The medallists from The Champagne Masters 2020

We bring you the full list of medallists from this year’s Champagne Masters, one of the biggest blind tastings of this famous fizz, employing Masters of Wine only.

Patrick Schmitt MW at The Champagne Masters 2020

Having previously written about some of the highlights from the 2020 Champagne Masters, we are now revealing all the medal-winners from the tasting, which took in every major style of Champagne, and many of the region’s most famous names.

Notable among this year’s results was the strong performance by the region’s grower-cooperative brands, in particular Castelnau and Palmer, along with Collet and Nicolas Feuillatte, which together proved that there is both quality and value to be had with these less illustrious labels.

However, the star Champagne producer this year was grande marque Piper-Heidsieck, which has shown itself brilliant at crafting both very dry and sweet Champagnes, along with entry-level Brut NVs, great-value vintage, and a range-topping prestige cuvée, with its Rare 2006 the highest overall scorer of the 2020 tasting – and its Rare Rosé 2008 not far behind.

Coming close to Piper in terms of the tally of top medals was Henriot, a house that’s producing extremely fine Champagne at all levels, in particular rosé, and one that, in my view, deserves wider recognition.

Among the other notable names from this year’s tasting was Charles Heidsieck, as well as Pommery and Moët & Chandon, while we were also impressed by the quality of cuvées from a relative newcomer to the Champagne scene, the house of Brimoncourt.

Please see below for the results in full and more information on The Champagne Masters, including how to enter.

For a full report on the tasting and an in-depth review of the trends taking hold in Champagne right now, see this year’s Champagne Report by the drinks business.

Non-Vintage

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£10-£15
Aldi Stores UK Veuve Monsigny Brut Brut Bronze
£15-£20
Champagne Vollereaux Brut Réserve Brut Bronze
£20-£30
Champagne Castelnau Brut Réserve Brut Gold
Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Grande Réserve Brut Silver
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Brut Brut Silver
Champagne Cuillier Perpétuel Brut Bronze
Champagne Vollereaux Célébration Brut Premier Cru Brut Bronze
Champagne Fallet Dart Heres Brut Bronze
£30-£50
Champagne Palmer & Co Brut Réserve Brut Gold
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Apanage Brut Brut Gold
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut Brut Gold
Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain Brut Gold
Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV Brut Gold
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec Gold
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Extra-brut Silver
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Brut Royal Brut Silver
Champagne Brimoncourt Brut Régence Brut Silver
Champagne Delamotte Brut NV Brut Silver
Champagne Vincent d’Astrée Brut Premier Cru Brut Silver
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Brut Silver
G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon Brut Silver
G.H. Mumm RSRV 4.5 Brut Silver
Frerejean Frères Brut NV Premier Cru Brut Silver
Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Brut Silver
Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut NV Brut Silver
Champagne Lanson Le Black Label Brut Silver
Champagne Collet Brut Art Déco Premier Cru Brut Bronze
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Brut Bronze
Champagne Deutz Deutz Brut Classic Brut Bronze
Champagne Lanson Le White Label Sec Sec Bronze
£50+
Champagne Brimoncourt Extra Brut Grand Cru Extra-brut Gold
Charles Heidsieck Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Brut Silver

Vintage

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£20-£30
Champagne Vollereaux Cuvée Marguerite 2011 Brut Silver
£30-£50
Champagne Collet Millésime 2008 Brut Silver
G.H. Mumm Millesime 2013 Brut Silver
£50+
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Vintage 2012 Brut Master
Champagne Palmer & Co Vintage 2012 Brut Gold
Charles Heidsieck Vintage Brut 2012 Brut Gold
Champagne Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2006 Brut Silver
Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2012 Brut Silver
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Grand Cru 2008 Brut Silver
Champagne Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008 Brut Silver
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2012 Brut Silver
Champagne Lanson Le Vintage 2009 Brut Silver

