The best Riojas from the Wine Masters on sale in 2020

With the judging now finished for this year’s Rioja Masters we can bring you the results in full, listing all the medallists, and drawing attention to the best Riojas on sale in 2020, whatever the style and category.

There’s a place in the wine world that’s proving particularly resilient in its popularity. Unlike the rise and fall of many a mainstream vinous source, from Chianti to claret, California rosé to German Riesling, the demand for Rioja, particularly in its reserva form, just won’t die down, despite its near ubiquitous state. Rather, it’s still a growing category, spearheaded by many strong brands, from Campo Viejo and Marqués de Cáceres to Faustino and Riscal. After years of chairing our annual Rioja Masters, and confirmed in particular this year, I think I know the reason for such enduring appeal. It’s primarily a question of style and value.

You see, Rioja has this appealing character of being juicy, oaky, and fresh. It has ripe cherry fruit from the Tempranillo and Garnacha that dominate its blends, vanilla and chocolate from the oak barrels used in its maturation, and a bright acidity from the cool nights in this relatively high-altitude continental region – vineyards are generally between 300m and 500m above sea level, but they can reach up to 800m or more. Then there’s the price charged for a taste of this likeable mix. Rioja is relatively affordable. You don’t have to stray much over £20 for brilliance. There’s also plenty of good quality, juicy quaffing reds below £10 too. And between these two price points, Rioja consistently delivers something that has a draw.

Such widespread adoration for the region’s produce does create one problem for Rioja, albeit a minor one, and that concerns its image among fine wine collectors – the people who happily regularly spend sums in excess of £100 on Bordeaux or Burgundy don’t seem to snap up Rioja. In my view, they are missing out. The greatest expressions from this region are delicious, ageworthy, and unique. Plus, unlike most great wines, Rioja’s finest bottles are often released when they are ready to drink.

Among the classifications, which are increasingly numerous, it is the reserva age statement, with its minimum of 12 months in oak, that offers the biggest bang per buck. It seems this period of time delivers the right amount of barrel-sourced vanillin and tannin to suit the fleshy red berry fruit of Rioja. It’s a bit like adding a desirable amount of cream to your strawberries – of course tastes differ, but you want something that improves the base ingredient, not smothers it. Having said that, there are plenty of lightly-oaked crianzas that are delicious, as well as joven wines from Rioja that give one a chance to indulge in the fresh berry flavours of this region, undiluted, and in a wonderful youthful state.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, gran reserva Riojas should be celebrated for offering the drinker something rare and historic in the wine world – a drop that’s fully mature on its release, and sometimes pleasingly light and fresh, despite having powerful flavours.

Finally, we have, among the reds, the eclectic wonders of the ‘vinos de autor’ category, a place for experimental and ambitious winemaking. If you love reds with weight, oak influence, and elegance, then look out for this classification, where you generally have a wine style that’s a bit bigger in all areas, be it texture, wood flavours, or fruit ripeness. These can be great wines, and should be judged according to how well they compare relative to the world of powerful wines, rather than Rioja. So often they do admirably on this front, but can fail if you were expecting something with the light, spicy lift of a traditional Rioja.

Rioja is a rare place in the world of wine. Not just because it offers fully ripe wines with a fresh acidity, but because it boasts a broad sweep of wine styles. Such complexity adds interest. Meanwhile, strong brands take away the risk that comes with drinkers experimenting.

In any case, the quality standard that comes with the Rioja tag is high. Of all our tastings, the Rioja Masters generally sees us award the highest number of Golds relative to the quantity of entries, and, I should add, the fewest Bronzes or lower. There’s a reason why Rioja’s appeal endures. As noted above, it relates to style and quality. But as the diversity of Rioja character seen in our Masters shows too, it’s also an issue of choice. This Spanish region now makes a wine to sate all tastes – even those of the aforementioned fine wine collectors, who should have no trouble finding what they want, whether it’s among the concentrated wines of Rioja’s vinos de autor, or the aged elegance of the gran reservas. And it’s high time they started their search.

For now, see the tables below, which illustrate the range on offer in Rioja today, and the highlights from the two days of judging the competition.

White Rioja Joven

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Campo Viejo Viura-Tempranillo Blanco 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Viura Malvasía 2019 Silver
Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco 2019 Bronze

White Rioja Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£15-£20
Eguren Ugarte Reserva 2017 Bronze
£30-£50
Rioja Vega Tempranillo Blanco Reserva 2017 Gold

White Rioja Vinos de Autor

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Rioja Vega Blanco Colección Tempranillo 2019 Silver
£15-£20
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro Don Quintín Ortega White BF 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Remírez de Ganuza Remírez de Ganuza 2016 Silver

Red Joven

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Garnacha 2019 Silver
Fincas de Azabache Tunante 2019 Silver
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega 2019 Silver
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2018 Bronze
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Tempranillo 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Tempranillo 2019 Bronze

Red Crianza

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodegas Faustino Faustino Crianzo ITNOW 2017 Silver
Zinio Bodegas Sancho Garcés Crianza 2017 Bronze
£10-£15
Fincas de Azabache Azabache Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Crianza 2018 Silver
Rioja Vega Edición Limitada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Crianza 2017 Silver
Bodegas Valoria Viña Valoria Crianza 2016 Silver
Compañia de Vinos Heraclio Heraclio Alfaro 2017 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Crianza 2016 Bronze
£15-£20
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Crianza 2017 Gold
Fincas de Azabache Crianza Garnacha 2018 Gold
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Cuvée 2017 Gold
Hermanos Frias del Val Crianza 2016 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Crianza 2018 Bronze
Zinio Bodegas Zinio Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada 2016 Bronze
£20-£30
Fincas de Azabache Culto 2017 Silver

