Global Rosé Masters 2014: The results

The inaugural Global Rosé Masters heralded an uncorking of our expert judges’ views on all things pink.

Rose-Masters-Judges-Tasting
Would a rosé by any other name taste as sweet? The inaugural drinks business Rosé Masters tackled some thorny questions about this quintessentially summer wine.

Rosé is enjoying its time in the sun — literally and proverbially. Summer is when rosé comes out from the hidden pages of wine lists and the corners of shop cellars and takes pride of place.

Indeed, such has been its commercial success in recent years that the category is now breaking beyond its seasonal and gender-based pigeon holes to secure year round popularity among consumers.

Our Rosé Masters showcased the broad range of pink wines available in the UK, and the countless countries that produce them for us. In keeping with the approach adopted through the Global Masters Series, we divided the wines into flights in order of ascending price within three larger categories: sparkling rosé, dry rosé (including all still wines with less than four grams of residual sugar) and an off- dry rosé category, made up of still rosés with over four grams of residual sugar.

While the Rosé Masters saw myriad styles represented, from bone dry to sweet, still to sparkling, early drinking to age-worthy, one of the major points of debate it provoked among judges was the influence that colour has on the category.

Although residual sugar levels in the wines provoked perhaps the most dissent among judges, it was the colour spectrum, from the lightest hint of pink to translucent ruby that generated a considerable amount of discussion. What colour should a rosé be? Pink, okay, but aside from that the jury was out.

Simon Howland of the drinks business and Matthieu Longuère of Le Cordon Bleu

Simon Howland of the drinks business and Matthieu Longuère of Le Cordon Bleu

What was clearer than a Côtes de Provence was that while quality and value exist across the range, everyone has a personal view of what constitutes good rosé. The panel of MW and MS judges did an expert job of putting aside preconception and personal preference to focus their assessment on balance and, an important factor for rosé, refreshment.

PINK BUBBLES

It no longer makes the front page when English fizz receives plaudits but it was interesting to see this country take two of the top three medals in this class alongside an Italian.

France and Spain were predictably well represented here, but Greece, South Africa and Chile, none of whom have a global reputation for sparkling wine, held their own against wines of very high quality, broadening the base against which the judges could award their scores.

With few exceptions, when buying sparkling rosé you get what you pay for.

The wines that dominated the sparkling category were universally in higher price ranges. That said, although less expensive examples often lacked the complexity of pricier competitors, there were an impressive number in the sub-£10 range that punched well above their weight.

“There really are sparkling rosés for all occasions,” commented Matthieu Longuère MS, head of wine development for Le Cordon Bleu in London, who praised the broadness of appeal from “inexpensive, clean, obvious and relatively simple” to “more complex and developed” styles.

Comment from the panel chair

MARK SAVAGE MW
“I am a big fan of good rosé wines and drink plenty of it all through the year, not merely in the summer months. I think that producers should be encouraged to be more ambitious in the category and try to vinify in a way that will produce real originality. Vitality is essential and too many wines were rather lifeless and dull. Good rosé can be made to sing and there is, I believe, a lot of scope and much unrealised potential in the category.”Longuère mused on how different styles could suit multiple occasions: “The Champenoise typically look at pink Champagne as more for food and it can fit this purpose, but sparkling rosé can also cater to a night out in a bar when it’s simple and refreshing.”On the varietal front there were few surprises. The “classic” Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay combinations dominated, although not without the occasional exception. A Manzoni Moscato, described as “alluring, lively and light footed” by one judge, was the aforementioned Italian awarded the third gold medal.Mark-Savage-MW

COLOURFUL QUESTIONS

Price points were less important in deciding the still rosé results. Although French rosé dominated and Grenache played a part in the vast majority of medal winners, it was the combination of colour and sugar that got our judges talking.

“What does one look for in a good rosé wine?” asked Mark Savage MW of Savage Selection — a question that hung in the air for the rest of the day.

