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

The Global Sparkling Masters 2019: results in full

Our annual Sparkling Masters gives the judges the chance to hone in on which fizzes are hitting the spot in terms of taste, quality and value. This year, they were particularly impressed with the quality of crémants from the Loire.


Of all
the categories in the wine business, it’s sparkling where the competition appears to be the most intense. Whether its between regions, or countries, there seems to be a near-ceaseless urge to prove that one fizz-making area is better than another, with producers pitted against each other in a range of tastings.

It’s why we tend to see headlines such as ‘English fizz beats Champagne in landmark tasting’, ‘Aussie sparkling voted best in the world’, or ‘Discount crémant better than fizz costing five times the price’, and so on.

While we take no issue with the reporting, it is worth considering the nature of such comparisons. How are these tastings being conducted? And who are the judges? After all, with an issue as emotive as sparkling wine quality, it’s vital that such events employ professionals, and the organisers do their best to minimise any bias.

Repeated sampling

With such thoughts in mind, it is important to state that db’s tastings see samples judged ‘blind’, although the entries are organised loosely according to style, and presented in given price bands. As for the tasters, they must be Masters of Wine, or Master Sommeliers, and where buyers or writers are enlisted, it is because they are specialists in the category being judged. Not only that, but every entry is scored then discussed, ensuring that each taster’s result is scrutinised by a peer, and every wine is properly assessed. This may be a drawn-out process, often involving repeated sampling of the same wine, but it yields credible results, which are then shared in full here, and in the magazine too, with the addition of analysis and opinion.

In short, with the Global Sparkling Masters, you can trust the results, which have been arrived at via a rigorous tasting process, one conducted purely to assess quality, not to yield a particular outcome. So, the conclusions we draw from a day’s sampling are based on the nature of the samples submitted, and yes, sometimes the results do yield a sensational outcome, but that is by accident, not design.

So, what were the headline findings from this year’s Global Sparkling Masters? Initially, the tasting highlighted the broad sweep of places now making delicious traditional-method sparkling wine. We had Golds from bottle-fermented fizz-producing areas from the Loire to the Western Cape, Hungary to Hampshire, and New Zealand to Austria. In other words, if you thought the source of great sparkling wine was either France or Spain – or just Champagne or Cava – be prepared for a surprise as you scan the origins of our medallists this year.

Also, for those who believe that Prosecco is the go-to for little more simple-tasting fizz, then think again. When this tank-method sparkling was tasted blind against similarly priced bottled-fermented products, it did just as well or better, in many cases. This was true at higher prices too, with, for example, Andreola’s Dirupo Brut Prosecco picking up a Gold in the £30-£50 sparkling wine flight, along with a traditional-method fizz from Austria (Schlumberger Wein) and one from England (Louis Pommery).

We were also impressed by the quality-to-price ratio among the sparkling wines from two producers in particular: South Africa’s Pongracz and Hungary’s Törley. But if one were to pick out the source of the best-value fizz on the market based on this year’s tasting, it would have to be the Loire. As you can see in the tables, two names stood out for their crémants – the name for bottle-fermented fizz from France that hails from outside Champagne. These were Bouvet Ladubay and Langlois Château. The most keenly priced Gold-medal-winning fizz of the competition was the £11 Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Crémant de Loire Brut, which is made by Bouvet Ladubay for the supermarket. The sparkling wine garnered a high score for its combination of richness and refreshment, combining the cleansing flavours of apple and chalk, with more creamy characters, and a touch of honey-coated toast, which provided added interest.

Quality fizz

Such was the quality of this fizz for the money, the judges agreed that they would now be looking closely at crémant when selecting wines for their own events.
Bearing in mind the creep upwards of Champagne prices in this decade, it’s becoming more common for consumers to seek out a cheaper alternative to this famous fizz when pouring a sparkling wine for big, celebratory events.

And, if one goes to other aspirational traditional-method winemaking regions, such as Franciacorta in Italy, or the southern counties of England, such as Kent and Sussex, you’ll find brilliant quality, but also prices that are similar, if not higher, than an equivalent Brut NV from Champagne.

Delicious options

So it was exciting to find in this year’s Global Sparkling Masters that there are delicious options of creamy, gently toasty fizz on the market today at roughly half the price of grandes marques Champagnes.

Some of these were from the Loire, but there were a wide range of other sources providing an exciting set of choices for the open-minded sparkling wine lover. This is an extremely competitive area of the wine business, but like all areas of the drinks industry, it pays to look broadly in the search for quality and value.

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): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Simon Field MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Antony Moss MW, Andrea Briccarello, Patrick Schmitt MW

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