Red Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10
Muriel Wines Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2016 Gold
Bodegas la Eralta Señorío de La Eralta 2016 Silver
£10-£15
Bodegas Solar Viejo Solar Viejo Reserva 2014 Gold
Bodegas Valoria Viña Valoria Reserva 2014 Gold
Bodegas Campo Viejo Campo Viejo Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Ugalde Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Reserva ITNOW 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Art Collection Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Faustino V Reserva 2015 Bronze
Bodegas y Viñedos Leza Leza García Reserva 2016 Bronze
£15-£20
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva de Familia 2017 Gold
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega Reserva 2015 Gold
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres Reserva 2015 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2017 Silver
Bodegas Riojanas Borisa 125 Reserva 2017 Silver
Eguren Ugarte Reserva 2014 Silver
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro Ortega Ezquerro Reserva 2014 Silver
Zinio Bodegas Sancho Garcés Reserva 2015 Bronze
£20-£30
Zinio Bodegas Zinio Reserva 2016 Gold
£30-£50
Remírez de Ganuza Viña Coqueta 2009 Gold
Remírez de Ganuza Fincas de Ganuza 2014 Gold
Bodegas Faustino Icon Edition Especial Selección 2015 Gold
£50+
Remírez de Ganuza Remírez de Ganuza 2006 Master

Red Gran Reserva

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
Under £10-£15
Bodegas la Eralta Señorío de La Eralta 2014 Gold
£15-£20
Bodegas Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2013 Silver
Bodegas Ugalde Gran Reserva 2013 Silver
Bodegas Faustino Faustino I Gran Reserva 2010 Bronze
Bodegas Faustino Faustino I Gran Reserva ITNOW 2010 Bronze
£20-£30
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Rioja Vega Gran Reserva 2013 Gold
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2012 Silver
£30-£50
Bodegas Campillo Campillo 57 Gran Reserva 2012 Master
£50+
Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 1978 Gold

Red Vinos de Autor

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Rioja Vega Tinto Colección Tempranillo 2018 Gold
£15-£20
Viñas Leizaola Caminos de Sacramento 2018 Gold
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Garnacha 2018 Silver
Bodegas Ortega Ezquerro OE Garnacha 2018 Silver
£20-£30
Bodegas Solar Viejo Orube Selección de Familia 2017 Master
Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres Generación MC 2018 Gold
Hermanos Frías del Val Selección Personal Premium 2016 Gold
Bodegas Campo Viejo Dominio de Campo Viejo 2016 Silver
£30-£50
Viñas Leizaola El Sacramento 2016 Gold
Rioja Vega Rioja Vega Venta Jalón 2014 Gold
Bodegas Ysios Ysios 2015 Silver

Red Organic

Company Wine Name Vintage Medal
£50+
MacRobert & Canals Barranco Del San Ginés 2016 Gold

Judges’ comments

Andrea Briccarello: “Rioja is still a strong brand in the UK, and I could see why during the tasting; the region offers great value for money, particularly the joven and crianza wines. I have a soft spot for white Rioja, so I really enjoyed the vinos de autor part of the tasting. “The crianzas and reservas were stunning, especially in the £10-1£5 range, with plenty of fresh, vibrant juicy red-fruit notes and spicy undertones, offering a lot of value. “There is much to like when it comes to Rioja; it all comes to style, more traditional or more modern, young and juicy (joven or crianza) or leather and tobacco (reserva or gran reserva). “The biggest surprise was the quality of these wines; which had hardly any faults. There were plenty of great wines that delivered in every glass.”

Patricia Stefanowicz MW: “The 2020 Rioja Masters was exemplary, and the wines demonstrate yet again why Rioja is well respected for quality, reliability and value. There are excellent wines in every category, from joven through crianza to reserva and gran reserva. The white wines showed well, and the vinos de autor expressed experimentation and excitement with a masterful touch. The judges awarded every wine in the tasting with a medal, perhaps a first? “The reds showed bright acidity and judiciously managed tannins throughout the different categories. The white Riojas exhibited lovely orchard fruits, purity of flavour and racy acidity in balance. “One or two reservas were serious wines with balanced acidity and lovely oak integration.”

About the competition

The Rioja Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as other regions such as Tuscany and Champagne, along with styles from rosé to sparkling. The competition is exclusively for Rioja wine, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Rioja Master. The entries were judged on 9 and 10 November at the Novotel, London Bridge.

The judges in The Rioja Masters 2020 were Andrea Briccarello, David Round MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and Patrick Schmitt MW

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

Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full

All the medallists and extensive analysis from the latest Malbec-only tasting from the Global Masters, featuring the best samples from Argentina and Chile, and a surprising discovery from Spain.

The entries were judged on 7 November in The London Marriott Hotel, County Hall

The Malbec revival may be a recent phenomenon, but this single grape has already been through several phases. In fact, during the course of this century alone, it has swung to stylistic extremes, before settling into a happy medium, meaning that the development of Malbec has many similarities to Chardonnay’s changing character over the same period.

What’s the basis for such a statement? It’s an opinion formed from many years of Global Masters tastings for both grapes – and you can read more about Chardonnay’s style today on pages 68-73. As for Malbec, there was a point in the past decade when it seemed that being bigger was definitely better. This applied to fruit sugars, new oak percentages, alcohol levels and, it should be noted, bottle weights too. The result was something heavy in every sense, as well as deeply red, powerfully flavoured, tannic, sometimes slightly raisined, and definitely sweet to taste, mainly due to the amount of vanillin extracted from the brand new barrels. Like it or not, one couldn’t fail to remember it, and Malbec on a label became a shorthand for juicy, rich red wine. Ally that style to marbled steak, and you had a highly successful partnership that catapulted Malbec on to the global stage, but particularly in major wine-importing markets where red meat is consumed widely – so the UK and US.

As for the source of such a memorable wine style, that was Argentina, specifically Mendoza, and its sub-region Luján de Cuyo. This warm region on the outskirts of the city of Mendoza, home to the country’s oldest plantings of Malbec, was ideally suited to producing concentrated reds.

