Italy 2020: a hopeful harvest

“Finché c’è vino c’è speranza” – As long as there is wine, there is hope.

Never before have Italian winegrowers been able to dedicate as much time to the care of their vineyards as in 2020. The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and several further Tuscan producers cite this silver lining to Covid restrictions, and they suspect it will reveal itself in the wine to come. In a year that has caused tribulation across the world, news of Italy’s promising 2020 harvest is certainly welcomed. Wine Lister has spoken to several Italian estates, which reportedly yielded high-quality grapes across the board. While regions – Piedmont and Tuscany – had their respective weather nuances, the general consensus suggests that growing season conditions were balanced, with no mention of hail or storms.

In Montalcino, the Mastrojanni team explained that lockdown prompted improved vineyard inspection in 2020: “[people] couldn’t work indoors in their offices, so the vines received the utmost attention”. They report a “very good harvest” this year, comparing it to the high-scoring 2013. Despite two short heatwaves in July and August, the estate had a mild summer overall, thanks to cooling winds that flow through the Amiata Valley in which its vineyards are situated.

On the other side of Montalcino, Cinelli Colombini reported frost during budburst, which limited the number of grape clusters in 2020. Several other Tuscan producers spoke of reduced volumes due to the cold start to spring (Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 yield is 20% lower than last year). Cinelli Colombini’s Brunello grape harvest was nonetheless of “excellent quality”, and despite it being hard to “shine after a masterpiece of a vintage like 2019”, the team believes it will be “difficult to exclude it from being among the best five vintages of the last 20 years”.

All hands on deck: the 2020 Brunello harvest at Montalcino’s Cinelli Colombini

In Chianti, Castello di Monsanto began picking its Chardonnay grapes on 8th September, and collected its final Sangiovese on 10th October. Third-generation owner, Laura Bianchi, informed us that their spring was mild, with enough rain to create a “perfect” reserve of water for the vines. After the hot and dry August, a wet start to September helped to regulate maturation – a common theme throughout Tuscany in 2020. The grapes thus developed a “great balance of sugar, pH, and phenolic maturation”, and the first fermentation already suggests a vintage of “great personality, rich tannins, and beautiful acidity”. Further east, Vecchie Terre di Montefili started picking on 29th September – late in comparison to other producers, but normal, the team explains, for their vineyards, which lie 500 metres above sea level (and therefore require a longer maturation period).

Less than an hour away, Brancaia finished its harvest on 30th September (having started on the 3rd week of August). The team tells us that they were forced to harvest their Sangiovese quickly before heavy rain arrived, but that they were lucky that the grapes were “the perfect grade of ripeness”. In contrast, IPSUS owner, Giovanni Mazzei, explains that he and winemaker Gionata Pulignani decided to wait until after the extra rain in September before starting the harvest, “to guarantee more balance, extra aromatics, and temper the alcohol content”. In doing so, the hot and dry summer was counterbalanced; Mazzei states that he could indeed “classify the [2020] as a good compromise between cooler and hotter vintages”.

In coastal Maremma, owner and Production Manager at Fattoria Le Pupille, Ettore Rizzi, tells us that 2020 saw a significant threat of powdery mildew across its vines, especially in the thin-skinned varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Syrah. He states that they nonetheless managed to trim the affected bunches and stem the problem, while their Merlot and Cabernet vines also “gave us some incredible fruit”. According to Rizzi, “the word that can best describe the 2020 vintage is concentration” – a consequence of the high temperatures in July and August.

“The final quality of the grapes was really good” – Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 Syrah grapes

In Bolgheri, Ornellaia’s Estate Director, Axel Heinz, declared that their 2020 vintage is “shaping up to be one to remember as a great year”. The property saw “textbook perfect conditions until the end of May”, while June saw a lot of rainfall that “accelerated vine growth”, and required lots of work in the vineyard to keep the canopies under control. Summer saw hot and dry conditions, while rain arrived in the last days of August to alleviate drought stress and lower temperatures, encouraging a more even ripening at the last moment. While an unexpected mid-September heatwave made it necessary to pick all three red varieties – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot – simultaneously at speed, Heinz notes that they nonetheless look “very promising in a rich and structured style”.

