Bordeaux 2019 en primeur part I : the vintage

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.


Simply the best – WL Wine Leagues

While the outbreak of Coronavirus continues to threaten the global stock market and international commerce, it is understandable that the fine wine trade and collectors alike are feeling the pressure, not to mention wine producers – especially in hard-hit Italy.  The cancellation and/or postponement of wine fairs across the globe may hinder new releases from catching their usual momentum, but those with significant back stocks of older vintages may have a way to navigate today’s choppy seas.

Wine Lister has been working on a new tool to complement WL MUST BUYs, and while now may not be the perfect time for such a release, we launch it in the hope of providing inspiration for the sale and purchase of wines that could be hiding In Stock, and in a continued effort to support producers and the wine trade during difficult times.

The new tool, Wine Leagues, provides hit lists of the very best wines to source for a given set of criteria, be it appellation, price, or WL score. We hope the top 10s on this new page will speak to all fine wine lovers, be it for “unicorn” wines, or just ultra-high quality wines that any collector should consider for their collection.

The current set of Leagues examines Italy, with the first list focusing on its top Value Picks. The top 10 Italian Value Picks hail from a handful of key producers – Fontodi, Isole e Olena, and San Giusto a Rentennano feature multiple times.

Barbaresco recommendations take the majority of top spots in Piedmont’s MUST BUYs under £50 (per bottle, in-bond when purchased by the case). Barolos from Elio Grasso, Azelia, and Fratelli Revello also make the cut, alongside Langhe offerings from Vajra and Pelissero.

Moving into France, we examine Hidden Gems from the Rhône, and Value Picks from Bordeaux. Tardieu-Laurent features three times in the Rhône Hidden Gems’ top 10 by WL score, for an Hermitage Blanc, a Gigondas, and a Cornas. Three Côte Rôties make it into the top 10, from producers du Monteillet, Pierre Gaillard, and Patrick and Christophe Bonnefond.

Top Bordeaux Value Picks render a number of deliverable vintages going back as far as 1995, as well as two wines from the latest en primeur release – Barde-Haut and Latour-Martillac 2018s. Super-second growth Pichon Comtesse’s second wine also features. The 2016 Réserve de la Comtesse was recently highlighted in a focus on Bordeaux MUST BUYs.

All users can see the standard Wine League page here. Pro users have access to a more extensive set of Leagues, and can log in to access here.


Treasure unearthed – the best wines of Piedmont

This week Wine Lister published its first in-depth study of 2020, focusing on the leading wines and producers of Piedmont.

The key takeaways from the report prove Piedmont to be somewhat of an enigmatic region, earning high praise from critics, and experiencing strong long- and short- term price performance, while still lagging behind in terms of consumer popularity.

While this is perhaps a consequence of Nebbiolo’s relative obscurity when compared with international grape varieties, Piedmont’s unique position – a veritable treasure trove of gems to uncover – presents a real opportunity both for vinous discovery and future value.

Wine Lister Pro members can read the full Piedmont report here. All free users can purchase the report for £200 from Wine Lister’s Analysis page.

Below we examine the top Barolos and Barbarescos by WL score.

Giacomo Conterno takes both first and second places in the ranking of Barolos by WL score. The icon wine, Barolo Monfortino Riserva is the only Piedmont wine to earn a WL score of 97, while the Barolo Francia shares its score of 96 with the Barolo Riserva from the legendary Bruno Giacosa’s négociant outfit, Azienda Agricola Falletto, as well as the two highest-scoring Barbarescos (see below).

While earning joint-second place for the straight Barolo Riserva, Falletto also features for two site-specific bottlings, the Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva and Barolo Villero di Castiglione Falleto, making the renowned house the joint-most prolific producer in the top Barolo rankings shown. It shares this position with Vietti, which earns WL 95 for its Villero Riserva, Ravera, and Rocche di Castiglione Barolos.

Elio Altare’s Barolo Brunate is the most reasonably priced of these top 12 Barolos, with an average price of £112 per bottle in-bond (when purchased by the case). Both of Roberto Voerzio’s highest-scoring wines, the Sarmassa and Brunate, follow with average prices of £152 and £165 respectively.