However, with time, the style and sourcing of Malbec changed. Indeed, a few years ago, our Global Malbec Masters was seeing a new type of Argentine red. This was a lighter style, sometimes with peppery flavours similar to Syrah from the Northern Rhône, or a hint of celery and spicy salad leaves, like rocket, suggestive of fruit that hadn’t reached full ripeness. This was partly a result of cooler Argentine climes, primarily a widespread move into the high-altitude Uco Valley, and partly due to the winemaker, who was intent on finding a fresher, tighter, sharper style of Malbec by picking earlier. A less structured red was also evident, achieved by reducing the influence of barriques and handling the grapes in a gentler manner during fermentations – less pumping and pushing of the must will lower the tannin extraction.

The shift in our tastings notes was marked. While common descriptors had included ripe, fleshy black fruit, creamy coconut, dense tannins, warming alcohols, and glass-staining colours only a few years ago, a scan over the judges’ tasting notes more recently would see words appearing regularly such as red cherry and plum, medium-weight, green pepper, and celery leaf. In a fairly short period of time the Argentine Malbec style had shifted from forceful red to restrained wine, and division among the judges was evident as some welcomed the brighter style, others saw the more herbaceous elements as a weakness.

So what about now? Following a day spent tasting mostly Argentine Malbecs from a range of sources within this country, and across all price bands, it appears that this grape has found a middle-ground. Yes extremes in style are still evident, but for the most part, the Malbec making its way on to the market today has ripe, juicy red fruit, firm tannins, a touch of toasty oak, and a pleasant hint of spice. It is neither too sweet, nor too lean. And it is identifiably Malbec, with its deep colour, and firm structure.

From my own perspective, I’m pleased to see Malbec has found a sweet-spot. Although I could understand the urge to experiment with a light, even slightly green style of wine, there are plenty of reds that deliver such delicacy, particularly with the fast-development of cooler-climate Syrahs from the New World. In my view, Malbec’s strength, particularly when sourced from Argentina, is its ability to create a concentrated, structured red, and one that can happily carry high-toast new oak. It is also this type of wine that made Malbec identifiable, and successful. In the same way that most consumers won’t choose a Chardonnay when they want a delicate white, few would opt for a Malbec when they desire a light red.

As for backing away from extremes in ripeness and oak-influence, that is a healthy evolution for the top end examples, where it would be a shame to lose the fresh fruit flavours from high quality grapes, either by leaving the bunches on the vine so long that the inherent berry characters get baked, or through burying their appeal beneath a wave of barrel-sourced scents and tannins.

With such an extended stylistic analysis concluded, what were the sources of Malbec greatness in our 2019 tasting? While this tasting was primarily a health-check on the state of the grape in Argentina, there were some other countries that surprised the tasters for the quality of their Malbec. With the grape’s popularity assured, more places have been trying their hand with Malbec, while its native home, Cahors in South West France, has seen producers work to create a richer style of red from the grape – one that’s more in line with the character achieved with ease in Argentina. By way of example, last year’s Malbec Master was from Château Lagrezette – a historic Cahors property with Michel Rolland as consultant. But this year, although not a Master, the judges were amazed to find a Malbec from Spain rubbing shoulders with respected Argentine names from Norton to Colomé and Salentein. Gaining a Gold in the £20-£30 price band was Bodegas Clunia in Castilla y León, which had crafted a ripe, dense, toasty, juicy and structured red to rival the finest in South America. It was also the highest scoring sample from outside Argentina.

As for those that weren’t from this Latin nation, there were some good Malbecs from Chile – with medals awarded to Viñedos Puertas, Via Wines, Viña Indomita, Concha y Toro, Viña Cremashi, Viu Manent, Viña San Esteban and Morandé. There was also a delicious example from Wakefield Estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, which picked up a Silver, as did, much to the surprise of the judges, an example from Burgenland in Austria, made by Kraft aus Rust, and loaded with plum and cherry fruit, along with a peppery spice, not unlike the wines from this nation’s flagship red grape, Blaufränkisch.

Within Argentina, it was notable to see the breadth of Malbec styles, with this year, the competition’s first ever white Malbec – a fascinating arrival to the category with an oily texture, and peachy fruit.

Among the Malbec Masters for 2019, it was impressive to see Bodega Aleanna pick up this ultimate accolade for its El Enemigo Malbec sub £20, with the rest of this year’s Masters all awarded to wines over this price point, and mostly over £30.

The tasting proved a particular endorsement for the quality of Malbecs being made by Bodega Norton, but also Colomé, Atamisque and Salentein, along with Trapiche and Doña Paula. Interestingly, the latter two producers, who specialise in isolating special sites and bottling single vineyard Malbecs, gained strong Golds for their expressive wines. However, the Masters went to Malbecs that blended grapes from across a broader area, lending the wines a touch more complexity perhaps?

Having said that, among such stars of the day, was the single vineyard biodynamic Alpamanta Estate, which wowed for its fleshy cherry and blackberry frut, as well as tobacco and chocolate notes.

Another Master was awarded to Fincas Patagonicas, whose Black Tears Malbec is soft, dense and just plain delicious. While for me, the ultimate expression of the day turned out to be the famous Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino. The wine, which hailed from the 2017 vintage, was very much in its youth, with masses of taught tannins, but also intense pure blue, red and black berry fruit, and lingering characters of roasted coffee, pepper and plums. Certainly a great Malbec, but also a fine wine that’s capable of standing alongside the most celebrated reds of the world.

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): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Andrea Bricarello, Jonathan Pedley MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, David Round MW

Rioja Masters 2019: the results in full

A full report on the top wines and leading styles from this year’s Rioja Masters, the most comprehensive annual blind tasting of current releases from this flagship Spanish region in the UK.

