Wine Lister is a big fan of Bordeaux – the city, the people, the wines (of course), and we even have a soft spot for its idiosyncratic system for selling wines. This year has thrown us, as we learn about the 2019 vintage from our desks, confined to our homes, rather than out on the “Médoc highway” or between the walled roads of the right bank.
Virtual tasting – Wine Lister’s Founder & CEO, Ella Lister, tastes the Baron Philippe de Rothschild 2019s with Philippe Sereys de Rothschild and Managing Director, Philippe Dhalluin.
From what we have heard and read (and from the little we have tasted so far), the 2019 vintage in quality terms is in line with recent greats – 2018, 2015, 2010, and 2009. The current global pandemic makes for an unlucky welcome party for a wine that had luck on its side all through the growing season. Climatic events for the 2019 vintage were far less extreme than for 2018 or 2017. Frost threatened, and heat waves came, but each time the majority of vineyards escaped from disaster. “There was heat, but rain each time we needed it at the precise right moment”, explains Cos d’Estournel’s owner Michel Reybier. He names his Grand Vin in 2019 “miraculous”, and adds that Cos d’Estournel Blanc is the “best white they’ve ever made”. Miracles occurred further south in the Médoc, too – Technical Director Nicolas Glumineau believes that Pichon Comtesse 2019 has finally overtaken the heights of his heretofore “hero wine”, Montrose 2010.
Many producers we have spoken to echo this sentiment, underlining the high quality of the wines made in 2019, and notably, their impressive balance. The best examples in 2019 have reportedly achieved the vinous holy grail: equilibrium between the triumvirate of flavour concentration, structure (from tannin and alcohol), and acidity, thanks in part to the “balanced” weather conditions throughout the growing season.
The winter of 2018-2019 was unusually mild, causing budbreak to occur between five days and two weeks early. While such a phenomenon might normally cause the rest of the season to be premature, including harvest, the vinous clock soon righted itself thanks to a cool spring. Bordeaux spent several nights on frost-alert from late March to mid-May. Véronique Sanders, Director of Haut Bailly tells us they lit fires in the vineyards to protect from frost on at least five occasions during the spring of 2019 – on 27th and 28th March, 13th April, and 5th and 6th May. With no frost damage, and flowering back to “normal” timing, the next challenge facing the 2019 vintage was heat. France’s south-west experienced another hot summer in 2019, but rain arrived just in time on three occasions: one in July, once in August, and then some light showers in early-mid September, bringing freshness and energy to the grapes before harvesting.
Hot and dry spells through the summer have made 2019 a Cabernet Sauvignon vintage; the grape takes up a slightly higher proportion than normal of the blend of many Grands Vins. By the same token, the cooler spells have resulted in good freshness for Merlot. Philippe Dhalluin, Managing Director at Baron Philippe de Rothschild, says that Merlot across the group’s châteaux is the best since 2010, but that the Cabernet Sauvignon is so good, that the high quality of the former will be of benefit largely to the second wines. Mouton Rothschild is made up of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon in 2019, a higher proportion than average.
2019 was lucky in volume, as well as in quality. Dhalluin tells us production volumes of the Baron Philippe stable are normal-to-generous, and he is not alone. On the right bank, Director of La Gaffelière, Thomas Soubes, says “we are lucky to have quality and quantity this year”. Where in 2018 properties across both banks were forced to triage vigorously because of mildew, and started with lower yields due to severe heat stress on the vines, 2019 evaded both of these afflictions. Also contributing to good volumes at many properties were exceedingly healthy grapes at the time of harvest. Director of Talbot, Jean-Michel Laporte explains, “thanks to the impressive health of the grapes, sorting in 2019 was purely about choosing the very best quality”. The first Merlot grapes harvested at Pichon Baron certainly seemed a hopeful sign for the liquid to come.
23rd September 2019 – some of the first Merlot grapes to be harvested at Pichon Baron.
Though the Wine Lister team is yet to taste the majority of Bordeaux 2019s, their quality appears to be a good news story for a world on lockdown. While the current market could be considered a rather ill-fitting stage for a vintage with such qualitative promise, the releases have just begun (with Pontet-Canet the first major release). Early signs are that the Bordelais are listening, and might just reduce prices in line with the global crisis. For anyone with the headspace for en primeur in the current context, this is a campaign not to be missed.
Wine Lister looks forward to tasting more of the wines as soon as it becomes possible. In the meantime, we will be providing the usual campaign coverage, in the form of real-time release emails for Wine Lister Pro Subscribers, and Twitter alerts for all our followers, as well as live updates on our dedicated en primeur page.
A second post on Bordeaux 2019 will focus on the campaign, and discuss pricing within the unprecedented context of this year’s releases. Watch this space.
