Keeping it in the family with the best value second wine picks
Further informing your Bordeaux 2020 purchases, we look at the top 20 second wines of the vintage by Wine Lister’s value score. The score is calculated based on the quality to price ratio of a wine and vintage, while still allowing room for higher-priced wines to feature.
The top 20 leading sibling wines by Wine Lister value score
Which second wines provide the greatest value?
Often lurking in the shadows of their Grand Vin counterpart, sibling wines offer a high quality, more accessible alternative to Bordeaux’s long-ageing elite. While some are the product of grapes remaining from the Grand Vin, other producers prefer to give a sibling wine its own dedicated plots, often of slightly younger vines. In either case, these wines made at the hands of some of the world’s greatest winemakers should be considered seriously. Below we look at our top picks of sibling wines for value, based on the latest offerings from the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign.
Left Bank legacies
All major Bordeaux appellations across both banks are well-represented amongst the top 20 value picks, with Margaux property, d’Issan achieving the greatest value score for the 2020 vintage. First produced in 1985, Blason d’Issan bears a greater proportion of Merlot than its Grand Vin sibling (57% compared to 39%), but as noted by its maker, Emmanuel Cruse, is still very much a “baby d’Issan”, sporting the château’s perennial style. The second wine of 2020’s wine of the vintage (according to Wine Lister partner critics), Margaux, has been a permanent feature of the estate since the 17th century; christened Pavillon Rogue in 1908, it is 2020’s only top 20 second wine from a First Growth property. Margaux comrade, Giscours, is also represented, by its Sirène de Giscours, which enjoys the same winemaking attention and ageing as the Grand Vin, but with grapes sourced from younger vines. Finally, Margaux majesty, Palmer is featured with Alter Ego. Its 2020 release was well sought-after, particularly after no second wine was produced in 2018.
Pessac-Léognan royalty, Haut-Brion’s Clarence de Haut-Brion ranks among the top 20 sibling wines for value. It is joined by L’Espirit de Chevalier – the red counterpart of Domaine de Chevalier’s sibling series – and Haut-Bailly’s Haut-Bailly II. The latter was renamed (from La Parde de Haut-Bailly) in 2019 to symbolise the second generation of owners, the Wilmers family. Finally, Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion comes from the same vineyard as the Grand Vin, grown and harvested in the same way, with the introduction of grapes from the older parcels of La Tour Haut-Brion since the 2006 vintage.
Saint-Julien has three properties represented by their second wines, including Croix de Beaucaillou, which ranks in second place. This sibling wine is produced using grapes hailing from its own distinct vineyard, lying to the west of the château. Completing the top five rankings is Fiefs de Lagrange, which bears familiarity to its Grand Vin sibling, but is more suited for earlier drinking. Finally, Léoville Las Cases’ le Petit Lion celebrates its 13th vintage with the release of the 2020, produced from a blend of replanted vines that are now between 15 and 18 years of age.
In neighbouring Saint-Estèphe, Le Marquis de Calon Ségur and Pagodes de Cos occupy 10th and 11th place respectively, with the former taking very different form from their first wine as an alternative interpretation of the Calon terroir. The latter is produced from a separate, dedicated plot of 40-year-old vines.
Completing the Left Bank selection are four Pauillac value picks, of which two hail from the same property. Pichon Baron is the only property to see its two additional wines feature – Les Griffons de Pichon Baron and Tourelles de Longueville. Lynch-Bages’ Echo joins them within the top 10 picks by value score. Finally, Pichon Comtesse’s Réserve de la Comtesse – first sold in 1973 – is a top feature for en primeur 2020. This well-established sibling wine represents between 20% to 50% of Pichon Comtesse’s total production.
Right Bank relatives
One the Right Bank, and particularly in Pomerol, sibling wines have been slower to catch on, simply due to lower production levels per property. Two Saint Emilion Classés A properties nonetheless stand out for sibling value picks– Pavie and Angélus – featuring Arômes de Pavie and Carillon d’Angélus, respectively. The latter is increasingly becoming a “cousin” rather than a sibling, since the property has recently invested heavily in new plots for Carillon alone. Amongst this top pick hoard is Pomerol estate, Pensées de Lafleur, which takes 13th place amongst the top value picks with a limited-production of 500 cases.
