The insider’s guide to fine wine trends, and the most compelling wines to watch
Wine Lister has released its second annual Wine Leagues, celebrating some of the top-performing wines and producers in today’s new and much-diversified fine wine era. Informed by an in-depth trade survey with leading industry figures, the report provides a 360° view of those regions, producers, and wines that have seen strides in quality, popularity, economic promise, and more in 2021.
Wine Lister’s annual in-depth survey sees our expert panel of 47 CEOs, MDs, and wine department heads share their insight on some of the fine wines to have on your radar, as we ask them:
“What are the most compelling wines and producers in the market today?”
Respondents singled out 188 wines and producers collectively, that span no less than 20 major regions. Within the list, our team identifies Bibi Graetz, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Roberto Voerzio, Berthaut-Gerbet, and Fürst as wines to watch in the Old World, whilst calling out the New World wonders of Catena Zapata, Errazuriz, Pedro Parra, Rhys Vineyards, and Ridge Vineyards.
The report also includes rankings across:
- Biggest quality improvers, which show impressive movement from Italy (occupying five places in the list of the top 20 by Quality score progression), with Isole e Olena Chianti Classico leading the pack
- Best search rank movers, wherein Bordeaux represents eight of the top 20 wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches (including Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Figeac, and Léoville Poyferré)
- Burgundy superstars, focusing on popularity movements from the trade’s darling region – Arnoux-Lachaux features 10 times in the list of top 20 Burgundian wines whose online searches have increased the most over the last two years
- Wine Lister’s top-10 recommendations per Wine Lister Indicator; Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples in 2021
For the full analysis, download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2021 Leagues here.
The balancing act
Following our recent report on Bordeaux’s 2021 harvest, Wine Lister now turns to Tuscany to find out more about its 2021 vintage so far, with insight from 10 top producers across the region
Tuscany’s 2021 growing season has been characterised as a year of climatic extremities, including a mild and rainy winter, the onset of frost in spring, persistent drought in summer, and ending in ideal harvest conditions. In a show of resilience and adaptability, producers were able to reap the benefits of acute weather patterns – with the potential consequences of drought lessened by the groundwater reserves accumulated in winter, and dry conditions reducing disease pressure over the summer.
What can we expect from Tuscany’s 2021 vintage?
Multiple methods to fight frost
- Properties lit fires in the vineyards to circulate warm air and reduce the risk of frost. Owner of IPSUS, Giovanni Mazzei tells us that the technique successfully “increased the temperature up to 2˚C” across the IPSUS vineyards, protecting the vines from damage
- Several producers used organic treatments to improve vine health following the frost, including Argiano, whose Sales Manager, Riccardo Bogi tells us that “brown algae allowed the plants to stabilise and respond as quickly as possible to the loss of sprouts”
- Frost was particularly prevalent in low-lying coastal regions, with Ornellaia’s winemaker, Axel Heinz witnessing “damages limited to a few lower altitude vineyards, without significant impact on production”. Le Macchiole’s Commercial Director, Gianluca Putzolu tells us that the estate also implemented “organic spring fertilization” to combat frost that hit “some, but fortunately very few vineyards”
- Rainfall during winter accumulated important water reserves at both Argiano and Romitorio, encouraging a good state of hydration ahead of the growing season
- Some high-altitude properties also saw snowfall during winter that, when melted, “percolated the soil with water”, according to Romitorio’s owner, Filippo Chia
- Abundant rainfall in May allowed plants to survive the hot summer, with Riccardo confirming that this was “essential” for Argiano’s 2021 vintage, “since after that, there was no rain until the beginning of October”. Similarly, Fèlsina’s owner, Giovanni Poggiali tells us of some “rainy days in June”
Sun and heat exposure
- “The management of the canopy needed to be delicate and precise to avoid sunburns”, explains Avignonesi’s COO and Agronomist, Alessio Gorini, who also explained that the use of high-tech sorting equipment allowed them “to completely remove any berries withered or raisined by the sun”
