Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters: the results in full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, as well as comments from the judges (who are pictured below), and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter.

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

Sauvignon Blanc Masters 2016: results and analysis

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

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

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

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

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

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region.Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting.

The wines were judged by a cherry picked group of Masters of Wine and one Master Sommeliers on 13 January at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Syrah Masters: the results

It’s far from the most modish grape on the planet, but the Syrahs our judges tasted blind impressed more than their trendier rivals, says Patrick Schmitt MW.

main-imageThey say you shouldn’t equate money with class, and, it seems, in drinks at least, fashion with quality. OK, so trendy grapes such as Pinot Noir produce some of the greatest wines in the world, but in our Global Masters series, the least popular varieties do seem to attract the greatest proportion of top-ranking results.

In whites, that’s Riesling, a grape that is renowned for its unfashionable status, and yet, in last year’s Riesling Masters, out of around 120 samples, as many as 24 entries picked up a Gold and six gained the top accolade of Master, which is given only to those wines scoring 96 points or above. Compare that with our Sauvignon Blanc Masters, judged in the same year, and there were only 14 Golds awarded and just a single Master, from a larger set of samples. Yet few would doubt the following for this grape, which is still growing worldwide in both vineyard area and sales.

In reds, this contrast continues. It is Syrah that is both the least modish grape in our Global Masters line-up and also the best-performing. In 2015, the competition saw 21 wines receive a Gold, and three a Master. In 2016, the numbers were even better, with 24 gaining a Gold and as many as five a Master.

VINTNERS PERSEVERING

Judge’s comment:
Sally Easton MW

judgesally“I was impressed with the number of good wines coming out of Chile. You kind of expect Australia to do well, and perhaps they did less well than they might have hoped, but good Chilean Syrah/Shiraz feature steadily across the price ranges. The absolute star under £20 turned out to be from Wakefield, who we know do good kit, so that was probably just as well!

“What I didn’t particularly like were wines that were either a caricature of the grape variety or showed so little varietal definition as to sully the cultivar’s good repute. The bottom line for me was that the Rhône wine highlighted how far new world Syrahs are away from truly great quality and classic expression of the grape variety. Most of the sub-£30 ones in ‘my’ flights lacked the ethereal elegance, sweet floral perfume, textural invisibility of tannin frame and lingering length of the top-notch Rhône example.”

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What makes Syrah unfashionable is not the focus of this report, but, as this year’s and last year’s results show, it certainly is not due to poor quality products. Rather, the grape’s slightly uncool state may be the reason why there is so much good wine made from it: the lesser-quality examples have been weeded out of production, with vintners only persevering with the variety in places where it naturally does well.

In contrast, Pinot Noir, which this year attracted 21 Golds and two Masters, but from a greater sample set, showed less uniform quality, with some wonderful wines, but also some disappointing entries. It was felt by the judges that this may be a result of its popularity – such has been the growth in demand for the grape over the past 10 years, some producers have been planting it in unsuitable places, and it is a famously fussy variety.

So, Syrah seems to be found mainly in environments that suit it, and it likes dry, warm “Mediterranean” climates and rocky hillsides, particularly those containing granite. Hence its qualitative peak in the northern Rhône, above all the granite soils of the Hermitage hill, but also its suitability for the granite-based soils of mountainous areas of Switzerland and Chile, for example.

However, it is Australia that has become Syrah’s most notable home outside France, with the low-fertile sands, schists and clays of the Barossa proving a notably high-quality source of Syrah, above all when harvested from the low-yielding ancient vines in this area. Today, Syrah – or Shiraz as it is most commonly called Down Under – is the country’s biggest grape in terms of vineyard area.

Furthermore, out of all the entries in this year’s Syrah Masters, it was Australia that took home the highest number of Gold medals and Masters, although it should be stated that the samples in the tasting were almost entirely from non- European sources, with just one from Hermitage – which proved useful for benchmarking the high-priced great wines of the New World.

NO COMPROMISES

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Syrah 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 style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

The best wines were awarded medals which 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 Master Sommeliers on 6 July at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London. This report only features the medal winners.

For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes, see thedrinksbusiness.com

What is notable about Syrah is not only that it has truly global representation – there are few wine producing corners of the world without it – but also its ability to create something varietally distinct and palatable at all price points, from the cheapest quaffable red to the very finest wines on the planet. This is unlike Pinot Noir, which does not respond well to the viticultural compromises required to make inexpensive reds, in particular, high yields. In fact, for those looking for balanced, berry-scented reds sub £10, there are few varieties better than Syrah, particularly when blended with Grenache.

