and a touch of TDN, like a whiff of burnt rubber or spilt petrol. Like all great wines, the key is the balance of the components, which should complement each other.

In terms of the sources of the highest-scoring Rieslings in this year’s competition, the range was broad, with Alsace, Austria, Germany, Australia, Washington State and Canada picking up the top medals. Among the outstanding dry wines were a Grand Cru Riesling from Schlumberger and a ‘Museum Release’ from Australia’s Howard Park, while we were wowed by the top wines form Austria’s Schloss Gobelsburg.

In the medium-dry category it was Schloss Sconborn’s top Rheingau expression that took home the only Gold of the flight, with further Golds then awarded to sweeter wines, including a Spatlese from the same producer, and another to a further Rheingau winery, with August Eser also gaining a Gold-medal score.

Our tasting ended on an intensely sweet high, with a Canadian ice wine from Peller Estates named a Riesling Master for its combination of remarkable raisined richness, lemon curd-like characters and freshly sliced green apple acidity.

Indeed, having started the tasting by sampling the fine chalky fizz of top German Sekt and ended with the viscous deliciousness of a Canadian Riesling made from frozen grapes, we were reminded just how versatile this single grape is. Indeed, such is the diverse nature of Riesling, it would be a great shame for the grape to remain famous for just one style of wine. The challenge of course comes with telling the consumer exactly what they can expect from their chosen Riesling. And for that to be overcome, an accurate tasting note on the bottle or wine list is vital.

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 Riesling Masters, including how to enter.

The judges (left to right): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW; Patrick Schmitt MW; Jonathan Pedley MW; David Round MW

Organic Masters 2018: the results in full

We reveal all the medallists from the UK’s only blind tasting for certified organic wines, with some surprising results, including top scores for fizz from Surrey and Champagne aged in the sea, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc blend from Mallorca, plus a stunner from the Minervois.

The Organic Masters 2018 was judged by a panel comprising MWs and one MS at Opera Tavern in London. The judges were (left to right): Sam Caporn MW; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Susan McCraith MW; Alistair Cooper MW; Beverly Tabbron MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS

It’s safe to say that every wine region in the world has at least one producer who employs certified organic viticultural practices – a statement that this year’s Organic Masters certainly lends weight to. With medal-winning samples from a vast array of places, from Surrey in south-east England to the Spanish island of Mallorca, we found greatness in areas little-known for top-end wines, let alone organic vineyard management. Such results also proved that even challenging climates, such as those in the UK and Champagne, can produce class-leading wines using this restrictive approach.

Not only that, but organics spans all price bands, with plenty of entries this year sub-£10, and a handful over £50 too, highlighting that this form of viticulture can be employed to produce wines at the commercial end of the pricing scale, as well as in the territory of fine wine.

Importantly, the tasting proved that being organic, or more accurately, using organically-grown grapes, is a decision that need not be detrimental to quality. Although the choice to eschew synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides does generally leave one more vulnerable to yield losses, it should not negatively affect the style of the resulting wine. In fact, particularly where organic practices are combined with life-enhancing soil management, such an approach should heighten the wine quality, and, as some producers will insist, bring a more accurate reflection of site specifics, or terroir.

Although it is certainly possible to find drawbacks in the organic approach, any ambitious, quality-minded producer should be doing everything possible to augment soil health – after all, it is this substrate that is a great domaine’s most valuable asset.

So with that in mind, who were the star producers that managed to be both certified organic and a source of greatness? In the sparkling category, it was notable how many organic Proseccos we saw in this year’s tasting, and their consistent level of quality, with no fewer than eight Silver medals awarded across a range of price points. We also had a lovely good-value Cava from J. Garcia Carrión, along with a pleasant organic Lambrusco from Cantine Riunite, and, like last year, a brilliant fizz from Oxney, in England’s East Sussex.

But for the very top of the pile, just two Golds were awarded in the sparkling wine sector. One, as one might expect, went to a Champagne – and the biodynamic Leclerc Briant brand, resurrected in 2012 by American investors, and curated by respected sparkling winemaker Hervé Jestin. Although their range of Champagnes are excellent, it was the new cuvée Abyss that gain a top score, a blend that has been aged at the bottom of the sea. The other Gold was more of a shock, awarded to a pink fizz from England. This refreshing, pretty, strawberry-scented sparkling hailed from the organic and biodynamic Albury Vineyard of the Surrey Hills, and the judges felt it was a real find.