Moving up to Piedmont, fifth-generation of the esteemed Gaja family, Giovanni Gaja, tells us that they are so far “optimistic” about the 2020 vintage, despite it being early days to evaluate the exact character of the grapes. Their Barbaresco plots witnessed a moderate July, followed by a warm August that was similarly alleviated by rain towards the end of the month. While they required extra efforts to prevent mildew attacks, the final picked grapes appear “very healthy”.

While 2020 has caused much uncertainty, the recent harvest suggests that there is  definitely hope for some excellent wine to come from this year, and we look forward to finding out for ourselves in the future.


Bordeaux 2018 in bottle: UGC tasting highlights

As well as marking the year that France won the World Cup Final, 2018 will be remembered in Bordeaux as a tumultuous growing season, starting with nightmare weather conditions, and finishing “in ecstasy” (recap more on the 2018 vintage in Wine Lister’s post-harvest and vintage assessment blogs).

Now that the wines have settled in bottle, it is the world around them that has been thrown into a state of chaos, though one managed impeccably by the organisers of Wednesday’s UGC tasting (see photo below). Tasting around 130 wines, members of the Wine Lister team have chosen a selection of highlights, as examined in this post.

The team’s highlights include seven of the 19 Bordeaux 2018s MUST BUYs, and 11 other picks that were showing the best out of those present at the UGC tasting.

Pauillac and Pessac-Léognan were our top two appellations, with four picks apiece. The two Pichons – Baron and Comtesse – were showing beautifully, the former impressing with a “ripe, autumn berry profile” and a “dense but silky texture”. Pichon Comtesse – one of Wine Lister’s favourites during 2018 en primeur tastings – exhibited toasty notes of “tobacco, coffee, and mocha” on the nose, that opened into an elegant and energetic palate of “black cherry with chai spices”.

In Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier presented subtly at first, but opened up into a “heady nose of plum and cassis”, matched with an equally sumptuous palate that was “deep in tone, but lifted in structure”. Malartic-Lagravière displayed a distinct Pessac minerality, and featured an intense, perfumed nose of “morello cherry and lavender”. The palate showed more savoury flavours, nonetheless endowed with a “velveteen texture”.

Elsewhere on the left bank, Margaux had three highlights, including the “sensual and floral” Giscours, and Brane-Cantenac – a “powerball of ripe, layered, and energetic fruit”. MUST BUY Rauzan-Ségla displayed nuanced aromas of “blueberry and raspberry”, with a notably generous and glossy mouthfeel.

Both Saint-Estèphe highlights offered complex profiles, sharing a comparable first note of “smoke and cured meats”. Lafon-Rochet prevailed in savoury finesse, opening up into “sandalwood and black pepper” on the nose, while Ormes De Pez developed into a “sweet and plummy” bouquet, providing “crunchy red apple and bramble” on the palate.

In Saint-Julien, MUST BUY Branaire-Ducru 2018 showed at the same time a “welcoming warmth” and a plethora of pure and precise fruit notes; “blackcurrant, blackberry, red plum” and a long, floral finish.

On the right bank, Saint-Emilion was well-represented by Canon 2018, which the Wine Lister team noted as “multi-dimensional”, encompassing an opening minerality that swiftly released into a refreshing bouquet of “luscious cherry, raspberry, and crushed strawberries”. Its palate was “utterly moreish”, with “delicate cherry notes” lingering on the finish – “this just goes on and on”, we noted.

In Pomerol, La Croix de Gay stood out with a distinct, potpourri character on the nose, and an “elegant palate of ripe berries”. L’Evangile, displayed a wealth of “black fruit flavours, overlaying its rich but balanced mouthfeel”.

Other wines included in Wine Lister’s 2018 tastings highlights are: Duhart-Milon, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, La Gaffelière, Langoa Barton, Latour-Martillac, and Les Carmes Haut-Brion.


