Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2017: Results

Well-priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the New World dominated the medal chart of our inaugural Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters, impressing judges with their quality and approachable price points.

All the judges for the Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters. First row (from left to right): Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Kerry Wines, Jennie Mack, managing director of Asian Wine Service & Education Centre, and Wallace Lo, hotel sommelier of The Park Lane Hong Kong. Second row (from left to right): João Pires, director of Wine, Food & Beverages at City of Dreams Macau, Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at BBR Hong Kong, Wendy Chan, general manager of wine & spirits at Telford International, Alan Liu, beverage and country store manager of The American Club Hong Kong and Peter Nicholas, winemaker and general manager of Boutique Wines

The Asian Cabernet Sauvignon Masters is the Asian edition of our popular Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters where all the entries are judged solely by grape variety instead of region of origin. The entry requirements state that the wines needed to be made from a minimum of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. The samples were blind tasted and assessed by price bracket and stylistic difference (oaked or unoaked) to identify the best of Cabernet Sauvignon in their own price range in the local market.

“It was a great tasting, very interesting range of styles”, commented Peter Nicholas, general manager of Hong Kong-based wine merchant Boutique Wines. Amanda Longworth, head of marketing and wine services at Berrry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong agreed: “I thought the wines are generally very good, particularly in the lower price points. Excellent quality for value and for money. I thought the quality was very impressive.”

Held on 14 March at the club house of Crown Wine Cellars, located in a UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage site in Hong Kong, the competition received more than 100 entries from both the New and Old Worlds. Quality of wines was impressive across the board as nine judges gave out a total of four Masters (wines scored 95 points or above), 12 Gold medals (wines scored 90 points or above), 37 Silver medals (85 points or above) and 42 Bronzes (80 points or above).

Old Guards

The judges

Jennie Mack, Managing Director & Senior Wine Educator, Asia Wine Service & Education Center
João Pires, Master Sommelier, Director of Wines, Food & Beverages, Altira Macau, City of Dreams Macau & Studio City Macau
Wallace Lo, Hotel Sommelier, The Park Lane Hong Kong
Alan Liu, Beverage and Country Store Manager, The American Club Hong Kong
Eric Desgouttes, General Manager, Kerry Wines
Wendy Chan, General Manager – Wines & Spirits Division, Telford International Company Limited
Amanda Longworth, Head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong
Peter Nicholas, General Manager, Boutique Wines
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

The results affirmed that Australia, Chile, Argentina and the US have come of age in crafting first-rate pure Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-dominated blends that display the typicity of the grape variety, characterised by high tannins, juicy blackcurrant flavours and spicy peppery hints. Different from delicate Pinot Noir, Cabernet regardless of its growing regions and climates, is famous for its ability to show this typicity without fail.

“Cabernet Sauvignon is no doubt a benchmark grape variety in the same way Chardonnay is for whites. Made all over the world, one can enjoy an entry-level Cabernet or high-end Bordeaux or California, for instance, but its DNA profile is paramount,” João Pires MS, director of Wines, Food & Beverages, Altira Macau, City of Dreams Macau & Studio City Macau, commented. “And this DNA is always related to typical blackcurrant aroma profile, tannic edge, full-bodied rich style, spicy peppery hints and considerable length.”

Australia led the Masters category with three wines clinching the prestigious title. They were: Levantine Hill Estate Samantha’s Paddock Mélange Traditionnel 2013, a blend of Cabernet (81%), Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Yarra Valley; Taylors Wines The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Shiraz Malbec 2012. The country has proven time and again that it’s capable of crafting masterful Cabernets that can command top market prices and indeed all three wines are in the HK$800+ (US$103) price range. The country’s warmer regions such as Coonawarra and Margaret River are established Cabernet sites. In addition, Clare Valley in South Australia is also shaping up to be a prime site for high quality Cabernet as seen in Taylors Wines’ The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Cabernet that impressed the judges with its purity of fruit, texture and quality of tannins.