- Organic treatments were adopted to protect the vines from sun exposure, such as the use of “kaolin” at Tenuta San Guido. General Director, Carlo Paoli explains this to be “a natural substance that we have been using for many years in hot vintages”, which helps to reduce the vines’ susceptibility to scorching
- A broad diurnal range across several high-altitude estates encouraged balance despite the hot summer, with Castiglion del Bosco’s winemaker, Cecilia Leoneschi noting that the difference of more than 10°C between day and night temperatures was a “real blessing”
Teamwork amongst Tuscan vines: IPSUS (left), Tenuta San Guido (middle), Ornellaia (right)
A remarkably healthy vintage
- Lack of rain throughout June and July minimised disease pressure; Filippo confirmed that “from a mould and disease standpoint, it was actually one of the healthiest vintages [Romitorio] has seen”, thanks to the “dry summer”. Giovanni echoes this sentiment for IPSUS, while Gianluca reiterates there were “no particular problems” at Le Macchiole, despite the risk of powdery mildew – a more common problem for the Bolgheri area
Striking when the time was right
- For many estates, harvest timing was essential, with Alessio and the Avignonesi team similarly conscious of “avoiding over-ripening on such concentrated grapes”
- Producers had to be particularly reactive to picking dates, explains Axel – whose 2021 harvest “required great skill” in planning, eventually leading to a “very compact harvest completed in one month, instead of the usual 40 days”. Owner of Tua Rita, Giovanni Frascolla similarly characterised 2021 as a “lightning harvest”
- “Powerful dark structure – we normally see this with low acid, but this has high acid” recounts Filippo from Romitorio’s latest tasting of the blend
- First impressions show “bright aromatics and, luckily high acidities to keep everything in balance”, at Ornellaia, with Axel describing a “rich and concentrated” wine, “with soft tannins”
- “Grapes matured in a homogeneous way and with a perfect balance of acidity and PH” explains Carlo at Tenuta San Guido
Key fine wine releases from Bordeaux and Beyond
As another week of releases draws to a close, we reflect on highlights from the past fortnight, including the latest vintages of signature New and Old World wines, offered through the Place de Bordeaux’s impressive network.
Cheval des Andes’ Technical Director, Gerald Gabillet (bottom right), with the winemaking team
Which wines offer the best investments from the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign?
As well as a further flurry of releases from the Americas and Tuscany, the past two weeks have also witnessed exciting French entries from the likes of the Rhône Valley, and a re-release of Latour 2005.
One of the top 20 fine wine brands in the world (according to its Wine Lister Pro Brand score), Opus One released its 40th vintage, 2018 last Monday (6th September), at £230 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous) gives the latest release a score of 95, describing it as “incredibly elegant and polished, right out of the bottle”.
Napa Valley neighbour, Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2018 was released on Tuesday (14th September) at £115 per bottle (in-bond). Describing the wine as “sensational”, with notes of “inky red fruit, chocolate, leather, and liquorice”, Galloni gives the latest vintage 98 points – its joint-highest score ever awarded by the critic body. Joseph Phelps’ Insignia 2018 entered the market in quick succession on Tuesday at £163 per bottle (in-bond). Sampled by Wine Lister COO, Chloe Ashton at a recent tasting at 67 Pall Mall (alongside the 2010 and 1998), she found the evolution in complexity, tension, and precision was clear to see.
Monday (13th September) witnessed a triptych of 2018s from Sonoma County’s Vérité, with La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie released onto the market at £300 per bottle each (in-bond). With the wines representing distinct expressions of the estate through the bespoke blending of different varietals and plots, the Merlot-based La Muse receives a perfect 100-point score from Lisa Perrotti-Brown for Wine Advocate, who calls it “Electrifying!”. Comprising a majority blend of Cabernet Franc, Le Désir gains 97+ and 97 points from Perrotti-Brown and Suckling, respectively. Whilst being Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister’s favourite amongst the three, the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant La Joie 2018 secures its highest average critics scores since 2013, inclusive of 98 points from Perrotti-Brown and 99 points from Suckling.