Bordeaux 2020 harvest: optimism in the face of uncertainty

Despite this year’s unparalleled circumstances, mother nature has had no choice but to persevere – members of the Wine Lister team visited Bordeaux during September, to get a feel for the 2020 harvest. After a turbulent nine months, 2020 has reportedly yielded another excellent vintage for Bordeaux, though the region’s vines experienced their own set of ups and downs. Outside of its macro-economic turmoil, 2020 proved an uncertain growing season too, as microclimatic weather patterns appear to have been more influential than ever. Small areas on both banks experienced hail, and rainfall differed by hundreds of millimetres from one property to the next. With a bit of luck, this is a vintage the international trade will be able to taste by next spring – and it will need tasting, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the best examples of the vintage.

Common to several properties was an early start to harvest, with masked pickers dispersing across many vineyards up to two weeks ahead of a “normal” year. Indeed, Pavie began harvesting its white grapes (for Monbousquet Blanc) at the end of August – a fortnight earlier than last year. Merlot grapes began to be collected on the 21st of September – nine days earlier than in 2019 (pictured below on the 22nd September).

 Masked workers sort Pavie’s 2020 Merlot grapes (22nd September 2020)

Pavie saw lower rainfall in 2020 than parts of the Médoc. The position of its vineyards at higher altitude on the south-facing slope of its renowned limestone plateau allows for both phenolic maturity and the retention of freshness. Its new Commercial Director, Olivier Gailly, notes that the mid-harvest showers also helped with the latter, freshening up the Cabernets prior to picking, and that subsequent high wind speeds dried the grapes, and prevented mildew from setting in.

Just a few kilometres north-west, Saint-Émilion star Angélus did not have a particularly early harvest in 2020, starting on the 15th of September – just three days earlier than last year. The estate saw mildew at the beginning of the season, which they managed to control ahead of a good flowering. Eighth-generation manager, Stéphanie de Boüard is confident in the new vintage, aligning it with the iconic 1947 or 2010 – “my father told me not to be ashamed to say it”, she notes of the comparison. Early analyses show the 2020 will likely be high in alcohol, but with a low pH, creating a freshness and an overall balance that was encouraged by mid-harvest rain. “This year picking dates have been more important than ever”, she adds, referring to the retention of fresh fruit, as opposed to more cooked aromas than can occur in warmer Bordeaux vintages.

Further north-west still in Pomerol, Beauregard also received much-needed rain during harvest, which similarly helped to soften the skins of its Cabernet grapes. Summer drought was more apparent here, repeating the 2018 phenomenon of hydraulic stress on the vines, and resulting in a smaller yield than 2019.

Moving to the Médoc, more properties saw the same hot and dry climatic conditions in 2020, resulting in instances of small grapes with high alcohol potential and lower acidity. In Margaux, d’Issan saw 16% potential alcohol in some of its early Merlot grapes (the highest ever recorded), and consequently welcomed the mid-September showers. Neighbouring Palmer anticipated the rain, and held off picking its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes until it came and went, ensuring the thinning of skins on smaller berries, and an overall reduction in alcohol percentage. The estate saw limited yields due to the dry summer, and Managing Director, Thomas Duroux, quipped that although “négociants would have liked a vintage with high volume and lower prices, [2020] will be a small vintage…” While he implies it might be more expensive than the trade had hoped, he nonetheless expects the 2020 to be “rich and exuberant”, sharing the power and concentration of 2018.

In Saint-Julien, owner of Branaire-Ducru, François Xavier Maroteaux describes a 2020 growing season of neat balance. The estate had a “wet post-harvest Autumn in 2019”, which helped to prevent drought stress throughout the new growing season. As the summer began to dry out, the estate saw 100 millimetres of rainfall in a short period (at the end of August), followed by a sunny and warm September. The season itself, Maroteaux muses, is similar to the 2011 vintage. He believes the resulting wine is worth excitement, after a steady and successful ripening, avoiding any disease.