Could it be colour? From pale to borderline red, everyone agreed that rosé has a wide spectrum of acceptable hues. The only real issue, ventured Savage, was when “wines simply failed as rosé because they were about as pink as good Muscadet,” i.e, “not very pink at all.”

As a rule the Provençal rosés were a pale, salmon pink whereas the examples from warmer climates such as Spain and southern Italy tended towards the darker end. There were obvious exceptions though and the New World wines went either way.

Comment from the panel chair

PATRICK SCHMITT
“Our inaugural Rosé Masters certainly highlighted the wide range available within this sector, which is, after all, defined by nothing more than its colour. With wines ranging from the lightest of pink to translucent ruby, from bone dry to sweet, still to sparkling, and almost weightless rosés to oak-fermented, age-worthy examples, every possible style was represented.”Patrick-Schmitt

The question of colour was ultimately one of individual producer preference. If a rosé was pale, was it by rights better than a rosé which was darker? Many winemakers seemed to think so, and this was supported by the number of winemakers who, given the choice, opted for a paler style irrespective of climate.

Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association urged judges to remain open minded: “Different colours and different wines for different people,” he said, calling for colours to be regarded equally from a commercial perspective.

While few would reject the idea that scope for individuality and choice of stylistic preference is wholly positive, the scores told a different story: insofar as style, paler wines almost universally scored higher.

AN UNCOMMON STYLE

So maybe colour is important after all. But where does that leave style?

“It’s great to talk of individuality but how do we communicate it?” asked Savage. Later in the day Rose made a very similar point, “How do we award the same medal to two examples if they are polar opposites?”

Then, taking a different tack, Savage queried whether the expectation with rosé is to avoid individuality. “I would like to think that rosé wines could achieve a distinct personality but that seems to be asking too much,” he remarked. Despite the strong performance of pale rosés, the broader scoring and medals were still generally positive in regards to the darker pours, particularly those from Spain, whose wines left with the second biggest medal haul after France, while Italy and South Africa also showed well.

Judging-at-Rose-MastersChallenging the idea that rosé is simply a bit of fun was Domaines Sacha Lichine’s Château d’Esclans, the only wine of the day to be awarded a Master, the competition’s highest accolade. One judge described it as ”intriguing, attractive, not just fruity, nice texture, good depth, lovely finish.”

Along with this Master were four golds, including two from Provence, one from Minervois and one from South Africa — all of them pale pink.

SWEET TOUCH

So how do you appreciate a style if you don’t understand it or wouldn’t drink it at home? This was the key question raised when discussing the rosé with higher residual sugar, a broad category ranging from 4-100g/l.

More importantly for the consumer, how do you label and define styles which offer a sweeter style? Should there be an indication of sugar on the bottle, a dosage system along the lines of that which is applied in Champagne? Or should we refrain from creating more brackets so as not to confuse the consumer?

In short, while the judges were able to recognise the instant appeal of sweeter styles, as well as the food-matching possibilities for fuller, darker or oakier rosés, there was nothing so pleasing as the archetypal Provençal rosé.

As Savage put it: “The normal context for drinking rosé is a warm summer day, probably outside, with or without food.

Not a lot of concentration in terms of careful sniffing and swooshing round the palate is in order for the drinker.”

That outdoor summer drinking occasion colonised so naturally and successfully by rosé may indeed mean it continues to be judged by rather different criteria to other categories of wine.

However, at a time when rosé’s popularity is seeing its reach extend well beyond a garden setting, this year’s Rosé Masters demonstrated that today’s category offers both the stylistic diversity and calibre to make even deeper inroads into our drinking repertoire.

THE JUDGES
• Demetri Walters MW, private wine events sales manager, Berry Brothers & Rudd
• Simon Howland, the drinks business
• Matthieu Longuère MS, head of wine development for Le Cordon Bleu, London
• Sarah Abbott MW, head of wine services, The Perfect Cellar
• Gabriel Savage, the drinks business
• Mark Savage MW, Savage Selection
• Patrick Schmitt, the drinks business
• Hugo Rose MW, Wine Investment Association
Roe-Masters-Judges

Scroll through to see the results from each category…

Rosé Masters 2015: the results

Provence proved that its dominance of the rosé category is not to be underrated in this year’s Rosé Masters. However, the competition still managed to throw up some pleasantly surprising entries from elsewhere.