Eight Barbarescos achieve a WL score of 95 or above. The appearance of multiple wines per producer is accentuated here, with Roagna and Gaja earning three places apiece, followed by two Barbarescos from Falletto (totalling seven wines in Falletto’s hoard of WL scores of 95 and above).

Both sets of rankings provide useful leads in terms of producers to look out for, particularly heading into further releases of Barolo’s latest vintage, 2016, in the spring. For more specific recommendations of further Piedmontese wines and back vintages, see the region’s full list of MUST BUYs, and / or Piedmont’s Hidden Gems.


Finding good value in fine wine – part II (whites)

Earlier this week, we explored Wine Lister’s top red Value Picks (wines with the best quality-to-price ratios of all those in the Wine Lister database), noting that Tuscany and Bordeaux are the two best regions for value overall.

Having seen a noticeable lack of red Value Picks in Burgundy, the region’s white wines perform much better for quality-to-price ratio. The chart below shows the top eight regions for white Value Picks, and their average price per region.

Of the 280 white Value Picks shown above, Bordeaux and the Mosel are heavily represented, in most part due to the impressive quality-to-price ratio of their sweet (or semi-dry) wines. Indeed, whites from Sauternes and Barsac make up all but one of the Bordeaux white Value Picks. While not the “most popular” these are some of the oldest Value Picks on Wine Lister, and include examples such as 1995 Clos Haut-Peyraguey, and 1996 Nairac.

The Loire provides a mix of different sweetness levels, however those achieving the highest quality are also sweet (such as 2006 Domaine Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux).

Treading into Riesling-land, the Mosel and Nahe offer up the likes of Joh. Jos Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, and Dönnhoff’s Oberhäuser Brucke Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Alsace and Austria’s Niederösterreich produce some gems too (from the likes of Zind-Humbrecht and F.X. Pichler respectively), though of all white Value Picks these two regions are the most expensive on average.

Burgundy achieves 24 white Value Picks, the majority of which come from Chablis – the appellation which historically renders the best value for Burgundian whites. Other white Value Picks of note are Patrick Javillier’s Meursault Les Tillets, and Paul Pillot’s Chassagne-Montrachet Clos Saint-Jean.

See all white Value Picks here.


MUST BUYs in Burgundy 2018

After discovering some 500 wines over eight tastings during Burgundy week last week, we are excited to publish our first round of Burgundy 2018 MUST BUYs.

Not all Burgundy 2018s are yet priced in the market, so this list has the potential to grow over the coming weeks – watch this space.

A neat 18 wines have so far made it through the MUST BUY algorithm, passing the artificial and human intelligence tests. That means that according to the critic and price data, they offer high quality and good value in the context of the Burgundy 2018 vintage, and that the global fine wine trade and / or the Wine Lister team deems it worthy of note. Given Burgundy’s general trend for rising prices post-release – these Burgundy 2018s should be snapped up now.

Hailing from across the Côte d’Or, this week’s MUST BUY selection confirms that no one appellation stands out in 2018, as outlined by our founder, Ella Lister, in her short vintage report published earlier in the week.

All but one red Burgundy 2018 MUST BUY comes from the Côte de Nuits, with producer Jean Grivot earning three entries – Clos de Vougeot, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Boudots, and Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts. Bruno Clair has two entries, for his Chambertin Clos de Bèze and Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques.

From the Côte de Beaune, Comte Armand’s Clos des Epeneaux is the only red to meet all the MUST BUY selection criteria. Of the four whites, the unfailingly consistent Saint-Aubin En Remilly from Hubert Lamy makes the cut, alongside a Meursault Genevrières from Michel Bouzereau, and two wines from Patrick JavillierCorton-Charlemagne and  Value Pick Meursault Les Tillets.

Readers note that this week marks the first MUST BUY update including scores from our new regional partner critic, Jasper Morris.

Thank you to BBR, Corney & Barrow, Flint, Goedhuis, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler, and Lea & Sandeman for the wonderful tastings organised!