It was also a relief to see fewer Syrahbased wines with “reduced” aromas of egg or burnt rubber compared to last year’s tasting (it is a grape particularly prone to the production of hydrogen sulphide during fermentation), while it was pleasing to witness a restrained approach to winemaking generally. As one judge in the Syrah Masters, Annette Scarf MW, commented: “Even at the entry level, the wines were really good, and, at all levels there wasn’t over-extraction, there wasn’t too much oak, and, with a few exceptions, the alcohol levels were under control, suggesting that even in warmer places people are picking early and creating enjoyable wines with freshness.”

In fact, rather than hot and jammy wines, it was observed that there was a touch of greenness in some samples, which, while far from unpleasant, was a sign, according to another judge, Miles Corish MW, that bunches are not receiving enough light exposure early on in the growing season, which means it is a trait that can be easily removed through altering the canopy management. Corish explained: “If you expose the grapes to light earlier, then you shouldn’t get any greenness, and the berries will be less susceptible to sun burn later on in the season.”

As for the wines that performed the best in the day’s tasting, it was interesting to see inexpensive samples from Sicily providing an appealing if relatively simple taste of Syrah, without any oak influence. After all, it was once believed that this Italian island was the source of the grape in Europe, with the variety thought to take its name from the historic Sicilian city of Syracuse.

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But these wines, which came from the excellent Settesoli cooperative, earned Silvers, and, under £10, just one winery gained a Gold, and that was the oakinfluenced Syrah from Berton Vineyard in Padthaway, Australia, highlighting the country’s expertise with the grape even at lower prices.

Between £10 and £15, and it was Australia again that took a Gold, although so too did Portugal (in the blends category), another country gaining good results with Syrah, particularly where there is granite/ schist mountainous terrain, such as the Alentejo’s Serra de São Mamede, and the Douro.

Moving up a price band to £15-£20, and again, Australia triumphed, with Gemtree and Taylors gaining Golds, alongside Washington State, with Ste. Michelle receiving a high score for its Syrah from the Colombia Valley, representing a ripe but restrained take on the grape from the United States.

Our first Masters were awarded in the next price band (£20-£30), proving that Syrah can produce truly fine and exciting wines at relatively affordable prices. One of these top awards went to Bird in Hand, a producer of first-rate Chardonnay and Cabernet from the Adelaide Hills, and, as this tasting proved, Syrah too; a credit to the skills of the brand’s winemaker, Kym Milne MW.

SWITZERLAND

Judge’s comment:
Jonathan Pedley MW

judgejonathan“Overall it was a strong line up. Lots of Bronzes, plenty of Silvers and a smattering of Golds. From a commercial point of view, perhaps the standout result was at the sub-£10 price point, where there were several really good wines including a Gold. This does show that Syrah is capable of delivering successful wines across the price spectrum (in contrast to say Pinot Noir).

“There were only a handful of poor wines. Reduction was less of a problem than I recall it was at the equivalent tasting last year. Only a couple of wines showed excessive oak influence: a massive improvement on what would have been the case ten years ago. A few wines were a tad on the hot side, but in most cases there was enough fruit to carry the alcohol. A couple of wines had worrying levels of VA.

“Stylistically the elegant, pure fruit (and sometimes floral) iteration of Syrah seems to have triumphed over the massively jammy and oaky version … Not surprisingly Australia seemed to do well. The Chilean wines were a bit of a mixed bag and South Africa struggled.”

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But the other Master went to New Zealand, where Syrah specialist Elephant Hill showed why Hawke’s Bay is fast gaining a reputation for the grape, made in a more northern-Rhône-like manner, with moderate alcohols and a prominent, appealing white pepper spice.

Among the Golds in this band were some interesting results, including a firstrate sample from Switzerland’s Jean-René Germanier, a ringer for top quality Côte- Rotie, and a delicious Syrah from Saronsberg in the little-known region of Tulbagh, an excellent spot in South Africa for the grape.

Argentina also proved it is capable of crafting top-quality Syrah, with Mendoza’s Pascual Toso getting a Gold, along with Valdivieso in Chile’s Limarí Valley, a place to look out for when it comes to good Syrah (and also Chardonnay). Meanwhile, McGuigan Wines made sure Australia was well represented among the Golds in this price band, picking up two top medals for its Shorlist and Handmade labels.

