Rosé Masters 2019: results and analysis

We bring you the results in full from this year’s Rosé Masters, which saw pink wines from Provence get top results, although samples from Corbières and Tuscany also impressed our exacting judges.

The wines were tasted at Beach Blanket Babylon Restaurant and Bar in London’s Notting Hill

Of all the categories in the vast universe of fermented grape-based drinks, rosé is the most dynamic. With the rising call from consumers for pale pink wines, above all from Provence, it seems almost every corner of the wine world is now making a rosé, and in the lightest possible shade of pink.

With such an influx of new products, it has become more important than ever before to blind taste the latest entries to this fast-expanding sector, whether it’s range extensions from long-standing pink wine producers, or the latest vintage from famous rosé regions, as well as complete newcomers to the category. Over recent years, the Global Rosé Masters, which is the largest rosé-only blind tasting in the world, using the trade’s top palates, has unearthed some wonderful and unexpected sources of great rosé, and 2019’s competition was no different in this regard. It has also highlighted the general strengths and weaknesses in this important and increasingly commercial category of drinks.

In terms of the good points, it seems that more winemakers are mastering the challenge of creating something that is both fresh and delicate, as well as ripe and soft. This can be made harder if the wine must also – as the market demands – be extremely pale.

In my view, rosé should have juicy flavours of red berries and peach, and a finish that is bright, if not biting. It should have appealing summertime aromatics of fresh red fruit, and a texture that ensures it slips down the throat with no harshness, but a soft acidity that makes one salivate.

Where the samples fail to get top scores, it is usually because the wines lack some of the riper fruit characters in the drive for delicacy and refreshment, with, sadly, some of the entries tipping into the herbaceous flavour spectrum, giving them a firm greenness that takes away from the pleasure of sipping rosé.

At the finer end of the rosé scale, where retail prices exceed £20, I am not in support of the school of thought that says oak has no place in pink wine. It’s a view I don’t understand: why should the colour of the drink dictate the winemaking approach? After all, one wouldn’t say that about white or red wine, so why would one about rosé?

Outstanding examples

While there are great examples of pink wine at high prices that see no oak influence, there are more outstanding ones that do (three of our four Master-winning wines were in the ‘oaked’ category). Where barrels have not been employed to add texture and complexity, producers have turned to other techniques to add palate weight, such as lees influence in tank, as well as the careful selection of ripe fruit, rich in flavonoids, and no doubt picked from older or lower-yielding vineyards.

Here, the pleasure comes from the fruit intensity, the balance between softness and freshness, and the layers of flavour that can come from a blend of sites and grape varieties, and ageing on fine lees. Aromatics are vital to the appeal of a rosé, and to capture them, producers must handle the grapes sensitively, with the chilling of the berries a necessity as soon as they are picked, as well as during the winemaking process.

Pioneering perfection

What about those top-end pinks that have some form of barrel influence, including a proportion of new oak? This is something that Château d’Esclans has pioneered and perfected in the rosé category, using its best wines from its oldest Provençal vineyards. Key to the appeal of these wines is the match between the soft ripe fruit flavours and the nutty, creamy characters imparted by the barriques – each of which is temperature controlled to retain the fresh berry characters of the Grenache that dominates in their wines. In essence, these wines are a hybrid, combining the complexity of a barrel-fermented Chardonnay with the aromatic appeal of a Mediterranean rosé.

However, Château d’Esclans no longer has a monopoly on such a style. As we’ve highlighted before, Gerard Bertrand has burst onto the upmarket rosé scene with great success, particularly his smoky, gently toasty Château La Sauvageonne La Villa from the Languedoc.

This year, there was another entrant to this tiny category of top-end oak-influenced fine rosés, and it didn’t come from France. For me, this year’s most interesting find was from Frescobaldi, and it was a barrel-fermented and aged rosé from Tuscany, called Aurea Gran Rosé. It employs a complicated winemaking process, but, like the great rosés of Château d’Esclans, the fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled barrels – which in the case of the Frescobaldi pink – are 600-litre French oak, with 20% of them using new staves. An added layer of complexity in this wine also relates to the addition of a small proportion of reserve wine from a previous harvest; a white produce from Syrah that has been aged in barrique for 20 months.

