WL MUST BUYs – Bordeaux en primeur 2018

The Bordeaux 2018 en primeur campaign is over. While the quality of wines available is, for the most part, unquestionably good, release prices have been on the high side to say the least, making the benefit of buying en primeur less obvious than in previous years.

Wine Lister’s brand-new website feature, WL MUST BUY, was launched this week*, especially for Bordeaux 2018 wines, to give valuable guidance as to which wines really are worth snapping up now.

Our ground-breaking MUST BUY recommendations are data-driven, with an intelligence-based, human overlay. The algorithm takes into account a wine’s quality and value within its vintage and appellation, as well as the latest industry intelligence from key players in the global fine wine trade. The Wine Lister team have scoured these results to identify must-buy wines based on our own tastings of Bordeaux 2018s, and insider market knowledge.

Given the dominance of reds in the top Bordeaux 2018 Quality scores, it is no surprise that all of these WL MUST BUYs are red.

Saint-Emilion ranks as our most recommended appellation, with six WL MUST BUYs, including the indomitable Canon, and value successes Le Prieuré, Quinault l’Enclos, and Laroque. These three achieve WL MUST BUY status by first passing the quality filter of Wine Lister’s MUST BUY algorithm (they exceed their collective Quality score average by 192 points in 2018). Their respective prices relative to similar quality 2018s from Saint-Emilion push them through the algorithm’s second step – the value filter. Finally, they have been identified by the fine wine trade and/or the Wine Lister team as wines to watch: Quinault l’Enclos is made by the elite winemaking team of Cheval Blanc, and their best yet, while Laroque has been taken to new heights by winemaker David Suire (who cut his teeth at Larcis-Ducasse).

Pauillac houses four of the “top end” Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs – Mouton (released at £426 per bottle in bond), both powerhouse super-seconds, Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse, and Buzz Brand Lynch Bages.

Sharing three picks apiece are further left bank appellations Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, and Pessac-Léognan. Capbern, Meyney, and Latour-Martillac are testament to the value proposition available in Saint-Estèphe and Pessac-Léognan respectively. Saint-Julien MUST BUYs are represented by two fourth-growth staples, Branaire-Ducru and Beychevelle, and the second wine of Léoville Las Cases, Le Petit Lion.

Margaux earns two MUST BUYs – Rauzan-Ségla, and biodynamic Durfort Vivens (who made a huge step up in quality this year, and whose 2018 yield was less than a quarter of its usual volume). Pomerol equals this number with Lafleur and Hosanna.

Other wines featured in Wine Lister’s Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs list are: Beau-Séjour Bécot, Calon Ségur, Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, La Gaffelière, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, and Potensac.

*Wine Lister launched its MUST BUY tool on Monday at a Telegraph event entitled “Wine for Pleasure or Profit?”, where founder & CEO Ella Lister spoke about going “Back to Bordeaux” for both. You can see slides from the presentation relevant to Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs here: Telegraph Back to Bordeaux


Restaurant presence: Italy in deep

Last week we revealed the top 20 gainers in presence in the world’s best restaurants over the past 12 months. That was in terms of breadth, i.e. the number of restaurants in which a wine features. Wine Lister also analyses the depth of presence – the range of vintages and/or bottle formats of each wine therein. Here we look at the top 21 wines achieving the largest increases in restaurant presence depth since last year.

In first place, with an impressive 35 additional vintages and/or bottle formats listed across the world’s 150 best restaurants since this time last year, is Vega-Sicilia’s Unico. This brings its total references to 250 (almost three and a half in each of the 71 lists in which it features). Given Unico’s average drinking life span of 13 years, and its reputation for longevity (an Unico vertical tasting is an opportunity not to be missed), this result is hardly surprising. Its strong restaurant presence is matched by online popularity (Unico is the 33rd most-searched-for wine in our database), resulting in a Brand score of 992 – the best of any Spanish wine on Wine Lister.

Though Spain takes the number one spot, Italy is the overall biggest mover in increased depth of representation, claiming 12 out of the 21 places shown on the chart below.

