Since its launch in September, Wine Lister’s MUST BUY list has unveiled fine wines across multiple regions, vintages, price points, and drinking occasions, all with the common theme of being so good, that they simply must find their place in fine wine fanatics’ cellars. Wine Lister’s prices are updated weekly, and since price (in the form of value) plays a major part in the MUST BUY algorithm, MUST BUYs too will henceforth be updated weekly.
Since its last update, the MUST BUY list has grown by four wines (to 1,697), with 22 new entries, and 18 wines that have fallen off the list. Following the same trend as last week, nine out of the 22 new MUST BUYs (or 41%) are Burgundian. Big names in Burgundy continue to do well, with three new white Buzz Brands hailing from Raveneau, Jean-François Coche-Dury, and Pierre Yves Colin-Morey respectively.
Elsewhere within white entries are two Rieslings, the Alsatian Hidden Gem, Albert Mann’s l’Epicentre 2008, and the indomitable Joh. Jos Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr, whose 2011 is now one of seven MUST BUY vintages of this sensational Value Pick.
With the clocks turned back and a wintry chill in the air, there are twice as many new red MUST BUYs as white. Burgundy and Italy make the strongest showing, with five reds apiece. Maison Joseph Drouhin sees the addition of its Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes 2008, bringing the house’s MUST BUY total to 21 wine vintages. Meanwhile Italy’s new MUST BUYs hail from four big name growers: Gaja, Roberto Voerzio, Castello di Ama, and Isole e Olena.
Bordeaux achieves just one entry in Le Tertre-Rotebœuf 2008 (one of nine Bordeaux 2008 MUST BUYs). California also makes its mark, with Vérité’s La Joie 2013 and Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red 2011. Outside of “classic” fine wine regions, Château de Pibarnon’s Bandol Rouge 2000 also enters the fray.
See the full list of current MUST BUYs here.
2017 was perhaps the most difficult of recent Bordeaux vintages. Looking back at our harvest report on this frost-ridden vintage, the Wine Lister team attended the annual UGC re-tasting with some trepidation last week.
Indeed, new president of the Union des Grands Crus Classés, Ronan Laborde, reminded us that 2017 had been a “vintage of challenges”, requiring “patience, determination, and energy” to battle against the frost. Even still, some producers lost their entire crop, and many that didn’t produced their “smallest quantities of recent years”.
Troubled though the vintage might have been, you wouldn’t know it from the hoards of London trade that flocked to taste Bordeaux’s latest deliverable vintage, nor indeed from many of the wines we tasted, which followed a general trend of being exceedingly approachable.
Out of some 120 wines tasted, the Wine Lister team highlights its selection of 17 top dogs, and four underdogs below.
The team’s highlights include five out of the six 2017 Bordeaux WL MUST BUYs (vs. 19 in 2018 Bordeaux), while the other 16 are those we felt showed the best of those in attendance at the UGC tasting, in the context of the 2017 vintage.
Saint-Julien was our top-performing red appellation, with exemplary wines such as “poised” Léoville Barton, as well as two great successes from Domaines Henri Martin: Saint-Pierre was a “real triumph in the vintage,”, while underdog Gloria was “lithe, lovely, and beguiling”. Elsewhere on the left bank, Margaux and Pauillac earn three highlights apiece, including “hedonistic” Giscours and Wine Lister’s top pick of the tasting, “magical, brooding” Pichon Comtesse.
Pessac-Léognan performed equally well for whites as reds. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc was “explosive yet precise”, and underdog Latour-Martillac Blanc showed impressive roundness and balance. Haut Bailly had “an incredible elegance”, while Les Carmes Haut Brion showed “purity and savoury spice”.
Saint-Emilion’s Figeac was the best of the right bank bunch – “muscular” in texture but balanced by “succulent fruit”. Pomerol was well-represented by “floral and velveteen” Clinet, and “powerful” Petit Village.
Other wines included in Wine Lister’s 2017 tasting highlights are: Rauzan-Ségla, D’Armailhac, Lynch Bages, Bouscaut, La Gaffelière, Canon, Beychevelle, and Malartic-Lagravière Blanc.
