The Global Rosé Masters 2020: results and highlights

We bring you all the medal winners and our top picks from this year’s Global Rosé Masters, which is the biggest single blind tasting of pink wines in the UK so far this year.

All the following recommendations hail from 2020’s Global Rosé Masters, a competition that sees all sources of pink wine judged side by side with only the most basic knowledge of style and cost.
While Champagne excelled in the pink sparkling category, and Provence was the dominant force in the still dry rosé and oaked rosé categories, there were plenty of other sources that featured.
Indeed, among the sparklings, it was a Crémant de Bourgogne that wowed for its quality and relative value, while among the still wines, we had an ultimate barrel-fermented rosé that was not from Provence.
Furthermore, among the Golds were stunning salmon-coloured drops from a broad array of locations, from Greece, to Priorat, and within Italy, both Sicily and the Tuscan coast.
As for the base standard of wines this year, it was undoubtedly better than ever before – and we’ve been running The Global Rosé Masters for almost a decade.
So, look below for a listing of all the medallists from this year’s competition, and read on to see our highlights, and to find out more about the tasting.

Dry sparkling rosé (12 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bortoluzzi Rosa di Gemina Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
Valdo Spumanti Valdo Marca Oro Rosé Brut Veneto and Sicily Italy NV Silver
Vigna Dogarina Spumante Rosé Brut Veneto Italy NV Bronze
Bosco del Merlo Spumante Rosé Brut Veneto Italy NV Bronze
 £10-£15
Matahiwi Estate Matahiwi Estate Brut Rosé Wairarapa New Zealand NV Silver
Valdo Spumanti Valdo Floral Rosé Brut Veneto and Sicily Italy NV Silver
Colesel Spumanti Pavana Rosé Spumante Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
 £15-£20
Maison Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Bourgogne France NV Silver
Fantinel Fantinel “One & Only” Rosé Brut Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
 £20-£30
Maison Louis Bouillot Perle d’Or Rosé Bourgogne France 2015 Gold
Tenuta Montemagno TM Brut 24 Mesi – Metodo Classico Piedmont Italy NV Bronze
 £30-£50
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Spéciale Rosé Champagne France NV Gold
Gusbourne Estate Rosé Kent UK 2016 Gold
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Rosé Champagne France NV Silver
 £50+
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rosé Intense Champagne France 2008 Master

Sweet sparkling rosé (+12 g/l)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bosco Viticoltor Rosato Spumante Bosco dei Cirmioli Veneto Italy NV Bronze
£15-£20
Andreola Bollé Vino Spumante Rosé Extra Dry Veneto Italy NV Silver
Tenuta Montemagno TM Roses – Malvasia di Casorzo DOC Spumante Piedmont Italy NV Silver
Banfi Rosa Regale Piedmont Italy 2019 Silver

Still unoaked dry rosé (4 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Mirabeau en Provence Belle Année Provence France 2019 Gold
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Le Versant Grenache Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Biecher Le Chef Rosé Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Bodegas Luzón Luzón Rosado Colección Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Cielo e Terra Bericanto Rosato Vicenza DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Casa Girelli Canaletto Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Piquepoul Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Ensedune Cabernet Franc Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Griset Sauvignon gris Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Les Amours d’Haut Gléon Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Bronze
Dievole Le Due Arbie Rosato Tuscany Italy 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Alceño Alceño Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
Gérard Bertrand Hampton Water Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Chivite Las Fincas Rosado Navarra Spain 2018 Gold
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Classic Provence France 2019 Gold
Lawson’s Dry Hills Pink Pinot Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Gold
Maison Gutowski M–G Grande Cuvée Provence France 2019 Gold
Born Rosé Barcelona Born Rosé Penedès Spain 2019 Gold
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Languedoc Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Holden Manz Hiro Franschhoek Valley South Africa 2019 Silver
Barton & Guestier Rosé d’Anjou Loire Valley France 2019 Silver
Bodegas Izadi Izadi Larrosa Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Vignerons de Tutiac Lion & The Lily Bordeaux France 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards The Ned Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Marisco Vineyards Leefield Station Pinot Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Paradis Secret Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Mission Hill Estate Winery Reserve Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Silver
Frescobaldi Alìe Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Rioja Vega Rosado Colección Tempranillo Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Pure Provence France 2019 Silver
Viña Leyda Leyda Rosé Leyda Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bodegas Príncipe de Viana Príncipe de Viana Edición Rosa Navarra Spain 2019 Silver
Bodegas Olivares Olivares Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Piera 1899 Pietra di Pinot Grigio Blush DOC delle Venezie Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Silver
Bodegas Bilbainas Viña Pomal Rosado Rioja Spain 2019 Silver
Raimat Raimat Rosada Catalonia Spain 2019 Silver
Santa Tresa Rosa di Santa Tresa Sicily Italy 2019 Silver
Château de Sannes 1603 Provence France 2019 Bronze
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Altitude Pinot Noir Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Château Saint Jacques d’Albas La Chapelle en Rose Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Mission Hill Estate Winery Terroir Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Gold
Minuty Minuty Prestige Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Léoube Rosé de Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Léoube LOVE by Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Mirabeau en Provence Mirabeau Etoile Provence France 2019 Gold
Chamlija Rosé de Strandja Strandja Mountain Turkey 2019 Silver
Château de Sannes Aciana Provence France 2019 Silver
Maison Saint Aix AIX Rosé Provence France 2019 Silver
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Domaine Haut Gléon Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Silver
Banfi Srl Cost’è Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Torre Mora Scalunera Etna Rosato DOC Sicily Italy 2019 Silver
Tenuta Moraia Rosato Maremma Toscana DOC Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Alpha Estate Rosé Single Vineyard Hedgehog Amyndeon Greece 2019 Silver
Poggio al Tesoro Cassiopea Tuscany Italy 2019 Silver
Château Des Demoiselles Charme des Demoiselles Provence France 2019 Silver
Roseline Diffusion Roseline Prestige Provence France 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage Winemakers Select Tempranillo Rose Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Domaines Ott By Ott Provence France 2018 Master
Minuty Château Minuty Rose et Or Provence France 2019 Gold
Scala De Scala Dei Pla dels Angels Catalonia Spain 2019 Gold
Château Léoube Rosé Secret de Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château des Demoiselles Château des Demoiselles Provence France 2019 Gold
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel Provence France 2019 Gold
Gusbourne Estate Cherry Garden Rosé Kent UK 2019 Silver
Château Sainte-Roseline Cru Classé Lampe de Méduse Cru Classé Provence France 2019 Silver
£30-£50
Domaines Ott Clos Mireille Rosé Provence France 2018 Master
Château Léoube Rosé La Londe Léoube Provence France 2019 Gold
Château Sainte Roseline Cru Classé La Chapelle de Sainte Roseline Cru Classé Provence France 2019 Silver
£50+
Minuty Château Minuty 281 Provence France 2019 Master

