While we would normally be packing our bags in preparation for one of Wine Lister’s favourite weeks of the year, the postponement of this year’s Bordeaux en primeur tasting week comes as a blow for all. Until we can sample the eagerly-awaited 2019 vintage, we can comfort ourselves in self-isolation with the abundance of physical Bordeaux vintages still available for delivery.
In celebration of the brilliant wines that are helping keep Wine Lister’s glasses half-full during the pandemic, this week we focus on some of the best red Bordeaux Value Picks, so that you too can avoid compromising on your quarantine drinking preferences without breaking the bank.
Wine Lister’s Value Pick score is calculated based on the quality-to-price ratio of a wine and vintage, as informed by price data and reviews from our partner critics. See the image below for five of our top Bordeaux Value Picks over the past four vintages.
- Château Capbern
Capbern obtains an average Value Pick score of 35 across the last four deliverable Bordeaux vintages, and offers excellent value for money. This Saint-Estèphe château is the sister property of Calon-Ségur. Described by one of our partner critics, Jancis Robinson, as a ‘veritable steal’, the 2014 vintage ‘continues to look exceptionally good and still fully deserving of its score of 17 en primeur’. The 2016 vintage achieves Capbern’s highest WL Value Pick score (36.2) of the four vintages, and we highly recommend getting your hands on some, available by the dozen in-bond starting from £200, from UK merchants including Farr Vintners and FINE+RARE. Millésima USA and Millésima HK also deliver this brilliant wine.
- Château Grand Village
Achieving Value Pick status for three of the four vintages examined (2017, 2016, 2015), Grand Village exhibits a dependably high quality-to-price ratio. As the original Bordeaux home of the Guinaudeau family – the producers of Lafleur – Grand Village is the accessible answer to the same exceptionally high winemaking standards applied to its parent wine. Its classification as a Bordeaux Supérieur plays a part in its inherently reasonable price (c.£13 per bottle in-bond, when buying by the case). Grand Village’s 2017 vintage achieves the highest Value Pick score (38) of all five wines and four vintages here mentioned, and is available for delivery from the Guinaudeau family wines’ UK agent, Justerini & Brooks.
- Château Fontenil
A second Value Pick from an ‘outlying’ Bordeaux appellation, Fontenil’s 8.5-ha vineyard is located at the highest elevation on the plateau of Fronsac. As renowned flying winemaker, Michel Rolland’s ‘passion project’, he purchased the site with his wife, Dany, in 1986 with the intention of inhabiting the house that was situated on its land. Taking on the responsibility of attending to the vines that came with it, and creating an entirely new estate, Fontenil is now a boutique wine of excellent quality at an average cost of c.£20 per bottle in-bond. Given its small production volume, Fontenil is not as easy to find as our other four Value Picks, however, in the UK, Laithwaites is the place to buy (as soon as they reopen their website for orders – they are currently experiencing an overload of demand due to lockdown buying).
- Château Meyney
Located in the east of Saint-Estèphe, the plots of this Cru Bourgeois are situated next to Montrose. Long considered a wine trade darling for its impressive value, Meyney continues to achieve high WL scores. Its 2015 vintage received particular praise from our partner critics, with Neal Martin describing it as ‘blowing everyone’s expectations, including his own‘. With prices starting at £25 per bottle in-bond, you can order this wine through Goedhuis in the UK, where a case of 6 bottles stands at £200, including VAT. If you are in the USA, you can place your order with Millésima.
- Château Marsau
Like Meyney, Marsau’s 2014 and 2015 vintages are Wine Lister Value Picks. The 2016 is too, and though the wine seems to get better every year, the latter may need a touch more time in bottle before drinking. Marsau is run by Anne-Laurence and Mathieu Chadronnier (Managing Director of the Bordeaux négociant, CVBG). The Marsau vineyards feature 85% Merlot planted on predominantly clay soils, resulting in a classically right-bank wine with soft, round fruit and great balance. The 2014 vintage represents particularly good value – priced at £20 for the bottle in-bond, with a high Value Pick score of 35. The UK-based merchant BI Wines is delivering this vintage, whilst those on the other side of the pond can place their order with JJ Buckley Fine Wines.