Increased quality

The addition of this particular wine to the ranks of our Gold medal-winning rosés also draws attention to a trend that’s gathering momentum in the pink wine category – the increased quality of rosés from Tuscany. These are often sourced from coastal locations, and employ a touch of Vermentino – which is, after all, the Italian synonym for Rolle, the white grape used widely in the rosés from Provence. Three first-rate examples of Tuscan rosés were sampled blind this year, one from Fattoria Sardi, one from Banfi, and another, called Alie – like the aforementioned Aurea – from Frescobaldi. These weren’t the only standouts from Italy, however, with the Scalunera Etna Rosato from Torre Mora another delicious pink, and using Sicily’s fashionable Nerello Mascalese, a grape that’s adapted to the rocky hillsides of this Italian island’s active volcano, Etna.

Elsewhere, we were highly impressed by the quality-to-price ratio seen in La Dame en Rose from the Languedoc, a Carignan, Cinsault, and Grenache stocked by UK supermarket Marks & Spencer, retailing for just £6. We were also pleased to see a lovely pink blend from Bordeaux called Lion & The Lily, along with a delicious Pinot rosé from Marlborough, made by Marisco Vineyards, and a benchmark Provençal example from Château Léoube. Corbières in the Languedoc was a source of a stand-out rosé from quality-orientated co-operative, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, called Château Haut Gléon, while the highest-scoring unoaked rosés in 2019 were made by Château Minuty, with its Minuty 281 the better-value option, while its £50+ Rosé et Or gained the ultimate accolade of Master.

A mention should go to Canada’s Mission Hill, which gained two Golds for its delicious blended rosé from its vineyards in Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley, as well as to Gusbourne in the UK, for its delicious sparkling rosé from Kent, although Coates & Seely’s pink English fizz from Hampshire came close in quality. We were also impressed by the style of sparking rosé from Champagne’s Nicolas Feuillatte, which is crafting a chalky style of fizz with a touch of crunchy red berry fruit.

Finally, although we’ve already written about Château d’Esclans, this year’s blind tasting once more proved that this producer is at the top of the pink wine pyramid, picking up three of the four Masters given out this year. Indeed, this Provence estate’s Les Clans, and its ultimate expression, Garrus, should be served, preferably ‘blind’, and in black glasses, to those who believe that wine can’t be both pink and serious, layered and ageworthy.

Such is the quality of these products that rosé should now be included in a list of truly fine wines.

The judges (left to right): Giovanni Ferlito, Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Andrea Briccarello, Tobias Gorn

Read on for the full list of medallists, judges comments, and more information about the competition.

Rosé Masters 2017: the results

This year’s Rosé Masters showed that while Provence still rules when it comes to making rosé, other regions – such as England, Turkey and Greece – are giving it a run for its money. By Patrick Schmitt MW

Let’s face it, hosting a tasting competition according to whether a wine were white or red would be ridiculous, quite simply because the colour provides a limited indication as to the character of the wine, and the breadth of style is practically endless. But, somehow, with rosé, such an approach – creating a wine competition just for a specific colour – is quite normal, and that’s because rosé is an indication of style, albeit loosely.

If you see something pink, one assumes it’s light in body, youthful, fresh, and tastes of summer berries. As for whether or not it’s sweet or dry, that too, tends to be judged by appearance – one suspects that the paler the pink, the drier the rosé.

But, although rosé is still, for the most part, a relatively simple, refreshing, strawberry-scented drink best served straight from the fridge, the range of styles has expanded vastly over the past few years. Not only that, but the quality levels have broadened too, with rosé moving successfully into the sphere of luxury drinks.

As for assessing the sweetness level according to hue, that is a dangerous game, particularly now every pink wine-producing corner of the world seems intent on creating a rosé as pale as those from Provence.