Unoaked medium-dry rosé (4 g/l to 12 g/l)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under  £10 
Bosco del Merlo Pinot Grigio Rosé DOC Veneto Italy 2018 Silver
Cantine di Ora Masso Antico Primitivo Rosé Puglia Italy 2019 Silver
Botter Vivolo di Sasso Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Mission Hill Estate Winery Estate Rosé Okanagan Valley Canada 2019 Silver
Casa Vinicola Sartori Vero d’Oro Rosato Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Pasqua Mater Anna Pinot Grigio
Rosé delle Venezie DOC
Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
Siegel Wines Siegel Rosé Cinsault Colchagua Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodegas San Dionisio SF Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
Botter Pinot Grigio Rosato delle Venezie DOC Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
£10-£15 
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Cecilia Beretta Freeda Rosé Trevenezie Veneto Italy 2019 Silver
Cantine San Marzano Tramari Rosé di Primitivo Salento IGP Puglia Italy 2019 Bronze
Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo Rosé Jumilla Spain 2019 Bronze
Cantine di Ora Amicone Corvina Rosato Verona IGT Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
Cantine di Ora Il Casato – Schiava Valdadige DOC Trentino-Alto Adige Italy 2019 Bronze
Cantina di Bertiolo Villa San Martino Pinot Grigio Blush Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Bronze
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine Pasqua 11 Minutes Rosé Trevenezie IGT Veneto Italy 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Pinot Nero Rosé Adelaide Hills Australia 2019 Silver
£20-£30
Fantinel Sun Goddess Pinot Grigio Ramato Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2019 Gold

Oaked dry rosé (4 g/l or lower)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
£10-£15
Gérard Bertrand Joy’s Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Gold
Chivite Las Fincas Rosado Fermentado en Barrica Navarra Spain 2018 Gold
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Desire Pinot Rosé Marlborough New Zealand 2019 Bronze
Finca Albret Albret Rocío Navarra Spain 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Bodegas Juan Gil Juan Gil Rosado Jumilla Spain 2019 Silver
Australian Vintage Tempus Two Copper Rosé Hunter Valley Australia 2019 Silver
Quinta Nova de Nossa
Senhora do Carmo
Quinta Nova de Nossa
Senhora do Carmo Rosé
Douro Portugal 2019 Bronze
£20-£30
Gérard Bertrand Château la Sauvageonne La Villa Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Master
Terra Sancta Wine Terra Sancta Special Release First Vines Rosé Central Otago New Zealand 2019 Silver
£30-£50
Domaines Ott Château Romassan Provence France 2018 Gold
Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel Provence France 2019 Gold
Château d’Esclans Château d’Esclans Provence France 2018 Gold
Poggio al Tesoro Cassiopea Pagus Cerbaia Tuscany Italy 2017 Silver
£50+
Gérard Bertrand Clos du Temple Languedoc-Roussillon France 2019 Master
Château d’Esclans Les Clans Provence France 2018 Master
Château d’Esclans Garrus Provence France 2018 Master

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.

Champagne Masters 2019: the results in full

An extensive report on this year’s Champagne Masters, including all the medallists, a look at the top-performing categories, the best wines of the competition, and the styles of fizz we liked – and those we weren’t so enamoured with too…

Tell anyone outside the wine trade that you’ve spent a day tasting Champagne, and one can hardly expect sympathy – jealousy is the most common reaction. However, assessing this fine French fizz is hard work. If I consider all the Global Wine Masters competitions the drinks business runs, the Champagne Masters is the most challenging. It requires intense concentration to fairly and accurately judge a delicate drink, with many components to consider, from the quality of the bubbles, to the acid-structure of the wine, character of the fruit, along with lees-aged flavours – and, where relevant, quality of the reserve wine – along with integration of the dosage, where present.