Prestige Cuvée

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£30-£50
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Terroir Premier Cru NV Brut Silver
Champagne Cuillier Grande Réserve NV Extra Brut Bronze
£50+
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millésime 2006 Brut Master
Champagne Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2006 Extra Brut Master
Champagne Deutz Amour de Deutz 2010 Brut Gold
Centre Vinicole – Champagne
Nicolas Feuillatte
Palmes d’Or Brut Vintage 2008 Brut Gold
G.H. Mumm RSRV Lalou 2006 Brut Gold
Champagne Lanson Lanson Noble Cuvée 2002 Brut Gold
Champagne Comtes de Dampierre Family Reserve Blanc de Blancs
Grand Cru 2012
Brut Gold
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or Rosé Vintage 2008 Brut Gold
Champagne Deutz William Deutz 2009 Brut Silver
Champagne Fallet Dart Cuvée Quercus NV Extra Brut Silver
Champagne Fallet Dart Cuvée Eocene NV Extra Brut Silver
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2006 Brut Silver
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Cuvée Louise 2004 Brut Silver

Blanc de Blancs

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£30-£50
G.H. Mumm RSRV Blanc de Blancs 2014 Brut Master
Champagne Collet Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV Brut Gold
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Silver
Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Silver
Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Grand Chardonnay NV Brut Silver
Champagne Vincent d’Astrée Brut Millésime Premier Cru 2011 Brut Silver
£50+
Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Gold
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2006 Brut Gold
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Blanc de Blancs NV Extra Brut Silver
Champagne Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Silver
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Silver
Champagne J. de Telmont Blanc de Blancs
Grand Couronnement 2006
Brut Silver
Champagne Frerejean Frères VV26 NV Grand Cru Brut Bronze

Blanc de Noirs

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£30-£50
Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Grand Meunier NV Extra Brut Silver
G.H. Mumm RSRV Blanc de Noirs 2012 Brut Silver

Rosé

Company Wine Name Dosage Medal
£30-£50
Champagne Brimoncourt Brut Rosé Brut Gold
G.H. Mumm RSRV Rosé Foujita Brut Gold
Champagne Collet Brut Rosé Brut Silver
Champagne Collet Rosé Dry Collection Privée Sec Silver
Champagne Castelnau Rosé NV Brut Silver
Vranken-Pommery Monopole Pommery Brut Rosé Royal Brut Silver
Champagne Fallet Dart Rosé Anthocyane Brut Silver
G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon Rosé Brut Silver
Champagne Lanson Le Rosé Brut Silver
Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Grand Rosé Brut Bronze
Champagne Vincent d’Astrée Brut Rosé Premier Cru Brut Bronze
Champagne Palmer & Co Rosé Solera Brut Bronze
£50+
Rare Champagne Rare Rosé Millésime 2008 Brut Master
Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve Brut Master
Champagne Henriot Rosé Millésime 2012 Brut Gold
Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé Sec Silver
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé Brut Silver
Champagne Deutz Deutz Brut Rosé Brut Silver

ABOUT THE COMPETITION

The judges (left to right): Simon Field MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW and Patrick Schmitt MW

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 like Rioja and Tuscany. The competition is exclusively for Champagne, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master.

The Champagnes were judged on 4-5 September by Patrick Schmitt MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW and Simon Field MW.

Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

Read more 

21 CHAMPAGNES FOR ALL BUDGETS, TASTES AND OCCASIONS

THIS IS OUR BEST CHAMPAGNE OF 2020

THIS YEAR’S BEST CHAMPAGNE FOR UNDER £30 REVEALED

The Sparkling Masters – Asia 2020 results

Sparkling wine, in all its forms, is amazingly popular. In our annual blind tasting, we look at fizzes from all over the world, and discover some gems, occasionally from surprising locations. By Alice Liang.

The year-round popularity of sparkling wine has never subsided. The editorial team of drinks business Asia gathered with a panel of judges, comprising wine professionals from different sectors in Hong Kong, to give a verdict on flights of the versatile wine in various expressions, including Champagne, Prosecco and Cava.

When seeking out a good sparkling wine, acidity is always the key to upholding the freshness and structure. A flabby sparkling wine tastes like an alcoholic fizzy drink, or even worse, a soda water, as Tersina Shieh, wine marketer and independent wine judge, said during the judging process.

Champagne, a synonym for celebration, has been facing a tough time during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for the reigning king of sparkling, the quality of the wine held its own in the competition. Champagne Castelnau was founded 1916 and underwent a rebranding in 2017.

Champagne Castelnau Brut Réserve – the flagship wine of the house – took home a Master, thanks to panel being impressed by its “mesmerising” character. Shieh said: “It is so fresh and lean, with attractive brioche notes. It benefitted from lees contact, as the tension is well delivered.”