Burgundy 2018: the wine grower’s vintage

Eager to get a full picture of the 2018 vintage, the Wine Lister team immersed itself in London’s Burgundy week last week, attending eight tastings between us. Having been spoilt by a handful of tastings in the cellars of top domaines in July and December 2019, we braced ourselves for a reality check in the light of the challenging growing season.

Burgundy was baking hot in the summer of 2018, with the highest amount of sunlight for half a century, according to Olivier Lamy of Domaine Hubert Lamy. Making great wine in this vintage was all about the producers’ choices, and great wines there are, but not across the board. Key decisions included production volumes (not too high, or too low!), picking dates (early, or at least not too late), and canopy management (or rather lack thereof, letting the leaves protect the grapes from too much sunlight).

The 2018 vintage has been touted as one of quality and quantity. White wine volumes were indeed high, and this arguably helped avoid over-ripeness (though too much volume risked dilute flavours). However, red quantities are not always more generous than average in 2018, with many producers managing yields with green harvesting. As for picking dates, August start dates were more commonplace than ever before. Picking in time was crucial – throughout our tastings, the Wine Lister team found that occasional wines showed signs of fruit left hanging a day or two too long. However, no blanket rule applies, and producers such as Grivot, who waited until mid-September, made some of the finest wines of the vintage.

It was clear early on that a hot summer was potentially in store, so arguably an easy call to leave a sufficient amount of foliage to protect the grapes from the relentless sun. More producers are following in the footsteps of Lalou Bize-Leroy and forgoing trimming altogether. For example, Charles Lachaux of Arnoux-Lachaux has been experimenting with making arches of his vines, which necessarily creates more shade.

Pictured: Charles Lachaux says when building his vines into arches, “there’s only one rule: there are no rules”.

In some cases the sunshine overwhelmed, but in many more, savvy producers – used to making wine in the context of global warming by now – managed the conditions deftly. Romain Taupenot of Domaine Taupenot-Merme has observed that even the soils have learned to adapt to warmer conditions over time, regaining acidity more quickly than in hot vintages of the past, such as 2003.

The 2018 Burgundy vintage is heterogenous, but we were surprised by how few wines were negatively marked by the extreme conditions of the vintage. The majority of wines manage to harness good acidity and lightness of touch, if not the intense freshness and succulence of 2017. However, the words “limpid”, “bright”, and “lifted” appear far more often in my tasting notes than “rich”, “ripe”, or “heavy”.

Kicking off Burgundy week tastings with Goedhuis at the Philip Mould Gallery, featuring producers such as Tortochot, Domaine de l’Arlot, Benjamin Leroux, and Jean-Marc & Thomas Bouley to name but a few.

If pushed to choose, this is a red vintage, with higher heights than for whites, which are more consistent but less often exciting, though absolutely not to be ignored. The best reds have harnessed all the energy, vibrancy and texture of the long, hot summer, without being overly sweet or jammy.

After tasting hundreds of wines last week, there are no obvious standout appellations, but rather standout producers. That does not mean that appellations did not stand out – many producers were able to translate terroir impressively given the strong imprint the vintage tried to leave. The wines of Bruno Clair for example, let the different vineyards sing, with a Chambolle “de chez Chambolle” and a very “Vosne” Vosne-Romanée Les Champs Perdrix.

Watch this space for our recommendations, coming soon.


MUST BUY update – France and Italy dominate

For the last three consecutive updates, Burgundy has worn the crown for highest number of new MUST BUY entries. This week it shares its prime position with Tuscany, as the two regions hold six wines each of the 27 new MUST BUYs. Whilst previous updates have been geographically diverse, this week’s countries of focus are France and Italy only.