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Well, if there’s one headline result that we can state at the outset, the world’s best pink wine is sparkling, and comes from Champagne. Although it wasn’t the only entry in the drinks business Rosé Masters to achieve the ultimate accolade – that of “Master” – Laurent Perrier’s Cuvée Alexandra Rosé 2004 did gain the highest marks of the entire competition. Now, for those who know this producer – which for many years has carved out a reputation for pink fizz – its position at the top of the table is perhaps no surprise. But it’s interesting to think that the creation of something age-worthy, complex, refreshing and pink is really the preserve of one place: Champagne. Having said that, there were plenty of other great rosés in this year’s competition – some with bubbles (and lees influence) but for the most part, without. And, aside from Champagne’s ability to craft magnificent pink wines, other places of note include parts of Spain, the US, Portugal, Austria, New Zealand and France – most prominently, of course, Provence. We also had a lovely entry from Greece.

Tongues Wagging

I2t should be said early on that tasting rosé isn’t particularly arduous – it’s tasty, refreshing, and tannin free – but it does elicit plenty of discussion. That’s partly due to the influence of colour: the judges were asked not to be prejudiced against darker rosés, since we were aware that UK trade professionals tend to favour the pale salmon pink appearance achieved most famously with the Provençal pinks. Then there’s the impact of style to consider, above all the level of sugar in the wines. Consequently, the judges were also requested not to punish sweeter styles, as long as the sugar content, whatever the level, was balanced by acidity. Finally, there’s the effect of oak, an increasingly common ingredient in upmarket pink wines, and again, the judges were asked to look upon its influence – where complementary – with an open mind. After all, there’s a growing market for rosés to pair with richer foods.

This year, overall, it was apparent that not only was the spread of colour and style broader than ever, so was the standard. There were some exceptional wines, but also some disappointments – either rosés that were jammy and confected, or prematurely tired, even browning. The odd example was also unpleasantly reductive: with a strong eggy scent indicating the presence of hydrogen sulphide. Overall, the great still rosés had lovely red-fruited scents, a lightly viscous texture, and a long, dry, fresh finish. It sounds simple, but achieving a balance of ripe fruit flavours along with palate-cleansing acidity is far from easy, and rosés that failed to score top medals were either too delicate, or sometimes, a little hard, and even herbaceous.

Provence, however, does seem to set the benchmark style and appearance in the world of top end rosés at present. Although some – notably from Spain – have retained their richer pink hues and juicier cherry fruit flavours, the majority of £10+ rosés, whether they are from Austria or Australia, appear to have tried to mimic the pale pink of Provence, and, in terms of taste, the delicate red fruits of the wines from this region. Only the very best however, had managed to capture a white floral character too.

Sparkling Performers

Looking more closely at the results by category, it’s clear in sparkling rosé that price and quality were correlated in this tasting. It wasn’t until the entries slipped over the £30 mark that the judges started awarding Silvers, and of these, all were from Champagne. However, moving up into Gold, and we encountered one pleasant surprise this year: a delicious traditional method pink sparkler from New Zealand. One of the judges did detect that it might not be Champagne due to its slightly punchier fruit character and touch more alcohol, but otherwise this was a fine fizz with biscuity autolytic aromas and pristine strawberry and lemon flavours, even a touch of chalk on the finish.

Indeed, we did consider awarding the sparkling wine the top title of Master, but unfortunately, it was closely followed by the aforementioned Laurent Perrier Cuvée Alexandra, which did, quite rightly, earn the accolade of best wine of the flight – and as a result it claimed the Master. Nevertheless, for good value great pink fizz, Central Otago’s Akarua is one to watch. Another first-rate and Gold-winning example highlighted by the blind tasting was from Champagne Devaux. At £54.99, the D de Devaux rosé was more expensive than the New Zealand sparkling, but still significantly less than the Cuvée Alexandra, which retails for around £250 a bottle.