And Champagne Castelnau Millésime 2006, the vintage expression of the house, won a Gold medal. As Anty Fung, wine specialist and manager of Hip Cellar, noted: “It is another vinous example with lots of autolytic character, grip and acidity that lingers.” Both wines are priced between HK$400-HK$800, meaning they offer exceptional value.

English fizz has been attracting attention from professionals. The emerging category has even been spoken of as ‘the new Champagne’. Catching up with the Champagne, it was Gusbourne from Kent that shone from this sector.

Made from a blend of estate-grown Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Gusbourne Estate Rosé 2015 was another Gold winner, with a price tag in the HK$300-HK$500 band. Fung said: “I can taste the fresh red fruit quality wrapped in a Comte cheese rind. The sparkling wine has good length and balance, and is a great example of what a rosé sparkling wine should be.”

Meanwhile, the layered and balanced profile of Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2014, predominantly made with Chardonnay from a Burgundian clone, caught the eye of Eva Ma, senior marketing executive of EMW Fine Wines, who said: “The wine illustrates a New World-style méthode traditionnelle; it is slightly oaky but well integrated.” The wine was awarded a Silver medal.

Looking at the Bronze winners, we saw the presence of organic sparkling production, which is also growing strong around the world. Emiliana, the Chilean winery from the Central Valley, is one of the dedicated vineyards practising organic and biodynamic agriculture in the country; its Etnico Sparkling Wine NV “exudes a lovely white floral and lychee scent with lean structure” commented Ma.

Moving back to the Old World, Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva NV is an organic Cava that showed a high price- to-quality ratio. Shieh described the fizz as: “Bubbly and zesty, the wine is brilliant for the price.” It is worth mentioning that both wines bear a favourable price point between HK$100 and HK$200.

The panel tasted a variety of sparklers from around the world, including Joseph Vallet Splendid Blanc de Blancs Brut from Bourgogne, Dynasty 5° Sparkling Wine from China and Andreola Mas de Fer Rive di Soligo, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG 2018 from Italy. The tasting proved that no matter where in the world you look, there is something sparkling being made that will appeal to the most discerning of consumers.

White Sparkling Brut

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
$100-1500HKD
Dynasty Wines Dynasty 5° Sparkling Wine Tianjin China NV Bronze
Viñedos Emiliana Etnico Sparkling Wine Casablanca Valley Chile NV Bronze
Domaine Pierre Labet Joseph Vallet Cuvée Splendid Blanc de Blancs Brut Bourgogne France NV Bronze
$200-300HKD
Azienda Agricola Andreola Mas De Fer Rive Di Soligo Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry Veneto Italy 2018 Bronze
$400-800HKD
Champagne Castelnau Brut Réserve Champagne France NV Master
Champagne Castelnau Champagne Castelnau Millésime 2006 Champagne France 2006 Gold
Champagne Castelnau Blanc de Blancs 2006 Champagne France 2006 Silver
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs Kent UK 2014 Silver
Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve Kent UK 2015 Bronze

Rosé Sparkling Brut

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
$100-150HKD
Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva Cava Spain NV Bronze
$300-500HKD
Gusbourne Estate Rosé Kent UK 2015 Gold
Champagne Castelnau Rosé Champagne France NV Silver

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

The Global Sparkling Masters 2019: results in full

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


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

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

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

Repeated sampling

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

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

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

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

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

Quality fizz

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

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

Delicious options

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

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

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

The judges (left to right): Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Simon Field MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Antony Moss MW, Andrea Briccarello, Patrick Schmitt MW

Results: Champagne Masters – Asia 2019

dbHK’s inaugural Champagne Masters Asia blind-tasting competition showed that the appetite for top-quality bubbles in Hong Kong is on the rise.

ALTHOUGH RED wine has long been the driving force in Hong Kong’s booming wine industry, Champagne, with its hallmarks of glitz and glamour, celebration and prestige, has always had an important role to play, and its popularity has grown apace.

If the first-ever Champagne Masters Asia competition, hosted by the drinks business Hong Kong, is any indication, this trend shows no signs of slowing. The event, which took place at the Ginsberg & Chan fine wine shop, saw a panel of six expert judges blind-taste more than 20 Champagnes. The results showed that the wines on offer were impressive, with every entrant receiving a medal, including one Master – the highest accolade possible – four golds.

IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTES
When it comes to judging a good wine – especially Champagne – there is always a lot to consider. This is where a judge’s personal preferences and, therefore, subjectivity can come into play. So we asked the judges what they consider the most universally important attributes to look for in quality Champagne – regardless of style, price, or brand recognition. “Fruitiness and brioche are definitely important, but the first thing I look for is the elegance of the bubbles,” said Ken Man, buyer and fine-wine specialist who chaired the judging panel. “If it appears too aggressive on the palate, and the bubbles are too big, it can feel like you’re drinking soda. With Champagne, you want very refined, creamy bubbles on the palate; an elegant mousse is what you’re looking for.”

For Floris De Winter, sales and trading manager at Ginsberg & Chan, a balance of good qualities or well-roundedness is what seperates a good or average Champagne from a great one. De Winter said. “For example, if you have a wine with great fruity flavours, but the bubbles are too aggressive, the pleasure is pretty much gone. The fact is there are a lot of Champagnes on the market that are fairly generic. But in the best, most well-balanced Champagnes, there is a lot of excitement.”

Man, who has paid close attention to Asian wine consumer trends for more than seven years, said an increasing number of buyers are moving towards lesser-known growers, rather than big brands. This is especially true “when it comes to private clients who enjoy going to wine shops and buy wines for themselves, they are steering more towards lesser-known names like Bruno Paillard, Cedric Bouchard, Ulysses Collin, Philipponnat and Georges Laval. Also, Jacques Selosse and his protegés Michel Fallon and Chartogne-Taillet, both upand-coming small growers.”

These small growers have developed something of a cult following, which has caused their sales to increase dramatically. Ironically, this is because they tend to focus less on marketing, and more on the small-scale production of quality Champagne – something which sophisticated buyers respect.

“This shift away from the mainstream brands such as Krug, Dom Pérignon or Cristal is following through not just in Hong Kong, but countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan too,” Man added. However, De Winter pointed out that around 50% of the Champagne sold in Hong Kong is still being sold by Moët & Chandon.

As another judge, Caroline Que, senior sales manager at Goedhuis Fine Wine Merchants, put it, “big brands still carry [influence]. There is always going to be a place for big brands, and vintage is still a very large category in itself. And for all of Moët and the other big brands’ new releases this year, they have sold out, in a majority of cases. The demand is super high, but this can still help drive demand for small growers in the long run.”

The results seemed to indicate that when it comes to Champagne, in many cases, price correlates with quality. The only Masters medal of the day was awarded to Deutz’s Armour de Deutz (HK$1,776), which was praised by all six judges. “It’s an outstanding Champagne, powerful on the pallet with a nice acidity, and a long finish,” Man said. Que, Wong and Pierre Segault each said that the wine had an excellent balance of fruitiness and brioche, which ultimately made it the most pleasing on the palate.

COMPLEX AND ENJOYABLE
Meanwhile, the Armour de Deutz Rosé (HK$1,879) was awarded a Gold medal. “I absolutely adored the nose; hints of raspberry, cream, strawberry and oak made it complex and enjoyable for the palate,” De Winter said. The Canard-Duchêne special-edition Cuvé2 V 2010 – available only in magnums – just missed out on a Masters award. “I thought it was really good – lovely elegant brioche notes, complex, lovely creamy mousse followed through with lovely citrus notes, and a nice long length as well,” said Man.

Finally, the Palmer Blanc de Blancs (HK$625) secured the final Gold of the day. “The nose was interesting, with hints of honeydew. There was a nice tension to it, fairly stable. Overall it was a very well made wine,” De Winter said. “It was nicely acidic, with a hint of lemon. It was very impressive and greatly balance, especially for the price,” added Terry Wong, retail manager and sommelier, who expects the Asian Champagne industry to truly take off in the coming months.

Full results can be viewed on the following page.

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. 

Asian Sparkling Masters 2017: Results and Analysis

Our inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters was a sure sign that Champagne, the holy grail of sparkling wine, is still the crème de la crème of all fizz and unapologetically reigns with its rich tradition, layers of complexity and razor-sharp precision in the winemaking process.

Judges at our latest Asian Sparkling Masters held on 30 January at HIP Cellar: (from left to right) Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine; Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and wine judge; Francesca Martin, director of BEE Drinks Global; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Derek Li, chief sommelier at Duddell’s; Natalie Wang, managing editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing); Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker; and Anty Fung, general manager of HIP Cellar.

In our inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters competition on 30 January, an expert panel of judges including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, sommeliers and consultants blind-tasted a diverse spectrum of sparkling wines including Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Cremant de Bourgogne, Asti and, without exception, the famous French fizz came out swinging.