The Rioja Masters was held in Les 110 de Taillevent in London’s Cavendish Square

Before analysing the results in detail from this year’s Rioja Masters, it should be stated that this single tasting achieved a higher tally of top medals than almost any other competition in the Global Wine Masters series. Considering just the most glistening results, the judges awarded as many as 26 Gold medals, and, remarkably, a total of six Masters, which is the ultimate accolade, and given out only when the wine is outstanding.

What does this tell us? It shows us that Rioja is making wines right now of a style and quality that is first-class, and at all levels – although certain categories did perform better than others. It also confirms that the consumer is a good judge too – Rioja is one of the retail and restaurant’s sector most popular wine regions.

And if one is to sum up why this large Spanish wine region delivers so much, and without charging a hugely-inflated price, then it comes down to two key elements: the successful match between the terroir and the grapes of the region, and the particular approach to maturation in this part of Iberia.

Regarding the former, the mix of native Spanish grapes and this high, dry, barren plateau, yields wine with plenty of ripe fruit, but a cleansing natural acidity. As for the latter, the common practise of extended ageing before release, notably in barrels, produces a style of wine that’s soft, layered, and generally ready to drink on release, even at the top end – where rival European fine wine region so often advise buyers to cellar their latest orders for several years before opening.

Rioja’s present success also reflects recent change, and this is an area of Spain that may have an old-fashioned image, but shows marked dynamism. This was certainly clear at the start of this year’s tasting, which focused on the proportionally small white wine offering from Rioja (representing just 8% of production). Whereas this aspect to the region would have – as little as a decade ago – been dominated by Viura-based wines that were either light and simple, or, as a result of long-barrel-ageing, heavy and oxidative, today we are seeing clean, ripe whites of great character, as well as oak-influenced versions with nutty complexity and texture, but fresh fruit too.

The personality of the wines without the traditional Rioja treatment of barrel-ageing, governed by the region’s classifications – from Joven to Gran Reserva – hails from a change to the laws several years ago, allowing a greater range of white grapes to be planted for use in Rioja Blanco. Among these is the aromatic Verdejo grape – with Marqués de Cáceres gaining a Silver for its great value grapefruit-scented Don Sebastian branded version – as well as Tempranillo Blanco. This grape, sister to flagship Riojan red grape Tempranillo – is increasingly being used to produce varietal whites and to great affect, with orchard fruits, and an oily texture that complements a touch of new oak influence – both Viña Pomal and Rioja Vega being brilliant examples of this, and hence their Golds in this year’s Masters.

Indeed, if there was new and distinctive arrival to the world of Spanish whites, albeit niche, it is Tempranillo Blanco. As for the more traditional offer from Rioja, which sees Viura aged for years in barrique to produce something rich, waxy, and vanilla-scented, then this is still on offer, and made to a high standard with the Lar de Paula Blanco Reserva, a Gold standard wine with a strong character.

While Rioja is also able to craft fresh, red-berry rosés too, and sometimes with oak-influence as well, we saw little from this particular category in 2019, but that doesn’t mean one should not forget this offering from Rioja, particularly as the market for pink wines strengthens, diversifies and premiumises.

Moving to reds, however, the mainstay of Rioja’s output, we began the tasting with the youngest category, classed Joven. Interestingly, as Rioja’s classifications concern ageing times, rather than necessarily quality levels, we had Joven reds from the most basic to some of the region’s priciest. While the tasters were very excited to find delicious, fruity, youthful reds at keen prices from Marqués de Cáceres and Rioja Vega in particular, they were also excited by the quality at the top end from Faustino, with its Faustino & Eneko label – something crafted by the producer for the revered Spanish Michelin-starred chef, Eneko Atxa. In contrast to the more common output from Faustino – a Riojan leader in the Gran Reserva category – this expression spends just eight months in oak, allowing the rich red fruit flavours to shine.

Moving to the Crianza category – the classification for reds that have spent a minimum of one year in oak – we once more saw some delicious wines, on top of a big bank of Silver medallists, showing the high base standard in this category, which is such a big seller in Spain. It was here we found some of the best-value wines of the tasting, with sub £15 Crianzas from Viña Albina and Marqués de la Concordia both picking up Golds, while the higher-priced versions from Bodegas Corral and the Rolland-Galerreta label also impressing greatly. At the highest end of the price spectrum, the judges were wowed by the juicy, fleshy, layered pure Garnacha from Baigorri, highlighting the quality attainable from this grape when the vines are old and the site just right.

As for the Reservas, where a minimum of three years ageing (one of which must be spend in oak) brings an altered style of wine, we were delighted to find a delicious, classic, complex and bright red from Bodegas Muriel that retailed below £15, with its Fincas de la Villa Reserva awarded a Gold.

However, it was over £15 that most of the top medals were seen, while the first Master of the day was given to the slightly (but not much) pricier Eguren Ugarte Martin Cendoya Reserva. Notably, over £30, every sample picked up a Gold – or above, with a pure Graciano from Viña Pomal awarded a Master, which also showed that not just Tempranillo or Garnacha can, on their own, make top wines in Rioja.

We then finished the day with two final classifications in Rioja, both of which are divisive. The first, Gran Reserva, can create debate according to the judge’s preference, even though our judges are focused on quality, regardless of their personal tastes. While some are forgiving of more traditional, long-aged, and lighter styles of Gran Reserva, seeing it as a unique offering in the world of fine wines, others desire more weight, fruit and youth in this category. Not only did we see both styles, but each were able to deliver greatness, with the brilliant source of affordable and traditional Gran Reserva Rioja – Bodegas Faustino – gaining a Gold for its sub £20 sample from the 2009 vintage, and Viña Pomal also picking up the same medal for its richer, juicier and younger (and slightly pricier) Gran Reserva from 2012. At the top end of this category was the Remírez de Ganuza Gran Reserva from 2005, a delicious blend of barrel-sourced characters, mature fruit, and freshness, showing what a first-rate producer Fernando Remírez de Ganuza is.