As for the still wines, it was exciting to see some good quality and great value organic wines from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, along with some well-known brands, such as Marqués de Cáceres and Quinta de Maipo, as well as longstanding Australian organic-only wine producer, Angove.

It wasn’t until the wines moved beyond the £10 mark that our first Golds were awarded, with, in whites, a wonderful and original sample from Mallorca, comprising Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Prensal Blanc, made by Oliver Moragues. Within the £10-15 category in reds, we saw Golds awarded to wines from areas well-suited to organic viticulture, such as the Languedoc, Sicily, Jumilla and South Africa’s Tulbagh region – the latter from Waverley Hills.

Moving beyond £15, but staying below £20, it was thrilling to unearth a wonderful organic dry Riesling from the Nahe, and, among the reds, a magnificent balanced, gently peppery Syrah from the Minervois, made without the addition of sulphites by biodynamic specialist of southern France, Château Maris. Despite its relative affordability, the judges awarded this latter sample the ultimate accolade, a Master.

At the higher end, over £20, the judges were wowed by a rosé from Domaine la Goujonne in Provence, and a Shiraz from Gemtree Wines in the McLaren Vale.

But our only other Master of the day’s tasting went to a further Syrah and another wine from Château Maris – this time the producer’s top drop, called Dynamic. Such a sample proved not only the quality of this brand, but also the potential of biodynamically-farmed vines in the cru of Minervois La Livinière – the Languedoc’s most celebrated place for Syrah.

In short, the day’s tasting drew attention to the wide range of places where organic viticulture is practised to glorious effect, whatever the wine style. Being organic may not be a guarantee of quality, but it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a farming decision to the detriment of vinous excellence. And this year’s Organic Masters proved that decisively.

Over the following pages are the results in full, followed by details about the competition and comments from the judges. 

Asian Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling Masters 2017: the results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand Benchmark  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Judges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other regions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riesling Masters 2016: the results

Quality across the board was encouragingly high in our latest Global Riesling Masters competition, with producers from the Old and New Worlds impressing with their sweet and dry expressions, finds Rupert Millar.

The Global Riesling Masters has established itself as one of the most popular tastings in the Masters series, not only because of the lingering affection for the variety held by most of the trade, but also because this faith is rewarded by an impressive level of quality and consistency.

“Riesling is always strong, and this was borne out again,” said Jonathan Pedley MW, while Hugo Rose MW agreed it was a “high-quality tasting overall – with few wines rejected or not being awarded a medal. I think the results will show strength at every level; there was a strong showing from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and Austria.”

The judges were especially positive about the diversity of styles in the dry and sweet categories, the ripe character of the German and Austrian wines from the 2015 vintage, the ‘personality’ of many of the New World wines and the value of wines made at all levels with this variety. Yet, there were also concerns about the perennial problem of levels of sweetness and sulphur in certain wines.

About The Competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Riesling 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, whether the sweetness of the style, 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 one Master Sommelier on 24 November at The Dead Doll’s House in London. For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes

Overall, two Masters were awarded; fittingly one went to a dry wine and one to a sweet. In the dry camp was an Austrian wine from Kremstal, a 2011 ‘Riesling Privat Senftenberger Pellingen 1 ÖTW’ from Weingut Nigl, and in the sweet corner a 2007 vendanges tardives from Domaine Charles Sparr in Alsace. Both were in their respective £20- £30 brackets.

Austria led the pack in the Gold medal leagues with five; Germany and Australia garnered four apiece, France two and there was one apiece for South Africa and New Zealand. There was a good haul of Silver medals across the board, even if it remained the highest medal colour for entries from the US, Chile and Canada.

RANGE OF STYLES
Perhaps Riesling’s greatest strength is the diverse range of styles it’s capable of producing. Naturally, therefore, it was a key talking point at the tasting, particularly as a lot of the wines didn’t always conform to classical stereotype. Rose mentioned the “old school” and “new wave” but, crucially, pointed out that, “new wave doesn’t always mean New World; there were some from Germany”.

