Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters: the results in full

We reveal the full list of medallists from our latest Global Masters tasting for Sauvignon Blanc, including some star wines from Marlborough, Napa, Alto Adige, Pfalz and England.

Point blanc: Forget Sauvignon Blanc fatigue, the wines at this year’s Global Masters scored highly, impressing the judges with their complexity, balance and value for money

In the same way it was once common for consumers to claim they didn’t like Chardonnay, it’s now becoming a bit more normal to hear people say they don’t want Sauvignon Blanc. It’s not so much that they have a complete aversion to the characters of the wine – and by that I mean the archetypal Marlborough green pea and gooseberry style of Sauvignon – but more that they are suffering a certain fatigue from repeated sampling. Similar to music, food, or anything in fact, experiencing it over and over again eventually sees one yearn for something different.

Of course with Sauvignon Blanc, such exposure for wine lovers is due to the grape’s success. As the staple house white in so many pubs, bars and restaurants, and the usual pour at weddings and drinks parties, Sauvignon Blanc is everywhere. It has become the default white wine; virtually synonymous with alcoholic refreshment. But, today, more than ever before, it would be wrong to say you don’t care for Sauvignon Blanc, because the grape is the source of such a broad range of wines.

This is true even within one place, such as the famous Marlborough. As we found out at this year’s Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters, the grape can be used to create something crunchy and acidic, like biting on a bell pepper, or juicy and ripe, like an exotic fruit salad, and, when fermented in new oak barriques, rich and layered, like pineapple chunks and cream.

In other words, saying you don’t like Sauvignon Blanc would mean eschewing the great barrel-influenced whites of Bordeaux and Napa, as well as the taught grapefruit-scented creations from the Loire, or coastal Chile and the Western Cape, along with the full suite of styles now emanating from New Zealand, and some exciting finds from places yet to find fame with the grape – including England.

Nevertheless, one can still make generalisations. If there is a single aspect to Sauvignon Blanc that has, to some extent, damaged its reputation for reliably refreshing whites, it is examples that are too thin, too green, and essentially, too mean.

But in this edition of our Global Masters tasting, it was pleasing to note that we didn’t see such wines – and this included a large swathe of samples that would retail for under £10. It seems an era of picking early from over-cropped vineyards – often the cause of skinny, tart Sauvignons – has come to an end.

This ensured that even our cheapest wines had a pleasing balance between fruit ripeness and acidity, palate weight and refreshment – and that was true even where some residual sugar was evident. Also, at no point did any of the judges comment on apparent high alcohol levels. Not only was harmony evident, but so too was a high level of complexity. It is assumed by some that Sauvignon Blanc is one-dimensional, but writing notes on this year’s entries was easy, as there was so much to say. It seems that the winemaking, as well as viticulture, has improved with this grape.

As for a further general point on the wines, it was notable that we saw very few wine faults, with no cork taint or unpleasant levels of reduction. The latter finding suggested to the judges that winemakers are becoming more adapt at preparing Sauvignon Blanc for sealing with a screwcap, a closure that can provoke post-bottling sulphur-like odours.

So what about the highlights? Well, taking the results by style and price band, staring with the sub £10 category, although we saw no Golds awarded among the cheapest wines, we did observe a high and consistent standard, in line with the comments above on the increasingly balanced nature of Sauvignon Blanc being made today.

As one might suspect, the majority of less expensive samples were from Chile and New Zealand, and both countries did well. Having said that, it was the Sauvignons from Marisco and Yealands, both in Marlborough, which were the benchmarks at this price level. Well done. Both producers would also achieve Golds for their pricier expressions later on in the competition, including Yealands for its brand The Crossings in the £10-15 category. Also gaining a Gold in this flight was te Pã Family Vineyards from Marlborough, and, we were later surprised to find, a Sauvignon from Gloucester in the UK – made by Woodchester Valley – which was floral like an elderflower cordial.

Further up the ladder in terms of cost, we were excited to find a delicious sample with masses of pink grapefruit refreshment from Italy’s Alto Adige, made by the St. Michael-Eppan Winery, and a couple of delicious, peachier styles of Sauvignon, which were creamy in texture too, hailing from California’s Napa Valley. Indeed, one of them, the Ziata Sauvignon Blanc, took home a Master – our ultimate accolade, and in this year’s tasting awarded to just two wines.

So what was the other? That was a simply brilliant example of great barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from Germany. Hailing from this country’s relatively warm Pfalz, a region better known for cherry-scented Pinot Noir, it was a wonderful wine with a broad array of fruit characters, from peach to citrus peel, and a touch of toasty oak.