The other controversial category, dubbed Vinos de Auto, which loosely translates as winemaker signature wines, creates discussion as such stylistic variation exists within a sector of Rioja designed to bring together wines that fall outside the traditional rules of the region. In effect, this is a sort of Super Tuscan equivalent for Rioja. As one might expect, the stylistic variation is broad, from intense, concentrated – sometimes over-extracted reds – to lighter, softer examples, although generally the wines lean towards the former type. Among the greats, reds that would compete on a world-stage with any powerful fine wines, were samples from Altos de Rioja, Concordia, Lan, Leizaola, and Ollauri.

In short, it was highly apparent that Rioja can deliver brilliant wines at a wide span of price points, and in a broad range of styles. It can produce something juicy, easy, and fresh at the bistro-level – be it white, red or Rosado – along with something fine, bright, and ready-to-drink at the finest end. Furthermore, it can yield something impressive, and powerful too, allowing the region to compete with top-end showy wine from around the world, while also sating a desire for something fine and delicate too – a growing sector, if one is to judge by the rising demand for great Pinot or Piedmontese reds.

In fact, whether you love big reds, or something more delicate, Rioja can provide something to suit, and, relative to great wines from Europe or beyond, this famous Spanish region offers impressive value for money. While we did see high-priced, high-scoring wines, the majority of our samples were sub £50, and, as noted at the outset, this tasting was near-record-breaking in the tally of top medals.

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 Rioja Masters 2019 judges (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Simon Field MW, and Jonathan Pedley 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

Global Cider Masters 2019: the results in full

We bring you a full report on all the medal-winners from the inaugural Global Cider Masters, which saw traditional and modern ciders shine, as well as an ice cider from Asturias in Spain.

It may have been just a single day of tasting, but our Global Cider Masters revealed a huge amount about this category. Not only did it highlight the skilled producers and class-leading sources, but it also draw attention to the stylistic diversity of cider, and the weaker points within the sector. Overall, importantly, it proved that cider is an exciting drinks category, and one that is perfectly placed to benefit from the key consumer trend of the moment: the demand for so called ‘craft’ products, which tend to be tied to a particular locality.

In terms of the origin of our top performers, the range of countries that shone in the Masters was notable, with samples from Spain and South Africa achieving high scores, along with, in particular, the bastion of traditional cider, Somerset.

Attracting favourable comments from the extremely experienced judges was the character and quality of Sheppy’s Somerset Traditional Cider, and its Oak Matured Vintage version, along with Sxollie Granny Smith Cider – using apples from Elgin in South Africa – and, at the end of the tasting, an ice cider from Pomaradas y Llagares de Sariego in Asturias, Spain.

Notable too about such results was the range of styles these standout ciders covered, from West County style to New World, and Ice Cider too, prompting chair of the judges, leading cider authority and personality, Gabe Cook, to comment on the need for clear segmentation when it comes to selling cider. “There are massive and significant differences in cider style, and yet, if you go to a bar or pub, it is just listed as ‘cider’; there is no stylistic categorisation,” he said, adding, “For example, you could have a bold, rich, tannic Herefordshire cider, or a lean, acid-driven and fruity one from Kent – it would be like comparing Sauvignon Blanc with Malbec.”

As a result, he urged the drinks trade to train its staff on the complexities of cider, and requested that drinks menus and blackboards highlight the basic style of cider on offer by featuring them under a brief range of headings.

While he was complementary about many of the ciders from a range of categories in the Global Cider Masters, be they ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ in style, he was critical of certain entries in the flavoured category because they failed to show any cider character.

“With some of the flavoured ciders there was no fermented apple character in there; the overriding character was artificiality and sweetness, making them effectively an RTD, and that, I believe, brings the industry into disrepute,” he said.

Summing up, as the day’s tasting came to an end, he spoke of cider’s potential, but also its problem. “Cider’s great opportunity and challenge is that the stylistic variation is vast – from coolest 330ml can with jazzy packing or hopped cider for beer heads, or even traditional-method ciders made in Epernay, employing the winemaking technology of the Champagne industry.”

Continuing, he observed, “Cider is made more like a wine, but presented more like a beer, and at the moment, it sits between beer and wine. However, this means it has the opportunity to appeal to both ends; there is a cider for every single person who likes alcoholic beverages.”

Furthermore, he said of an upsurge in demand for well-made cider of all types, “It has the story, the authenticity, and the quality; it has to happen… I believe, without a doubt, that craft cider is about to have the most amazing growth.”

Indeed, it was just such forecast dynamism for this category that prompted the drinks business to launch the Global Cider Masters, a competition that is, like all tastings in the Global Masters, designed to highlight quality, critique style, and promote emerging trends, due to the competition’s unique sampling process and the use of highly-experienced judges only.

About the competition:

More than 50 ciders were tasted ‘blind’ over the course of one day on Tuesday 13 at the Brewhouse & Kitchen on Geffrye Street in Hoxton, London.

The judges were:

The judges (left to righ): Gabe Cook (chair); James Waddington; Sam Nightingale; Shane McNamara; Patrick Schmitt

Gabe Cook, The Ciderologist (panel chair)

Gabe Cook is The Ciderologist, an award-winning, global cider expert attempting to change the way the world thinks and drinks cider. As well as chairing a number of cider competitions, Gabe is a cider writer, educator, industry consultant and the de facto “go to” independent voice on all matters cider.

James Waddington, Crafty Nectar

James Waddington is co-founder of Crafty Nectar, the UK’s leading online destination for craft cider. He is on a mission to share his love of the fermented apple, connecting consumers with ciders sourced directly from the UK’s best cider makers.

Sam Nightingale, Nightingale Cider Co.