You can identify good value in further back vintages of any of the above-mentioned wines by using the Vintage Value Identifier on each wine page. See the example for Meyney below or by clicking through to its wine page here.
While the world continues to tackle the outbreak of Covid-19, we at Wine Lister are trying to continue with “business as usual” – at least as far as is possible, while also thinking of all our friends in wine regions and markets that are struggling in this uniquely difficult time. This of course includes California – that idyll for sunshine and free love as featured in many a hit song and many a hit wine list.
Of all fine wines from the New World, offerings from California have succeeded in grabbing the attention of fine wine collectors, with some even reaching “cult” status. With this in mind, we are California dreaming this week, and examine below the wines from California’s foremost regions – Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Both production areas offer an abundance of top-quality wines, though at a price. The high prices of several Napa County AVAs, including Oakville and the Napa Valley, mean that its wines can appear expensive when compared to its sibling, Sonoma County.
The chart above shows the average WL Score and price (£) per bottle in-bond (when buying by the case) of the top eight AVAs in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Two AVAs consisting only of white wines stand in stark contrast. Carneros is represented by four Chardonnays – Kistler Vineyards’ Hudson Vineyard, Ramey Wine Cellars’ Hudson Vineyard, Shafer Vineyards’ Red Shoulder Ranch, and Cakebread’s Chardonnay Reserve, earning an average WL score of 91.8. Accompanying its relatively low WL score is the second-lowest average price of all AVAs – c.£67 per bottle in-bond. This remains excellent value in the wider fine wine context, given that Chardonnay with similar scores from Burgundy can fetch up to c.£1,000 (for example, Coche-Dury’s Meursault Les Caillerets).
At the other end of the quality scale is Sonoma Valley AVA, represented by three Chardonnays from Kistler Vineyards. Its average WL score of 93.7 is the highest amongst its Californian peers. Considered a cult Californian winemaker, the Kistler Winery emulates the Burgundian “terroiriste” approach, committing wholeheartedly to wines that best reflect each individual plot.
The Napa County groups command a higher price tag on average than their Sonoma counterparts. Oakville’s selection of predominantly red wines holds the second-highest WL score, however its average price is over double that of the second most expensive region – Rutherford. This is explained by the presence of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, which, at an average price of £2,863 per bottle, drives the region’s quality-to-price ratio down. The mailing list model of Jean Philips’ low-production Napa Valley winery has amassed an incredible cult following of fine wine buyers, who seemingly seek access to the wine at any cost.
While Sonoma County may appear to offer the better value (with red wines such as Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, or Hirsch Vineyards Block 8 Estate Pinot Noir, to add examples to Kistler’s whites), Wine Lister’s top 10 Californian MUST BUYs are all from Napa County.
Of these, all are produced in the Napa Valley AVA except Screaming Eagle’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Dominus Estate achieves two mentions, with vintages 2013 and 2010 both featured. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the New World king of Cabernet Sauvignon, the top 10 Californian MUST BUYs includes just one alternative grape variety – Kongsgaard’s 2016 Hudson Vineyard Syrah.
Explore all 94 Californian MUST BUYs here.
While the outbreak of Coronavirus continues to threaten the global stock market and international commerce, it is understandable that the fine wine trade and collectors alike are feeling the pressure, not to mention wine producers – especially in hard-hit Italy. The cancellation and/or postponement of wine fairs across the globe may hinder new releases from catching their usual momentum, but those with significant back stocks of older vintages may have a way to navigate today’s choppy seas.
Wine Lister has been working on a new tool to complement WL MUST BUYs, and while now may not be the perfect time for such a release, we launch it in the hope of providing inspiration for the sale and purchase of wines that could be hiding In Stock, and in a continued effort to support producers and the wine trade during difficult times.
The new tool, Wine Leagues, provides hit lists of the very best wines to source for a given set of criteria, be it appellation, price, or WL score. We hope the top 10s on this new page will speak to all fine wine lovers, be it for “unicorn” wines, or just ultra-high quality wines that any collector should consider for their collection.