Stylistic preferences
There’s a further element that makes this competition demanding for the taster, and especially the chair. This concerns stylistic preference. I know my own leanings from more than a decade’s worth of regular Champagne sampling, and that is for a relatively rich style of fizz with clearly identifiable aromas/flavours from extended ageing on the lees and protection from oxygen, such as grilled nuts or toasted bread. This type of sparkling is termed ‘reductive’ by the trade, referring to fact that these roasted characters tend to emerge in the absence of exposure to air during the process, and in the headspace too (which explains the increased prominence of smoky/toasty aromas in larger formats, where the ratio of oxygen to fizz is altered).

However, I am aware that not all tasters share my preference for these traits. I find some judges much more forgiving of the opposing, oxidative style of fizz. While I enjoy the honeyed flavours found in older bottles, and the softer sparkling sensation too, I am less keen on the more aldehydic characteristics that can emerge from the less protective handling of Champagne making, such as the taste of bruised apples. But for others, this can be seen to add an extra layer of flavour.

Dryness in Champagne can be another source of debate, while rosé style is always a subject of extended discussion. But the results of a competition such as the Champagne Masters does not reflect one person’s preferences but the collective views of a professional jury. And the word ‘professional’ is key, because these are tasters that may have different stylistic predilections, but have the experience to know that it’s necessary to put aside personal tastes in the desire to fairly assess the fizz in front of them. In other words, whether you favour more oxidative or reductive flavours in fine Champagne, it is the overall quality of the fizz that’s being rated.

Having said that, before leaving the question of style, it was certainly the case that extremes of either Champagne type performed less well. As long-standing Global Masters judge and fellow chair, Jonathan Pedley said after the tasting: “It was interesting to see that the debate over the degree of reduction/oxidation in premium wines is alive and well, in this case in the context of Champagne. Every taster has their own preference or tolerance, but that the consensus we edged towards is that a reductive or oxidative component in a wine can add complexity and interest, but if sulphidic aromas on one side or aldehydic on the other come to dominate the nose then complexity is lost.”

The tasting also revealed marked differences in the character of older Champagnes. There are too many factors to list that could be the cause of this, but this year’s competition showed (again), how some more mature Champagnes, be they in the vintage or prestige cuvée category, had delicious flavours of honey, dried fruit, coffee and lightly toasted brioche, while others seemed to have characters that were probably more kindly described as a touch tired. Pedley said: “I remain fascinated by the way Champagne ages: the right sort of development brings glorious nutty, honeyed complexity, whereas the wrong sort of age results in grim cabbagey staleness.“

On the subject of pure quality, however, there was agreement: the general standard of Champagne was high. I have written about the reasons for this in previous reports from former tastings, but it is clear that improved vineyard management, coupled with a good run of vintages and a better understanding of when to pick the grapes is yielding base wines that are clean, fresh, and have a fruity depth. In contrast, Pedley said that 25 years ago, “many wines were green and unripe, often with clumsy dosage masking raw acidity”.

Complexity and richness
It has also been noted before following a Champagne Masters tasting, that the non-vintage category contains wines of greater class, complexity, richness, and softness, something ascribed not only to better management of the fruit in the vineyard and cellar, but also the increased use of reserve wine – now commonly up to one third of the blend, and taking in a broader span of harvests than historically.

Having said that, the lesser-scoring Champagnes of this category were those where this reserve wine component seems to sit uncomfortably with the younger ‘base’ wine – something one imagines would be solved by a longer time spent maturing post-disgorgement. In keeping with our results last year, we witnessed a very good base standard of relatively affordable Brut NV Champagne from the grower-cooperative brands of the region: with Collet, Castelnau and Nicolas Feuillatte all gaining Silvers in the sub-£30 price brand, and Palmer, along with Pannier, taking a Gold in the £30-£50 flight.

In this latter price category, the quantity of Golds awarded was notable. Beyond the co-operative brands, the top maisons performed admirably, be they the region’s biggest names, Moët and Veuve Clicquot, along with slightly smaller houses, Piper and Pommery. We were also impressed by the NVs from more boutique operations, as well as relative newcomers to the negociant Champagne model: Comtes de Dampierre (founded in 1986) and Brimoncourt (launched in 2009).

The latter also gained a Gold for its extra brut in the £50-plus category of NV Champagne, and, with a dosage of just 2g/l, showed how the selection of ripe wines can yield a rounded and pleasurable fizz, even when the sugar level is extremely low. The same was true of the Henri Giraud Esprit Nature, which, despite its dryness, had the creaminess of a white Burgundy, no doubt due to this producer’s use of oak casks to age its reserve wines.

The sole Master among the NVs was Pommery’s Brut Apenage, which showed some youthful zesty chalky characters, a touch of white peach, and some honeyed, biscuity notes from extended ageing, making it both refreshing, but also ripe and layered in style.

The entries were judged on 04 October at Ametsa restaurant in the COMO Hotel, Belgravia, London

Beautiful fizz
Moving into the vintage Champagnes, it was houses Piper and Charles Heidsieck that shone, both of which share a parent company in EPI. Piper, however, achieved the only Master in this category – which it picked up for its latest expression from the first-rate 2012 harvest. This beautiful fizz combined characters of beeswax, bitter lemon and toasted hazlenuts, and was layered and textured, but still taut and mouth-cleansing. Alfred Gratien, Castelnau, Lanson and Pannier were further high performers in the vintage category, and at less than £50 at retail – showing the relative value of this Champagne type, especially when compared with Prestige Cuvées. “Given the psychotic pricing of the Prestige Cuvées, the traditional Vintage bracket can offer high quality at an almost sensible price,” said Pedley.