The same producer also featured when the wines got more expensive, with its Tempus Two brand gaining a Gold in the £30-£50 category, along with two further wines, showing not only that Australia has expertise with Syrah, but that McGuigan is a go-to source of wines from this grape, whether it’s using fruit from Langhorn, Barossa or the Hunter Valley.

Jacob’s Creek, with two Golds in this price band, further reinforced Australia’s reputation for Syrah, while displaying the brand’s own strong winemaking credentials.

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EXCITING FIND

But among the Aussie wines in this price band was a notably different sample, both in terms of source and style. Indeed, it was an entry that represented a really exciting find for the judges.

Hailing from the Maremma coast’s Sustinet IGT, a Syrah from Conti di San Bonifacio showed a typically Italianate, slightly sour finish and dense tannic texture, along with pristine red and black berry fruit and cedar aromas, proving that it is not just Bordeaux varieties that perform brilliantly in this area of Tuscany – and also that Italy can produce great Syrah.

Over £50, and we awarded a series of Golds to Wakefield/Taylors for two different vintages of the wonderful St Andrews Shiraz, a show-stopper from the Clare Valley.

But we also gave out a clutch of Masters for magical wines. These included Kym Milne’s top expression, the Nest Egg label, along with the incredible example from Château Tanunda, using Syrah from vines over 100 years old.

Finally, towards the end of the judging, we tasted a truly benchmark wine from the world of Syrah: Michel Chapoutier’s Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage.

Importantly, it showed how it is possible to achieve complexity and persistence with Syrah, but without huge concentration.

After the day’s tasting was over and the producers had been revealed, it was satisfying for the judges to see they had correctly identified greatness: the competition winners had featured some of the world’s top Syrah producers.

And, importantly, it also ensured that new sources of brilliance had been identified, alongside some of the toughest benchmarks in Syrah.

The judges (l-r)

thejudgesPatrick Schmitt MW, Miles Corish MW, Ivy Ng, Annette Scarf MW, Roberto Della Pietra, Clément Robert MS, Sally Easton MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Sebastian Payne MW, David Round MW

Pinot Noir Masters 2017: Results & analysis

‘Care and attention’ is, according to Miles, the lead character in the film Sideways, what is needed to make a great Pinot Noir. Patrick Schmitt MW finds out how many entries in our Pinot Noir Masters deserve star billing.

OF ALL the Global Masters tastings we run – and it’s an extensive series covering noble grapes and major wine styles – it is the Pinot Noir competition that yields the greatest range of results.

Within the same flight you might find a group of judges either grimacing or grinning, depending on whether the sample had caused great offence or glorious pleasure.

Unlike, say Cabernet Sauvignon, where there are gradations of quality and style, and few failures, Pinot Noir seems a boom-or-bust grape – it either excites with perfume and sweet berry fruit, or severely disappoints with a thin body and unripe aromas.

It’s why Miles – the lead character in the Hollywood film Sideways – was “so into Pinots”.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Pinot Noir Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blind-tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting.

The wines were judged by a cherry-picked group of Masters of Wine and one Master Sommelier on 10 February at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington.

As he said in the blockbuster movie, which is now more than 10 years old: “It’s a hard grape to grow… It’s thinskinned, temperamental… it needs constant care and attention…. And it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked-away corners of the world.”

But what he didn’t mention was Pinot’s huge commercial significance, mainly because the demand for this single variety rocketed after this particular film’s success.

Consequently, those “tuckedaway corners” mentioned by Miles have expanded to include pretty much every major wine region that will allow it.

And, as you can see in this year’s Pinot Masters results, we’ve added to our broad list of medal winners with Turkey and Greece: two countries without a long history of nurturing this most pernickety of grapes.

But what is it about Pinot that creates such variation in wine quality? After all, it does seem to perform well in a range of soil types, from volcanic to sedimentary. The key is climate – the grape performs poorly in either very cool or hot places.

For example, some entries this year that failed to attract high scores were too green and weedy, because they hailed from areas that struggle to fully ripen the grape in weaker vintages. Others that didn’t win over the judges were alcoholic and jammy – a result of high temperatures during the growing season, as well as picking too late.

As Miles also said about making good Pinot: “Only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it.” And that’s because it’s a grape that needs careful handling in the vineyard – it will punish growers who push yields too high or leave bunches exposed.