Provence Dominates

3At the cheapest end of the dry still rosé spectrum were good examples from most parts of the world, particularly Spain, which, as the tasting proved, does a good job providing correct, fruity, inexpensive pink wines to the market. However, the standouts under £10 were all from Provence – Château Volterra, Domaine Longue Tubi and Barton & Guestier’s Passport – apart from one. Here again we had a pleasing surprise, as among the top of the pile in this flight was Lenz Moser’s Zweigelt Rosé from Austria. Moving up the price ladder, between £10 and £15, again Provence dominated the Silvers, although there were two excellent pink wines from Spain, one from Rioja’s Bodegas Izadi and the other from Penedes, made by famous Cava maker, Raventos I Blanc. Nestled among these was another Silver from France, but this time from Bordeaux: a memorable rosé from Château Brown, with lots of attractive raspberry fruit, as well as a slightly smoky aroma, along with a weightier texture due to four months maturation in French oak barrels.

Over £15, and the five Silvers awarded were taken up by four wines from Provence, once more highlighting this region’s ability to produce first-rate rosés, but also its strong performance at higher price points – when the judges are harsher. It was satisfying though to discover something new and high quality at this level, with a pink wine from Greece gaining a Silver. Also, this wasn’t a Provençal lookalike, but a deeply coloured pink with lots of fruit and character. Coming from Alpha Estate in the Florina region, the rosé is made with Xinomavro and Syrah in equal measure. Finally, moving up to the most expensive area of the still pink planet, we considered those few rosés sold over £20. Once again, this price category drew attention not only to Provence’s pre-eminence, but the ability of one producer: Château d’Esclans. The combination of great sites, old vines, and painstaking winemaking has made this estate the new benchmark producer of pink wines – that is, alongside Domaine Ott, which didn’t enter the tasting this year.

Notably, the tasters picked out Château d’Esclans’ new label as the best still wine of the competition. Called Rock Angel, the sub-brand comes above the producer’s entry-level Whispering Angel, but below its Les Clans and Garrus at the top. Rock Angel’s strong performance attests to the quality-price relationship of this rosé, which sells for around £20, and yet enjoys all the winemaking precision of the top labels – and, it should be noted, less of the oak influence. Indeed, moving up to this property’s most expensive expression, the scores in fact fell – the Garrus is undoubtedly an impressive wine and expensively crafted, but with 10 months in new and second-use 600 litre barrels, the oak influence was a touch dominant for some of the judges, who were also critical of its colour (it is only just pink). It should be added, however, that when it comes to expensive rosé, there are an increasing number of ambitious players, and both Famille Sumeire and Château Léoube showed their ability to rub shoulders with the best rosés in the world – watch out Ott and d’Esclans.

Sweet rosés

Looking briefly to the sweet rosés, it was telling that Spain and Portugal’s big producers – Félix Solís Avantis and Sogrape – really know how to create high quality commercial wine styles. Indeed, these two companies were the only ones to gain a Silver medal for sweet rosé under £10. Moving over £15, and this year’s tasting uncovered a lovely example that was just off-dry, containing 6g/l of residual sugar. Made by California’s Angels & Cowboys, the brand is both fun, and tasty. The wine is also pale pink, which means that consumers can appear as though they are sipping bone-dry Provençal rosé, while in fact enjoying a touch of sweetness – something more traditionally associated with Californian rosé. And with that, it should be win-win for some.

Click through to see this year’s medal-winning wines… and see below for the judges 

Rose masters judges

The judges (left to right): Robin Kinahan MW, Bibendum PLB Group; Hugo Rose MW, Wine Investment Association; Clement Robert, Medlar Restaurant; Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business; Demetri Walters MW, Berry Bros. & Rudd; Beverly Tabbron MW, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines; Matthieu Longuère MS, Le Cordon Bleu, London; Mark Savage MW, Savage Selection

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