Nevertheless, it was within this peak of the Champagne pyramid that we unearthed the greatest expressions, with four Masters awarded, almost two thirds of the total. And the producer mix of these great Champagnes was varied, with Heidsieck houses Charles and Piper wowing with their Blanc de Millenaires and Rare cuvées respectively, along with a cooperative-grower brand, Collet (for its Esprit Couture 2007), and aforementioned comparatively young négociant name Comtes de Dampierre, with the Prestige 2004.

Commenting on this aspect of the tasting, Pedley said: “There were some splendid wines here, but the predatory pricing can leave you gasping for air. It is also worth saying that within this category there is a marked diversity of style. A couple of the wines seemed to be relatively youthful and fruity, whereas others followed the more familiar mature and complex pattern. I guess that Prestige Cuvée wines will always be more subject to the whims of the winemaker or marketer than, say, a traditional vintage wine.”

Pristine wines
As for the rest of the categories, it was perhaps notable that none of the Blanc de Noirs picked up a Gold. Although the sample set was small, it does support a long-held belief that Champagne benefits from Chardonnay. Meanwhile, the pure Chardonnay Champagnes did reach some high points, with pristine wines from Delamotte and Vollereaux particular. Finally, with the pink fizz, we saw a delicious NV sample from Charles Heidsieck, along with its wonderful vintage rosé, and an outstanding one from sister house Piper.

Indeed, the latter’s Rare Rosé 2008 wowed, with its creamy coffee aromas and zesty, fresh mouthfeel with a touch of exotic fruit flavours. But it should be added that this category, relative to the price of the Champagnes judged in the tasting, performed the least well, with some of the entries marked down because of a lack of autolytic character, or barely perceptible red berry fruit, as well as, on occasion, a phenolic note. Drawing attention to the inflated prices of pink Champagne relative to other styles, Pedley said: “I do enjoy a good rosé Champagne but to my dying day I will resent having to pay a premium to have a dollop of Pinot Noir added to the blend (or direct pressed for that matter).”

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, Anthony Foster MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Antony Moss MW, Jonathan Pedley 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.

Prosecco Masters 2019: see the results in full

We bring you all the medalists from this year’s Prosecco Masters, along with some comments on the highs and lows of the 2019 competition.

Following a report earlier this year on the best performers from the Prosecco Masters 2019, including five samples that we felt were class-leaders in their category, we have listed all the entries that picked up a Bronze or better, including our top accolade of Prosecco Master.

These can be seen below, and, with the number of Golds increasing for pricier Proseccos, it shows that going up the price ladder does bring greater returns in terms of quality, as does opting for a Prosecco Superiore DOCG over a DOC, with the former covering the hilly region between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, along with a further area near the town of Asolo. (Click here to read more about classifications in Prosecco).

Before looking through the results in full, we have re-produced some judges’ thoughts on what they liked, as well as what wasn’t so appealing – with, initially, one judge’s more personal reflection on the Proseccos, and then another, from our panel chair, giving a more detailed analysis of the samples.

Our rigorous judging process ensures that each sample gets a thorough assessment, and due to the calibre of our tasters, gaining a medal in the Global Wine Masters is a significant achievement.

Click here to read more about the Global Wine Masters, and please click here to see a review of five outstanding Proseccos from this year’s competition.

The Proseccos were tasted over the course of one day at Balls Brothers wine bar, London, EC2N, on 4 April. The judges in the 2019 Prosecco Masters were (left to right): Nick Tatham MW, Alex Canetti, Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, David Round MW, Simon Field MW

The results in full from 2019’s Organic Masters

We bring you the results in full from this year’s Organic Wine Masters following a judging session last month in London designed to pick out the best wines from right around the globe in this growing category.

Taking in samples from a category as loosely-defined as ‘organic wine’, the aim of our annual Global Organic Masters is not to draw stylistic conclusions, nor is it to pass judgement on the benefits of being labelled organic in the worldwide marketplace.

However, this single competition plays an important role in the wine business, because it acts as a quality-check on this sector. It is designed to see if wine can be both organic and delicious, and, with that in mind, what is great, and where is it from.

In short, the competition’s expert judges aren’t especially concerned about the grape variety or source region, but there are hungry to find first-rate examples of wines that have taken the demanding step of practising organic, or indeed biodynamic, viticulture methods.

And on that note, it should be added, the requirements for any entrant to the Organic Masters is that the wine must be made with grapes that are certified as organic or biodynamic, and while the tasting does not preclude ‘natural wines’, it has been devised to draw attention to those producers who have adopted a particular philosophy in the vineyard, rather than the winery – even if the two sometimes go hand in hand.

So why is a quality assessment of the organic wines category necessary? For a number of reasons, but particularly due to a somewhat entrenched belief among some consumers that organic wines are inferior; that due to the constraints of this agricultural method, the product won’t be as good. Or, perhaps, the cynics among such consumers might also believe that organic wine producers are promoting their philosophy over and above the inherent character of their wines to distract from something missing in their drops.

In short, we believe it’s vital to taste-test organic wines without knowledge as to their source region, or producer, or indeed grape variety, to draw attention to the quality in this category, and by that, hopefully change perceptions about wine made this way. And there’s another positive opinion-altering element to the Organic Masters, and that’s to find out the range of high-quality wines available within the sector. In short, is there a good organic option if you like dry rosé, fresh sparkling, or rich reds, even fortified wines?