Champagne reigns 

To put it in perspective: Champagne alone is responsible for producing all five of the Master medal winning wines, the top accolade of our competition, which is awarded only to wines that have been unanimously scored 97 points or above by the judges. In addition to sweeping all the Masters, Champagne dominated the gold medal chart nabbing seven out of the eight awards given out.

Yu-Kong Chow, independent wine consultant and wine judge

Compared with other sparkling categories, its association with good times, zippy acidity and complex aromas cut through the competition and was ultimately rewarded with the biggest medal haul. “For this inaugural Asian Sparkling Masters, the entries were overall of high quality. The top houses showed well, proving their consistency,” Yu-Kong Chow, independent food&beverage consultant and wine judge, commented.

The region, encompassing 34,000 hectares of vineyards, sold more than 307 million bottles worldwide last year, and the lure of the frothy bubbles is expected to grow as demand from emerging markets is set to accelerate.

About the competition

The Asian Sparkling Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business Hong Kong, and is an extension of its successful Asian Masters series. The competition is exclusively for sparkling wines and the entries were judged by a selection of experienced tasters including Hong Kong’s top wine buyers, sommeliers and consultants. The top Sparklings were awarded Gold (93 points or above), Silver (89 points or above) or Bronze (85 points or above) medals according to their result, and those Sparklings that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Master (97 points or above). The wines were tasted over the course of a single day on 30 January, 2018 at Hip Cellar. This report features only the medal winners.

One of the top performers was Taittinger’s premium cuvée – Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs – made with Chardonnay from six of its grand cru sites. The 2006 vintage was reflective of the year’s fine integration and expression and scored 97 points, landing it the coveted Master title.

“It is a fine example of an excellent Champagne with its seductive delicate floral aroma, rich complexity and the balance of beautiful acidity. It ticks all the boxes,” declared Chow. 

Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Hong Kong’s biggest wine retailer Watson’s Wine, agreed, describing the wine of having, “such freshness, balance and texture (creaminess).”

Moving down from the price ladder, Champagne Lanson Extra Age Brut and Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut – both in the HK$400-799 bracket – were equally impressive. The Rothschild Blanc de Blancs was a favourite among a couple of judges, and is believed to be more expressive than the Champagne house’s vintage 2008 cuvée, which carries a heftier price tag (Above HK$800).

“It actually shows even better than the vintage 2008 version – not to say the latter isn’t good it just wasn’t within its drinking window yet, thus it appears a bit more closed than the brut version,” commented Anty Fung, general manager of Hip Cellar.

Eddie McDougall, the Flying Winemaker, is another judge that gave a firm vote for the fizz, calling it “a classic”. He added: “I admired the elegance which was well supported by the complex layers induced by the methode traditionelle techniques.”

Lanson’s Extra Age Brut NV, a tri-vintage blend of Chardonnay (40%) and Pinot Noir (60%), landed a Master for its weight, length and balance. Different from most of our Master series competitions, with sparkling wines, notably Champagne, price tends to directly correspond with quality – as opposed to Shiraz, for instance, where it’s not uncommon that out-liers can sometimes outperform pricier samples.

Anty Fung, general manager of Hip Cellar

But that doesn’t mean there’s no value bottles within Champagne. The surprises among the top winning wines came from Champagne Castelnau Cuvée Blanc de Blancs Millésimé 2003 (HK$200-299) and Champagne R&L Legras Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (HK$300-399). 

The former from the torrid, frost-bitten and sun-scorched 2003 vintage, which saw the majority of Champagne houses forfeiting declaring a vintage, showed classic autolysis aromas and plenty of personality. “Its great complexity and length won me over, as were its great toasty and nutty characters,” exalted Chow. The Champagne R&L Legras Brut from Chouilly, the famous and most northerly village of the Côte de Blancs, meanwhile is a good example of precision with a dosage of 7 g/l. 

Non-vintage stars 

Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong, and Jeremy Stockman, general manager of Watson’s Wine

For Gold medal winning wines – scoring 93 points or above – the highest number were awarded to non-vintage cuvées, the bread and butter of the Champagne sector, proving that with careful grape selection, attentive and gentle pressing and extended lees contact, non-vintage specific cuvées do not lack for finesse and clear definition; as we found in Champagne Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Brut, Lanson Rosé Label Brut, Lanson Black Label Brut, Berry’s United Kingdom Cuvée Grand Cru Mailly and Champagne Thienot Brut. 