Chile’s Maipo Valley excelled in the top-rated, best value Cabernet Sauvignon category, confirming its superiority among New World Cabernets. Alto Maipo, which encompasses Puente Alto and Pirque, delivered the most top-rated Chilean Cabernet examples. World-class Cabernets are produced here as we found in Santa Rita’s ‘Casa Real’, Viña Ventisquero’s ‘Enclave’ and Cousiño-Macul ‘Finis Terrae’. All three of which received Gold medals. 

Moving inland to Chile’s neighbour – Argentina – it’s known that the Mendoza wine region is defined by Malbec; but as previously noted in our global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters competition, there’s been a surge of beautiful Cabernets made by producers there in recent years. This is also confirmed by our Asian masters results where Bodega Vistalba’s Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon, a pure expression of the red grape, was awarded a Gold medal. The result is extremely encouraging as this high performer only sells between HK$150 and HK$199, making it arguably the best value Gold medal winner among all the entries. 

Newcomers in town

Throughout the competition when the wines’ identities were finally revealed, many judges’ jaws were left on the floor as lesser-known Cabernet samples from Israel’s Central Hills and Upper Galilee, Japan’s Yamanashi, China’s Shanxi province and the US’s Washington State not only stunned judges with their superb quality, but outperformed many of the traditional Cabernet strongholds in Australia and Chile.  

The biggest surprise was a Japanese Cabernet from Suntory’s Tomi Winery located in Yamanashi to the southwest of Tokyo near Mount Fuji. The wine was unanimously given the ultimate accolade of a Master. Its fine-grained tannins, well executed texture and structure left a few judges convinced of its probable provenance from a top Bordeaux estate. Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Hong Kong’s leading wine merchant Kerry Wines, who gave out close to 100 points to this velvety and savoury red, said, on top of its typicity, its outstanding quality, “its minerality is really riveting. It’s truly a special wine”.

A Bordeaux blend red from China’s Chateau Rongzi in Xiangning County in Shanxi also nabbed a Gold, confirming that the Asian country can produce medal-worthy top reds. “It was quite a surprise that Japan and China are doing an exceptional job. Some of the judges like myself even guessed they were fine Bordeaux. That is a really big WOW, and I do think these wine regions really deserve a bit more attention, especially from a restaurant’s or sommelier’s point of view,” Wallace Lo, hotel sommelier of Park Lane Hong Kong, exclaimed after learning the where the wines were from.

Equally meriting the judges’ praise was a pure Cabernet from Chateau St. Michelle in Washington State. The wine impressed judges with its complexity, structure and fruitiness, in short, it’s a wine that “checks every box of quality Cabernet” Jennie Mack, managing director of Asia Wine Service & Education Centre, commented during assessment. Indeed, when talking about American Cabernet, much of the attention is turned and rightly so – onto Napa or Sonoma in California. Washington State has steadily emerged as a key Cabernet player in the past two to three years, however, to the extent that the grape has now become the region’s dominant grape variety.

Across the Atlantic ocean in the holy land of Israel, two wines – Altitude 624+ by one of the country’s largest wineries Barkan Vineyards in Upper Galilee and Gva’ot Winery from Shomron in Central Hills – sit comfortably in the privileged league of Gold medal winners. Cabernet, being one of the three most widely planted wine grapes in Israel along with Carignan and Merlot, provides a firm backbone either in blend or unblended versions as were seen in these two examples. Such is the power of this versatile and masculine grape variety. Both wines were high-scoring performers, and the Altitude 624+ wine seems to deliver much for its price in the HK$200-HK$299 range.

Winemaking techniques

Judges doing blind-tasting and assessing samples

When it comes to winemaking techniques, it was evident that most of the Cabernet samples were well polished and true to their style, but there were a few instances of what the judges called ‘technical wines’, referring to wines that are clearly heavily influenced by human factors. It’s worth noting that technical wines are not faulty wines but rather more uniform expressions that seem as if they have been made to a ‘recipe’. But with excessive oak use or over extraction, the tannins are drying and coarse, giving an unpleasant sensation on the palate.

I think nowadays, it is not that often to find a really ‘bad’ wine in tasting, but it is more like tasting a lot of wines that are trying to be technical. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they are just wines that are trying to fit in all the boxes in a tasting sheet, nothing more,” Wallace Lo, added.