Ornellaia is among these, and is also the most thoroughly represented wine of the group, with 280 vintages and/or bottle formats featured across 43% of the world’s best restaurants.

Several others – Cerbaiona Brunello, Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore, Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, and Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin – feature in the top gainers for horizontal as well as vertical presence in the world’s best restaurants. The latter is one of five Barolos to feature in the chart above, joined by Parusso Barolo BussiaBartolo Mascarello’s Barolo, Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio Barolo Monprivato, and finally, Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Big’d Big, which sees the biggest increase in vertical presence of the whole group. Despite a horizontal representation increase of just 1%, the number of vintages and/or bottle formats listed across the 3% of the world’s best restaurants in which it features has grown from two to 19 in the last 12 months (or in other words, by 850%).

Outside Italy, the overall picture of restaurant presence depth somewhat contradicts that of breadth painted last week. Though Champagnes, and in particular grower offerings, have increased significantly in terms of horizontal presence, their vintage and/or format gains have not been sufficient to make this week’s top 20. This suggests that whilst sommeliers are keen to add more variety of Champagne, they aren’t so worried about listing reams of vintages / formats thereof. Only one Champagne features in the group: Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses.

Bordeaux is conspicuous by its absence in this list, other than Château Clarke, with 26 overall references up from just four. In fact, Bordeaux’s big names are more likely to find themselves at the very bottom of the list, many having seen their vertical entries on restaurant wine lists shrink significantly. This seems to suggest that as restaurants diversify, they are choosing to hold less Bordeaux stock, still listing the top wines, but not necessarily in multiple vintages or formats.


The impact of price movements according to Wine Lister

Price nearly always plays a part in the decision-making process of purchasing wine. Typically, much emphasis is placed on the importance of “value” – “how much quality am I getting for the price of this bottle”, for which Wine Lister has its very own indicator, Value Picks. However is simply offering “good value” enough?

Wines purchased for long-term cellaring carry financial risk just as investment does. With this in mind, Wine Lister’s Economics scores reflect not only a wine’s price, but the performance of that figure over time. As well as a three-month average market price, and six-month / three-year price growth, Wine Lister’s algorithm takes into account price stability as a factor in determining a wine’s Economic strength.

Using historical prices provided by our data partner, Wine Owners, we calculate the standard deviation of a price over the last 12 months, expressed as a proportion of the average price over the same period.

Volatility can be caused by price movements both up and down. Nobody wants to see the price of a wine plummet after purchase, but equally, wines with prices rising too high and too fast display risk too, and are therefore also sanctioned with lower Economics scores.

Below is an extract from this year’s Bordeaux Market Study featuring the 15 most stable Bordeaux wines. All five left bank first growths appear, testament that higher-scoring wines tend to experience less volatility. This is also tied in with liquidity: frequently traded wines tend to benefit from multiple reference points allowing a consistent market price to be determined. Conversely, a wine traded less frequently often sells at a markedly different price from one transaction to the next, resulting in a much more volatile market price.

While Château Latour’s slow and steady price growth (as shown in the chart below) results in relatively low six-month price performance and three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) ratings, its strong Economics score is thanks to a high three-month average price, a high volume of bottles traded at auction, and a low price deviation of just 2.4% over the last 12 months.

The chart below shows a very different picture – this wine has experienced a 14.7% price increase in six months. Though this in itself is positive, its price has therefore deviated 12.5% in the last 12 months, and the yo-yoing nature of the price over the longer term earns it a much lower Economics score (492).


The secret to value in Burgundy

Our in-depth study of Burgundy earlier this year showed that its prices continue to rise at a faster pace than those of any other fine wine region. With such high prices and tiny availability, wine buyers seeking good value drinking wines may often find their cellar a little light on Burgundy.

However, alongside the virtually unattainable wines at the most prestigious end of the Burgundy scale, there are some Value Picks to be found.

One of four Wine Lister Indicators, Value Picks are wines with the best quality to price ratios. Wine Lister’s proprietary Value Pick algorithm allows more expensive wines with exceptional quality to shine by reducing the impact of price in calculating the ratio.