In Pessac-Léognan, Malartic-Lagravière expects a concentrated wine in 2020, having also seen low volumes of mainly small berries due to the heat. Neighbouring Domaine de Chevalier echoed the sentiment, and we were surprised to hear from owner, Olivier Bernard, that there had not been a drop of rain at estate the day before our first visit (21st September), despite it raining throughout the same day in the Médoc, and in Bordeaux itself.

The last day of picking at Domaine de Chevalier (30th September 2020)

“There have been lots of choices to make this year”, he continues – one of which no doubt was whether to trust the weather forecasts, particularly around harvest. With fewer planes flying around, forecasts were less accurate, and while rain fell further north, Pessac often remained dry. Bernard explains that the picking windows were tight in 2020: “instead of four days where the grapes are fine to pick, there’s one day” – since the drought and heat would cause alcohol to rise, and acidity to deplete quickly.

It seems therefore that we have another winemaker’s vintage on our hands. Mirroring somewhat the choppy commercial seas of this year, Bordeaux has had to navigate unpredictable viticultural waves too. What we have heard of the 2020 harvest thus far nonetheless leaves us hopeful, and anticipating eagerly the en primeur tastings of next spring.


Topping off the 2008s – Taittinger Comtes de Champagne

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 was released yesterday (1st October) at c.£89 (per bottle in-bond), marking one of the last 2008s from the “Grandes Maisons” to enter the market. The release has reignited discussion on the success of the vintage in Champagne, which has been declared one of the best of the decade along with 2002. Below we investigate top 2008s, and where the latest addition from Taittinger fits within them.

Characterised by a consistent, dry, and cool growing season, climatic conditions in 2008 encouraged slow veraison across Champagne, which enabled grapes to achieve their full phenolic maturity while retaining acidity. The combination of both gives the vintage considerable ageing potential, and unyielding structural integrity.

As illustrated above, the top 10 2008 champagnes by WL score exhibit impressive quality, with the top three wines gaining scores of 97 and above. This has not been achieved in the past four vintages, with Krug Brut Vintage 2003 being the most recent back vintage of a champagne to achieve a WL score of 97. Indeed, the top 10 champagnes gain an average WL score of 95.8 in 2008, compared to an average of 94.6 across the top 10 champagnes from the previous vintage.

The newest addition to the top 10 haul, Taittinger Comtes 2008 shows good value within the wider context of the vintage, despite entering the market at a 26% premium on the current market price of its 2007 vintage. While achieving the same WL score as MUST BUY Philipponat Clos des Goisses 2008 (96), Taittinger’s latest release is available for 34% less, (£89 vs. £135 per bottle in-bond). Similarly, it achieves one more WL point than Bollinger Grand Année 2008 (available for £85 per bottle in-bond), for a very slight premium.

Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni awards Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 98+ points, stating it “is simply breathtaking” and “represents the purest essence of the Côtes des Blancs in a great, historic vintage”. He concludes, “readers who can find the 2008 should not hesitate”.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne is historically one of the top 10 most liquid champagne brands, giving it further investment appeal. Additionally, Taittinger announced that it has not produced any 2009, 2010, or 2011 Comtes de Champagne, due to poor weather conditions during these years – a fact that may well increase interest in this latest release.

Also featured in the list of top 10 2008 Champagnes by WL score are: Salon Le Mesnil, Cristal, Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut, Marc Hébrart Spécial Club Millésimé, Joseph Perrier Cuvée Josephine, De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies, and Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.


Palmer’s propitious “N-10” release?

Château Palmer launched its first back-vintage release yesterday (Thursday 24th September). Named “N-10”, this new release phenomenon is planned as an annual event henceforth, releasing each year the vintage celebrating 10 years of age.

N-10 therefore begins on an exceptional note for quality, with Palmer’s 2010 vintage (which earns a WL score of 96 – its second-highest ever). It is also worth noting that 2010 was the second vintage of Palmer to benefit from some biodynamic experimentation, ultimately leading to its full certification in 2017.

Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin, awarded Palmer 2010 96 points after tasting at BI Wines’ 10 years on tasting in February this year. “This is an outstanding Palmer, but it needs more time in bottle”, he notes. Wine Lister’s CEO and Founder, Ella Lister, concurs, stating, “the wood still apparent after spitting will certainly integrate more with time – because this needs lots of time”, though her overall assessment is perhaps more generous than Martin’s 96 points. She adds, “There’s a quiet, dreamy poise to this wine. [It is] enigmatic, brooding, and spellbinding”.

The last remaining ex-château stocks of Palmer 2010 entered the UK market at £293 per bottle (in-bond), making them the highest-priced recent vintage on the market. The new price of Palmer 2010 therefore sits at a 33% premium to previous remaining market availability.

This is a bold hike up from Palmer 2010’s initial release price, however Director Thomas Duroux’s communication on production quantities and pricing as a direct result of the château’s uncompromising commitment to biodynamics and exceptional quality has prepared the market for it. The last few en primeur releases have set a solid scene for Palmer’s new strategy, and provide definitive proof that the château has outgrown the bounds of its classification.

We understand that immediate take-up for the N-10 release has been good, if not quite at the fast sell-out pace of en primeur. That is not the objective here – Duroux is confident that this ex-château stock will satisfy demand in the mid-term.

Indeed, even at its higher price, Palmer 2010 remains a Wine Lister MUST BUY.


Buying beyond the label – brands to buzz about

If 2020 has given any gift at all, it would be time at home, which many have used to read more, and learn new things on topics familiar and foreign. Today’s blog helps you discover the unique stories behind some of the world’s most recognisable wines. Read on below to discover beyond the label of these notable names.

Krug – Cracking the code

Beyond its reputation as one of the most admired Champagne brands, Krug has also pioneered an industry innovation: Krug iD. Since 2011, a six-digit “identification code” has been printed on the back label of every Krug bottle. Scanning the code with a smartphone gives drinkers access to the unique story of the individual bottle, including a vintage report, as well as offering food pairing suggestions, and recommendations for its storage and serving.

Photo credit: lvmh.com

Aside from its technical innovation, the quality of Krug is simply undeniable. The latest NV Krug Brut Grand Cuvée (168ème Édition) achieves MUST BUY status, and receives a score of 19/20 from Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, who notes a “remarkable acidity underpinned by great depth of flavour and beautiful balance on the finish”. It is available to purchase by the bottle from Crump, Richmond & Shaw Fine Wines for £133 (in-bond).

 

Cheval Blanc – Cultivation experimentation

Saint-Emilion superstar, Cheval Blanc, has illustrated significant long-term investment in its viticulture in recent years. Initiated by Managing Director, Pierre Lurton, the estate has conducted countless soil analyses, viticultural experiments, and regular phenological surveys to establish the best grape variety for each of its three different terroirs (gravel over clay, deep gravel, and sand over clay). Experiments have tested each possible variation of soil type for the Bordeaux varietals used in Cheval Blanc – 52% Cabernet Franc, 43% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon – to establish which combination delivers the best quality of fruit. Indeed, the château found its plot of sandy terroir to be particularly well suited to Cabernet Franc, providing a reference point for the best that can be achieved with the grape in Bordeaux.

Released en primeur in July this year, the  2019 Cheval Blanc was awarded 18 points from Jancis Robinson, who describes it as “beautifully poised on the palate with a density of fruit and silky texture of finely matted tannins. Pure, seductive and persistent”. It can be bought by the case of six for £2,400 (in-bond) from Farr Vintners.

 

Bond – Truth in terroir

With grapes sourced from select hillside plots across Napa Valley, Bond’s portfolio of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines aims to reflect each wine’s specific sense of place. The estate owns five sites featuring some of the region’s best terroirs, and has dedicated its viticultural practice to preserving the best expression of its individual plots; Melbury, PluribusQuella, St. Eden, and Vecina.