All but one of this week’s new Tuscan MUST BUYs can be considered “Super Tuscans”. Buzz Brands Querciabella and Sassicaia make the cut for their 2015 and 2007 respectively. Producer Fattoria La Massa earns another place this week for Giorgio Primo, making its 2016 the sixth MUST BUY vintage of this same wine. 2015 Percarlo from San Giusto a Rentennano and 2016 l’Apparita from Castello di Ama complete the new “Super Tuscans”. A second offering from Castello di Ama is this week’s only new Chianti Classico entry, and brings the producer’s MUST BUY total to eight, equalling Italy’s other top MUST BUY producers, Castello dei Rampolla, and Isole e Olena, in number.

Further North in Italy, Piedmont is by no means overlooked, with Roagna and Paolo Scavino featuring on the new MUST BUY list for Barolo this week (in 2012 and 2011 vintages respectively), alongside Giuseppe Mascarello’s 1996 Barolo Monprivato. Gaja is represented twice, and completes the Piedmont five with the straight Barbaresco and the Sorì San Lorenzo.

France’s chief MUST BUY region, Burgundy, offers three reds and an equal number of whites, with Leroy representing two of the three Pinot Noirs (2015 Vosne-Romanée Les Genaivrières and 2007 Clos de Vougeot). Vosne-Romanée earns another mention through Dujac for its 2012 Aux Malconsorts. Domaine Leflaive, Jacques Prieur, and an older vintage of Raveneau take this week’s new white Burgundy MUST BUY places.

Outside Burgundy, France is also well-represented by the Rhône, with a 2017 from Coursodon, together with 2016s from François Villard, Gangloff, and Michel et Stéphane Ogier. Chapoutier’s 2014 Ermitage Le Méal Blanc completes the latest additions of MUST BUY whites. Older vintages of Bordeaux also make the cut, including a 1966 from l’Evangile, and one 1989 from each bank – l’Eglise Clinet and Pichon Baron.

To help keep track of the weekly updates, check out our latest tool on the search page to help you browse only the newest additions to the full MUST BUY list.


New month, new MUST BUYs

This week’s MUST BUY update renders two and a half times as many results as the previous week. For the third consecutive time, Burgundy dominates, with 19 out of the 77 first MUST BUYs of November. To help you browse through all MUST BUYs (currently totalling 1,739 wines), you can now use the MUST BUY browsing blocks from our free user homepage and/or search page.

Six of the most recent Burgundian additions hail from the latest available vintage – 2017. The likes of Vincent Dauvissat, Olivier Leflaive, and Remi Jobard make the cut for whites, while red 2017s are represented by two cuvées from Domaine de l’Arlot (Vosne Romanée Suchots and Romanée-Saint-Vivant), and Nicolas Rossignol’s Pommard.

Meursault dominates white vintages with a bit more age, from Roulot, Pierre-Yves Colin Morey, and the iconic Arnaud Ente. Other red Burgundy back vintages between 1990 and 2015 range from DRC’s Romanée-Saint-Vivant, to Bruno Clair’s Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques.

Italy too makes a strong showing this week. 11 of the new Italian MUST BUYs are “Super Tuscans”, amongst which two vintages of Tua Rita’s Syrah qualify (2016 and 2012), as well as 2011s from Masseto and Querciabella Camartina. Also appearing are two back vintage Chianti Classico crus, from Castello di Ama and Fontodi. Piedmont and regions further afield in Italy are by no means neglected, with 12 new MUST BUYs between them.

Wine Lister MUST BUYs must pass not only the algorithm itself, but also the Wine Lister team’s seal of approval. Following recent trips and tastings by different Wine Lister team members, we were especially excited to select wines from Vajra (the Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2015), as well as Gaja, Domenico Clerico, Argiolas, Galardi, and Elisabetta Foradori, as well as three ChampagnesA.R. Lenoble’s Blanc de Blancs, Agrapart’s L’Avizoise, and Béreche’s Le Cran, and finally a stunning dry riesling from A. Christmann.

Download the list of new MUST BUYs here: Wine Lister Blog – New month, new MUST BUYs

Alternatively, you can search and browse through the full MUST BUY list here.