South American sensations
Leading last week’s South American entries, Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Chilean winery Almaviva released its 2019 vintage on Wednesday (8th September) at £108 per bottle (in-bond). The Wine Lister team found it to show good complexity for its young age, with dense black fruit, exotic spices, and a touch of hay smoke.
Across to Argentina, Cheval des Andes 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September) at £59 per bottle (in-bond). The latest vintage aligns with the estate’s upward quality trajectory in recent years, having been awarded a score of 98 from James Suckling, who describes it as “very long and structured, yet controlled and in balance”.
Wildflowers growing in-between Siepi’s Merlot and Sangiovese vines
A Tuscan triumph
There are now only limited remaining stocks of Masseto 2018, which was released on Tuesday (7th September), starting from £495 per bottle (in-bond). The estate saw one of the rainiest springs in its history, and consequentially faced high levels of disease pressure. Nonetheless, the team at Masseto handled challenges that arose deftly, reflected in Wine Lister’s praise of its dense, layered, and lithe texture.
Now with similarly limited availability at around £208 per bottle (in-bond), Solaia 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September). Galloni awards it a strong score of 98, noting that he “can’t remember ever tasting a young Solaia with this much sheer appeal and balance”. Demand for the 2018 may well be encouraged by the estate’s positive price performance track record, which has seen some of its top-scoring vintages appreciate significantly post-release.
The first of the Tuscan trio to be released last week was Petrolo’s Galatrona 2019, which entered the market on Monday (13th September) at £72 per bottle (in-bond). Gaining a near-perfect score of 99 points from Suckling, he describes it as “muscular, yet agile” – “a unique definition of merlot in Tuscany”. Following in close succession, Castello di Fonterutoli released Siepi 2019 at £68 per bottle (in-bond). The Mazzei family planted its first Merlot grapes in 1980, with Siepi’s varietal blend now comprising equal proportions of Merlot and Sangiovese. The 2019 gains 98 points from Suckling – the joint-highest score awarded by the critic, who praises its “super-structure”, and “finesse with power”. To end Monday’s Tuscan trilogy, Tenuta Sette Ponti’s Orma 2019 was released at £56 per bottle (in-bond). Though Orma is yet to be widely scored by critics, Suckling awards it 97 points, calling it “perhaps the best Orma ever”.
Closing this week’s Italian offerings, Caiarossa 2018 entered the market on Wednesday (15th September) at £35 per bottle (in-bond). Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic, JancisRobinson.com, awards it 17+ points, considering it “classy stuff”, “which should become even more compelling with further bottle ageing”.
Back on French soil
Speculated to be the final commercial release of the vintage, Latour released a parcel of its 2005 vintage last Tuesday (7th September), which has since been offered by merchants for around £750 per bottle (in-bond). The 2005 was awarded 100 points by Galloni, who calls it “deep and sensual to the core”, and notes that it is “utterly captivating”. The iconic reputation of both the vintage and the estate is reiterated in this perfect score, which should stimulate interest from serious fine wine collectors.
Racing over to the Rhône, Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2019 was released last Friday (10th September) at around £227 per bottle (in-bond). A cask sample score from Alistair Cooper for JancisRobinson.com signifies quality, awarding its highest score from the critic body since 2007 with 19 points, calling it “One to watch!”.
Click here to sign up to Wine Lister’s newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest from the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign.
Home to a range of grape varieties, styles, and DOCGs, Tuscany also offers excellent wines at a variety of price points. To help you on your hunt for a top Tuscan bottle within your budget, Wine Lister has compiled a selection of Tuscany MUST BUYs at five different price points.
Click here to view all Tuscan MUST BUYs, or read more below.
Prices are shown per bottle in-bond (when buying by the case).