Sam Nightingale is founder and cider maker at the Nightingale Cider Co. In 2015 Sam swapped his job in sound recording for muddy boots and overalls, and returned to his family farm to re-join his brother Tim, and concentrate on doing what he loved – making cider in Kent.

Shane McNamara, ZX Ventures

Shane McNamara is global technical manager at ZX Ventures, the innovation group within AB InBev, the world’s leading global brewer. He was formerly senior technical officer at the Institute of Brewing & Distiller in London, and a chair in the Global Beer Masters by the drinks business.

Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business

Patrick Schmitt oversees all the competitions that fall under the Global Masters series by the drinks business, which include tastings for every major grape variety, wine region, and beer category. He is editor-in-chief of the drinks business.

To find out more about the Global Cider Masters, please click here, or, to find out more about the competition series, visit the Global Masters website, or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

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THE GLOBAL CIDER MASTERS SEES SOMERSET SHINE

Over the following pages are the results from 2019’s competition. The Global Masters only publishes the winners of medals.

The best wines from the 2018 Rioja Masters

Our latest Rioja Masters competition boasted the highest proportion of Master-winning wines in our tasting series, but that’s hardly a surprise when the liquid, at every price point, is so enjoyable to drink, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

wines in Spain

Despite all the excitement surrounding the emerging wine regions in Spain among the press and sommeliers, the country’s powerhouse is Rioja. A door-opener with global awareness, without Rioja, Spain’s vinous reputation would be far less notorious and much less distinctive. When consumer research on wine regions is conducted, Rioja regularly appears as one of the most-recognised terms that abound in the world of drinks – even if it is widely mispronounced.

But it wasn’t just these outstanding examples that convinced the judges that Rioja is making lovely wines. It was the high number of Golds too – those wines with 93 points or more – with 28 gaining this medal, almost one fifth of the samples. Importantly, such impressive scores weren’t reserved just for the most expensive wines in the competiton, but awarded across the price spectrum. Some of the best-value wines in the world are coming out of Rioja.Many theories could be proposed for this, from the scale of the area, the strength of its brands, and long history of viticulture in the region, but, most importantly, Rioja’s success is connected to its style, quality, and value for money. I know this because the blind-tasting I chaired last month proved that this flagship Spanish wine region is making delicious, balanced wines at all levels. The competition had the highest proportion of Master-winning wines of any tasting we’ve conducted – and that includes all the noble grapes and top-end appellations like Champagne. Bearing in mind that the accolade of Master is reserved only for the very best of their type, and usually wines achieving a score of more than 95 points from all the judges, this is some feat. Out of around 150 wines entered into the competition, we awarded nine Masters.

BRIGHT FINISH

Then there’s the style. Rioja has a mixed reputation with wine professionals – for some it is renowned for its consistency, others think of its diversity – but there is something appealing that runs through all the wines, whether they are made in a lighter or more concentrated fashion, and that’s freshness. While that’s no surprise in the whites and rosés, it’s the bright finish in Rioja’s reds that’s a hallmark for this region. There’s often something Italianate about Rioja, as the region shares the former country’s orange-zest freshness in its reds, and sometimes a sour cherry note too, as well as its dry finish from fine-grained dense tannins.

The Riojas we tasted also displayed drinking pleasure thanks to an overriding restraint – these were, for the most part, neither wines with raisined fruit nor roasted oak. Alcohol levels also seem in check too. And, as one judge, Jonathan Pedley MW, pointed out, unlike some areas of Spain, Rioja seems to have avoided the temptation of going “over the top”, and, thankfully, doesn’t appear to be picking grapes too ripe, or extracting too much tannin in the winemaking process. Even where the Riojas were made in a more concentrated style, “in all cases there was still an overall harmony”, said Pedley.

The Rioja Masters 2017: Results

With nine Masters and 25 Gold medals awarded, last year’s Rioja Masters was our most successful tasting in the Global Masters series to date.

Proving that wines don’t need to break the bank to deliver serious drinking pleasure, our 2017 Rioja Masters competition was the most successful of the entire Masters series in proportion to the number of wines entered, with 25 Gold and nine Master medals awarded.

Sometimes criticised as a safe bet, Rioja’s reliability makes it a popular choice with consumers, who know that when they buy a bottle it will reward them with luscious red fruit and velvet-soft tannins.

While the region is going through an interesting transitional phase, as it shifts from a classification system based around barrel ageing to one that also takes terroir into account via its new Viñedos Singulares (single vineyard) classification, the tasting proved that Rioja is a great allrounder, with only its more renegade ‘vinos de autor’ wines failing to charm our judges.

There were treasures to be found among the whites and rosés that entered, with a third of the whites winning a Gold medal, including an intriguing Tempranillo Blanco from Rioja Vega, while Bodegas Muriel’s Viña Eguia Rosado 2016 scooped a Silver.

With Rioja boasting such a broad range of flavours and styles, from leathery, autumnal gran reservas to opulent and powerful ‘vinos de autor’, our judges weren’t looking for one specific thing from the wines, but were broadly hoping for freshness, drinkability and Rioja’s signature softness without the overt presence of oak.

Expectations were not only met, they were surpassed, with Jonathan Pedley MW, who is not usually one for waxing lyrical, believing the tasting offered “the strongest and most consistent line-up of wines” in any Masters tasting since the competition’s inception.

“I don’t think we had to reject a single wine, so hats off to Rioja,” he said. “I usually have a whinge about reductive wines but there was no reduction this time. At the opposite end of the scale, there was no deleterious oxidation either and generally the handling of oak was well judged.”

Fellow judge Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW agreed with Pedley on the topic of oak. “The use of oak was better than it has been in the past in Rioja, with less overt vanilla and some lovely oak integration,” she said.

For Master of Wine Alistair Cooper, the tasting “provided an interesting snapshot of Rioja, reflecting a region in a state of flux with new styles and a new approach”. While he applauded the desire on the part of certain winemakers in the region to “experiment, push the boundaries and challenge the status quo”, he also enjoyed the more traditional styles of Rioja, which “showed really well” in the line-up. “I had high hopes coming into the tasting and I wasn’t disappointed because the standard of wines was excellent,” he said.