Furthermore, it’s always pleasing to debunk a commonly held belief that challenging climates for viticulture, particularly cooler, damper areas, cannot product great results employing organics. While there may be relatively high cost implications of being organic in maritime and marginal wine regions such as England, it’s still possible to grow high quality grapes – as evidenced again this year by the lovely fizz from the organic Oxney Estate is Sussex.

Nevertheless, there were wines that failed to excite our judges, although that is true of all our Masters competitions. So, for example, when asked to comment on the negatives from the day’s tasting, one judge, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, said, “Organically grown grapes are not a guarantee of quality at any price point. Careful winemaking and appropriate use of SO2, filtration and other cellar techniques are crucial.”

Indeed, she felt that there was evidence, albeit rare, of some heavy-handed approaches to the red winemaking, although such issues can be found in wines, whatever the agricultural practice. “At £20-30 the reds sometimes appeared to be trying too hard, with over-extraction and high alcohol evident on some wines, not quite balancing the fruit concentration,” she said.

Overall, however, she came away with a positive view. “The variety of wine styles made using organic, bio-dynamic and ‘natural’ techniques is inevitably exciting!” she said, adding, “It is a delight to find that there are producers of sparkling whites, rosés and reds and still whites, rosés and reds: many of any style can shine with quality and value.”

As for her favourites, she recorded, “A few red wines stood out as ‘Masters’. Very high-priced these were, yet worth every extra pound.”

So who was behind the standouts? Within the sparkling wine section, it must be said that Prosecco performed extremely well, with two Golds awarded, one for a DOC version from Anna Spinato, and another more expensive sample from Massotina, using organic grapes from the DOCG Prosecco area of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. These are important results in a region that is producing crowd-pleasing aromatic, slightly-sweet fizz, because it shows that it’s possible to make delicious sparkling wines that are true to type, while eschewing the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides.

Although we’ve already mentioned Oxney Estate, it was pleasing to see that England was the source of a very good traditional method organic sparkling, following the strong performance of Champagne in this sector last year – primarily from the much pricier wines from Leclerc-Briant, especially its £150 Cuvée Abyss, which gained a Gold in 2018’s competition.

Moving to the still wines, starting with the entry level samples within the white category, we saw some good-value expressive wines in mainstream sectors: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Veneto Pinot Grigio, along with something a little more obscure: a wine made from the Passerina grape from Masso Antico in Puglia’s Terre di Chieti. All gained silvers.

However, the first Gold in the still whites was awarded once the £10 price barrier had been breached, with Babich impressing the judges for an expressive, pure and balanced Albariño from Marlborough – a wine to show that this famous part of New Zealand is no one-trick pony based on Sauvignon Blanc.

The rest of the whites up to the £20 mark delivered plenty of consistent Silver-level quality, taking in lovely wines from Australia and Chile, New Zealand and Spain, along with Portugal, before we awarded our final Gold among the clear, still entries, for, once more, a white from Marlborough: The Darling for its expressive and class-leading Sauvignon Blanc.

Before considering the reds, it’s vital we draw attention to an exciting find in the rose category. While Veramonte – a wonderful source of organic and biodynamic wines from Chile – delivered a very good Syrah rosé with a sub £15 retail price, a touch pricier was another sample from the UK. Hailing from Surrey’s Albury Vineyard, this ‘Silent Pool Rosé’ wowed the judges for its combination of inviting strawberry aromas and refreshing, bright palate with a ripe apple finish. For us, this was the first blind taste of the results of the brilliant 2018 harvest in England, and we were very impressed.

Now, to the reds. In this category, at the more inexpensive end of the tasting, it was pleasing to see strong, recognised big brands tipping their toe into the organic wine category, and producing results of quality and character. Among these were Marqués de Cáceres and Campo Viejo, along with longtime organic specialist from Chile, Cono Sur.

Like the whites, it wasn’t until the £10 point was passed that we gave out our first Golds. And, like last year, it was Angove Family Winemakers that showed the quality-price ratio possible with organic wine production in South Australia, and particularly the McLaren Vale. However, coming close in quality were some lovely reds, including one from the aforementioned Veramonte but also Quinta do Ataíde and Altano from the Douro – which, like much of Chile and McLaren Vale, is a place worth considering to find great results with organics. Indeed, right at the end of the tasting, we also had a delicious organic Port called Natura from Graham’s, highlighting the fact that there now seems to be a high-quality organic option whatever the wine style.

Back to table wines, between £15 and £20 we found our best-value pick of the day, a pure Syrah from Minervois, made by biodynamic Château Maris. Soft, intense, with masses of black fruit, spice and touch of tapenade, this was a great wine at an affordable price, that we later found out, much to our surprise due to its clean and expressive fresh fruit character, is also made with no added sulphites.

Over £20, it should be stressed, was where we found real consistency in quality, will almost all the samples gaining Golds, or indeed, Masters – our title for the outstanding wines of the day. You can see the results in the tables below, but it was notable that Australia performed so well, with Shiraz and Grenache, hailing from the McLaren Vale and Barossa. As for the organic masters behind such wines, these were Kalleske, Angove and Gemtree.

However, Europe also shone at this top end of the tastings. Notably a delicious Syrah-Sangiovese mix from Il Borro in Tuscany, and, once again, Château Maris, which produced our star of the day with its ultimate expression: Dynamic. Gaining an average score of 96 points from our exacting judges, it appealed to everyone for its clearly identifiable fine, concentrated dark berry and pepper Syrah character, and smooth fleshy black cherry flavours on the palate, along with a touch of smoky complexity, grippy texture, and some sweet oak in the background. A big, powerful drop in its youth, that also displayed an appealing brightness too. As Stefanowicz summed up about the wine, “Balanced, concentrated, complex, layered and lingering on the finish.”