Under £20 – 2011 Fattoria La Massa La Massa
Founded in 1992 by prominent Chianti winemaker, Giampaolo Motta, Fattoria La Massa represents his aim of applying Bordeaux vinification techniques to a Tuscan terroir. With the counsel of famed Bordeaux vigneron, Stéphane Derenoncourt, Motta now grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot alongside native Sangiovese. La Massa comprises 60% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot in 2011, and is described by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni as “jumping from the glass with dark red cherry, raspberry jam, plum, spices, violets, smoke and cloves”. With a WL score of 92, it is available to purchase from Bordeaux Index for £16 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £50 – 2015 Felsina Fontalloro
Felsina has seen a significant shift toward organic and biodynamic practices since its founder, Domenico Poggiali’s son-in-law, Giuseppe Mazzocolin, took over in the late 1970s. As well as investing heavily in a more natural viticulture, the estate has adopted a dedication to revealing the expression of its terroir. The 2015 Felsina Fontalloro was awarded 96 points from Antonio Galloni, who indeed notes that “sandy soils confer aromatic intensity to this super-expressive, arrestingly beautiful wine”. It can be purchased from Brunswick Fine Wines for £44 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £100 – 2016 Tenuta Tignanello Tignanello
Antinori’s Tenuta Tignanello property fared notably well in 2016, with its namesake wine, Tignanello achieving its joint-highest WL score alongside its 2015 vintage (98). Antonio Galloni describes the 2016 Tignanello as “flat out stunning”, and muses, “I don’t think there is another wine anywhere in the world made entirely from estate fruit that can match Tignanello for quality, consistency and value”. A blend of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc, it can be acquired from Fine+Rare Wines for £92 per bottle (in-bond).
Under £200 – 2015 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte
Considered a difficult place for any agricultural production, Radda was an unusual location for Montevertine’s founder, Sergio Manetti to establish his property in 1967. In one of the highest and rockiest sites in Chianti Classico, its steep hills are now home to top-quality Sangiovese vines from which its three wines – Pian del Ciampolo, Montevertine, and Le Pergole – are produced. Antonio Galloni awards 97 points to the 2015 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte, calling it “deep, powerful and resonant […] exotically ripe and flamboyant, not to mention utterly captivating”. It can be bought from IG Wines for £129 per bottle (in-bond).
Over £300 – 2008 Soldera Case Basse Sangiovese
Achieving 18 points from Wine Lister’s partner critic, Jancis Robinson, Soldera’s 2008 Case Basse Sangiovese is described as “so different from most Brunello” with a “reserved nose of autumnal leaves”, and a “real tang on the end”. Having separated from the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG in 2006, all vintages from 2007 onwards are labelled as Toscana IGT. The 2008 marks a shift away from the estate’s usual vinicultural methods, having been aged for a period in stainless steel before bottling. Antonio Galloni notes that it is indeed “quite different from virtually every other wine made at Case Basse”. The 2008 Case Basse Sangiovese can be bought from Fine+Rare Wines for £387 per bottle (in-bond).
Over two years ago, Wine Lister published a blog on Tuscany’s 2018 vintage (recap here), which has since become the second most-read article on our site. With several 2018s entering the market over the past six months, and more scheduled for release this year, news of the vintage remains relevant.
To complete the picture first painted in our report on the 2018 harvest, we examine how some of the wines discussed have performed so far, and whether predictions on the vintage have come to fruition.
A prized picking – the 2018 harvest at Castello di Fonterutoli
Predicting in 2018 that “the vintage might fall between the opulent 2015s and the structured 2016s in terms of quality and style”, Castello di Fonterutoli’s Giovanni Mazzei underestimated the year. The estate’s 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot blend, Siepi, achieves its highest score from Wine Lister’s partner critic, Antonio Galloni in 2018 (97) – five and two points above the 2015 and 2016, respectively. Antonio notes it is “rich, pliant and creamy”, offering “all of the seductiveness of Merlot with the bright acids and grip of Sangiovese”. The 2018 Siepi can be bought from Petersham Cellars for £70 per bottle (in-bond).