Alex Canneti of Berkmann Wine Cellars was equally impressed by the wines, which were “of a higher standard” than he was expecting. “Wines from Rioja are more consumer-friendly than ever, with a much better balance of fruit and more subtle use of oak,” he said.

In the crianza category, over a third of the wines that entered scooped a Gold medal, including the 2014 vintage of R&G Rolland Galarreta, a wine made in collaboration with Javier Galarreta of Araex and renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland.

Moving up to the reserva category, of the 26 wines that entered, seven won a Gold medal and three were awarded the highest accolade of Master. Among those taking home Gold were Codorníu’s Viña Pomal Reserva 2013, and Marqués de Cáceres Don Sebastian Reserva 2014. Cherutti-Kowal believes that reserva is the “sweet spot” for Rioja, and a category capable of producing “fantastic” wines.

Waxing lyrical again, Pedley was taken with Bodegas Amaren Tempranillo Reserva 2009, which his table awarded a Master. “Tempranillo isn’t particularly showy when it comes to aromatics, but this wine had some beautiful floral notes overlaying the usual berry fruit. The oak was entirely integrated into the wine, while the palate was rich and concentrated but nicely balanced,” he said.

The greatest surprise was the quality and consistency to be found in the gran reserva category, which has disappointed in previous tastings for its variability and lack of value for money compared with the reliable reservas. This time around, however, the region’s longest aged Riojas proved that they more than merit their place at the top with enchanting, ethereal wines. Of the gran reserva wines that entered, half were awarded a Gold medal, and two – Rioja Vega Gran Reserva 2009 and Faustino Gran Reserva 1994 – scooped a Master, the latter in the ‘Rioja over 15 years’ category.

“In previous Rioja Masters tastings, the gran reserva flight has been a bit of an anticlimax after all the flashy, modern-style jovens and reservas,” said Pedley, who believes the wines offer excellent value for money compared with the pricier ‘vinos de autor’. He added: “I’ve had the impression that for many of the trendy Young Turks in Rioja, the gran reserva category is despised as it represents the bad old days of dried-out, excessively aged wines.

However, the gran reservas in this tasting showed why the category should be treasured: there were some beautiful, mellow, harmonious wines with deep and complex bouquets. Gran reserva Rioja is one of the last categories of red wine where the consumer can buy a bottle in a shop or restaurant knowing that the wine will be ready to drink at that moment.”

Cooper was also ebullient about the category. “The most pleasant surprise of the day was the excellent performance of the gran reserva wines. This can often be a disappointing category full of old wine with little character, fruit or vibrancy.

“Yet we saw excellent fruit as well as concentration in the examples tasted,” he said. For Canneti, the gran reservas were “better made” than ever, “with interesting autumn leaves and mushroom flavours and a more fruit-focused style”.

When it came to the ‘vinos de autor’, our judges were less impressed and awarded more Silvers than Gold and Master medals. Pedley described the offering as “a real mish-mash”, with prices spanning from under £10 to over £50.

“When the Rioja renaissance kicked off the Young Turks wanted to break free from the consejo rules and make iconoclastic statement wines. However, as with many avant-garde movements like Impressionism, Cubism and Abstractionism, once everyone gets involved you end up with a lot of mediocrity and a loss of purpose. Lord only knows what the consumer is meant to expect when they buy one of these wines,” Pedley lamented.

In a hugely positive tasting, the only other more general gripes were Pedley’s observation that a few of the wines were over-extracted and “a bit on the warm side” alcohol wise, while Cooper’s only criticism was that some of the wines were too dependent on oak. All of our judges agreed that Rioja remains one of the best value for money categories in the wine world.

“Rioja wines have a terrific quality to- price ratio,” said Cherutti-Kowal. Cooper agreed: “For consumers, Rioja still offers excellent value for money and generally excellent consistency,” he said. Pedley believes the northern Spanish region’s enduring popularity lies in the wines being not too high in acid, oak, tannin, or alcohol.

Like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, for consumers seeking reliability, affordability, balance and sheer deliciousness, Rioja hits the spot with wines that are ‘just right’, as Alex Canneti sums up: “Rioja continues to improve and is an obvious success story. It will be exciting to see what the more terroir-driven wines bring to the table.”

The judges (l-r)

Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, wine lecturer and presenter Jonathan Pedley MW, wine consultant, Crown Cellars Lucy Shaw, managing editor, the drinks business Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief, the drinks business Alex Canneti, director, off-trade, Berkmann Wine Cellars Alvaro García, London area sales manager, Alliance Wine Alistair Cooper MW, wine consultant

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. 

Fortified Masters medal winners released

The results of db’s inaugural Fortified Masters have been released, highlighting the quality of aged tawny Port, very old Sherries as well as Australia’s best barrel aged fortifieds.

GrahamLodgeInteriorConducted last month at the offices of the Institute of Masters of Wine in London, the Fortified Masters saw judges taste their way through almost 100 entries from around the world to award a range of medals, from the highest accolade of master, to gold, silver and bronze, based on scores out of 100.

Blind tasting can of course either destroy or confirm prior views of a product or category, but in the case this competition, it managed to do both.

It verified the tasters’ belief in the quality of fortified wines from Spain and Portugal, and it overturned any feeling that Australia and South Africa can’t produce rich and age-worthy fortified wines of a high standard too.

At times the day’s tasting also brought broad grins to the judges’ faces, quite simply because certain submissions were so delicious, it was hard not to hide the pleasure caused just from assessing them.

Those scoring over 95 points – gaining the top title of “master” – were aged tawnies, Sherries and Madeiras. In particular, Barbadillo gained two masters for its 30 year-old Amontillado and Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado, which were both incredibly complex dry Sherries crying out for a bowl of nuts, some bright sun and preferably a deck chair too.