This diversification in style and quality, even if there seems to be an increasing standardisation in appearance, makes a tasting competition for nothing but rosé an extremely interesting experience. And, thanks to the current popularity of Provençal pinks, an exercise of great commercial significance.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters is a competition for all styles of rosés from around the world. This year’s event saw almost 200 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters. 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 tasted over the course of one day at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington on 17 May. This report features only the medal winners.

NEW SOURCES
So what did this year’s Rosé Masters teach us? Well, we learnt much about the category, but, as with all our Masters tastings, the competition confirmed the superiority of certain places, while drawing attention to new sources of greatness.

And both outcomes are extremely useful. To tackle the former, in sparkling, once again we saw that the pinnacle of pink winemaking performance was found in Champagne. Here is a place already famous for making the best sparkling wines in the world, and this year’s Rosé Masters proved that this is just as true for pink, as well as for white variants.

Greatness was found at all price bands over £20 too, with Gremillet taking a Gold at the cheaper end of the Champagne spectrum, Lanson and Comtes de Dampierre doing similarly brilliantly in the mid-priced area, and then, at the top, Laurent-Perrier, particularly for its range-topping Alexandra Rosé from the 2004 vintage; which gained the ultimate accolade of the day: the title of Master.

This was well deserved, certainly, but such quality comes at a high price: this prestige cuvée rosé retails for more than £250.

As for those areas less well known for brilliance, in the sparkling rosés, the surprises came in the form of a lovely and relatively inexpensive pink fizz from Tuscany, along with, notably, a couple of first-rate examples from England. The judges awarded two Golds to Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex, both for vintage expressions, but from different harvests and with different dosages.

It was further evidence that England is becoming a serious source of fizz.

Moving to the still dry rosés – which made up the majority of the tasting – the competition showed that at lower price points (those wines under £10 in UK retail), the sources of quality were varied, although, as one might expect at these low prices, it was hard to achieve a Gold medal.

Nevertheless, the judges were highly impressed with the quality achieved for a wine costing a little over £10, which came from Rioja – and that was the Izadi Larrosa, hence its Gold-medal winning score.

Indeed, Rioja proved itself a first-rate source of good-value rosé based on Grenache and Tempranillo, with the region’s Ontañon Clarete also gaining a Gold.

(Rioja can also create brilliant top-end rosé – with the region’s Marqués de Murrieta the only winery to get a Gold in the £30-£50 price band, aside from famous Provençal producer Château d’Esclans.)

But staying in the sub-£10 sector, it was notable that a broad range of places are now making bright, appealing pink wines, including some areas that are less well known for rosé.

These included Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, home to the excellent Château Ksara Sunset Rosé, and Penedès, home to the Ecologica La Pluma Rosé, made using organic Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedès in the northeast of Spain.

Once the judges began sampling wines from beyond the £10 barrier, but below £15, Provence, as one might expect, provided the benchmark in terms of quality and style. With a mix of just-ripe red fruits, a touch of peachy, oily palate weight and a refreshing finish, these extremely pale, rather delicate pinks are only made difficult to taste because they are hard not to swallow.

However, there is much quality variation in Provençal rosé, with some wines showing a leanness, and sometimes even a hard herbaceousness – and only the best had mastered the balance of fruit sweetness and citrus freshness, as well as that gently viscous mid-palate, cut short with that all important bone-dry bright finish.


And you can see the producers that shone this year, some of which one would expect to perform well – from Mirabeau to Château Léobe, along with the wines from Famille Sumeire, Domaines Ott, Maison Saint Aix, and Château d’Esclans.

HIGH-QUALITY ROSÉ
But among the more pricey rosés, there were surprises.

One of these concerned the quality of pink wines from Greece, with La Tour Melas, Ktima Biblia Chora and Alpha Estate all gaining good scores from the judges.