Two vintage cuvées – Champagne Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs 2008 and Lanson Nobel Noble Cuvée from the stellar 2002 vintage – were also gold medal decorated winners, carrying higher price tags (both in the above HK$800 range).

Gramona’s vintage Cava is the only other non-Champagne sparkling wine that managed to break Champagne’s choke-hold at the top of the medal charts. The 2012 Brut, a blend of local varieties Xarello and Macabeo, impressed the judges with its quality considering its accessible price tag (HK$200-299).

But with pleasing samples, there were a few cases where excessively green fruits, oxidation and cork taint made the judges scrunch their noses and turn their head away. 

“Overly oxidative, which I believe may be a problem during the vinification when the producer ferments base wine in the barrel to increase contact with oxygen. If not done properly, it may create some unpleasant aromas in the sparkling wine,” commented Derek Li, chief sommelier of Duddell’s. “On the other hand, some sparkling wine showed intense green notes. This may be related to the overall unripeness of the grapes themselves.”

Sugar 

The judges

Jeremy Stockman, General Manger of Watson’s Wine
Derek Li, Chief Sommelier at Duddell’s
Francesca Martin, Founder of BEE Drinks Global
Anty Fung, General Manager of Hip Cellar
Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker
Yu-Kong Chow, independent F&B consultant and Rush Rich
Ivy Ng, Publisher, the drinks business Hong Kong

One of the trends on the lips of producers and consumers nowadays is a move towards lower dosage.

“The recent trend is going for lower dosage sparkling especially in grower Champagnes. This is closely tied with consumers’ pursuit for single vineyard, special Cuvée, more premium examples of grower Champagne. They don’t need low or even any dosage in order to show balance, harmony and complexity,” commented Fung. 

Even contrary to popular convention that Chinese drinkers favour a more generous touch of sweetness, in more mature markets like Hong Kong and Japan lower dosage and zero dosage are much sought-after. “The standard of four(ish) g/l I think works well. I don’t believe Asia in particular looks for more sugar: my experience of top quality sparkling is that consumers appreciate in the same way as elsewhere,” Stockman noted.

Derek Li, Chief Sommelier of Duddell’s, and Eddie McDougall, the Flying Winemaker

This was echoed by Chow: “I think the more sophisticated segments of the Asian markets like Hong Kong seem to be following this flow with even zero dosage sparkling wines in vogue.”

In the on-trade sector in Hong Kong, not only are drier styles of wines attracting consumer interest, German grower Sekt, other premium New World bubbles and English sparkling wines are also piquing interest from consumers, Fung observed based on her on-trade experiences.

This doesn’t mean sweeter versions of sparkling wines are pushed out of the market. Outside Hong Kong and Japan, most drinkers in mainland China and other Southeastern Asian countries still prefer a higher content of dosage. “Hong Kong and Japan are sophisticated markets, preferences are generally towards refreshing and savoury styles. As you move into Southeast Asia a higher level of sweetness is preferred. China is still learning about the intricacies of sparkling wine so it’s still undefined as to what their preference are,” McDougall suggested.

Italy and beyond 

Moving towards higher dosage category, above 12g/l, in our competition one of the more commonly noted drawbacks is their overtly cloying and unbalanced sweetness. When the scale tilts too much towards sugar, the wine’s overall balance is sacrificed without the backbone of acidity.

“It’s when sweetness isn’t balanced, then you have a problem. The wine will become cloying, less refreshing thus less appealing to drink,” commented Francesca Martin, founder of BEE Drinks Global, adding that a Silver-medal winning Asti from Diama was a fine example of achieving balance between sweetness and acidity.

In the higher dosage category (over 12g/l), that’s when Italy’s strength in crafting fruity, refreshing fizz came through, with plenty to offer such as Asti Spumante and Prosecco. Mezzacorona Moscato Giallo Spumante, Stantero Fratelli & CIVASS 958 Santero Asti Secco, and Societa Agricola Giusti Dal Col Prosecco DOC Treviso Rosalia were noted examples of fizz that found the sweet spot in the lower price category under HK$149. Mas de Fer Rive di Soligo’s 2016 vintage Prosecco from Valdobbiandene DOCG region added another medal to Italy’s silver streak. Other illustrious names in Italy’s sparkling wine scene including Bellavista and Andreola took home Silver medals as well.