Change and adaptation on the banks of Bordeaux
Unpicking the challenges of the 2020 growing season, we talk to seven top Bordeaux producers to understand more about how climate change continues to impact the region’s fine wine industry.
Haut-Bailly harvest under the scorching September sun
How is Bordeaux adapting to climate change?
Bordeaux has been no stranger to extreme climatic conditions in recent years, culminating in what some may describe as climatological confusion for many châteaux last year. While witnessing 15% more rainfall between March and September 2020 than its 30-year average for this period, Bordeaux also saw 54 days of excessive drought during the summer. It would appear that now, more than ever, adaptation and innovation are key to the successes of the region’s releases.
Dealing with drought
- Extensive dry spells have become a common phenomenon in Bordeaux, with Margaux’s Business Development Director, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, sharing with us his concerns that the vines “could end up with wilting” leaves, leading to “a loss in terms of yields but also eventually in terms of quality”. Despite also being one of the wettest years on record, 2020 was no exception with its pattern of heatwaves and ensuing drought.
- Saint-Émilion’s Cheval Blanc experienced its driest vintage since 1959, though Technical Director Pierre-Olivier Clouet explains the humid spring fortunately allowed the vines to accumulate “water and nutrients much needed later in the season”. He elaborates that despite the drought, this allowed vines to “grow calmly and homogenously”.
- Across the Gironde, Haut-Bailly’s Véronique Sanders tells us that “work in the vineyards has evolved enormously”, and that “the fundamental process of pruning has been re-examined” as part of a wider series of viticultural practices that have been changed to adapt to climate change, enabling Haut-Bailly to make the most out of the varied conditions.
Coping with concentration
- Several properties such as Larrivet Haut-Brion saw small and concentrated berries as a result of high temperatures and persistent drought in 2020. The estate’s Cellar Master, Charlotte Mignon tells us that it has had to adapt its winemaking in recent years, opting for punching down versus pumping over in order “to control light and elegant extractions” in such hot years.
- Alexis similarly tells us of Margaux’s recent investment in more highly advanced phenolic analysis equipment, which reports the levels of tannin and pigment in the individually-vinified lots and allows the team to “precisely plan extraction with lower temperatures, fewer and gentler pump-overs, and limited maceration time”.
- Increasingly concentrated grapes have also reduced yields across the region, as told to us by Calon Ségur’s Managing Director, Vincent Millet, whose volumes in 2020 fell to 33hl/ha (down from 40hl/ha in 2019) due to the heat.
Larrivet Haut-Brion incorporating recently harvested whole bunches into their blend
A move away from Merlot
- With global warming affecting the evolution of certain grape varieties, Palmer CEO, Thomas Duroux tells us that the “classic complex finish of Merlot” is particularly threatened by rapid ripening induced by hot summers.
- This concern was shared amongst several properties, with Charlotte finding Larrivet Haut-Brion’s Merlot grapes to be heavier, with greater sugar levels and thus a higher alcohol potential. To regain freshness in their Merlot juice, she now “incorporates the whole grape bunch, including the stalk”, to add more structure and tannins. In the long term, the estate is planning to replant more plots to Cabernet Sauvignon due to the varietal’s slower ripening, while Margaux is similarly including “more and more” Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in their blend, and “even thinking of perhaps experimenting with a few rows of Carménère”, to study how it reacts to high temperatures.
- In similar vein, Claire Villars-Lurton of Ferrière remarks on the advantage of less Merlot in the changing climate: “We have prioritised replanting of Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than Merlot, as even young the latter variety is more sensitive to water stress”.
- Several of the châteaux we spoke to highlighted their aim of counteracting the effects of climate change by enriching the natural environment and the soil. Thomas emphasises the importance of having a “living soil” in the face of ecological stress, noting that biological compost and plant growth amongst the vines offers “greater stability, root resilience, and nourishment” in increasingly hot and dry years.
- The benefits of a living soil are echoed by Vincent, who tells us that at Calon Ségur they plant grass cover in the vine rows maintains “some moisture in the soil during dry periods”.