A few samples with high alcohol levels were not yet well integrated with quality fruit and lacked balance, a few judges pointed out. Wines with “well integrated with fine-grained tannin and a depth of finesse and elegance” in particular are what Wendy Chan, general manager of Wines & Spirits Division, Telford International Company Limited, was looking for when judging the samples.

The colour of most Cabernet samples was deep and luscious, varying on the spectrum from purple to dark ruby. This is a firm indication of the grape variety’s thick grape skin and its predominant dark fruit character. “Personally, I like to see good depth of colour,” added Nicholas, a factor he focused on when judging the wines.

Most of the wines are from recent vintages with the oldest being 2010. Freshness was generally found in nearly all the samples and the judges had a special liking for wines with lively freshness and vibrant acidity. “For me, herbaceousness is an integral part of Cabernet Sauvignon. It just depends on the level. The green bell pepper characters should sit behind and complement the fruit characters. The classic example is the Cru Classé Bordeaux where the herbaceousness sits well behind the fruit, oak and developing aromas and flavours,” commented Nicholas.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Hong Kong Asian Masters Cabernet Sauvignon is the Asian edition of our successful global Masters series. A departure from traditional judging wines by region, the competition assesses wines purely by grape variety. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be judged without prejudice about their country of origin. Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by an expert panel of nine judges including a Master Sommelier, Hong Kong’s top wine buyers and educators on 14 March at the historic Crown Wine Cellars. This report only features the medal winners.

Value for money

Even more encouraging than the quality of Cabernet the judges discovered from New World countries was the unpretentious and approachable retail price points for these top wines, led by Chile in particular. Aside from the four Masters (all in the HK$800 price bracket), between HK$100 and HK$400 five wines picked up a Gold, of which three –unsurprisingly – are from Chile.

Even moving to lower-price brackets below HK$100, it is clear there are some great producers really pushing the envelope to challenge profit margins and quality to produce three Silver medal-wines that were well balanced, pleasant and honest Cabernets. They were Viña I Wines, Palo Alto and Veramonte, not to mention the other Silver medals Chile bagged in the HK$100 to HK$200 range.

“Below HK$300, there were quite a lot of Silvers and even Golds, but between HK$400 and HK$800 it was quite difficult because there was a lot of ambition in the wines, sometimes they get a little bit lost with what they are trying to achieve. Definitely some of the biggest surprises for lower price point wines there,” BBR’s Amanda Longworth commented.

Between HK$400 and HK$800, only three Golds were awarded as judges become increasingly conscious about the price tag in correlation to quality. They Golds went to; Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Alexander Valley, Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Viña Ventisquero Enclave 2012. 

This sentiment was echoed by Alan Liu, beverage and country store manager of The American Club in Hong Kong: “Some lower price point wines performed actually better and have better balance than higher price point wines. Also, the quality from New World countries is better than what I expect.”

However, when it comes to ultra-premium wines including the top performing Japanese and Chinese wines, their higher-than-normal retail price points could intimidate consumers (both were in the HK$800 or above range). “Japanese or Chinese wines are still a relatively new category. It will take a lot of time for them to get where Bordeaux is, if they actually get there. From a consumer’s point of view, they are not familiar with Chinese or Japanese wines, so for them to pay top price for the wine is going to be hard,” Pires added.

Click through the pages to see all the results

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

 

Chardonnay Masters 2014: The results

Proving that few grapes can beat the malleability and creative potential of Chardonnay was last month’s Masters tasting, where top-price pours and cheaper oaked styles fared well.

Chardonnay-Masters-JudgingIF THE chef’s universal test is an omelette, then a winemaker’s should be a Chardonnay. With its relatively delicate flavours the grape is able to transmit winemaking tweaks more clearly than any other variety, making it the ultimate tool to judge cellar technique. And like that egg- based dish, the wine from Chardonnay may seem uncomplicated to make, but it’s also easy to get wrong. If it’s good, however, the wine trade will undoubtedly sit up and salivate.

It’s for these reasons that our annual Chardonnay Masters is such a popular and revealing judging session. Not only does it give us a chance to see the trends at work in winemaking, but also discover some of the hottest talent in the global vinous scene. Furthermore, as the grape can only be grown in few places with great success – despite its appearance almost everywhere there are vineyards – the tasting highlights places of brilliance.