The fruit from each site is vinified separately, while winemaking procedures are kept the same across all of the Bond wines in order to honour terroir differences. The Vecina vineyard, for instance, sits on volcanic soil at between 221 and 330 feet above sea level, causing a thermal amplitude of cool nights and hot afternoons, which renders its wines complex and layered, with concentrated tannins. The 2015 Bond Vecina was awarded 97 points from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous), who indeed describes it as “super-expressive. A big, dense wine, the 2015 possesses stunning richness and dimension”. It is available by the bottle for £443 (in-bond) from Fine+Rare Wines.

A line-up of Bond wines, that communicate the differences in the estate’s Napa Valley sites.

 

Ornellaia – An artist’s interpretation

Outside its global renown as a reference for quality in Tuscany, Ornellaia also stands out for its own special label tradition. Established in 2006, the estate’s annual artist program, Vendemmia d’Artista, commissions a new artist each year for the creation of the limited-edition label, inspired by a single word chosen by winemaker, Axel Heinz, to capture the essence of the new vintage. The latest release (2017) was named “Solare” due to the especially hot growing season, in which both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested as early as August for the first time in history. This inspired contemporary artist, Tomás Saraceno’s label design (below).

Photo credit: ornellaia.com

Awarding the Ornellaia 2017 97 points, Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni describes it as “sumptuous and racy, as Ornellaias from warmer years tend to be, but it is not at all heavy or overdone. In a word: superb!”. The vintage can be bought by the case of six from Justerini & Brooks for £765 (in-bond).

The four above-mentioned wineries provide just a small handful of innovative and engaging examples of how to make a wine stand out from the crowd. Wine Lister has launched a dedicated PR and communications service in order to help more producers do the same on the UK market. To find out more, please contact us at  team@wine-lister.com.


The best Bordeaux MUST BUY right now ? – Lafite 2018

Amid the flurry of releases from La Place de Bordeaux during September, an exciting development is said to be afoot from a wine grown on home turf.

We understand that Lafite 2018 – released last spring en primeur and currently still only available to purchase as such – will be bottled next year in special, 150 year anniversary bottles, complete with one-off anniversary labels.

The current average market price of Lafite 2018 is £533 per bottle (in-bond)*. Special bottlings typically induce significant price rises, particularly for Bordeaux first growths.

Mouton 2000’s special, gold-engraved bottle is priced almost four times higher than the average of Mouton’s recent back vintages (£1,558 vs. £398).

Similarly, the price of Margaux 2015, whose special bottle features a black label in memory of its winemaker, the late Paul Pontallier, has risen 64% since the commemorative bottling was announced.

Prices of any remaining Lafite 2018 in the global marketplace are therefore poised to increase between now and the actual bottling of the wine, at which time we understand a small parcel of further, physical stock could be released by the château (presumably at a sizeable premium).

Lafite 2018 is currently an absolute MUST BUY.

*on date of publication, Thursday 17th September 2020


September releases from La Place de Bordeaux: week three

Releases from two cult Californian producers have taken centre stage this week so far – see the analysis below.

Vérité 2017s 

The 2017 vintage of the Vérité trio – La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie – was released on Monday, at £320 per bottle each (in-bond). The latest releases have picked up much praise from critics, and mark an historic year for the estate – completing its harvest one week before the arrival of North California’s devastating Tubbs Fire, Vérité’s vineyards escaped unscathed, and their grapes picked before any smoke taint from neighbouring areas could set in. This also marks the first collective release of Vérité’s flagship wines in an assorted case, with previous vintages available to purchase separately.

Comprising 100% Merlot grapes for the first time since its conception, La Muse 2017 receives 96 points from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni. He notes that the vintage “is aromatically deep, beautifully persistent and just impeccable in its balance”, stating that he “liked it more than the 2016”. A price of £320 places the 2017 20% below the current market price of the 2016, which has risen over 30% in price since its release, and has limited remaining market availability.

Le Désir 2017 obtains 98 points from Galloniits highest ever score from the critic. He states it is “off the charts fabulous”, and describes notes of “mocha, chocolate, licorice, leather, menthol, pine and spice”. Akin to La Muse, market availability of last year’s release is scarce, illustrating its good track record of selling through post-release. Keeping in mind the 2017’s record-breaking score, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues this year, given the collective format in which the wines are being sold.