It’s the same in the cellar, where insensitive techniques to extract colour and tannin will produce grainy, unappealing wines. But, for all the things that can go wrong with Pinot, we are pleased to note a higher proportion of Golds and Masters in this year’s competition.

Although the variability in quality is still a hallmark of the Pinot Masters – and winemaking with this grape in general – the overall standard of wine appears to be on the up. In the past, entries have been criticised for being either too hot (from unbalanced alcohol) or too sweet (from excessive oak).

Last year in particular, we reported on the worryingly high number of entries with reductive aromas, ranging from a whiff of burnt rubber to the stink of rotten eggs (Pinot Noir is naturally susceptible to the production of sulphur-like odours).

However, in 2016, very few wines seemed to have a burning sensation from high abvs, while the structure and flavour from oak barrels appeared to have been used to complement rather than smother the fruit.

Also, the incidence of reduction in the samples was much lower. If there were criticisms that seemed common among the judges this year, however, it concerned the structure and body of some of the wines.

It was felt that perhaps extraction methods had been too heavy handed on relatively delicate berries. The judges wanted to see more juicy sweet fruit, and fewer firm tannins. Looking specifically at the medalwinners, like previous years, the Masters show Pinot’s versatility, and above all, its ability to make great sparkling wines.

Although more commonly blended with Chardonnay, Pinot can, on its own, make delicious fizz, proved by a Pinot Noir specialist such as Champagne’s Gremillet in the results – this Aube-based producer gained a Gold for both its entries.

But we shouldn’t forget Italy’s sparking winemaking expertise, and the Berlucchi vintage Franciacorta also picked up a Gold, although this was at a higher price point. Meanwhile, when it came to pink fizz, although we didn’t award a Gold, the results show that English sparkling sits on a similar quality rung to Champagne, with both Gusbourne and Laurent-Perrier earning Silver medals.

Moving to the still wines, the relatively low number of unoaked Pinots in the tasting, and comparative lack of topscoring wines, shows that Pinot performs best when its smooth berry fruit is married to oak, particularly new oak, in varying proportions depending on the wine. Nevertheless, De Bortoli showed that it’s possible to create a top-scoring Pinot without any oak influence.

The under-£10 category is another area of the Pinot masters with relatively few entries and top scores, although the four silver medallists this year showed that it is possible to craft an appealing wine from Pinot Noir at low prices (in the past, we have been tempted to suggest Pinot lovers switch to Gamay or Grenache when they need to buy wine on a budget).

Scanning over the results among wines priced over £10 but under £20, it is clear how Marlborough is becoming a place for good-quality keenly priced Pinot Noir, despite this region’s much stronger reputation for Sauvignon Blanc.

While New Zealand’s Central Otago may have the more premium image for Pinot, and produces darker more concentrated styles, the southerly region rarely produces examples at sub-£20 retail prices.

And £15-£20 seems a particular sweet spot for Pinot Noir from both New Zealand and Chile, with the latter country proving it’s now a serious player when it comes to this grape, with the now fully mature vineyards of Casablanca, and maturing sites of Limari definitely places for great and good-value Pinot Noir from Chile.

Between £20 and £30, it was Australia that really stood out this year. Interestingly, the top performers in this price band weren’t from the country’s most famous places for Pinot: Mornington Peninsula, Geelong or the Yarra.

Rather, we had Tapanappa gain the most keenlypriced Master of the day for its Pinot from the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, closely followed by Burch family for its example from Porongurup in Western Australia’s Margaret River.

At these prices the US showed its aptitude for crafting great Pinot, particularly from California’s Sonoma Coast, along with Edna and Santa Maria valleys.

Over £30, and Oregon also featured from the US, with Angela Estate picking up a silver and a Master for its wines from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, along with same region’s Eola Amity Hills AVA, where Ste Michelle Wine Estates is crafting Gold-medal winning Pinot from the Willakia Vineyard.

At these higher prices, with a Gold medal for Giesen and Marisco Vineyards, it was apparent that Marlborough can craft top-end wines to rival other great Pinot-producing regions, including the more famous source of great Pinot from New Zealand, Central Otago.

Although it was this latter area that took home the only Master in the £30-£50 price band, which was awarded to the China Girl Pinot from Central Otago’s Crown Range Cellar, while Hawkesbury Estates Atkitu A1 from the same region got a Gold.