Estate Director at Ornellaia and Masseto, Axel Heinz told Wine Lister in 2018 that his “fermenting wines are silky and fragrant”, and that he predicts “a more delicate vintage”. Indeed, Antonio Galloni recently wrote on the 2018 Ornellaia that “readers should expect a silky, aromatic Ornellaia in line with vintages such as 2004 that are more about finesse than raw power”. Having been previewed by members of the fine wine trade and press in a virtual seminar last week (recap our recent blog here), it was awarded a score of 97 by Antonio. The 2018 Ornellaia will be released onto the market at the beginning of April.
Due for release through the Place de Bordeaux in September, Masseto’s 2018 vintage was the first to be made in its own winery, having previously been vinified at Ornellaia. Awarding it 98 points, Antonio notes that it is “silky, mid-weight and supremely gracious”, with notes of “inky red/purplish fruit, cedar, lavender, espresso, sage and mint”. Wine Lister sampled the second release of Masseto’s second wine, 2018 Massetino, in September 2020, and was certainly impressed by its complexity, with expressive notes of dark fruit, cocoa, and spice. While it has limited remaining market availability, it can be purchased from Cru World Wine for £307 per bottle (in-bond).
Describing 2018 as “a good year”, Fattoria Le Pupille’s owner, Elisabetta Geppetti, told Wine Lister that the Bordeaux varietals of her flagship wine, Saffredi, fared particularly well. Antonio Galloni gives it 96+ points, and writes that “the 2018 Saffredi is a regal, elegant, supremely polished wine”, which “may very well be the most refined Saffredi I have ever tasted”. Recalling notes of “sweet red cherry, plum, mocha, licorice and cinnamon”, he concludes; “don’t miss it”. It can be bought from Berry Bros & Rudd for £60 per bottle (in-bond).
Keep track of new Tuscany 2018 scores from Wine Lister partner critics here, and watch this space for future analysis on the vintage.
As 2020 draws to a close, Wine Lister has compiled a report celebrating the top-performing wines and producers within a series of categories over the past year. Using our axes of Quality, Brand, and Economics, and the several factors that constitute these values, we have created seven leagues that paint a panoramic view of some of the world’s best wines, ranked within their areas of excellence.
Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues include rankings of Quality Consistency (wines that show the smallest standard deviation between Quality scores over the last 20 vintages), and Biggest Movers (wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches over the past year). Our team has also put together its top-10 wines per Wine Lister Indicator, revealing our recommendations for Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples.
We end the Leagues with a list of 21 Ultimate MUST BUYs for 2021, compiling a selection of MUST BUY highlights hand-picked by our fine wine experts, that offer an impressive addition to any fine wine portfolio in 2021. These are some of the picks that would feature in Wine Lister’s “fantasy cellar”.
Download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues here.
Over the past decade, biodynamic wine has exploded in popularity, particularly amongst a younger generation of wine drinkers. Having spoken to a selection of top producers that follow biodynamic farming, Wine Lister’s latest investigation attempts to explore the practice further, and better understand the shared values of this often-misunderstood philosophy.
The biodynamic calendar: racking at Comtes Lafon (pictured) is timed according to the lunar phases (Photo: Jean Chevaldonné)
Often associated with organic winemaking, biodynamics also dictates the avoidance of pesticides and chemical fertiliser, and many of its wines are therefore organic in practice. Certified by independent associations (e.g. Demeter and Biodyvin) rather than the government, biodynamics goes one step further, providing a more holistic approach to farming that attempts to embrace all natural biological processes. Coined in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner – an Austrian philosopher and scientist – biodynamics draws on the specific belief that all living species experience constant transformation, due to physical, metaphysical, and cosmic realities acting upon them. While it is not essential for certification, most biodynamic producers therefore follow the biodynamic lunar calendar, which dictates the optimum days for viticulture and winemaking activities, based on the moon’s cycle.
In Burgundy, Comtes Lafon plans its planting, pruning, harvest, racking, and bottling according to the lunar calendar (see photo above), despite not being certified officially. Having shifted to biodynamic farming in 1998, owner and winemaker, Dominique Lafon, tells us that he was initially inspired by the practice in several of his friends’ vineyards at the time, and was “impressed by the way the vines behaved”. He states that while it is more time consuming, biodynamic farming provides him “pleasure to work closer to the vineyards, following their natural rhythms”.