The simple answer to good value for white Burgundy is Chablis.

For exceptional value at everyday drinking level in particular, Domaine William Fèvre stands out. Seven out of the last eight vintages of the domaine’s straight Chablis are identified as Value Picks, with prices per bottle under £13 and an average Quality score of 553 (above average on Wine Lister’s 1000-point scale).

Moving up the price ladder, Domaine William Fèvre’s Chablis Grand Crus Les Clos 2004 shows exceptional value, with a price per bottle of £50 and a Quality score of 982 – shown in the Vintage Value Identifier chart above. At a comparative score (979) for white burgundy in 2004 we find Domaine Leroy’s Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, with a price tag 60 times higher – £3,005 per bottle.

Chablis make up all top 10 white Burgundy Value Picks.

The Burgundian Value Pick with the highest Quality score is in fact a red – Domaine de la Pousse d’Or’s Volnay Premier Cru Clos de la Bousse d’Or 1995. At c.£50 per bottle and a Quality score of 983, it earns the highest Quality score for Volnay, and the third-highest for Burgundy’s 1995 vintage (after Méo-Camuzet’s Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux and Rousseau’s Chambertin Grand Cru, priced at £1,046 and £1,448 respectively). Any lucky owners of the Clos de la Bousse d’Or 1995 should open and enjoy it now. Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, puts its drinking window between 2006 and 2019.


Buzz Brands for Burgundy and the New World

Despite the annual bustle of the en primeur campaign, it is healthy to breathe some non-Bordeaux air once in a while. With Bordeaux 2017 behind us, we examine new Buzz Brands for June from contrasting locations – Burgundy and the New World. One of four Wine Lister Indicators, ‘Buzz Brands’ use Wine Lister’s bespoke algorithms to indicate trending wines found in the highest number of the world’s best restaurants, and with high online search frequency.

This month, 10 new wines have made the Buzz Brand cut, as shown in the image below.

Six Burgundian wines (four whites and two reds) become Buzz Brands in June. This aligns with results of our latest Founding Members’ survey, where Burgundy producers earned the most number of votes (50) from key members of the global fine wine trade as most likely to see the largest brand gains in the next two years.

Louis Jadot and Domaine Leflaive both have two new white Buzz Brand references. Jadot’s Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles and Corton-Charlemagne have the highest Quality scores of this month’s Buzz Brand additions – 951 and 925 respectively. Domaine Leflaive proves its popularity with presence of its Puligny-Montrachet les Combettes and/or Meursault Sous le Dos d’Ane in 28 out of c.150 of the world’s best restaurants, and votes from the trade as a consistent seller (see p.23 of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux market study 2018 for more).

Of the red Burgundian Buzz Brands, the popularity of Domaine Leroy’s Pommard Les Vignots is perhaps unsurprising, given the producer’s renown, and the wine’s relative affordability (£505 per bottle) compared with Leroy’s more expensive offerings, such as its Musigny Grand Cru (£8,365 per bottle). Denis Mortet’s Clos de Vougeot is the only Côte de Nuits to feature in this month’s Buzz Brand additions.

The remaining four wines all hail from the New World – three from South Australia, and one from California. The latter, Vérité’s Le Désir, wins on all fronts with the highest Quality (949), Brand (740), and Economics (603) scores. The Quality comparison is hardly fair, given Le Désir’s price of £233, over four times higher the average of the three Australian representatives. Torbreck’s The Steading and the Descendant combined are present in 15 of the world’s best restaurants. Henschke’s Cyril Cabernet Sauvignon joins its pricier and better-known siblings, Hill of Grace Shiraz and Mount Edelstone Shiraz, as the producer’s third Buzz Brand.

You can see a full list of Wine Lister Buzz Brands here


Bordeaux back to dominating auction volumes

With daily en primeur release alerts and offers for the new 2017 vintage filling our inboxes, the “Bordeaux buzz” at this time of year is undeniable. However, Bordeaux’s popularity does not end with en primeur, as we prove with results of the last quarter’s trading volumes.