About the competition

The Organic 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 regions such as Rioja and Champagne.

The competition is exclusively for wines that are certified organic or made with certified organically-grown grapes, and also includes certified biodynamic wines.

The entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top samples were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those organic wines that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Organic Master.

The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 12 June at Opera Tavern in London. This report features only the winners of medals.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or please call +44 (0)20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Masters revealed

We reveal all the medallists from this year’s Global Wine Masters for Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a full analysis of the stylistic trends taking place with the king of grapes.

Cabernet seems in no danger of losing its flagship status as the king of grapes. Such a reputation, bestowed on it for its role in the great wines of the world, could have been diminished by its extensive use in lesser labels, or clumsy handling, even in top-end blends.
However, thanks to Cabernet’s ability to consistently deliver drinks with concentration and structure, along with lift and softness, this is still the go-to grape for attention-grabbing wine.
Augmenting such a position is Cabernet’s affinity for barrel ageing and blending with a wide range of varieties, most commonly Merlot in France, Sangiovese in Italy, and Shiraz in Australia.
So what about the style and quality of the Cabernet being made today?
Judging by this year’s Cabernet Masters, this grape is in a good place.
As you can see from the following tables, we had a large number of Gold medal-winning samples in a range of price bands, and from a broad sweep of sources.
Such a strong performance can be traced to the improved management of the grape in the vineyard and the cellar. While Cabernet can give crunchy green characters when not fully ripe, if the grape receives enough sun exposure and time on the vine, such capsicum-like flavours will diminish, if not disappear.
The challenge is to obtain fully ripe Cabernet without also creating a wine with too much alcohol. Thankfully, the incidence of excessively warming wines in this year’s Masters was lower than in previous competitions.

The Global Masters: making winners out of winemakers

As for cellar management, Cabernet, with its small berries and thick skins, can yield extremely tannic wines, if extraction regimes are forceful. Couple such grape-derived polymers with barrique-sourced tannins, and the wines can be excessively drying.

However, as we found in the majority of wines in the competition, the tannins of Cabernet were certainly present, but not aggressive. It seems winemakers are taking a softer approach to this noble grape, and are pulling back on the proportion of new oak used for maturing the wines.
So, the base standard of Cabernet being produced today seems to be moving upwards. These wines still have plenty of delicious dark fruit, but fewer have fatiguing characters, such as grainy, mouth-coating tannins, hot alcoholic finishes, or overtly sweet vanillin flavours from barrel ageing.
As to the high points – wines with intense blackcurrant fruit, cedar and chocolate complexity, ripe tannins, and a bright finish – we found them from a number of places, but particularly Sonoma Country, Coonawarra, Hawke’s Bay, the Barossa, Napa and the Maipo.
Such places are already famous for the quality of their Cabernet, but it was pleasing to have this confirmed in our blind-tasting format, as well as pick out the top performing producers.
Having said that, there were also a clutch of great Cabernets from more obscure areas of the wine world. These were Israel’s Upper Galilee and Turkey’s Strandja Mountains.
Indeed, this year’s tasting highlighted two great producers of Cabernet that may not be known to many. One is Israel’s Barkan Winery, which is making an exciting array of Cabernets with power and charm, differentiated according to the varying altitudes of their vineyards.
The other is Turkey’s Chamlija, a producer of richly-flavoured dense reds with interest and enough dryness on the finish to keep them refreshing. Among the established Cabernet-producing corners of the globe, we were impressed by the quality-to-price ratio of the wines from Jacob’s Creek and Wakefield/Taylors Wines, showing that Australia can yield soft, juicy, pleasing Cabs at keen prices.
Wines with a real wow factor came, above all, from Sonoma County, along with the Napa Valley, although it was the former region that gained more top medals.
Notably delicious, with pure, polished intense black fruit, were the Cabs from Stonestreet Estate, as well as Kenwood Vineyards, although Gallica and Freemark Abbey were at a similar level of quality.
It should be noted that the tasting did not include the great wines of Bordeaux, but when it comes to varietal Cabernets – as opposed to blended versions – it is generally the aforementioned New World wine regions that dominate global production of the grape.

The judges, left to right, front row: Susan Hulme MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW. Back row: David Round MW, Andrea Briccarello, Beverly Tabbron MW, Tobias Gorn

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 best Champagnes of 2018

Patrick Schmitt MW brings  you a full report from this year’s Champagne Masters, including all the medal-winning wines; an extensive analysis of the stylistic trends, and highlights from the competition – which comprised little-known labels and the most delicious fizz on the market today.

Jonathan Pedley MW of Crown Cellars.

The aim of blind tasting wines, whatever the category, is to remove all temptation to pre-judge, because, however disciplined one is, there is always an urge to question your perception if you know the cuvée.

This of course can work both ways, encouraging one to downgrade something with a lesser reputation, and upgrade something previously celebrated. And if there is one single lesson from this year’s Champagne Masters, where each sample was tasted without any knowledge of its identity, it was that one should be open minded in the search for quality in this region.

Or, to put it more bluntly, those who give in to label snobbery could be missing out on some of the best value sparkling wines in the world.