Wine Lister has almost 150 new MUST BUYs. Since we launched MUST BUYs officially in September, the list has been updated based first on the most recent prices and relative regional or appellational value within vintages, and subsequently on Wine Lister’s most recent trips and tastings. The full MUST BUY list has reduced by 109 (1,693 wines vs. 1,802), and includes 149 new entries.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 62 (or 42%) of new MUST BUYs hail from Burgundy. The 2017 vintage (released for the most part at the beginning of this year) yields 17 results, all worth getting hold of before availability reduces, and prices inevitably rise. Antoine Jobard achieves three mentions, all for 2017 Meursaults (Genevrières, Blagny, and Les Tillets), while Burgundy négociants are well-represented by additional MUST BUYs from Maisons Louis Latour, Louis Jadot, and Joseph Drouhin, who now count totals of 14, 42, and 20 MUST BUYs respectively. The Maisons de Négoce increasingly represent unparalleled value for money as the quality of their wines continues to increase, while their prices have not exploded in the same way as for many domaine wines.
Bordeaux gains 17 new entries, including a 2018 en primeur listing – Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. The remaining new Bordeaux MUST BUYs are mainly older vintages, with premiers and deuxièmes crus from 1982-1999 that are worth uncovering ahead of the festive season. Two Value Picks stand out from the Wine Lister team’s own tasting experiences of late – Capbern 2014 and Haut Carles 2015.
Italy reaps particular success in this new round of MUST BUYs, with 31 listings in total, split between Piedmont (14), Tuscany (15), Veneto (1), and Sicily (1). Gaja leads the charge in Piedmont with two vintages a piece for Barolo Sperss (2005 and 2014), and Barbaresco Sorì San Lorenzo (2005 and 2007). In Tuscany, a fourth vintage of Soldera’s Case Basse makes it into the MUST BUY list (1999), alongside existing MUST BUY vintages 2008, 2009, and 2013. The indomitable Castello dei Rampolla also gains an additional vintage each for Sammarco (1991), and Alceo (2008), making it the most “essential” producer to buy in Italy.
The Wine Lister team was pleased to be able to select from new wines rendered by the MUST BUY algorithm a few gems from recent tastings, including Deutz Cuvée William 2008 and Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons Blanc de Blancs 2010 from a recent trip to Champagne, and Cheval des Andes 2016 – one of the team’s favourites from the September releases through the Place de Bordeaux.
All MUST BUYs are qualified by a minimum quality level, but at the very top of the new MUST BUY scoreboard are 16 wines with WL scores of 97 and above. While Burgundy outperforms Italy in number of new MUST BUYs, they each earn five places in the top scorers, as shown below.
See the full list of MUST BUYs here, and watch this space for weekly MUST BUY updates from here on in.
In Piedmont, the 2019 harvest is late (compared to recent standards). Most Dolcetto was already picked when I visited last week, but healthy Nebbiolo bunches were still hanging on the vines (apart from those of early-picking maverick Roberto Voerzio, whose harvest finished on 23rd September, before anyone else had started). Most growers started harvesting Piedmont’s noble grape this week (the second week of October). At Gaja this was around a fortnight later than the already late vintage of 2016, which Gaia Gaja cited as similar for its great quality and quantity.
Left: the only grape-free Nebbiolo vines spotted in Piedmont last week, at Roberto Voerzio (with hail-protecting nets that stay on all-year round and last for 15 years). Right: recently picked vines at Tenuta Tignanello in Tuscany.
It has been a late year since the start: the first drought was in February and March, so there was “no energy for vegetation to develop,” explained Gaja. “In April we got rain but it was cold, so no sicknesses developed,” she continued, expressing relief that there was no replay of 2018’s almost tropical spring. There was a “shocking jump in temperature” on 25th June. With the grapes still all green, at 40°C for almost a week, some grapes burned, “even though we hadn’t touched the canopy by then, but very old vines don’t have so many leaves to protect the grapes,” explained Gaja. Then on 7th and 8th July, 200ml of much-needed rain fell. An accumulated delay was increased further by the higher quantity of grapes for each vine to ripen.
At Bartolo Mascarello, the Nebbiolo harvest is starting around now, which is especially late given that Barolo itself – where Mascarello’s vines are – ripens earliest of all the Barolo villages. However, such a late harvest has become an exception with the world heating up. “The rules have become the exceptions,” mused Maria-Teresa Mascarello, when I asked her about the usual timing for malolactic fermentation at Bartolo Mascarello. “There is no normal time for malo’ any more with so many early vintages,” she answered.