Weekly MUST BUY update – 22 new entries

Since its launch in September, Wine Lister’s MUST BUY list has unveiled fine wines across multiple regions, vintages, price points, and drinking occasions, all with the common theme of being so good, that they simply must find their place in fine wine fanatics’ cellars. Wine Lister’s prices are updated weekly, and since price (in the form of value) plays a major part in the MUST BUY algorithm, MUST BUYs too will henceforth be updated weekly.

Since its last update, the MUST BUY list has grown by four wines (to 1,697), with 22 new entries, and 18 wines that have fallen off the list. Following the same trend as last week, nine out of the 22 new MUST BUYs (or 41%) are Burgundian. Big names in Burgundy continue to do well, with three new white Buzz Brands hailing from Raveneau, Jean-François Coche-Dury, and Pierre Yves Colin-Morey respectively.

Elsewhere within white entries are two Rieslings, the Alsatian Hidden Gem, Albert Mann’s l’Epicentre 2008, and the indomitable Joh. Jos Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr, whose 2011 is now one of seven MUST BUY vintages of this sensational Value Pick.

With the clocks turned back and a wintry chill in the air, there are twice as many new red MUST BUYs as white. Burgundy and Italy make the strongest showing, with five reds apiece. Maison Joseph Drouhin sees the addition of its Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes 2008, bringing the house’s MUST BUY total to 21 wine vintages. Meanwhile Italy’s new MUST BUYs hail from four big name growers: Gaja, Roberto Voerzio, Castello di Ama, and Isole e Olena.

Bordeaux achieves just one entry in Le Tertre-Rotebœuf 2008 (one of nine Bordeaux 2008 MUST BUYs). California also makes its mark, with Vérité’s La Joie 2013 and Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red 2011. Outside of “classic” fine wine regions, Château de Pibarnon’s Bandol Rouge 2000 also enters the fray.

See the full list of current MUST BUYs here.


Bordeaux 2017 in bottle: top dogs and underdogs

2017 was perhaps the most difficult of recent Bordeaux vintages. Looking back at our harvest report on this frost-ridden vintage, the Wine Lister team attended the annual UGC re-tasting with some trepidation last week.

Indeed, new president of the Union des Grands Crus Classés, Ronan Laborde, reminded us that 2017 had been a “vintage of challenges”, requiring “patience, determination, and energy” to battle against the frost. Even still, some producers lost their entire crop, and many that didn’t produced their “smallest quantities of recent years”.

Troubled though the vintage might have been, you wouldn’t know it from the hoards of London trade that flocked to taste Bordeaux’s latest deliverable vintage, nor indeed from many of the wines we tasted, which followed a general trend of being exceedingly approachable.

Out of some 120 wines tasted, the Wine Lister team highlights its selection of 17 top dogs, and four underdogs below.

The team’s highlights include five out of the six 2017 Bordeaux WL MUST BUYs (vs. 19 in 2018 Bordeaux), while the other 16 are those we felt showed the best of those in attendance at the UGC tasting, in the context of the 2017 vintage.

Saint-Julien was our top-performing red appellation, with exemplary wines such as “poised” Léoville Barton, as well as two great successes from Domaines Henri Martin: Saint-Pierre was a “real triumph in the vintage,”, while underdog Gloria was “lithe, lovely, and beguiling”. Elsewhere on the left bank, Margaux and Pauillac earn three highlights apiece, including “hedonistic” Giscours and Wine Lister’s top pick of the tasting, “magical, brooding” Pichon Comtesse.

Pessac-Léognan performed equally well for whites as reds. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc was “explosive yet precise”, and underdog Latour-Martillac Blanc showed impressive roundness and balance. Haut Bailly had “an incredible elegance”, while Les Carmes Haut Brion showed “purity and savoury spice”.

Saint-Emilion’s Figeac was the best of the right bank bunch – “muscular” in texture but balanced by “succulent fruit”. Pomerol was well-represented by “floral and velveteen” Clinet, and “powerful” Petit Village.

Other wines included in Wine Lister’s 2017 tasting highlights are: Rauzan-Ségla, D’Armailhac, Lynch Bages, Bouscaut, La Gaffelière, Canon, Beychevelle, and Malartic-Lagravière Blanc.