The current set of Leagues examines Italy, with the first list focusing on its top Value Picks. The top 10 Italian Value Picks hail from a handful of key producers – Fontodi, Isole e Olena, and San Giusto a Rentennano feature multiple times.
Barbaresco recommendations take the majority of top spots in Piedmont’s MUST BUYs under £50 (per bottle, in-bond when purchased by the case). Barolos from Elio Grasso, Azelia, and Fratelli Revello also make the cut, alongside Langhe offerings from Vajra and Pelissero.
Moving into France, we examine Hidden Gems from the Rhône, and Value Picks from Bordeaux. Tardieu-Laurent features three times in the Rhône Hidden Gems’ top 10 by WL score, for an Hermitage Blanc, a Gigondas, and a Cornas. Three Côte Rôties make it into the top 10, from producers du Monteillet, Pierre Gaillard, and Patrick and Christophe Bonnefond.
Top Bordeaux Value Picks render a number of deliverable vintages going back as far as 1995, as well as two wines from the latest en primeur release – Barde-Haut and Latour-Martillac 2018s. Super-second growth Pichon Comtesse’s second wine also features. The 2016 Réserve de la Comtesse was recently highlighted in a focus on Bordeaux MUST BUYs.
All users can see the standard Wine League page here. Pro users have access to a more extensive set of Leagues, and can log in to access here.
Faced with a new generation of fine wine buyers seeking more of the “weird and wonderful”, let alone recent economic obstacles – Coronavirus keeping drinkers off the streets, US tariffs on European wines – Bordeaux can struggle to find space to thrive.
Bordeaux’s traditional image compared to more fashionable regions such as Burgundy, Piedmont, or Champagne means its prices are lagging behind. The silver lining is that Bordeaux appears excellent value for the high quality available in comparison.
Wine Lister’s dynamic buy recommendation tool currently identifies 219 Bordeaux wines as MUST BUYs – just 19 fewer than the original MUST BUY list from September 2019.
The above table shows each Bordeaux appellation by number of MUST BUYs, as well as average price and WL score of each MUST BUY appellation group. Marking the delayed opportunity presented by slow price evolution post-en primeur, 2016 is the most-featured vintage, achieving 40 entries out of the 219 Bordeaux MUST BUYs (or 18%).
Leading MUST BUY appellation Pessac-Léognan is made up of 28 reds and eight dry whites. Producer Domaine de Chevalier features particularly heavily, earning MUST BUY status for 1981, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2018 for its red wine, and 2004, 2009, 2010, and 2013 for white. Its second red wine, L’Esprit de Chevalier, appears for the 2016 vintage.
Smith Haut Lafitte and La Mission Haut-Brion share the remaining white places between them, while Haut-Bailly, Haut-Brion, Latour-Martillac, and Malartic-Lagravière achieve multiple entries for reds only. Price-rising superstar Les Carmes Haut Brion features for just one vintage – the 2017.
Right bank appellations Saint-Emilion and Pomerol share second place, with 33 MUST BUYs each. They both earn slightly better average WL scores than Pessac-Léognan, but at prices 26% and 366% higher respectively on average than Pessac counterparts.
The large price difference is hardly surprising in Pomerol, given that its MUST BUY hoard includes five vintages of Petrus, and one of Le Pin. Without these, the average price of Pomerol MUST BUYs is £171, and there are still options at the more affordable end (such as 2016 Vray Croix de Gay).
Powerhouse Pauillac comes next, and includes 14 first growth entries. Mouton takes the lion’s share of these, featuring seven vintages from 1996-2018. Latour earns five places (including one much older vintage – 1964), and Lafite two. Pichon Comtesse also features heavily, earning five MUST BUYs for its grand vin, and one for the Réserve de la Comtesse.
In terms of pure value for money, the one MUST BUY from the Médoc appellation – Potensac 2018 – wins out, followed more generally by Saint-Estèphe’s 22 MUST BUY entries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its crowned king is Calon Ségur, earning MUST BUY status for five vintages – 2005, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2016.
Explore all 219 Bordeaux MUST BUYs here.