Throughout the late 20th century, Riesling gained a somewhat tarnished reputation, particularly within the UK, as a consequence of the abundance of overly sweet, low-quality Rieslings being released onto the market. Over the past two decades, however, it has made a comeback – especially the dry styles of top-quality wines with ageing potential and great value. The high acidity and complexity of tertiary flavours in Riesling have led to it being a favourite among wine industry professionals, including Jancis Robinson, who hails it “the greatest white wine grape”.
To help you uncover Germany’s noble grape, this week we examine some iconic dry and off-dry Riesling MUST BUYs with WL scores above 95.
Top quality Riesling is now produced around the world, from the traditional regions of the Mosel and Alsace, through to Australia and South America. 70% of dry Riesling MUST BUYs scoring above WL 95 hail from Germany (25 wines), of which just over half (19 wines) are produced in the Mosel. The other German regions in the list comprise two entries from the Rheinhessen, and one each from the Rheingau, Nahe, and Pfalz respectively.
Austria achieves six entries on the list of Riesling MUST BUYs scoring WL 95 and over (18%), which all hail from Niederösterreich, while the Alsace and Australia’s Clare Valley both earn two entries respectively.
A Mosel Must – 2010 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel
With a WL Score of 97 at just £59 (per bottle in-bond), the 2010 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel exemplifies the excellent quality-to-price ratio of JJ Prüm’s wines. Long considered one of the Mosel’s, if not the whole of Germany’s most revered estates, its Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard is situated on steep south-facing, blue slate slopes, resulting in its complex minerality. Scoring it 19/20 points, Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson recounts that the 2010 vintage of this off-dry Riesling “Dances out of the glass on the nose. Such delicacy and life! Racy”. This vintage is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler, where a case of six starts at £330 (in bond).
An essential Alsace – 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile
Dating back to 1626, 13 generations of the Trimbach family have contributed to the estate’s winemaking, now considered one of Alsace’s top properties. Cuvée Frédéric Emile is a blend of two Grand Cru vineyards, Geisberg and Osterberg, that share complex soils of alkaline clay and limestone, producing a wine of intense minerality. Both sites benefit from evening winds (the Tahlwendala), which allow extended ripening periods. The 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile achieves a WL Score of 95, and is available to purchase by the case from Cru World Wines for £390 (in bond).
A need for Niederösterreich – 2013 F.X. Pichler Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd
Described by Jancis Robinson as “Big and opulent with some lychee flavours”, the 2013 was a notably good vintage for F.X. Pichler’s Kellerberg Smaragd. Achieving the best WL Score since 1995 (96), it showcases Pichler’s attempt to refine his style and prioritise purity of fruit and balance over power. Although the narrow stone terraces of the Kellerberg vineyard necessitate farming and harvesting by hand, this wine has an impressive quality-to-price ratio. At £34 (per bottle in bond), the 2013 vintage is also a Wine Lister Value pick, and is available to purchase from BI Wines & Spirits (by the case of 12).
A New World necessity – 2013 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling
Often coined one of Australia’s most renowned Riesling winemakers, Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill plot was planted in 1996, following years of research into the effect of soil, rock, and altitude on Riesling. This eight-hectare plot is thus at 460 metres altitude, ensuring cool nights and longer ripening of its Riesling grapes. Planted in an area termed “hard rock”, the Polish Hill vineyard is situated on a crust of clay over slate, which, alongside the cool growing season, causes stress on the vines, resulting in smaller but more complex-flavoured grapes. The 2013 vintage achieves a WL score of 95, and is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler for £50 (per bottle in bond).
See the full list of Riesling MUST BUYs here.
Following our recent investigation into white Burgundy at five different price points, we now turn to red Burgundy – which represents a considerable 23% of Wine Lister’s MUST BUY hoard (376 wines).
These wines cover an even greater range of prices than their white counterparts, from £51 (per bottle in-bond) up to £15,352. Read on below for our picks of red Burgundy MUST BUYs at five different price points.
Prices are shown per bottle in-bond (when buying by the case).
Under £75 – 2012 Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Champans
Marquis d’Angerville is widely considered one of the top producers in the Côte de Beaune, and the reference producer in Volnay. Indeed, the domain’s vineyards represent over 10% of all Premier Cru Volnay plantings. D’Angerville’s Volnay Champans is less than half of the cost of its flagship Volnay wine, Clos des Ducs. While both vineyards have south-easterly exposure, Clos des Ducs has calcareous, stony, white marl soil, while the soil in Champans is more clay-driven. The Champans is thus richer and fuller, while the Clos des Ducs (which also enjoys the highest elevation in Volnay) has more complexity and definition. The 2012 Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Champans performs particularly well, achieving a WL Score of 94 – this wine can be purchased from BI Wines & Spirits for £66.67 (per bottle in bond).