The richer wines from Germany and Austria are a clear consequence of the warm 2015 vintage. Alcohol levels were quite high and the fruit profile was often more tropical and peachy than the citrus and lime one might expect. “Stylistically, there was a trend away from fresh green apple to tropical,” said Roberto Della Pietra.

The judges: (from l-r) Patrick Schmitt MW, Matthew Forster MW, Roberto Della Pietra, Jonathan Pedley MW, Rupert Millar, Hugo Rose MW and Clement Robert MS

“Germany and Austria have certainly benefitted from 2015,” said Pedley, “and because it was such a star vintage a lot of the top wines are gorgeous for drinking now – will they age though?” he pondered. Australia also performed very strongly, and there were a number of lean, rather racy wines – “with bottle age too”, noted a pleased Pedley – that stood in contrast to their riper, often younger, European cousins.

Matthew Forster MW praised the New World wines in particular for their diversity, saying it was clear that producers were “really exploiting” the potential of Riesling. He added: “The tasting showed there’s space for both styles, and I felt some of the Austrian wines were the apogée of that dry, full-on style – and the Australians were very good too.”

Austria and Australia in particular seemed to be the two countries where the judges had favourites, with the New World perhaps having the edge. Rose stated that, generally speaking, he was: “More impressed with the New World than the majority of wines I would call ‘classic’. They had more definition and personality.

“The classics had beautiful balance but perhaps not those other qualities.” Pedley noted he would have liked to have seen a few more Alsatian wines (despite one winning a Master) and Della Pietra commented on the scarcity of Chilean wines.

SWEETNESS AND SULPHUR
Clement Robert MS said he was “more impressed by the sweet wines rather than the dry and Pedley agreed that there were some “very good sweets”, but added there seemed to be something of a qualitative gap in the “medium” category – indeed, there was only one Gold in the category and the number of Bronze medals exceeded the Golds.

What made some of the ‘medium’ wines so hard to judge was the sugar levels were more uneven. Admittedly, the range of category, from 12-45 grams per litre, is broader than most, but nonetheless some seemed closer to dry wines while others might almost have deserved to be in a sweeter category.

Pedley added that it was a neat example of one of the reasons consumers remain so wary of Riesling as they have, “no idea if it will be sweet” – or, at least, how sweet it will be. Even though wines put into the Riesling Masters are categorised by sweetness levels (as well as price), with bands for wines under 4g/l, from 4- 12g/l and more than 45g/l, it is clear that even for the trade it’s not a simple thing to pin down exactly.

What chance then for the consumer? As Pedley summed up, sweet Rieslings are one of the variety’s greatest strengths but also, “its curse”. “Sweetness, but also the ‘egginess’ from sulphur, is what holds Riesling back from consumers,” countered Robert, for whom the issue of the (over-) use of sulphur and filtration is clearly a sore point.

Although he professed to be “impressed by cleaner, more fruit-driven wines”, he still felt quite a few showed the signs of reduction or stripped-out flavours. As he admitted: “You will always find very good Riesling with a lot of sulphur – Egon Müller for example.” Nonetheless, he continued: “It’s still difficult to appreciate sulphured wines.

A lot of winemakers still use too much sulphur and you end up with reductive wines.” There were definitely wines that were “refined and austere”, Pedley noted, but “in a good way”, and he added it was good to see producers from all countries “aiming for that leaner style”.

Patrick Schmitt MW and Jonathan Pedley MW

VALUE FOR MONEY
One aspect of the tasting that was particularly pleasing was the value for money Riesling represents – yet another reason to lament that sweetness levels mean many drinkers still steer clear of it. Forster said that while the, “quality was very high at all levels, wines under £10 show real value for the consumer”. Rose agreed: “We were pleased with many of the lower-priced wines.

They were clean and well made, giving a lot to the consumer. They are not banal wines.” With experience at several Masters tastings now, Pedley declared that the general standard was higher than for other varieties.

Like Forster, he particularly praised wines below £10. “You’ll find Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay at £10 and below that can be dilute and disappointing,” he said. Meanwhile, he added: “The price of top-quality Riesling remains very reasonable. It’s one of the great-value wines.”