Wine Lister uses figures collated by the Wine Market Journal from sales at the world’s major auction houses to calculate incremental increases in four-quarter trading volumes – in this case, January-December 2017 versus April 2017-March 2018. Auction volumes contribute towards Wine Lister Economics scores, allowing us to measure the liquidity of each wine.

The five wines showing the biggest increases in trading volumes between these two periods all hail from Bordeaux. Indeed, such is the case for the top 20 auction volume increases, with the exception of brand royalty, Dom Perignon (in 10th place).

The wine experiencing the biggest increase in trading volumes is Mouton Rothschild, with 778 additional bottles traded. It has the highest Economics score of the five (956) and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3%. Kicking off the first growth releases of 2017 vintages this week, Mouton Rothschild’s 2017 UK release price sits 17% below last year’s at £360 per bottle.

In second place is right bank powerhouse, Cheval Blanc, whose trading volume increased by 685 bottles with the addition of the most recent quarter’s figures. Though second for incremental change, its total trading volume is at least 30% smaller than any of the left bank first growths.

Latour and Haut-Brion come in third and fourth place, both with 12% trading increases of 614 and 529 respectively.

Finally, trades of Pape Clément keep the Pessac-Léognan property’s red in the top five for trade increases for a consecutive quarter, with 506 more bottles traded in the current period. Despite dropping four places since last quarter’s auction volume results, Pape Clément still achieves the highest proportional change of all five wines at the top, with a 27% trading volume increase.



Online searches for Spring

Wine Lister uses data from our partner, Wine-Searcher, to examine wines with increasing online popularity on a monthly basis.

This month, Château Canon sees a 7% increase in search frequency for January-March 2018 from the previous period. As predicted by our Founding Members (c.50 key members of the fine wine trade), who voted Château Canon number one wine likely to gain the most brand recognition in the next two years in the 2017 Bordeaux Market study, Canon was one of the big successes of last year’s en primeur campaign. Its brand continues to go from strength to strength, with search frequency in 2017 rising 35% between January and October. It will be interesting to see whether this year’s en primeur release has the same impact on its online search frequency as the 2016 vintage.

Two cult Californian wines are among the top five for latest search frequency increases.

Scarecrow saw an increased search frequency of 52% for January-March 2018 compared to the previous period thanks to its latest release in February. The 2015 vintage is as yet unscored by Wine Lister partner critics, however the estate has seen consistent Quality scores between 996-987 since 2010.

Screaming Eagle also makes the top five wines with biggest search frequency increase this month. With 17,831 average monthly searches between January and March 2018, the increase is small relative to its already vast online popularity. Indeed, Screaming Eagle remains the number one most searched for Californian wine on Wine-Searcher.

Burgundy is represented in the top search increases by Marquis d’Angerville, whose Volnay Premier Cru Taillepieds saw double its average number of monthly searches in January-March 2018 compared with the previous period. Guillaume Angerville eschews the scrum of the January Burgundy en primeur tastings in London, preferring to showcase his new vintage each March with a small tasting and lunch – the Taillepieds obviously made an impression, and achieves its highest ever Quality score (969).

Finally, searches for Azienda Agricola Falletto’s Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva continue to rise into March following the sad passing of Piedmont legend, Bruno Giacosa. The wine saw a bittersweet rise in popularity of 14% in December 2017-February 2018, which continues at a slightly slower pace (10%).


Listed: top 5 sweet Alsace whites by Wine Lister score

As we edge ever closer to Christmas, it feels appropriate to take a look at sweet wines. Here we consider Alsace’s top 5 sweet whites by overall Wine Lister score. Produced in a thin sliver of land in the far East of France, Alsace’s top sweet whites are separated by just nine points (less than one hundredth of Wine Lister’s 1,000-point scale!). The five wines display very similar profiles, all outperforming in the Quality category, achieiving middling Brand scores, and trailing economically.