AUSTRALIAN PROWESS
Australia also showed its Pinot prowess, with Tapanappa’s top expression from its Foggy Hill vineyard picking up a Gold, along with Shawdowfax for its Little Hampton Pinot from the Macedon Ranges and, the pricier Moorooduc McIntyre Pinot from Mornington Peninsula.

Among our final flights for the priciest wines of the day, and within the US, the judges were (like last year) very impressed by the wines from Edna Valley’s Tolosa, which makes rich, ripe but deliciously perfumed Pinots, along with lovely wines from the Mira winery, using fruit from the much sought-after Hyde vineyard in Napa.

Elsewhere, South Africa’s Bouchard Finlayson proved a standout, along with Switzerland’s Jean Remé Germanier, which makes wonderful Pinot Noir from the Valais. Of course, no report on the world’s great Pinot Noirs would be complete without mentioning Burgundy, and it was pleasing to see that where the region did compete, it scored well, with two wines from Château de Pommard proving among the six Master winners in total for this year’s tasting.

In all, 2016’s Pinot Masters had proved that the wine world is right to get excited about certain tucked-away corners for this grape, whether it’s the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, Limari in Chile, Central Otago in New Zealand or parts of Oregon and California, Australia and South Africa.

It had also shown that there are plenty of other places producing first-rate examples from this difficult grape, and from a broad sweep of countries, taking in England, Switzerland, Turkey and Greece.

While such samples were stylistically diverse, when it came to quality, there were similarly high – and, with the competition’s aim to sample wines without prejudice about their source, it is quality first and foremost that the Pinot Masters exists to reward.

 

The judges (l-r): Jonathan Pedley MW; Clive Barlow MW; Richard Bampfield MW; Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW; Will Heslop; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Michael Palij MW; Patrick Schmitt MW; José Gonzalez Godoy; Matthew Forster MW

 

Organic Masters 2017: results and analysis

Our annual Organic Masters competition shines a light on the best wines – of all types – that are produced with certified-organic grapes. This year’s event shows that there is quality and depth in this fast-expanding sector, writes Patrick Schmitt MW

While our Masters programme has always sought to recognise the best wines within long-established areas of the trade, whether that’s through tastings organised by grape variety or region, it has also been designed to draw attention to new market trends.

Hence the addition of a Prosecco Masters to the competition calendar four years ago, at a time when this Italian sparkling was in the ascendancy but suffering from the incorrect perception that it all tasted similar. Over the years of blind analysis of Prosecco, we have highlighted the stylistic diversity and quality available, as well as the leading producers, and top terroirs of this popular category.

The story is similar with rosé, another part of the industry that has expanded significantly this decade, and, again, contains surprising stylistic diversity, along with a broad range of quality levels.

Consequently, our Rosé Masters, launched in 2015, has witnessed the rise of barrel-fermented pink wines, the march towards ever-lighter colours – inspired by the market success of Provençal rosés – and the expanding variety generally: be it the increasing extremes in appearance, sweetness levels, and palate weight.

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 Chianti, and wine styles such as rosé and sparkling. The competition is exclusively for wines made from certified organically-grown grapes. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blindtasting 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, Master Sommeliers and organic wine specialists on 5 May at The Pig & Butcher in London. This report features only the winners of medals.

SOUGHT-AFTER
This year, we decided to continue in our search to blind taste test the fashionable, which explains the addition of another category to our competition series with the Organic Masters. While organic wines aren’t new, they are becoming increasingly sought-after, and, like rosé and Prosecco, suffer from a number of perceptions that require testing.

Confirming the increasing demand for organic wines, both major international trade shows for wines and spirits this year have installed dedicated sections for the category.

ProWein, held in March, hosted its first ever Organic World, a showcase of 30 international organic wine producers in a designated area, while Vinexpo Bordeaux will this month contain its inaugural WOW!, standing for World of Organic Wines, which promises the participation of 200 growers.

In 2016, market-research agency Wine Intelligence noted that organic wines might be one of the most important trends for the wine industry, saying the number of organic exhibitors at ProWein had grown from 17 producers in 2005 to roughly 600 last year, a rise of more than 3,000% in 10 years. But what is organic wine? For the sake of our Organic Masters, it is a product made from organically-grown grapes.

Furthermore, they must be certified, and we accepted a range of certifying bodies, as these tend to be country-specific.