In short, it was round, rich, expressive, and refreshing – and somewhat apt that it came from a winery called Winning.

But others should also be mentioned, particularly when it comes to the challenge of allying oak to Sauvignon Blanc. As I’ve said after past tastings with this grape, Sauvignon can complement the sweet flavours from barriques, but only if the base wine is rich and ripe. Light, green-tasting Sauvignons fight with creamy oak, but oily peachy samples absorb wood-sourced vanillin to great effect – as shown especially well by the wines this year from Pahlmeyer and Marisco, as well as Domaine du Grand Mayne – the latter in the blended category, and a really great Graves from not far beyond the borders of the famous white Bordeaux appellation.

In conclusion, the grape is being used to create wonderful wines today, and becoming the base of an increasingly broad category of whites, from those offering delicate citrus refreshment to something textured and complex, with a wealth of food-pairing possibilities. It’s also a grape of little-recognised versatility – shown in our Global Masters tastings by the great range of places where it can be successfully grown, its ability to handle a range of vineyard management approaches and cellar techniques, and its suitability for blending with other varieties. Taking all this into account, and the high base standard of wine being made today from this grape, in short, you’d be wrong to turn your back on Sauvignon Blanc.

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): David Round MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Erik Simonics, Tobias Gorn. The Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters took place on 6 November at the Opera Tavern in London’s Covent Garden.

Sauvignon Blanc Masters 2016: results and analysis

Sauvignon Blanc may be a ubiquitous grape, with most countries’ winemakers trying their hand at producing it, but how good is the quality overall? Our tasting panel finds out. By Patrick Schmitt MW

The judges (l-r): Jonathan Pedley MW; Adrian Garforth MW; Dee Blackstock MW; Roberto Della Pietra; Nick Tatham MW; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Clive Barlow MW; David Round MW; Sarah Jane Evans MW; Clement Robert MS; Anne McHale MW; Patrick Schmitt MW

OF COURSE, it’s only once you’ve achieved success that you attract widespread criticism. As a consequence, Sauvignon Blanc, the white wine darling of the moment, comes under scrutiny that can be excessive. But the fact is, Sauvignon is a remarkably versatile grape.

Not only can it make lovely crisp, youthful inexpensive whites, as well as textural barrel-aged fine wines, but also delicious sweets, and, more novel, aromatic sparklings too. Then there’s its geographic spread: it’s probably safe to say that every country and major region that makes wine has at least experimented with Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s probably even more widely planted today than Chardonnay, once the most ubiquitous grape in the world.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Sauvignon Blanc 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 cherry picked group of Masters of Wine and one Master Sommeliers on 13 January at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington.

But being everywhere and doing everything, doesn’t alone make you great. And so, with our Global Masters, we set about determining just how good Sauvignon Blanc is today, wherever it’s planted and however it’s handled.

To begin, it’s clear that both the style and quality of Sauvignon being produced at present is hugely diverse. This meant, at the pricier end of the tasting, while the judges were excited by the increasing number of more textural styles, employing more lees and oak contact, they did observe that some examples were more successful than others, with green flavours and vanilla oak in particular proving a clash.

As for the most famous areas for varietal Sauvignon at present – the Loire and Marlborough – these are creating exceptional wines, along with some that are more ordinary. Where the scores from the judges were low, it was because the wines were dilute, lacking the aromatic impact that makes Sauvignon so memorable and popular.

This could be, it was suggested, a result of high yields, or possibly high temperatures – as well as, perhaps, the combination of both.

But what performed brilliantly? At the cheaper end of the spectrum, wines packed with those classic Sauvignon flavours of gooseberry and grass or passionfruit and peach, along with that lipsmacking acidity, which ensures one wants more. Moving up the price bands, such characters were less overt, but the wines offered more, as the bright, youthful green-edged aromatics were replaced with layers of subtler and sweeter flavours derived both from cellar practices but also the use of carefully selected fruit from lower-yielding vines.

In such instances, the top-scoring wines married such richness with Sauvignon’s typical citrus-like finish. Interestingly, the greats weren’t all from the aforementioned famous Sauvignon producing areas.

California proved its skill at a creamier, riper style of wine from the grape, with a delicious and balanced example of barrel-aged Sauvignon from Stonestreet in the Alexander Valley. Styria in Austria also shone, with a relatively expensive but nonetheless lovely and typically lime-rich example that hailed from Weingut Erich & Walter Polz.