ENGLAND SPARKLES

And, as this year’s tasting showed, one of these places is England. Our first flight of the day considered sparkling Chardonnay, taking in a mixture of blanc de blancs from Champagne and a range of English counties, including Sussex and Hampshire. Just two golds and three silvers were awarded, split almost equally between English sparkling Chardonnays and those from Champagne, proving that the Brits can create traditional method fizz that is comparable in quality with Champagne, if different in style. With Wiston Estate the sole gold from England, the tasting also reinforced the belief that its creator, Dermot Sugrue, is one of this small industry’s greatest winemakers.

Moving onto still wines, it was notable that the unoaked Chardonnay category yielded no golds in 2014. “At the cheaper end the oaked Chardonnay seemed to do better, so if you are going to do a sub £10 Chardonnay then having some carefully judged oak seems to add something,” commented judge Martin Gamman MW. Nevertheless, a few names stood out in this category, with the Co-op supermarket’s Chablis, made by Jean-Marc Brocard, one of just two silvers in the under-£10 unoaked Chardonnay category, proof that this region is one of the very few areas that delivers real character from the grape without a heavy wood influence.

That said, it requires the economies of scale and low margins of a multiple retailer to hit a sub-£10 price point for Chablis today.

Another star was a new Chardonnay from Giusti, a producer in Asolo and one of only two wineries to achieve the top title of Master in our 2014 Prosecco Masters. Italy was the source of another silver in the unoaked category, although this time in the £10-20 price band, with Zonin’s IGT Toscana Chardonnay impressing the judges, along with Valdivieso Reserva Chardonnay from Chile.

OAKEY-DOKEY

However, the majority of entries in the competition had seen some oak in their production, and looking at the cheapest category, it was pleasing to see the brand leaders performing well. Indeed, the top three best scoring Chardonnays in the oaked under-£10 flight were from three of the biggest names in the business: Hardys, Jacob’s Creek and Torres, representing Australia and Chile. “With inexpensive New World Chardonnay I look for something with some oak and balanced, bright acidity,” commented another judge, Clement Robert, head sommelier at London’s Medlar Restaurant and 2013 Moët UK Sommelier of the Year. Considering further this category, he also described the general standard of the wines as “good to very good”, and was pleased to see no obvious signs of added acidity.

CHILEAN CHALLENGERS

Notable in the next price band, £10-20, was the strong performance of Chardonnays from Chile. Leading the nation in this category was the Viñas Errázuriz Group, which took one of only two Masters in the entire competition for its £15 Arboleda Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay. Exciting the judges was its combination of ripe fruit, toasty oak and a refreshing grapefruit tang, all for a sub-£20 wine. The group’s slightly cheaper Errázuriz Max Reserva also did well in the same category, gaining one of the 16 silvers. Using Chardonnay from the same region of Aconcagua Costa, it seems this area of Chile is a region to watch for high-quality Chardonnay, although Leyda- sourced Chilean Chardonnays from a number of producers, including Santa Rita, did well too.

Proving that New World Chardonnays from as broad a set of sources as Lake Ontario Canada and Hawke’s Bay New Zealand are able to compete with Burgundy in the same price range, among the silvers awarded in the £10-20 band were two Côte-d’Or whites from Domaine Pierre Labet, including its Beaune Clos du Dessus Des Marconnets. In other words, those New World Chardonnays in this price band that gained silvers are making wines of equivalent quality to good village- level Burgundy.

Moving up to the higher price points however, it was notable how good the Chardonnays were from Australia, California and South Africa – the latter perhaps a somewhat underestimated source of high quality Chardonnay. In Australia specifically, the judges were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Taylors Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay from the Clare Valley, which had plenty of ripe fruit, but also an appealing smoky and subtle sulphidic character, palate-cleansing citrus and well-judged toasty oak. This wine was awarded a gold in the £20-£30 band, along with the Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay from Cambria Estate Winery in California’s Santa Maria Valley, heralding from the Jackson Family’s impressive stable of wines. The latter wine was a wonderful example of a more classic Californian Chardonnay, with richness, warmth, but also complexity and just enough acidity to offset the generosity. Sommelier Clement Robert, having tasted the wine blind and scored it highly, was particularly pleased, as he later revealed he had previously chosen this Chardonnay to serve by the glass at his restaurant.