I can say this having blind-tasted the likes of Aldi own-label Champagne alongside Lanson, or cooperative-sourced Palmer against Piper-Heidsieck, and seen that the quality, measured in points, and rewarded with medals, is similar in each case with such respected grandes marques.

Indeed, this year’s results, more than ever before, show that some of the least illustrious sources of Champagne gained some of the highest scores. In particular, the 2018 Champagne Masters conclusively showed that a good grower-cooperative (those producers who are owned and run jointly by its members, who are growers), can be the go-to for the best quality-price ratio in this sparkling appellation. Although Champagnes made by cooperatives are often believed to be of lesser quality, our tasting in August proved that such producers can achieve outstanding results, and even make superior cuvées than the famous Grandes Marques, despite the lower prices generally charged for cooperative brands.

For those who know the Champagne region well, however, such an outcome may not surprise, with cooperatives being major suppliers of grapes and wine to many well-known names in the region, who own few vineyards themselves.

Not only that, but, unlike grower-Champagnes, who make fizz from just their own holdings, the cooperatives can source from a large area, and tend to select the best grapes and wines for producing their own branded Champagnes. This gives them the chance to blend wines from across vast swathes of Champagne, vital in the strive to create something consistent in style, and complex in character.

Jonathan Pedley MW and Andrea Briccarello.

But this isn’t the only reason why cooperative fizz is good at present. It also follows extensive investment by big grower-groups in winemaking facilities – as we’ve reported before, the major spending in Champagne over the past decade has been on wineries, as producers realise the importance of state-of-the-art equipment in the constant battle to remain a quality leader in the increasingly competitive world of sparkling wine.

So let’s look at the evidence in support of cooperatives as a supply of high-quality Champagne. Among the seven Champagnes that gained a Gold medal or higher in the Brut Non-Vintage category of 2018’s Champagne Masters were two bottles that hailed from cooperatives. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and Charles Heidsieck in this year’s Champagne Masters were Champagnes Palmer and Pannier, two first-rate brands owned and run by groups of growers. Such Champagnes were placed ahead of more illustrious labels, such as Champagnes Pommery and Laurent-Perrier, which come with higher prices too.

Meanwhile, taking home the ultimate accolade in the vintage Champagne category was another cooperative label, with Champagne Castelnau achieving a near-perfect score for its release from the 2006 harvest. Within the same category was a further stand-out wine from a cooperative, with the 2008 vintage from Champagne Chassenay d’Arce – a growers’ co-operative based in the Aube – picking up a Gold.

Then, among the blanc de blancs, we had another master from such a growers’ organisation, which was awarded to the sample from Champagne Collet – the brand of a co-operative Cogevi (Coopérative Générale des Vignerons). This was deemed of similar brilliance to Pommery’s blanc de blancs, while coming close to both these pure Chardonnay Champagnes was Castelnau’s 2005 vintage blanc de blancs, which gained a gold, along with just one other house, Canard-Duchêne, for its Charles VII La Grand Cuvée.

Finally, one of the highest-scoring Champagnes of the day’s tasting – which saw almost 200 bottles sampled blind by highly-experienced judges – was also from a cooperative.

Gaining 97 points out of a possible 100 was the Egérie de Pannier 2006, the top cuvée from Pannier, which was praised for its wonderful combination of complementary flavours, from lemon and honey, to toast and grilled nuts, along with an uplifting, lasting and very fresh, dry finish.

Costing £75, the Pannier prestige cuvée is far from cheap, but good value relative to other special blends in this top-end Champagne category, from Dom Pérignon to Cristal, which can retail for almost double the price of the Egérie.

Another cooperative Champagne that performed well in the 2018 Champagne Masters was a prestige cuvée from Union Champagne – with its Orpale 2004 gaining a Gold. Then there was Nicolas Feuillatte, Montandon and Jacquart, which each of these cooperative producers picking up Silver medals for a range of cuvees – an impressive feat considering the strict, if fair, nature of the judging in the Champagne Masters.

But, while the cooperatives showed extremely well, that’s not to say other houses performed poorly, and we had several stand-out Champagnes among négociant brands, big and small. Like last year, Charles Heidsieck wowed, retaining its position as the most outstanding Brut NV in our tasting, and, considering almost every major marque was included in the competition, one can also say that this house is making the class-leading Brut on the market today.

Great brands and smaller names were both present among the golds, and, aside from the cooperative brands mentioned earlier, Palmer and Pannier, the great Brut NVs also hailed from the mighty Veuve Clicquot, and Piper-Heidsieck (interestingly for its first-rate demi-sec), along with more modest houses Henriot and Cattier.

Concerning drier styles, the Extra Brut category, which can be the source of slightly hard-tasting cuvees, was this year home to a couple of excellent Champagnes, a sign that when the blending and maturation is carefully done with a low dosage in mind, the results can be highly successful. Taking home a Gold was Piper-Heidsieck’s Essential with 5g/l dosage, but, compared to its Brut, an extra 18 months spent ageing on its lees to bring a compensatory roundness to the cuvée. It has more precision than the Brut, and plenty of toasty richness from lees ageing, making it a great example of a very dry Champagne.

Galvin restaurants wine buyer Andrea Briccarello

A surprise newcomer in this category was the négociant house Brimoncourt, a historic Champagne brand ressurected in 2009 by an entrepreneur from the region. Its Extra Brut, despite just 2g/l dosage, had a wonderful creamy mouthfeel from carefully sourced ripe Chardonnay from the southern end of the grand cru slopes of the Cotes des Blancs. If you want almost bone dry NV Champagne, then few are better than this.