Importantly, they all exclude the use of artificial chemicals in the vineyard. Although the judges were fully aware of the criteria for the competition, they were asked to assess the wines as they would any other – according to quality first. The wines were served blind, grouped into price bands, and loosely arranged according to style within their colour categories.

It was, of course, only a snapshot of the organic category, but was revealing, nonetheless. One positive conclusion drawn for the tasting was the realisation that England can produce first-rate sparkling wine with organic grapes.

A climate famous for its challenging growing conditions, above all because of damp, was the source of two Golds in the competition, and only five were awarded, although there were three Masters – the highest accolade reserved for exceptional wines only. The pair of sparkling Golds came from Oxney in East Sussex and Albury in Surrey, for those are looking to tap into two trends: the rise of English fizz and organic produce. Other top-scoring wines came from less surprising sources.

We had a lovely Chardonnay from Angove in Australia, for example, a producer based in the hot dry climate of McLaren Vale, and an experienced hand at organic grape growing. Another Chardonnay that impressed was also from the New World, but from a producer that has had plenty of practice with organics, but doesn’t exclusively produce organic wine.

This was New Zealand’s Babich, which earned a Master for its Headwaters Organic Chardonnay from Marlborough, and a Gold for a Pinot Noir under the same label, proving that this region can produce first-rate results with organically grown grapes, and, great wines with varieties other than Sauvignon Blanc, which is, of course, the bread and butter for this New Zealand wine region.

A further top performer was Domaine Bousquet. A family-owned operation in Argentina’s Mendoza, this organic specialist hails from Carcassonne in southern France, but has been growing grapes in the Gualtallary valley in Tupungato for 20 years. Wowing the judges was its single-vineyard expression Ameri, a Malbec-dominant blend that also contains Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot, from a plot at 1,250m altitude.

LONG-TIME FOCUS
Our final stars of the day were from Australia and France.

The former nation gained a Master for the Ernest Allen Shiraz from Gemtree Wines in the McLaren Vale, a part of Australia that appears home to a high proportion of organic and biodynamic producers. The latter country also produced a Master, this time from the Languedoc, home to Château Maris – a property famous in this region for its long-time focus on organic and biodynamic practices.

The success in the competition of its Dynamic label also confirmed the belief that the relatively new ‘cru’ of La Livinière in the Minervois really does produce a superior level of Syrah – and, as one judge said, a “real terroir-driven wine”.

The judges: Left to right (top row): Sarah Knowles MW, David Round MW, Clive Barlow MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Dee Blackstock MW (bottom row): Sam Olive, Patricia Stefanowich MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS

The best Proseccos for 2018

With its slight sweetness and fruity characteristics, Prosecco is one of the most popular wines available. We bring you the category’s best bubbles from this year’s Prosecco Masters tasting.

While all the competitions in the drinks business’s Global Masters series are important, some are more commercially significant than others. For wine buyers in the UK, particularly those in the supermarket or pub sectors, few parts of the drinks business are more marketable than Prosecco – an area of trade that has grown to such an extent that demand outstripped supply last year. For this reason, the Prosecco Masters is one of the most hotly anticipated tastings in our series – both for the judges and the wider trade, most of whom now handle this product in some way.
But what has made Prosecco such a success? It is a question that can be best answered after a day sampling more than 100 wines from this category, covering every style and price point, including the niche producer and big-brand player.
Nevertheless, before the tasting began, our judges had a pretty clear idea of what they where looking for, believing they know what makes this sparkling wine such a hit with today’s drinkers. Would a the competition alter or confirm their views? Well, in short, it reinforced them, while also drawing attention to the sweet spots in the category, and areas of relative weakness. For them, Prosecco is popular for its fizzy pear and peach flavours, along with slightly sweet character. It’s best enjoyed while it’s young and fresh, and sells best around the £10 mark in UK retail – and preferably below this psychological cut-off.
But what was less well understood were the gradations in quality according to source area and winemaking approaches; essentially, the qualities that justify the higher prices for premium Prosecco.
One element that is clear from the day’s tasting is the high level of appeal at the entry-level end of the category. Prosecco is, in part, sought after because it delivers a consistent flavour and quality – and that was seen among the DOC samples under £10. Nothing was outstanding, but few samples secured less than a Bronze medal. And between £10 and £15, we not only had our first Gold – Ponte’s DOC Extra Dry – but also a remarkably high proportion of Silvers. This is not easy, gaining such a medal requires agreement between a group of exacting judges who are looking for more than just orchard-fruit flavours in their fizz.
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