La Joie 2017 breaks the same record as its sibling, Le Désir, receiving its highest score to date from Galloni (96). He calls it “another gorgeous wine in this lineup”, describing “hints of rose petal, lavender, mint and blood orange”, and concluding that it is “a stunning wine by any measure”.

Joseph Phelps 

Joseph Phelps’ Napa Valley vineyards – which saw their hottest recorded temperatures in 2017

Insignia 2017 entered the market yesterday at £160 per bottle in-bond (flat on the 2016 release price). As we were told in a recent Zoom tasting with Phelps’ granddaughter and the winery’s Director of Business Development, Elizabeth Neuman, the 2017 vintage lives up to her vision of Insignia as “a tangible legacy of Joe himself – achieving the best of the best”. Neuman informed us of Winemaker, Ashley Hepworth’s recent dedication to achieving texture in the wine, through which she has experimented with blending trials prior to ageing.

Awarding Insignia 2017 91-94 points, Galloni indeed describes a “dark, sumptuous and enveloping feel, with a real sense of breadth and textural resonance”, adding that “more than anything else, the 2017 is all about palate richness”. Wine Lister likewise recognised the finessed texture of the vintage, with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, calling it “supple, gentle, and silky” on the palate, complete with “dark fruit, plum, and chocolate” on the nose.

Frequent heatwaves in 2017 saw record-high temperatures reached throughout the growing season, including an instance of 46.7°C, recorded in Phelps’ Saint Helena Ranch during Labor Day weekend. The 2017 vintage is consequentially the winery’s smallest in 20 years, with total production down 60% on the 2016.  The significant reduction in the volume released this year, as well as the estate’s developing style, may work to encourage interest.

Also released over the past two days: Orma 2018, Petrolo Galatrona 2018, and Siepi 2018.

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Rounding up the second week of Place de Bordeaux releases

Sampled by the Wine Lister team at last week’s CVBG Beyond Bordeaux tasting, the latest Place de Bordeaux releases cover a range of regions and price points. Below we examine some of the highlights:

Wednesday 9th September 

Released at c.£225 per bottle (in-bond), Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2018 enters the market below the current prices of the two previous vintages (see graph below). Hommage was a Wine Lister favourite this year. We detected bright, candied strawberries, orange skin, and clove, while its mouthfeel offered a momentary grip of tannins, followed by a silky-smooth finish.

 

With a 15% reduction in volume released this year, alongside the château’s unwavering reputation for producing benchmark quality in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the new vintage is worth considering for future drinking. In the meantime, back vintages 20152012, and 2009 also look good in terms of price and quality. Writing for JancisRobinson.com, Tom Parker MW awards the 2018 17+ points, noting “meaty, earthy fruit on the nose, very complex already”, and “damson and morello cherry” on the palette.

Inglenook Rubicon 2017 also entered the market on Wednesday at £120 per bottle (in-bond). Produced by the estate since 1978, the flagship wine has maintained a score of 95 or above from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, over the past five vintages, and the latest release is no exception. Awarding it 95 points, he describes notes of “red fruit, cedar, sweet pipe tobacco, menthol and licorice” that “all develop in the glass”. Our team detected complex spice and oak, softened by a gentle hint of vanilla.

Thursday 10th September 

Released yesterday at £54 per bottle (in-bond), Cheval des Andes 2017 receives 17.5+ points from Tom Parker MW for JancisRobinson.com. He describes “intense and expansive black fruit and spices on the nose, with a hint of black olive and violet”, and “blueberry, violet and dried herbs” on the palette. He concludes, “I expect this to become even more impressive after 5 years in bottle, though you could drink it sooner”. Having tasted a flight of recent back vintages at the time of last year’s release with Technical Director, Gérald Gabillet, the Wine Lister team can attest to Cheval des Andes‘ continued upward quality trajectory. We noted a definite complexity within the latest vintage, which offers a nose of Parma violets, white pepper, and bright berries. Cheval des Andes 2017 enters the market under current prices of the last three vintages, and is worth snapping up if there remains any availability.