More surprising for the judges was the quality produced from Turkey’s Cappadocia (Kavaklidere), Italy’s Alto Adige, and, in particular, gaining the top accolade of Master, a Sauvignon made by Greece’s Alpha Estate.

Australia’s Adelaide Hills and Wrattonbully wine regions also proved themselves able to craft impressive Sauvignons, packed with pink grapefruit. Additionally, Chile’s Leyda Valley really shone among the examples from this country in which Sauvignon is so widely planted. When it came to blends and barrelageing, Bordeaux confirmed its superiority, with Château Brown standing above the competition by gaining the only Master in this category with its Sauvignon-Semillon from Pessac-Léognan.

However, when it came to the pure Sauvignons aged in oak, the famous and classic mixed with the up-and-coming, as the likes of Pouilly Fumé’s Château de Tracy collecting the Golds, along with Australia’s Down to Earth, and Marlborough’s Stoneleigh, Te Pà, and Giesen.

And what about the sweets? Few deliver a drink with such intense sweetness and refreshment as Brancott Estate, which wowed the judges with its late-harvest Sauvignon.

In short, a full day spent sampling almost every style of Sauvignon from almost every corner of the world showed, conclusively, that this grape produces so much more than the archetypal grass and gooseberry scented crisp youthful white wine.

Furthermore, the wide range in quality proved that this isn’t an easy grape to get right, but when it’s good, it offers a really exciting and surprisingly complex drink.

The best Sauvignon Blancs from the 2017 Global Masters

While consumers love Sauvignon Blanc, many in the trade treat it with disdain. But as our annual competition shows, in the right hands, this grape can create genuinely exciting expressions – at all price points, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

The wines were judged by a cherry-picked group of Masters of Wine and sommeliers on 23 November at Baltic Restaurant in Southwark in London

Towards the end of 2017 we held two of our biggest Global Masters tastings – the Sauvignon Blanc Masters and the Chardonnay Masters. You can read about the latter here. It is worth comparing the two grapes because they appear to show such contrasting image issues.

While Chardonnay is loved by the trade but derided by consumers, Sauvignon Blanc seems to have the opposite problem: it’s mocked by professionals, and widely adored by the public. Why? Chardonnay’s issues are discussed in our report on this year’s competition for that grape, but when it comes to Sauvignon, the reasons are many and varied. For a start, there is a misconception that this variety can’t produce great dry white wine; that it is limited in terms of style, and capped when it comes to the complexity of flavours it can produce. Furthermore, there’s a belief that Sauvignon is ill-suited to ageing in oak barrels – the traditional finishing touch for fine whites.

Add the fact that it is hugely popular – making it a staple of supermarket shelves and by-the-glass offerings in pubs and bars – and there’s a snobbery regarding the grape. In short, there’s a sense that it lacks gravitas. As with all grapes, some entry-level offerings disappoint. With Sauvignon in particular, the weakest examples can be thin, herbaceous and acidic, sometimes mixed with a touch of residual sugar – a combination that would give any grape a bad name.

But mostly, it is Sauvignon’s refreshing, and instantly recognisable pungency, even at low prices, that makes it distinctive, memorable and crowd pleasing. It has made greener characters in wine fashionable, a major development in the past decade, considering the most popular style of white at the start of this century was the creamy, buttery flavours associated with Chardonnay, particularly from the New World. And Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t just yield bright gooseberry and grapefruit flavoured youthful whites.

Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW

It can deliver a broad array of characteristics, depending on where it is grown and when it’s picked. As this year’s Masters showed, it can create an extremely appealing style of white in cooler climates, when crunchy bell pepper notes can emerge from the glass, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but certainly bring instant refreshment and bags of character to the wine.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sauvignon, particularly in warmer climates of Napa or Graves, can produce something pleasingly exotic, with notes of melon, pineapple and passion fruit, even an oily texture, which is balanced by this grape’s naturally high acidity.

Then there’s the potential for creating something finer. Here too, where old vines in great Sauvignon terroirs are coupled with skilled winemakers, the results can be astounding. Sometimes the complexity comes mainly from the site, with chalky characters mingling with citrus and lemongrass notes in the great whites of the Loire. At other times it seems to emanate from the cellar techniques, particularly the use of oak in the great Sauvignons of California or Bordeaux, where ripe fruit complements barrel-sourced vanilla flavours beautifully.

Finally, there are the blends, which highlight the potential greatness of this grape as a partner to others, particularly Semillon, but other varieties too – in this year’s tasting we sampled a wonderful wine combining Sauvignon and the native Greek grape Assyrtiko.

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