The world’s best Rieslings from the Masters 2017

Riesling is beloved by the wine trade, and our latest Riesling Masters showed why. With wonderful expressions from a wide range of countries and regions, there was something to appeal to every palate and budget, writes Patrick Schmitt MW


It has been said before, but if there is one thing that marks out a wine professional, it is a love of Riesling. While consumers will often declare a preference for a particular grape, very few outside the trade tend to pick Riesling as their favourite variety – and this is something the wine industry has found puzzling for decades.

What is it that the sommelier or wine writer adores that the consumer doesn’t – or has yet to discover? Following our Riesling Masters tasting this year, this grape’s traits could be summed up by a combination of two key aspects: it has both personality and precision.

Riesling, when made well, is instantly identifiable, bursting with aromas of lime zest, white peach, sliced apple, and fresh flowers. It may be pale to look at, but it has an intense and distinct character. And it also has a sharp edge – Riesling cuts, rather than covers the palate. It provides a tangy, taut and recognisable sensation.

One wonders whether such features may be alienating consumers? Riesling may simply have too much personality and an overload of cold precision. Perhaps. But it can’t be a lack of quality that’s putting people off. Indeed, like previous Riesling Masters, this competition yielded some of the highest proportions of Gold medals – and, in this latest round, as many as five Masters (which is the very highest accolade of the series, and awarded only to truly outstanding wines).

As one judge, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, said: “Even a rather dismal, rainy day couldn’t dampen enthusiasm for an amazing group of Rieslings.” Notable is the range of sources for highquality Riesling.

Even within Germany, the number of great regions for Riesling is broad. Of course, the Mosel and Rheingau shone, but so too did warmer areas such as Pfalz and Baden. Beyond this nation’s borders, France, with samples from Alsace, showed the quality attainable elsewhere in Europe, with the biodynamic wines of Domaine Schlumberger picking up two Masters, one for a bone-dry style, and a second for a medium-dry grand cru example.

Also hailing from this French region was a Gold medal-winning Riesling from Michel Chapoutier’s Schieferkopf brand – a project started by the famous Rhône-based winemaker in 2006. Austria, as one might expect, also served up some stunning examples, in particular from legendary producer Schloss Gobelsburg, which was awarded a Master for both its dry and sweet Rieslings, proving this country’s capability to make class-leading wines at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum.

Then there were wonderful wines in a range of sweetness levels from the US and Canada, notably samples from Washington State and Niagara in these respective countries.

However, if there was a stand-out nation in the Riesling Masters this year, it was Australia, which has managed to create wines that are for the most part bone dry, but deliver a fruity refreshment with Riesling that is rarely matched elsewhere.

A lime cordial, flint and citrus zest intensity with remarkable consistency were the hallmarks of the great Rieslings from Eden and Clare Valleys, ensuring that these places took home the highest proportion of Golds. And, standing tall among such giants was the St Hugo Riesling from Eden Valley, a wine from Pernod Ricard Australia that shows why this nation (and producer) should be just a famous for its Rieslings as its Chardonnays.

It’s important to note too that such greatness, whether from the Mosel, Pfalz, Alsace, Eden Valley or elsewhere, doesn’t come at an unpalatable cost. These great wines may not be cheap, but they are certainly affordable, leading one to safely believe that Riesling offers the most accessible fine white wine experience available today.

Not only that, but there is no white wine better suited to extended cellaring, as the grape’s low-pH brings remarkable natural stability, allowing the wine to slowly develop layers of honey and toast over time, without shedding its uplifting acidity. Also, interestingly, in the case of the sweet wines, Riesling tastes drier with age – even if the sugar content remains the same.

This ensures that fully mature wines actually take on even greater levels of freshness. And, bearing that in mind, if one is looking for the ideal apéritif, then, as those in the wine trade have done for decades, serve a well-made, old, sweet Riesling. There are few better ways to start an evening, and certainly none that offer superior value for money.

The Judges

The judges: (l-r) Patrick Schmitt MW, Alistair Cooper MW, Victoria Burt MW, Keith Isaac MW,
Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Mark Savage MW and sommelier Caroline Fridolfsson

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