- Claire notes that cover crops help to maintain soil biodiversity, but the approach she takes goes beyond this purpose: “we adopt a minimal intervention approach in the vines. We plant cover crops between the rows, that we fold over or cut so as to have a natural mulch – this protects the soil from the damaging effects of strong sunlight, allows the soil to keep a good level of humidity, and means any rain that falls can seep deeper into the subsoils”.
Shading from the sun
- Like several châteaux adapting viticultural practices vintage-by-vintage, Larrivet Haut-Brion withheld leaf removal until later in the 2020 growing season, to shelter grapes from the scorching sun.
- A similar strategy has been adopted at Haut-Bailly, who revise their canopy management every year to reflect the concurrent needs of vines.
- At Calon-Ségur, Vincent explains they are “careful about thinning out the leaves in order to avoid burns”, and are considering “adjusting the height of the trellis” to provide shade from one row to another. Opting for a more permanent solution, Margaux have gone so far as to “change the orientation of the vine rows” in order to “expose each side of the vine to the heat equally and minimize sunscald”.
As well as gaining top scores across its reds, Bordeaux 2020 was successful for dry whites, notably at the highest level. Helping you to discover some of the leading examples, we explore the top five Bordeaux 2020 dry white wines by WL score.
The top dry Bordeaux whites of the 2020 vintage, displayed in order of WL score
Will 2020 be a good vintage in Bordeaux for dry white wines?
Despite another exceedingly warm growing season in 2020, Bordeaux’s earlier-ripening white grapes fared well across many of the region’s top blanc producers. Having seen one of the earliest harvests on record, the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes were picked on the 14th of August, and all fruit destined for dry whites was harvested by early September. The white Bordeaux vintage therefore avoided high temperatures during the rest of the month, maintaining balance and freshness.
With a remarkably small production of just c.600 cases per annum, Haut-Brion Blanc remains one of the most sought-after Bordeaux dry whites. To combat the warm summer temperatures, the team conducted pre-dawn harvesting, picking grapes during the cooler night-time climate to ensure better levels of acidity and freshness. Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, found Haut-Brion Blanc to show “an almost Burgundian minerality accompanying its unmistakable Pessac green and yellow-fruit character”. With a WL score of 94, it champions the leader board of Bordeaux dry whites for the last four vintages, and there is still some of the 2020 available to purchase en primeur at IG Wines for £600 per bottle (in-bond).
Haut-Brion’s sibling estate, La Mission Haut-Brion’s white is characterised by a Sémillon-dominated blend – a grape with naturally low acidity compared to Bordeaux’s other white varietals. With soaring summer temperatures in 2020, the team therefore increased the percentage of Sauvignon Blanc in its blend to 54.7% (up from 30.1% in 2019) to ensure balance. Ella notes the impact of the increased Sauvignon on the wine’s acidity, describing a “zippy acidity, zingy energy, [with a] peach stone finish.” La Mission Haut-Brion’s white gains a WL score of 94 for the 2020 vintage, and can be found at Justerini & Brooks for £480 per bottle (in-bond).
Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc’s white vines are planted just behind the château to the north, where they benefit from a cooler microclimate that withstood high temperatures in 2020. Technical Director, Fabien Teitgen found a “nice balance and liveliness” in the grapes after harvest, while Ella characterises the 2020 as “subtle and flirtatious, building slowly into notes of white pepper and lime, as well as pure white fruit”. Gaining a WL score of 93, Smith Haut Lafitte blanc 2020 is available at Honest Grapes for £96 per bottle (in-bond).
Located at the heart of the Landes pine forest, Domaine de Chevalier’s vines are also subject to a cooler microclimate as a result of the surrounding woodland, which was certainly welcomed in 2020. When sampling the latest release at the estate, Ella enjoyed the richness of the vintage, noting “Aromas of tangerine, white flowers, custard, and acacia honey” and a palate that is “creamy and caressing […] with a lift of tension and a savoury bite.” Receiving a WL score of 93, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2020 can be acquired from Berry Bros & Rudd for £68 per bottle (in-bond).