Under £150 – 2014 Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot
Having taken over from his father Jean in 1990, Étienne Grivot (alongside his wife Marielle) has since adjusted his family’s viticultural and vinification methods. While completing his studies in general agriculture, viticulture, and oenology, Étienne noted that the over-fertilised Burgundian soil had become gradually less capable of producing vins de terroir. As well as reducing his overall yields, he now uses organic farming methods and natural yeasts to preserve the expression of where the grapes come from. The 2014 Clos de Vougeot has a WL Score of 94, and was described by Jancis Robinson as having “massively nuanced fruit” – this vintage can be purchased by the bottle from Wilkinson Vintners for £124 (in bond).
Under £350 – 2015 Bruno Clair Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques
Bruno Clair’s Clos Saint-Jacques Premier Cru plantings are situated within a 6.7ha vineyard (shared with Sylvie Esmonin, Louis Jadot, Fourrier, and Armand Rousseau) encircled by a two-metre wall. Providing protection from prevailing winds, this fortification creates a micro-climate, which, alongside its steep south-easterly facing slope, enables consistent ripening. The 2015 vintage achieves a WL Score of 95. Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin describes it thus: “a hint of dark chocolate emanates from the oak infusing the red and black fruit toward the finish, and touches of marmalade and blood orange linger on the aftertaste”. This vintage is available to purchase from Cru World Wine, where the price of a bottle starts at £355 (in bond).
Under £500 – 2010 François Lamarche La Grande Rue
Having been elevated to Grand Cru status in 1992, La Grande Rue provides the setting for François Lamarche’s most prized domain – from which only c.5,500 bottles are produced per year. As of the 2007 vintage, François’ daughter, Nicole, has had total control of the winemaking, and has implemented organic viticulture (certified in 2010), which she believes makes vines more resilient to biotic stress. Described by Jancis Robinson as exhibiting “lovely freshness yet concentration and subtlety too”, the 2010 vintage achieves Lamarche La Grande Rue’s highest WL Score since its 1964 vintage (96), and is available to purchase from Corney & Barrow, where prices start at £540 per bottle (in bond).
Over £500 – 2008 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier maintains his aim of preserving the purest expression of nature within his wine, with minimal interference from technological practices in the vineyard or the cellar. His Musigny is widely considered to be one of the greatest Burgundy reds, and has been described by Wine Lister’s Burgundy specialist critic, Jasper Morris as “brilliantly fragrant in bouquet and notably persistent on the finish”. With a WL Score of 96, the 2008 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny is more difficult to source than the preceding wines, however, it is worth informing your merchant of your interest in purchasing it.
In 2004, WL partner critic Jancis Robinson published an article, “Pink champagne – fashionable but too often dire”, whose title summarises the contemporaneous consensus surrounding rosé Champagne. Long-regarded by Champagne producers as a subsidiary wine – one without the required levels of attention placed on their primary project – its quality often fell short.
15 years later, in September 2019, Robinson conversely wrote a piece titled “Pink champagne – a serious wine now”, outlining the attentive methods of production, and the consequential calibre of rosé Champagne amongst its top producers.
This week’s blog post investigates the victorious return of rosé Champagne, as we examine the upward quality and price trends across 10 of its top brands when compared to their white counterparts.
The chart above shows the average WL Score and average price for “pairs” of wines from 10 top rosé Champagne producers whose range includes a rosé.
An initial look at the selected wines reveals the recurrent pattern of rosé Champagnes costing more than their white counterparts, with the exception of Krug Rosé, Bollinger Grande Année Rosé, and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé. The mean price difference between the two styles of the respective wines is substantial nonetheless, with rosé Champagne costing 46% more on average than its white equivalent (an average of £195 for rosé and £134 for white).
Excluding Pol Roger’s Rosé and Bollinger’s Grande Année Rosé (whose white equivalents supersede them by one WL point), the rosé Champagnes featured above achieve equivalent or higher WL Scores than their white counterparts.
Cristal Rosé is a blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay grapes. With a WL Score of 96, at an average price of £401 (per bottle in-bond), this wine is almost double the price of Cristal, which has a WL Score of 95 at £203. Consequential of the generally lower yields of Pinot Noir in continental conditions, Cristal Rosé is Louis Roederer’s rarest and thus most expensive wine, produced solely in years when the grapes have attained perfect maturity.
Similarly made in only exceptional vintages, Dom Pérignon Rosé is considered by its producer to characterise its growing year, hence the fluctuating ratio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from vintage to vintage. With a WL Score of 96, at an average price of £277 (per bottle in-bond), Dom Pérignon Rosé is over double the price of its white counterpart. Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut has an average price of £131 and has one less WL Score point than its corresponding rosé wine.
As indicated by its Vintage Value Identifier chart, the 2002 Dom Perignon Rosé exhibits significant quality and value, with a WL Score of 98. Jancis Robinson awarded this wine 20/20 (a rare occurrence), describing it as “pungent and composed with massive energy” – a far cry from her 2004 article. Rosé Champagne has most definitely made a comeback.
The 2002 Dom Pérignon Rosé can be purchased from Berry Bros & Rudd, where a case of three starts at £1,200 (in-bond).