Maria-Teresa Mascarello in the Bartolo Mascarello winery in Barolo, explaining that the rules have become the exceptions due to climate change.
The 2019 harvest might seem late compared to recent, hot vintages, but at Pio Cesare, Augusto Boffa tells me that picking in the last week of October or the first week of November used to be the norm. This is why the winery advocates the Barolo “classico” (they understandably prefer this terminology to “basic” or “standard”) – a blend of many different villages. It is “the only way we can guarantee consistency,” although he adds that, “there used to be more worries on this front climatically.”
A five-hour drive further south, in Chianti, harvest is also on the late side. At Castello di Ama, winemaker Marco Pallanti had to postpone the last day of picking due to some light rain on the morning of Thursday 3rd October. The same spring rain and dry August delayed the vines in Tuscany as in Piedmont. Pallanti was very happy with what had been picked and vinified so far. The wines have “good colour and structure,” he told me, likening the quality level to 2015 and 2016, though quantity is around 20% down on last year.
The wet, cold May and torrid summer have also delayed the vines at Tenuta Tignanello, where they were running the risk of rain to achieve the right balance of sugars and polyphenolics. While the season “started very late and is very long,” said CEO Renzo Cotarella, “the vines didn’t suffer,” he continued, leading to “very balanced grapes” and vines “that still look unstressed even now.” He compares 2019 to 2016 and 2010, saying it is “more fresh than powerful”. If 2019 is anything like the 2016s (“the best we’ve ever made”, declares Cotarella) then we’re in for a treat.*
*I was lucky enough to taste the 2016 and the 2009 Solaia side-by-side at the estate, and very excited to hear about an upcoming retrospective at The Ledbury in London being organised by Wine Lister’s partner critic Vinous. It will include those two vintages and go all the way back to 1978. Renzo Cotarella will be there, as will Piero Antinori, with Antonio Galloni as host. Tickets are available here to Vinous subscribers or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new “normal” seems to be developing for Bordeaux.
After a fleeting trip around Bordeaux properties on both banks at the start of harvest, the Wine Lister team is excited to see the 2019 vintage take shape.
We must admit this was not our sentiment on the 23rd September, when, on arrival in a dreary, damp Bordeaux, our first thought went to the poor pickers, and of course to the grapes and potential spread of disease in such wet conditions.
Thankfully this worry was quickly cast aside – “the grapes are in an incredibly healthy state. For grape health, this has been a dream year”, said Château Dassault’s Valérie Befve. This, she further explained, was thanks to the combination of a good spring without too much humidity, budburst that was a little cold but without rain, and a dry summer that was hot without having placed too much water stress on the majority of the vines.
The summer heat wave and consequential drought, similar in timing and nature to 2018 (and to an extent, 2016), will likely result in another year where freshness and caution in extraction are key. Befve put this succinctly, noting that the “skin to juice ratio will require delicate management”. This theme, recurring in several of the last Bordeaux vintages, highlights the importance of careful handling in the cellars, and explains in part the purposeful movement towards a fresher, more approachable style, and away from big tannins and high alcohol that need time in bottle to soften.
Left: Sorting of the first Merlot grapes at Pichon Baron. Right: Pichon Baron now uses small vats on wheels to transport freshly-picked grapes into fermentation tanks, since they cause less breakage of grape skins than traditional pumps.
Comparable characteristics seem in play on the left bank too. At Pichon Baron we tasted some of the very first 2019 Merlot grapes, and though the berries are a little smaller than usual (because of the drought), they are in perfect health. Axa Millésimes’ Commercial Director Xavier Sanchez was quick to say that it was far too soon to speculate on quality levels, but that the very early analyses “resembled 2018 and 2016”.
Grapes of high sugar content will need to be vinified with caution in order to balance potentially high alcohol levels. The rain that has fallen in the past 10 days will likely be a welcome gift to the Cabernet Sauvignon from the “grands terroirs” on this front, the majority of which are set to be picked this week.
Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, Managing Director of Léoville Poyferré and Le Crock echoed the positive sentiment on the general quality of grapes for both her properties, in Saint-Julien as in Saint-Estèphe – “We’re hopeful it will be another beautiful vintage, for both quantity and quality this year”.
While successions of good years are by no means unusual for the bordelais, harvests following heatwaves are becoming a pattern. All that remains to be seen is how the winemakers of Bordeaux deal with this “new normal” in the cellar. We are looking forward to finding out next year!