Though First Growth Margaux has been producing a dry white for over 300 years, Pavillon Blanc 2020 marks the 100th anniversary under its current name. The only non-Pessac pick to feature in the top-five ranking, the success of the latest release was not without its challenges. Tasting alongside Margaux’s Managing Director, Philippe Bascaules, and Business Development Director, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, Ella was informed of the high mildew pressure as a result of a hot wet spring in 2020, which risked affecting the Sauvignon Blanc grapes of their single-varietal wine. Nevertheless, their 2020 receives a WL score of 93, with Ella describing a “Really rich, mouthcoating texture on entering the mouth – almost a Chardonnay-esque opulence”, and declaring the wine “Delicious.” Pavillon Blanc 2020 can be purchased en primeur from Goedhuis & Co for £180 per bottle (in-bond).
New additions from this year’s offerings
With the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign now concluded, Wine Lister’s latest MUST BUY update includes 13 new picks from the latest vintage, covering a range of different appellations and price points.
New 13 MUST BUY additions from Bordeaux 2020
What are the MUST BUYs from Bordeaux 2020?
Wine Lister’s MUST BUY algorithm takes into account a wine’s quality and value within its vintage and appellation to produce initial recommendations. These results are then filtered through an intelligence-based, human overlay, which identifies MUST BUY wines based on our tasting of Bordeaux 2020, and observation of the reception of each release in the market.
Right Bank insights
Highlighting the success of the Right Bank in 2020, Saint-Emilion houses five of our 13 Bordeaux 2020 MUST BUYs. Amongst the selection is one of Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni’s (Vinous) “wines of the year”, Pavie 2020, which he scores 97-99, noting “All the elements are well balanced.” The first key release out of the gate this year, Cheval Blanc also gains MUST BUY status. With a score of 96-98 from Neal Martin (Vinous), who calls it “finely proportioned and multi-layered” with a “mineral-driven finish”, the 2020 can be purchased en primeur from Petersham Cellars for £388 per bottle (in-bond).
Beauséjour Héritiers Duffau Lagarrosse, Laroque, and Canon also join the Saint-Emilion entries – the latter gaining praise from Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, who describes it as “Full-to-bursting with salivating fruit, just ‘à point’, with impeccable balance”. Canon 2020 can be bought en primeur from £96 per bottle (in-bond) from Honest Grapes.
The Right Bank is represented further by prized Pomerol property, La Conseillante, which retains MUST BUY status for the second vintage in a row. Released at £156 per bottle (in-bond), the 2020 receives a score of 96-98 from Neal Martin, who calls it a “deeply impressive and quite profound La Conseillante”, and is available to purchase en primeur from Goedhuis & Co.
Left Bank investments
Over on the Left Bank, the latest Margaux MUST BUYs comprise 2020s from Brane-Cantenac, d’Issan, and Durfort-Vivens – all of which are available on the market for £50 per bottle (in-bond) or less. d’Issan performs notably well, taking new shape with the introduction of Petit Verdot and Malbec in the latest blend, hailing from new plots purchased by the estate in March 2020. It earns a score of 93-95 from Antonio Galloni, who notes that “Issan is shaping up to be a jewel of a wine.” Appearing in the rankings for most-improved Wine Lister Quality score for a third consecutive year (see our recent blog here), Durfort-Vivens also achieves MUST BUY status in 2020. The estate has seen impressive post-en primeur price performance in recent years, and shows future promise in its upward quality trajectory. Durfort-Vivens’s latest release can be bought en primeur from Justerini & Brooks at £44 per bottle (in-bond).
Pauillac’s Haut-Bages Libéral 2020 receives some of the highest scores ever achieved by the property, including a score of 17 from James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com, who calls it “pure and precise” with “silky and refined” tannins. In neighbouring Saint-Estèphe, Lafon-Rochet also features in the latest MUST BUY haul, with a vintage that marks the inaugural merging of two of the most revered minds in Bordeaux (see our recent blog here). Jean-Claude Berrouet and Eric Boissenot’s joint efforts in 2020 were praised by critics, with Jancis Robinson calling it “a very successful 2020.” Released from £27 per bottle (in-bond), Lafon-Rochet 2020 also gains Value Pick status, and can be purchased at Jeroboams.