Then there were the tawny Ports, which, with their richly sweet core and lingering dried fruit flavours, scored extremely highly. Two examples, both using wines with over 40 years in cask, were declared Masters, as well as one 20 year-old from the Roederer-owned Ramos Pinto.

A further Master then went to Justino’s, for its Colheita Madeira, which delighted the judges for its caramelised character combined with a refreshing citrus peel freshness.

Fortified Masters 2013: The Masters

Ramos Pinto Quinta Do Bom Retiro 20 year-old tawny Port Master
Porto Gran Cruz 40 year-old tawny Port Master
Kopke Colheita 1966 tawny Port Master
Barbadillo Amontillado 30 year-old Sherry Master
Barbadillo Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado Sherry Master
Justino’s Madeira Colheita 1996 Master

 

2013’s Rioja Masters medalists revealed

The results of 2013’s Rioja Masters by the drinks business have been released, highlighting the medal-winning producers and best-performing categories.

Rioja-Masters-2013-JudgesTHERE’S NOTHING quite like a competition focused on a single region to highlight its strengths, and in the case of our annual Rioja Masters, a full day’s tasting of wines from this famous Spanish DOC proved that barrel-aged reds and whites are undoubtedly its specialisms. That’s not to suggest the area can’t make high quality wines without the influence of oak, and there were a clutch of medals awarded within the Joven category, but rather its high points are reached when the best fruit is aged in barriques.

This was the second year the drinks business has conducted a competition focused just on Rioja as part of its Masters series for wine. On this occasion a higher number of entries forced us out of The Institute of Masters of Wine and into the larger venue of London’s Home House, where 10 judges worked their way through just under 200 wines.

Rioja-Masters-Judges-2Beginning with Rioja’s youngest wines, the Joven category included whites, rosés and reds from 2010, ‘11 and ’12 vintages. Light and gently fruity wines were in stark contrast to dark, concentrated and vanilla flavoured examples encountered later in the day, reminding the tasters just how broad the range of styles are from this single region. Among the entries in this entry-level sector that stood out for quality were wines from Muriel, Paternina and Viñedos de Aldeanueva, with each of these producers gaining a silver medal for their red Joven Riojas, which this year was the highest accolade awarded in this category.

However, once we stepped up in price to the Crianza arena, we saw our first Rioja gain a gold, with Ramón Bilbao’s Mirto Special Cuvée 2008 declared the best of the crianzas and the only wine to get a gold. Two blancos were awarded a silver medal, and four further silvers went to red Crianza Riojas from Baigorri, Dinastia, Ontañón and Valpiedra.

The competition’s highest accolade of Master was then awarded for the first time in the Reserva category, with the Vina Muriel Reserva 2006 impressing the judges with its balanced richness and freshness, as well as appealing evolution. Indeed, it was felt this wine was drinking extremely well now, in comparison to some examples that were either felt to be still a little too tight and youthful, or somewhat tired and prematurely aged. Beyond this example, however, were as many as nine golds – among which were two blancos – and 18 silvers, attesting to the quality in the reserva category, which is a style of Rioja deemed particularly attractive by the judges.

About the competition

The Rioja Masters is a competition conceived and managed by the drinks business and an extension of its successful Masters series for Champagne, fortified wines and grape varieties from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. The competition is exclusively for Rioja and comprised just under 200 entries which were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Riedel Chianti/Riesling glasses supplied by Sensible Wine Services.

The top Riojas were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those wines that were deemed by the judges to be outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Rioja Master. The wines were tasted over the course of one day at Home House, 20 Portman Square, London W1H 6LW.

Moving up yet another quality and age level into the Gran Reserva category, unlike last year where just one gold was awarded, 2013 saw six wines gain a gold, 11 given a silver, and, like the Reserva category, one wine identified as outstanding, with Castillo Clavijo gaining a Master for its Gran Reserva from the exceptional 2005 vintage.

Results in the more controversial Vinos de Autor category, dubbed “new wave wines”, were rather more extreme, with no golds, but one master for Bodegas Lan with is Lan A Mano 2009, and then seven silvers. Freed from the strictures of Rioja’s traditional categories, this sector allows winemakers to experiment with grapes, extraction techniques, oak use and ageing times, but in some cases, the judges expressed concern that the cellar master may have gone a little too far, hiding Rioja’s bright fruit character with either too much oak, or rather heavy handed winemaking methods.

In the case of Bodegas Lan however, the result was a great age-worthy red that could compete with some of the best wines from any fine wine region.
Finally, the judges were presented with a small selection of very old Riojas to taste, which highlighted the longevity of great wines from the region, and among the entries, it was the Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva from 1996 which gained the highest accolade in this class.

Having spent the day tasting every expression from the region, it was clear that Rioja can produce a very broad range of styles to a high standard. However, its strength lies in barrel-aged reds and whites. These are wines with weight, a pleasing oaky edge, and a refreshing finish. Furthermore, they are wines with age that are released ready to drink. It is such characters that typify the wines from this region, and explain why Rioja is so successful worldwide.

The Judges:

DROR NATIV Buyer – Marks & Spencer
JACQUES SAVARY DE BEAUREGARD Head Sommelier & Wine Buyer – Home House
PIERRE MANSOUR Spanish Wine Buyer – The Wine Society
ROBIN LANGTON Buyer & Winemaker – Laithwaites Wine
GEMMA ADAMS Product Manager – Grossi Wines
REBECCA PALMER Associate Director & Buyer – Corney & Barrow
JEAN WAREING MW Buyer – Boutinot
ISOBEL KOTTMANN Project Manager – Gonzalez Byass
PATRICK SCHMITT Editor-in-chief – the drinks business
RUPERT MILLAR Staff writer – the drinks business

rioja masters judges

The judges

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