Francesca Martin, founder of BEE Drinks Global

It’s safe to say that with Prosecco’s growing global popularity, we’ll be sure to see more samples from the region climbing up the medal chart either for drier samples or in higher dosage category. Global sparkling wine consumption is forecast to grow by an average of 2% year-on-year through to 2021, and Prosecco is undoubtedly in the driving seat, according to the latest joint report by Vinexpo and IWSR. By then, Prosecco’s growth will far outstrip other major categories such as Champagne and Cava.

Outside of Italy, Austria made a savoury sparkling using its indigenous variety Grüner Veltliner. Treasury Wine Estates’ Marquis de La Mysteriale Champagne Cuvée Grand Esprit Extra Dry was given a Silver as well. Spain’s Félix Solis Avantis’ Vina Albali Bianco Brut and Prospero Gran Selezione Bianco Brut were two good value bottles for under HK$100, so was the François Labet Cuvée Splendid Blanc de Blancs Bru. LVMH’s more accessible Champagne G.H. Mumm NV also got a nod from the judges with a Silver medal.

In the rosé category, meanwhile, Schlumberger’s Rosé Klassik from Austria and Lanson Extra Age Rosé both took home Silvers.

You can scroll over the pages to see the full results. 

Champagne Masters 2013: the medalists

The results of the Champagne Masters 2013 have been released and once more the competition highlighted the quality and value available in the vintage category.

Perrier-Jouët Champagne by Claire ColesIn 2013, as in previous years, the highest number of gold medals were awarded in the vintage £35+ category, with five Champagnes gaining a gold and a further two receiving the top title of Master.

Just two further Masters were awarded in 2013, one in the prestige cuvee (£35+) category and a further in the tasting flight for non-vintage Champagnes priced over £35.

Outstanding in this year’s competition was the house of Charles Heidsieck, which gained the only Master for a brut non-vintage, as well as another for its Brut Millesime 2000 in the vintage category (£35+).

Charles Heidsieck was also the only producer entered into this year’s competition to take home not just one but two golds in the rosé category, with one for its Rosé Reserve and another for its Rosé Millesime 1999.

Sister house Piper Heidsieck also performed well, earning a gold for its brut in the non-vintage category (£25-35), and a further gold in the vintage (£35+) flight for its 2006 release, followed by a Master for its Rare Millesime 2002.

Piper Heidsieck also gained a gold for its Cuvée Sublime demi-sec, which the judges agreed was a brilliant example of this sweeter style.

Other standout Champagnes in the competition included Champagne Palmer, which gained the only gold in the flight of non-vintage wines priced below £25, and Henriot’s Brut Souverain, which earned one of only two golds along with Piper-Heidsieck in the category for non-vintage Champagnes between £25 and £35.

Some lesser-known houses also performed well, with Champagne Autréau de Champillon and Chassenay d’Arce both picking up golds in the vintage (£35+) category.

Meanwhile, among the blanc de blancs over £35, both Mumm and Cattier were awarded golds while, in the vintage category, Philipponnat was given a gold for its Cuvée 1522 from 2004.

Aside from the high number of medals awarded in the vintage category, it was notable that the ultra-brut style of Champagnes performed less well in the tasting competition, along with the rosés, which earned mostly bronzes and silvers, despite the high cost of the Champagnes in this category.

The full results can be viewed over the following pages and the judges are listed below.

  • Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW, buying director, Private Cellar
  • Patrick Schmitt, editor-in-chief, the drinks business
  • Anthony Foster MW, director/buyer, Bonhote Foster
  • Michael Edwards, journalist/author/ Champagne expert
  • Michelle Cartwright, consultant and former Searcy’s Champagne bar development manager
  • Euan Murray, tastings director, The Wine Society
  • Jamie Hutchinson, owner, The Sampler
  • Sue Daniels, wine buyer, Marks & Spencer

About the competition:

The Champagne Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business and an extension of its successful Masters series for spirits. The competition is exclusively for Champagne and almost 100 entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Riedel Chianti/Riesling glasses supplied by Sensible Wine Services. 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 one day at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

Champagne Masters 2014: The medalists

This year’s competition showed that efforts to create the upmost in luxurious sparkling wine stretched beyond the top-end offerings and into categories that previously didn’t fare well.