Pessac-Léognan provides two MUST BUYs in 2020, with Malartic-Lagravière receiving a score of 93-95 from Antonio Galloni, who describes it as having “An extra kick of energy and vibrancy that is quite attractive”. Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2020 earns 95-97+ from the critic, and can be acquired from Jeroboams for £79 per bottle (in-bond).
Explore all Wine Lister MUST BUYs here, or discover more Bordeaux 2020s here.
Bordeaux en primeur 2020 saw mixed pricing decisions throughout the campaign. To help those still looking to purchase en primeur this year, we examine some of the best offerings from the latest vintage at five different price points. (All prices are quoted in-bond per bottle when purchasing by the case).
Click here to view all Bordeaux 2020 releases, or read more below.
Under £20 – Laroque
Attesting to the estate’s sustained step-up in quality since its 2018 vintage, Laroque receives strong critical praise in 2020. Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (Vinous) both award 93-95, with the latter calling it, “Possibly the best Laroque that winemaker Suire has overseen to date.” Having worked at fellow Saint-Émilion estates, Bellevue, Beauséjour Héritiers Duffau Lagarrosse, and Larcis Ducasse over the past 15 years, winemaker David Suire joined Laroque in 2015. He has since invested in making significant quality improvements, changing the winemaking process of the Grand Vin to now consist solely of free-run juice and no press wine. The third Laroque release in a row to achieve Value Pick status, the 2020 vintage can be bought from Justerini & Brooks for £18.92 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £50 – Cantenac Brown
The recent acquisition of Margaux Third Growth, Cantenac Brown, by agro-engineer, Tristan Le Lous, brought about a buzz of excitement for his first full vintage at the estate. Under its new ownership, the estate has expanded its vineyards by 9.5ha to incorporate high-quality vines from neighbouring estates, La Galiane and Charmant on the iconic Margaux plateau. Efforts to improve their blend, through the introduction of 70% of the grapes harvested on these new parcels, are reflected in top scores for the 2020 vintage, which receives its highest ever score from Antonio Galloni (94-97). Tasted by Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, she calls it, “A very successful Cantenac Brown.” Cantenac Brown 2020 can be purchased en primeur from Goedhuis for £34.33 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £100 – Clinet
Pomerol’s rising star, Clinet once again provides good value within its appellation in 2020. With traces of the vineyard dating back to 1595, one of Pomerol’s oldest estates is managed under the watchful eyes of a small team, co-headed by President of the UGCB, Ronan Laborde. Receiving a score of 94-96 from Neal Martin, he notes, “This is a Pomerol that really wants to make an impression.” Ella found the 2020 vintage to be, “Seamless and languorous. A triumph.” Clinet 2020 is available en primeur at IG Wines for £66.50 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £200 – Figeac
Completing a trilogy of top-scoring vintages, Figeac 2020 highlights the estate’s skilled adaptation to the extreme climate conditions it faced in the year. The team recently reflected on the challenges brought about by “mild winter temperatures, summer heat-waves, and unusually variable rainfall” in 2020, which nonetheless produced one of Ella’s favourite wines from the vintage. Tasting in Bordeaux, she notes a “Trademark Figeac texture. The harmony is mind-blowing.” This Saint-Émilion star can be purchased en primeur from Farr Vinters for £156 per bottle (in-bond).
Over £300 – Margaux
Margaux is one of Wine Lister’s top picks at the premium end of the en primeur spectrum. The highest-scoring wine of the vintage, Margaux is the only 2020 to receive a WL score of 98 (an average combining all Wine Lister’s partner critics on a 100-point scale). According to the Margaux team, the success of the vintage is down to the amalgamation of “homogenous flowering, summer conditions that favoured small berries, and excellent harvesting conditions.” Indeed, the 2020 receives a score of 19 from James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com, who describes it as the “Perfect pitch”, while Ella was “Wowed”, stating “This will age into eternity, and yet the texture is already soft now.” For those looking to find this First Growth, Margaux 2020 can be reserved for £433 per bottle (in-bond) via Petersham Nurseries.