Solaia 2017 completes the quartet of releases from the past couple of days. Matching last year’s release price of £175 per bottle (in-bond), the latest vintage comes onto the market comfortably under current prices of the previous two (which have increased their respective values by c.20% since release – see chart below). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, awards Solaia 2017 95+ points, and describes “terrific aromatic expansiveness and tons of persistence”. There is anticipation for this score to improve: “I can’t wait to taste it with a bit more time in bottle”, he adds. We tasted the 2017 last week, and were indeed impressed with its development, finding an elegant nose of violet drops and cocoa powder. Given its impressive quality in such a challenging year, and the wine’s history of good price performance post-release, this is well worth securing now.

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September releases from La Place de Bordeaux: week two

The last two days of Place de Bordeaux releases have included vintages from three powerhouse producers of different regions, whose commonality lies in their use of Bordeaux varietals. Below we examine these key releases.

Monday 7th September

The second week of September Place de Bordeaux releases began with the latest offerings from cult Californian producer, Opus One. Described by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, as “one of the most complete wines of the vintage”, 2017 Opus One was released onto the UK market at £228 per bottle – the same price as the 2016. Awarding it 95+ points, he states that the 2017 is “a dense, full-throttle beauty”, with “a distinctly red-toned fruit profile that distinguishes it from the surrounding vintages”. Although receiving one point less than the 2016 (which has a score of 96+ from Galloni), the latest vintage holds particular significance. 91% of fruit had been picked just before the devastating Californian wildfires commenced, eradicating two lots of Opus One vines. Awarding 17.5 points to the 2017, Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, notes that there is “not a trace of smoke taint”, and describes “a combination of savoury and something as sweet and chalky as Edinburgh rock”.

Both the historic nature of the vintage, and the reduction in volume released this year are facts sure to encourage high levels of interest. Opus One is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one US wine (and joint-fifth overall) voted by the trade to have seen the sharpest rise in demand, as shown below:

Results from Wine Lister’s 2019 Founding Members survey, showing the consensus on the top 10 wines that have seen the sharpest rise in demand

Tuesday 8th September

Kicking off yesterday’s releases, Masseto 2017 was released, and merchants were offering at around £480 per bottle. Though slightly higher than last year’s first tranche release price (readers should note that this year, there is only one single tranche), the 2017 enters the market 11% below the current price of the 2016. Antonio Galloni gives the 2017 96-99 points (up from 94-97 for the 2016), calling it a “spectacular wine in the making”, with notes of “red cherry jam, mocha, leather, licorice and a dash of new oak”. While 2017 will be remembered as one of the hottest and driest growing seasons in recent history, Winemaker, Axel Heinz, states that the vintage “managed to encapsulate all the ripeness and concentration” of the climatic conditions. Indeed, Galloni notes that the latest release is “quite simply a remarkable wine for such a challenging year”. Masseto already earns strong acclaim as the wine to have seen the third-sharpest rise in demand according to the trade (see above) – the 15% reduction in volume released onto the market from last year will no doubt only encourage requests for the 2017 further.

The second wine from the cult producer, Massetino 2018 was also released yesterday, at a likely UK market price of c.£205 per bottle. Although its second vintage, this is the first international release of Massetino, as last year’s distribution was limited to the Italian and the US markets only. We sampled the latest release at CVBG’s Beyond Bordeaux tasting, and found it to have expressive, concentrated fruit on the nose, and more refined notes of Marcello cherry and minerality on the palette.

Yesterday’s releases ended with a bang, as Latour released its 2009 vintage. Merchants offering at c.£860 per bottle place the 2009 just under the current market price of the iconic 2010. This is the first ex-château stock to be released since its original en primeur release, and is available at a c.10% premium to existing stock on the market. Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin, awards the latest release 99 points, stating that it “is endowed with a simply magnificent nose with intense blackberry and cassis fruit laced with minerals and graphite, extremely focused to the point of overwhelming the sense”. “Wow”, he concludes.

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