Champagne-Masters-Judges

Judges, left to right: Simon Field MW, buyer, Berry Bros. & Rudd; Jamie Hutchinson, owner, The Sampler; Sue Daniels, wine buyer, Marks & Spencer; Rebecca Palmer, associate director & buyer, Corney & Barrow; Michael Edwards, journalist, author, Champagne expert; Anthony Foster MW, director/buyer, Bonhote Foster; Marcel Orford-Williams, buyer, The Wine Society; Patrick Schmitt, editor-in-chief, the drinks business

Bearing in mind the high price of Champagne, particularly grandes marques, one should expect a large collection of medal-winners in any competition devoted to this sparkling wine region. But having awarded silvers to almost half the entries in this year’s Champagne Masters cheapest category – Brut NV under £30 – we realised that the sector’s base level was now home to very high quality fizz, and undoubtedly fewer disappointing examples compared to 2011, when we first held the competition. Furthermore, former weak points in the tasting – the extra brut and rosé categories – both contained first-rate wines in 2014, proving that Champagne with very low levels of sugar can be attractive, while pink Champagne is a serious fizz too. In essence, the results attest to the fact that viticultural and winemaking improvements across the region are really becoming evident now in the wines, whatever the style.

FAMOUS FACES

Anthony-Foster-MW

Initially, the non-vintage category at all prices yielded some impressive results, and in particular, proved the quality available among Champagne’s most famous names. Commenting after the tasting’s results were revealed, chair of the judges and Berry Bros buyer Simon Field MW said, “The grandes marques are really on form at the moment,” before adding, “Showing well across the piece were, not to my great surprise, Charles Heidsieck and Deutz.” He then mentioned his particular respect for Louis Roederer, which, like Heidsieck, achieved the top award of the tasting: a Master for its Brut NV. “Hats off to Roederer’s Brut, demonstrating [chef de caves] Monsieur Lecaillon is primus inter pares when we are discussing Champagne masters!”

Findings from the tasting

• Champagne’s grandes marques performed well in this year’s competition, particularly Charles Heidsieck, Louis Roederer and Deutz.
• Brut NV Champagnes proved high quality and good value, while rosé and extra brut styles did better than in previous competitions, suggesting a quality improvement among wines in these fashionable categories.
• Blanc de Blancs Champagnes gained good scores, particularly more expensive examples.
• Charles Heidsieck was the outstanding house in this year’s competition, a testament to the skill of its late chef de caves, Thierry Roset, who died suddenly aged 55 in October this year.
• Some lesser-known houses also performed well, such as Chassenay d’Arce and Ployez Jacquemart.
• The overall quality standard was extremely high.

Nevertheless, it was Charles Heidsieck that performed the best overall in this year’s competition. Not only did this house achieve a Master for its Brut Réserve, but also its Brut Millésime 2000, while it gained a gold for its Blanc des Millenaires 1995 and a silver for its Rosé Reserve. Indeed, while we are paying tribute to winemakers, such a successful outcome for Charles Heidsieck Champagnes is testament to the skill of the late Thierry Roset, chef de caves at the house, who sadly died suddenly in early October aged 55.

Also impressive were the scores of Charles Heidsieck sister house Piper- Heidsieck, which achieved the only gold in the NV category for Champagnes priced £30-40 for its Brut Essential, while it gained a silver for its Brut NV in the under £30 category. Another notable success was Jacquart, which gained a silver for its Brut Mosaïque – a Champagne that has undergone a quality improvement since former Veuve Clicquot winemaker Floriane Eznack joined the brand in January 2011. It also earned silvers for its new prestige cuvée Alpha, with the 2005 vintage, as well as its blanc de blancs 2006 and its extra brut NV.

Meanwhile, the little-known brand of Chassenay d’Arce picked up silvers for its Cuvée Première Brut NV, Pinot Blanc Extra Brut, and a gold for its blanc de blancs 2005 as well as its prestige cuvée, named Confidences.

Meanwhile, Field mentioned further houses which impressed him in the tasting, which was conducted, like last year, at The Dorchester hotel. “I was pleased that some of the less lauded houses such as Lanson and Piper were able to rise to the challenge too.” He added, “This indicates to me a confidence across the region and an overall qualitative consistency.”

Finally he said that he was pleased to see Cattier, Palmer and Henriot “all showing their worth”, describing them as “three houses I admire”. In particular, he commented that he was “encouraged” to see large co-op Palmer making “such good wines”.
Rebecca-Palmer

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