Among a list of other principles, biodynamic producers must complete a cow horn preparation, otherwise known as process 500, in which manure is packed into the horn of a female cow and buried under the vines for six months. The horns are then dug up, and the content of the horns is combined with water and sprayed across the vineyards, in the belief that the solution enhances plant growth and improves the quality of the crops. Dominique tells us that while some results of biodynamic farming can be seen “rapidly, within the first year”, process 500 begins to change the soil “after three years or so, and is fully effective after 10 years”.
In Bordeaux, Château Palmer also completes the cow horn preparation (pictured below) – the Margaux estate began experimenting with biodynamics in 2008, adopting it completely in October 2013, and releasing its first certified vintage in 2018. Winemaker Thomas Duroux, tells us that the adoption of such biodynamic principles has yielded “results in the vineyard” and encouraged “better quality soil”, while helping him to achieve his goal of “growing a vineyard without any use of chemicals”. Explaining the difference between organic and biodynamics, Duroux notes that the latter is “a different way to see agriculture”, and that when you apply biodynamic principles, “you see the farm as an ensemble”. This resonated across several other biodynamic producers, who similarly considered biodiversity to be at the core of this mode of farming.
Process 500: biodynamic compost preparations at Château Palmer
Indeed, Elisabetta Foradori tells us that since its conversion, Foradori has founded a new focus on biodiversity and sustainability, with livestock now used to produce dairy products and compost for the vineyard. She began to introduce biodynamic principals into the family estate in 1999, converting the whole property in 2002, and eventually achieving certification in 2009. Foradori tells us that she had begun to feel “disconnected to the plants after many years of working in wine”, and biodynamic viticulture allows her to “go into the deepness of the life of the plant and its soil”. She states that the practice has catalysed an “evolution in the fertility of the soil”, watching vine roots “grow deeper and deeper”.
Further south in Chianti, Querciabella conversely practices a “cruelty-free” biodynamics, according to its team, without the use of manure or animal remnants in the soil. Winemaker Manfred Ing states that while “eliminating all of the animal-based preparations”, the estate has implemented a strict cover crop preparation, planting up to 35 different plants across its vineyards, depending on the soils and the grapes that grow in each plot. He states that this improves the quality of the land, whilst adhering to the biodynamic principle of “getting as much quantifiable life in the soil and the vineyard as possible.”
Following the general sentiment of other biodynamic producers, Elisabetta Foradori states biodynamic farming enables the wine to “reflect the message of the terroir” while encouraging “purity and character”. This was particularly pertinent to one of Burgundy’s biodynamic pioneers, Leroy – speaking to Wine Lister, the team notes that biodynamic farming indeed helps the property to better “express the character” of its respective sites. Having implemented biodynamic farming since the day it was purchased by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988, the team tells us that “no one else was even organic” in the region at that time, and people “thought it was crazy” to neglect the use of fertiliser and risk decreased yields. They explain that Burgundy is an “ideal place” for biodynamic farming, through its ability to express the disparities between the different vineyard holdings of the same Burgundy varietal – a “true test of where the wine comes from”.
While biodynamic producers approach the practice with variable interpretations, its practitioners are nonetheless enthusiastic about its results. With an increasing number of producers adopting this mode of farming, we look forward to witnessing its wider recognition across the fine wine industry in years to come.
“Finché c’è vino c’è speranza” – As long as there is wine, there is hope.
Never before have Italian winegrowers been able to dedicate as much time to the care of their vineyards as in 2020. The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and several further Tuscan producers cite this silver lining to Covid restrictions, and they suspect it will reveal itself in the wine to come. In a year that has caused tribulation across the world, news of Italy’s promising 2020 harvest is certainly welcomed. Wine Lister has spoken to several Italian estates, which reportedly yielded high-quality grapes across the board. While regions – Piedmont and Tuscany – had their respective weather nuances, the general consensus suggests that growing season conditions were balanced, with no mention of hail or storms.