Although none of these producers gained a Gold, the fact they were awarded Silver medals, and in the higher price bands of £15 and above – where the judges tend to be meaner with the scores – the results showed that Greece is making really high-quality rosé.

The final revelation from this year’s Rosé Masters concerned one particular producer, that, significantly, isn’t within the hallowed terroir of the Côtes de Provence. The appellation is the Languedoc, and the producer is Gerard Bertrand. Gaining one Master, one Gold and two Silvers, it is clear that Gerard Bertrand is the new name to watch in rosé.

Not only that, but for those who thought that luxury, barrel-aged rosés were the sole preserve of Sacha Lichine’s winery in the Côtes de Provence, then try Bertrand’s Château La Sauvageonne Rosé La Villa. From a plot high in the Languedoc, this layered, oak-matured rosé can play the role of a lip-smacking apéritif as well as a more grown-up, textured wine for serving with food.

Indeed, this particular wine is the first time we have come across a true rival for the barrel-aged Garrus by Château d’Esclans, and Bertrand’s range-topping rosé is half the price.

NEW TERROIRS
So, once again, our Global Masters tasting concept achieved its double aim of identifying new terroirs while testing the quality available in those that are already well-established.

And, concerning the latter, Provence may still be king, but it had better watch out – there are producers from outside this famous rosé region that are not only making pink wines with the same ballet-shoe hue, but in a similar style, and, most importantly, to an equally high standard.

Top row (left to right)
• Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief, the drinks business
• Antony Moss MW, director of strategic planning, WSET
• Jonathan Pedley MW, wine lecturer and consultant
• Christine Parkinson, group head of wine, The Hakkasan Group
• Clive Barlow MW, wine trainer and consultant
• Clément Robert MS, group head sommelier and wine buyer, 28º-50º
Bottom row (left to right)
• Elizabeth Gabay MW, wine writer, Provençal rosé specialist
• Dee Blackstock MW, wine buyer and consultant
• Beverly Blanning MW, wine writer and lecturer
• Patricia Stefanowicz MW, wine educator and consultant

Global Rosé Masters 2018: the results

As much as its producers might try to convince us to more readily drink rosé outside of the summer months, there’s no denying how a ray of sunshine can make a glass of pink that much more appealing.

About the competition

The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters is a competition for all styles of rosés from around the world. This year’s event saw almost 200 entries judged blind by a panel of highly experienced tasters.

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 tasted over the course of one day at 11 Pimlico Road in London’s Pimlico on 19 April. This report features only the medal winners.

So it was appropriate, and serendipitous, that this year’s Global Rosé Masters should fall on what was the hottest day of the year in London so far – a balmy 31°C; we could have been on the French Riviera in August, if we squinted through the traffic. Not that our panel of judges could be swayed by such trivialities as the weather, but on warmer days, particularly in less Mediterranean climates, rosé has a way of springing to the forefront of consumers’ minds.

If this year’s competition proved anything, it’s that rosé is far from simply a light-hearted beverage made for drinking without thinking, but a serious wine capable of complexity. With more than 200 still and sparkling entries, styles ranged from light, fresh and fruity with classic notes of strawberry and raspberry, to more weighty, textured examples that offered layers of more complex aromas like garrigue, grilled nuts, nectarine and passion fruit.

The wines that had seen wood wore it well, proving that when applied fastidiously, a level of oak ageing or barrel fermentation can add another more serious layer of intrigue to a rosé. Colour, though a vitally important commercial consideration (with a paler hue currently in vogue) was not a defining factor, and while a great many of the wines judged were consciously pale, there was a broad sweep of colours on show, from deep pink and salmon to cherry, peach and coral – a reminder that looks aren’t everything.

As judge Tobias Gorn points out: “It is great to have light-coloured, fresh and elegant rosés, but the current trend of the ‘paler the better’ – being the more elegant and prestigious – is getting a bit over the top.