Four break the 900-point boundary in terms of Quality scores, putting them amongst the very top quality wines on Wine Lister. Hugel et Fils Riesling Vendange Tardive (VT) falls just short with 881 points, still a very strong Quality score (thanks to 17/20 from both Jancis Robinson and Bettane+Desseauve, and 92.5/100 from Vinous). The same producer’s Gewürtzraminer VT scores even higher for quality (910) thanks to a 95/100 from Jeannie Cho Lee:

Hugel Gewurz

Moving categories, scores drop sharply from an average Quality score of 915 to 550 for Brand – still above the average for all wines on Wine Lister:

Hugel Gewurz brand

Economics scores trail even further behind, averaging 338, hindered by low liquidity. For example, Hugel’s Gewürtzraminer VT failed to trade a single bottle at auction over the past four quarters (as measured by Wine Market Journal). The chart below shows Economics score in the context of all the wines on Wine Lister – its is well below the average, with a score below 400 putting in the “weak” score band:

Hugel Gewurz Econ

Other wines making the top five are Zind-Humbrecht Jebsal Pinot Gris VT (675) and Trimbach Gewürztraminer VT, which achieves the best restaurant presence of the group. However, featuring on just 6% of the world’s best restaurant lists, this suggests that Alsace’s sweet whites are not every sommelier’s must-list bracket, even when produced by the region’s most famous producer. Incidentally, Trimbach’s Clos Sainte Hune appears in 34% of wine lists (compared to 69% for Sauternes’ Château d’Yquem).

The last wine making it into this week’s Listed section is Marcel Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru. The only non-single varietal wine of the group, it is a blend of 13 different varietals planted in the same plot, and is by far Bettane+Desseauve’s preferred wine of the group – the French duo award it an average score of 19/20. It is also the most popular wine of the group. However, its modest average search frequency (380 per month on Wine-Searcher) confirms that Alsace’s sweet whites currently fly well under the radar.

So, when you’re stocking up your cellar for Christmas, give Alsace’s sweet whites a go. They might not be the most prestigious, but the quality is there and prices are pleasing.


Critics’ scores: tipping the balance

With the recent addition of Jeannie Cho Lee MW as Wine Lister’s fourth partner critic, now seems a good opportunity to elucidate our approach to calculating Quality scores.

Wine Lister’s Quality scoring algorithm takes into account each critic’s rating scale and the relative generosity or severity of their scoring.

Vinous and Jeannie Cho Lee rate on a 100-point scale, whereas Jancis Robinson and Bettane+Desseauve rate on a 20-point scale.  But we also know that the former pair never (or very rarely) give a rating less than 70, while the latter never (or very rarely) give a rating less than 10.

The first step in our scoring algorithm is to put all ratings on a level playing field by rebasing them. We take each critic’s minimum and maximum wine ratings and spread these back out over our entire 100-point scale. The result is that, for example, a Bettane+Desseauve rating of 15 and a Jeannie Cho Lee rating of 85 both score 50 out of 100.

But it’s not quite that simple! We also know that the way the critics score is different. For example, we find that Jeannie Cho Lee tends to give fewer high scores than Vinous. Our algorithm takes into consideration these tendencies towards more or less generous ratings, and adjusts scores as necessary for a fair outcome. This is our score normalisation process.

Using nonparametric statistical techniques, for the same wine-vintages that the critics have rated, we look at each critic’s probability of awarding each score, and use the difference in probabilities to make necessary adjustments.

Beauregard 2009 Quality score blog

For example, we looked at the set of wine-vintages rated by both Jancis Robinson and Bettane+Desseauve, and found that wines are around 5% more likely to achieve a rating of 17 or higher from Bettane+Desseauve. Once normalised, this means that a wine such as Château Beauregard 2009, rated 17 by both Bettane+Desseauve and Jancis Robinson, achieves Wine Lister critic scores of 73 and 76 respectively. In other words, 17 is harder to get from Jancis Robinson than from Bettane+Desseauve. This is illustrated in the image above.

Once we’ve rebased and normalised the critics’ scores, we simply take an average of those scores, giving an equal rating to each of our four partner critics, each of whom represents one of the world’s key fine wine markets.

There’s still more… The Wine Lister Quality score also takes into consideration a wine’s ageing potential as defined by critics’ drinking windows – watch this space for a further explanation of how that works!