In Montalcino, the Mastrojanni team explained that lockdown prompted improved vineyard inspection in 2020: “[people] couldn’t work indoors in their offices, so the vines received the utmost attention”. They report a “very good harvest” this year, comparing it to the high-scoring 2013. Despite two short heatwaves in July and August, the estate had a mild summer overall, thanks to cooling winds that flow through the Amiata Valley in which its vineyards are situated.
On the other side of Montalcino, Cinelli Colombini reported frost during budburst, which limited the number of grape clusters in 2020. Several other Tuscan producers spoke of reduced volumes due to the cold start to spring (Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 yield is 20% lower than last year). Cinelli Colombini’s Brunello grape harvest was nonetheless of “excellent quality”, and despite it being hard to “shine after a masterpiece of a vintage like 2019”, the team believes it will be “difficult to exclude it from being among the best five vintages of the last 20 years”.
All hands on deck: the 2020 Brunello harvest at Montalcino’s Cinelli Colombini
In Chianti, Castello di Monsanto began picking its Chardonnay grapes on 8th September, and collected its final Sangiovese on 10th October. Third-generation owner, Laura Bianchi, informed us that their spring was mild, with enough rain to create a “perfect” reserve of water for the vines. After the hot and dry August, a wet start to September helped to regulate maturation – a common theme throughout Tuscany in 2020. The grapes thus developed a “great balance of sugar, pH, and phenolic maturation”, and the first fermentation already suggests a vintage of “great personality, rich tannins, and beautiful acidity”. Further east, Vecchie Terre di Montefili started picking on 29th September – late in comparison to other producers, but normal, the team explains, for their vineyards, which lie 500 metres above sea level (and therefore require a longer maturation period).
Less than an hour away, Brancaia finished its harvest on 30th September (having started on the 3rd week of August). The team tells us that they were forced to harvest their Sangiovese quickly before heavy rain arrived, but that they were lucky that the grapes were “the perfect grade of ripeness”. In contrast, IPSUS owner, Giovanni Mazzei, explains that he and winemaker Gionata Pulignani decided to wait until after the extra rain in September before starting the harvest, “to guarantee more balance, extra aromatics, and temper the alcohol content”. In doing so, the hot and dry summer was counterbalanced; Mazzei states that he could indeed “classify the  as a good compromise between cooler and hotter vintages”.
In coastal Maremma, owner and Production Manager at Fattoria Le Pupille, Ettore Rizzi, tells us that 2020 saw a significant threat of powdery mildew across its vines, especially in the thin-skinned varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Syrah. He states that they nonetheless managed to trim the affected bunches and stem the problem, while their Merlot and Cabernet vines also “gave us some incredible fruit”. According to Rizzi, “the word that can best describe the 2020 vintage is concentration” – a consequence of the high temperatures in July and August.
“The final quality of the grapes was really good” – Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 Syrah grapes
In Bolgheri, Ornellaia’s Estate Director, Axel Heinz, declared that their 2020 vintage is “shaping up to be one to remember as a great year”. The property saw “textbook perfect conditions until the end of May”, while June saw a lot of rainfall that “accelerated vine growth”, and required lots of work in the vineyard to keep the canopies under control. Summer saw hot and dry conditions, while rain arrived in the last days of August to alleviate drought stress and lower temperatures, encouraging a more even ripening at the last moment. While an unexpected mid-September heatwave made it necessary to pick all three red varieties – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot – simultaneously at speed, Heinz notes that they nonetheless look “very promising in a rich and structured style”.
Moving up to Piedmont, fifth-generation of the esteemed Gaja family, Giovanni Gaja, tells us that they are so far “optimistic” about the 2020 vintage, despite it being early days to evaluate the exact character of the grapes. Their Barbaresco plots witnessed a moderate July, followed by a warm August that was similarly alleviated by rain towards the end of the month. While they required extra efforts to prevent mildew attacks, the final picked grapes appear “very healthy”.
While 2020 has caused much uncertainty, the recent harvest suggests that there is definitely hope for some excellent wine to come from this year, and we look forward to finding out for ourselves in the future.