Within the vintage category, aside from the excellent samples mentioned above from cooperative brands Castelnau and Chassenay d’Arce, one of the best-value and most complete cuvees came from Moet & Chandon, specifically its brilliant achievement with the generous 2009 vintage, where ripe yellow fruit complements this house’s more ‘reductive’ style, complete with notes of grilled nuts and roasted coffee.

Star performer, but at a higher price, in the vintage category was Charles Heidsieck, proving that this house is no one-trick pony, and can achieve Master-quality in a range of categories. Not far behind were delicious and ready-to-drink single-harvest Champagnes from Pommery, Piper and Delamotte, along with a wonderful rosé vintage, hailing, again, from Charles Heidsieck. As for years that performed best, a broad range of vintages gained Gold medals, but both the ripe 2006s and more structured 2008s did notably well, with a slight preference among the judges for the former harvest, which is showing more seductive results now, depending of course on the handling.

In terms of further styles, having already mentioned blanc de blancs, it is important to stress the quality seen this year in the rosé category. At the top end price-wise the judges were delighted by the pretty, fruity, and refreshing results from Perrier-Jouët in particular, although Henriot and Henri Giraud both impressed. At slightly lower prices, Veuve Clicquot is making full use of its Pinot Noir winemaking expertise by making a consistently first-rate rosé, although so too is Charles Heidsieck, along with Moet, albeit in a slightly lighter style.

At for the very pinnacle of Champagne, the prestige cuvee category, this year’s tasting prove that such a descriptor is worthy for pretty much all the most expensive expressions from a broad range of producers. We have already mentioned the brilliance of the Egérie de Pannier 2006, but also proving outstanding this year was the Amour de Deutz Rosé from 2008 – a beautifully pale pink Champagne with a lovely balance of brightness and creaminess. But, although there were a selection of absolutely brilliant cuvees at this top end, there was one highlight fizz, and, in my view, the best Champagne on the market today.

This is the 1998 vintage of Piper-Heidsieck’s prestige cuvée called Rare, which is available today in magnums only, with a retail price of £375 – making it pricy, but by Champagne prestige cuvée standards, far from outrageously expensive.

Achieving an average 98-point score when myself and three other judges sampled it blind, I wasn’t alone in declaring it an exceptional fizz – and even asked the competition organiser, Chloé Beral, to stopper the cuvée immediately, so I could try it later on that same day (and was subsequently delighted to discover it came in a large format, and tasted even better a touch warmer).

Why is it so good? I believe the fact it comes in magnums plays a part, giving the wine a more youthful taste and sensation than one might expect for a Champagne that’s now 20 years old.

But it is also the skill of the Rare cellar masters Régis Camus and late Daniel Thibaut, as well as the quality of grape sourcing, and the nature of the 1998 vintage, which has undergone a revision upwards in reputation, unlike the more famous 1996 harvest of that decade.

So what does it taste like? It offers an intriguing sensation of a Champagne that’s evolving, but still zesty and youthful; a fizz that’s broad and creamy, as well as tight and cleansing. And while it has the golden appearance of a developed Champagne, it doesn’t exhibit oxidative bruised apple characters that often plague fizz of such an age.

Rather, the Rare 1998 has more ‘reductive’ characters of smoke, coffee and toast, no doubt from the extended period this wine has spent ageing in contact with its lees. In combination, drinkers can expect aromas of almond, cappuccino and vanilla, along with fruit flavours on the palate from dried apricot to orange and lemon zest, complemented a persistent toasty finish. Still tangy, with plenty of forceful but fine-textured fizz, this is a Champagne that’s perfect now, but still lively enough to mature further.

Patrick Schmitt MW, Andrea Briccarello, M&S winemaker Sue Daniels and Jonathan Pedley MW.

Nevertheless, to finish with the topic at the start of this article, the value for money on offer among grower-cooperative brands, even at the priciest end of the scale the coops impress. Indeed, with Pannier’s Egérie 2006 costing £75, one could have five bottles of this prestige cuvée for the same price as a single magnum of Rare 1998 – a thought that makes the former all the more tempting, especially when one considers that its final score in the blind tasting was just a single point lower than the top Piper cuvée.

But, really the lesson here, as noted at the outset, is not to worry whether the Champagne comes from a famous brand, large-scale cooperative, or petite maison. While image and appearance are of course important, particularly for gifting with Champagne, when it comes to finding the best quality for the price, one shouldn’t give way to prejudice. Nevertheless, you need a guide, and that’s the role of blind tastings using experts in their field. So, dare I say it myself, when topping up on Champagne over the next 6 months, use these results as your guide.

About the Champagne Masters

The Champagne 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 regions such as Rioja and Chianti.

The competition is exclusively for Champagne and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.

The top Champagnes were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those Champagnes that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master.

The Champagnes were tasted over the course of a single day on 23 August in the Mayfair Suite at The Langham Hotel in London.

The judges were:

Andrea Briccarello
Clement Robert MS
Jonathan Pedley MW
Michael Edwards
Patrick Schmitt MW
Roberto della Pietra
Simon Field MW
Sue Daniels

About the tasting process

All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.

Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.

Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.

The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.

Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.

Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.

Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.

Top L-R: Sue Daniels, Simon Field MW, Bottom: Andrea Briccarello, Jonathan Pedley MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS, Michael Edwards, Roberto della Pietra.

The medal winners

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. 

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