“Some darker rosés are equally great. I suppose it’s a bit like in many other cases in the drinks industry: the colour is great to be enjoyed, and is important, but mustn’t lead the flavour profile and hold back wines from achieving greater recognition and well-deserved fame.”
And as veteran judge Patricia Stefanowicz MW adds: “Much more relevant than the feast for the eyes, is the balance of dryness (or sweetness), fruit and flavour, acidity, and body.”

And while rosé might be a firm favourite with consumers, at the commercial end, driven by vast volumes of easy-drinking, fruity styles from France and Italy, and the sweet white Zinfandels and blushes produced in the US, producers aren’t resting on their sun loungers. Indeed, as this competition showed, rosé producers are making marked efforts to elevate the rosé category. As one of our judges, Jonny Gibson, owner and head tutor at the Sussex Wine School, notes, observing this year’s entries: “There seems to be quite a lot of experimentation going on in the rosé category. Higher-altitude and north-facing vineyards being planted specifically for rosé, different picking times, some skin contact, blending in a small amount of white wine (Vermentino in Provence) and the use of lees stirring and oak. I saw a video about the unique cooling equipment that Château d’Esclans have had made to keep their barrels cooled to different temperatures.”

The industry’s efforts to produce wines of outstanding quality were demonstrated by the fact that this year’s Global Rosé Masters yielded an impressive five Masters, (with one Master-winning wine demonstrating stunning value at under £15), a handful of Golds and many more Silver medals besides. And while France, specifically Provence, may have accounted for the largest number of wines judged, it did not sweep the board (but nevertheless accounted for two Masters), with several wines from less traditional rosé-producing countries achieving high praise. A pink from Greece scooped a Gold, while an English sparkling rosé was also among the wines to achieve the highest accolade of a Master.

Jonny Gibson, owner and head tutor at the Sussex Wine School

Under £10/£10-£15

Inevitably, still rosés made up the lion’s share of the wines judged, with a great many falling into the commercially crucial £10-and-under category. At this level, judges were not only looking for quaffable crowd-pleasers, but wines that were balanced, with plenty of fruit and lively acidity. One stand-out performer came in the shape of Barton & Guestier’s B&G Reserve Rosé from the Languedoc, which was the only wine in this price band to achieve a Gold medal. Wines hailed from regions as diverse as Italy, France, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Australia and the UK.

However, it was Spain, particularly Rioja, that performed strongly within this price brand, with rosados from Marqués de Cáceres doing well across the board. Indeed, this producer’s paler and more delicate Excellens rosé was the highest-scoring Spanish wine in the competition.

Moving up a rung into the £10-£15 category, Provence started to make its mark, with our first Master of the day awarded to Chateau la Coste’s Grand Vin Rosé, which, at under £15, was the best-value wine of the competition. Provence’s Château Gassier also scored a Gold for its Esprit Gassier, along with Domaines Fabre’s Cuvée Dédicace Côtes de Provence. But while Provence performed strongly, judges felt that style had perhaps taken over from substance, with several producers presenting paler-than-pale expressions at the cost of concentration and complexity.“Perhaps aiming for paler oeil de perdrix (eye of the partridge) colour is stripping out flavour punch also? At this price point, though, there were some lovely surprises from Italy, Spain and Lebanon,” said Stefanowicz.

Gold medals were also awarded to Fattoria’s Sardi rosé from Tuscany, Planeta’s rosé (a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Nero d’Avola) from Sicily, and, representing the Cape, Holden Manz’s 2017 Rosé. Elsewhere, Lebanon’s Château Ksara earned itself a Silver medal for its Sunset rosé from the Bequaa Valley, along with Wakefield/Taylors Pinot Noir Rosé, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills.

Scaling the price ladder further, at £15-£20 expectations increased, with judges looking for a little more than a well-made wine but expressions with depth and finesse. While there were no Masters to be found in this category, there were three stand-out performers: Mirabeau’s Azure, from Provence – the producer’s first on-trade exclusive – Pink Vines’ PR- Provençal Rosé, and Alpha Estate’s Xinomavro Rosé from Amyndeon in Greece, which were all awarded a Gold.

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