TOP-END TRIUMPHS

At even higher prices, once more, Australia’s Bird in Hand Chardonnay, made by highly respected winemaker Kym Milne MW, was given a gold for its Nest Egg label, highlighting the quality of fruit from the Adelaide Hills. But it was a Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley that scored even more highly, with the region’s Oakridge winery achieving a Master for its 864 Chardonnay. Made in a slightly leaner manner, but with a fashionable struck- match character, touch of toast, and lovely grapefruit flavours, not everyone liked the style, but at least it attracted plenty of discussion, and all agreed it was an excellent wine.
Over £50, without the presence of grand cru Burgundy in the tasting, we had few wines, but those that were commanding such high prices thankfully performed as well as one would expect for the expense. At the very top were Penfolds Yattarna, the wonderful white equivalent of Australia’s flagship red, Grange, and the boutique South African producer, Uva Mira, which produces intense Chardonnay from its high-altitude vineyards on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains in Stellenbosch.

So what made the best examples great? For the judges it was the intense flavours from a broad set of complementary components, coupled with freshness. Summing up, David Bird MW commented, “You can mould Chardonnay into a simple wine or a lovely oaked example, but it is very easy to overdo it, and too many still think that you can produce a superb Chardonnay by sticking lots of wood in it.” Continuing, he concluded, “It is hard to produce a great wine from Chardonnay, but when you do, it is the greatest wine in the world.”

The wines were judged blind using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses at Broadway House in London. Wines were awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, with only the very highest scoring entries being given the accolade of a Master.

Chardonnay-Masters-Judges

Judges left to right: Keith Isaac MW, Justin Knock MW, Clement Robert, Sarah Knowles, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Catriona Felstead MW, Patrick Schmitt, David Bird MW, Matthew Hemming MW, Beverley Blanning MW, John Atkinson MW, Michael Palij MW, Martin Gamman MW (not pictured)

Riesling Masters 2016: the results

Quality across the board was encouragingly high in our latest Global Riesling Masters competition, with producers from the Old and New Worlds impressing with their sweet and dry expressions, finds Rupert Millar.

The Global Riesling Masters has established itself as one of the most popular tastings in the Masters series, not only because of the lingering affection for the variety held by most of the trade, but also because this faith is rewarded by an impressive level of quality and consistency.

“Riesling is always strong, and this was borne out again,” said Jonathan Pedley MW, while Hugo Rose MW agreed it was a “high-quality tasting overall – with few wines rejected or not being awarded a medal. I think the results will show strength at every level; there was a strong showing from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and Austria.”

The judges were especially positive about the diversity of styles in the dry and sweet categories, the ripe character of the German and Austrian wines from the 2015 vintage, the ‘personality’ of many of the New World wines and the value of wines made at all levels with this variety. Yet, there were also concerns about the perennial problem of levels of sweetness and sulphur in certain wines.

About The Competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Riesling Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the sweetness of the style, the blind-tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine and one Master Sommelier on 24 November at The Dead Doll’s House in London. For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes

Overall, two Masters were awarded; fittingly one went to a dry wine and one to a sweet. In the dry camp was an Austrian wine from Kremstal, a 2011 ‘Riesling Privat Senftenberger Pellingen 1 ÖTW’ from Weingut Nigl, and in the sweet corner a 2007 vendanges tardives from Domaine Charles Sparr in Alsace. Both were in their respective £20- £30 brackets.

Austria led the pack in the Gold medal leagues with five; Germany and Australia garnered four apiece, France two and there was one apiece for South Africa and New Zealand. There was a good haul of Silver medals across the board, even if it remained the highest medal colour for entries from the US, Chile and Canada.

RANGE OF STYLES
Perhaps Riesling’s greatest strength is the diverse range of styles it’s capable of producing. Naturally, therefore, it was a key talking point at the tasting, particularly as a lot of the wines didn’t always conform to classical stereotype. Rose mentioned the “old school” and “new wave” but, crucially, pointed out that, “new wave doesn’t always mean New World; there were some from Germany”.

The richer wines from Germany and Austria are a clear consequence of the warm 2015 vintage. Alcohol levels were quite high and the fruit profile was often more tropical and peachy than the citrus and lime one might expect. “Stylistically, there was a trend away from fresh green apple to tropical,” said Roberto Della Pietra.

The judges: (from l-r) Patrick Schmitt MW, Matthew Forster MW, Roberto Della Pietra, Jonathan Pedley MW, Rupert Millar, Hugo Rose MW and Clement Robert MS

“Germany and Austria have certainly benefitted from 2015,” said Pedley, “and because it was such a star vintage a lot of the top wines are gorgeous for drinking now – will they age though?” he pondered. Australia also performed very strongly, and there were a number of lean, rather racy wines – “with bottle age too”, noted a pleased Pedley – that stood in contrast to their riper, often younger, European cousins.

Matthew Forster MW praised the New World wines in particular for their diversity, saying it was clear that producers were “really exploiting” the potential of Riesling. He added: “The tasting showed there’s space for both styles, and I felt some of the Austrian wines were the apogée of that dry, full-on style – and the Australians were very good too.”

Austria and Australia in particular seemed to be the two countries where the judges had favourites, with the New World perhaps having the edge. Rose stated that, generally speaking, he was: “More impressed with the New World than the majority of wines I would call ‘classic’. They had more definition and personality.

“The classics had beautiful balance but perhaps not those other qualities.” Pedley noted he would have liked to have seen a few more Alsatian wines (despite one winning a Master) and Della Pietra commented on the scarcity of Chilean wines.

SWEETNESS AND SULPHUR
Clement Robert MS said he was “more impressed by the sweet wines rather than the dry and Pedley agreed that there were some “very good sweets”, but added there seemed to be something of a qualitative gap in the “medium” category – indeed, there was only one Gold in the category and the number of Bronze medals exceeded the Golds.

What made some of the ‘medium’ wines so hard to judge was the sugar levels were more uneven. Admittedly, the range of category, from 12-45 grams per litre, is broader than most, but nonetheless some seemed closer to dry wines while others might almost have deserved to be in a sweeter category.

Pedley added that it was a neat example of one of the reasons consumers remain so wary of Riesling as they have, “no idea if it will be sweet” – or, at least, how sweet it will be. Even though wines put into the Riesling Masters are categorised by sweetness levels (as well as price), with bands for wines under 4g/l, from 4- 12g/l and more than 45g/l, it is clear that even for the trade it’s not a simple thing to pin down exactly.

What chance then for the consumer? As Pedley summed up, sweet Rieslings are one of the variety’s greatest strengths but also, “its curse”. “Sweetness, but also the ‘egginess’ from sulphur, is what holds Riesling back from consumers,” countered Robert, for whom the issue of the (over-) use of sulphur and filtration is clearly a sore point.

Although he professed to be “impressed by cleaner, more fruit-driven wines”, he still felt quite a few showed the signs of reduction or stripped-out flavours. As he admitted: “You will always find very good Riesling with a lot of sulphur – Egon Müller for example.” Nonetheless, he continued: “It’s still difficult to appreciate sulphured wines.

A lot of winemakers still use too much sulphur and you end up with reductive wines.” There were definitely wines that were “refined and austere”, Pedley noted, but “in a good way”, and he added it was good to see producers from all countries “aiming for that leaner style”.

Patrick Schmitt MW and Jonathan Pedley MW

VALUE FOR MONEY
One aspect of the tasting that was particularly pleasing was the value for money Riesling represents – yet another reason to lament that sweetness levels mean many drinkers still steer clear of it. Forster said that while the, “quality was very high at all levels, wines under £10 show real value for the consumer”. Rose agreed: “We were pleased with many of the lower-priced wines.

They were clean and well made, giving a lot to the consumer. They are not banal wines.” With experience at several Masters tastings now, Pedley declared that the general standard was higher than for other varieties.

Like Forster, he particularly praised wines below £10. “You’ll find Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay at £10 and below that can be dilute and disappointing,” he said. Meanwhile, he added: “The price of top-quality Riesling remains very reasonable. It’s one of the great-value wines.”

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