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.
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.
To mark the first day of spring (Saturday 20th March), this week’s blog takes a deep dive into Wine Lister’s latest MUST BUY update, helping you to discover some excellent wines to enjoy over the next few months. The 19 new MUST BUYs cover a range of regions, varieties, and styles, providing inspiration for top picks to drink now or put away for the future.
Click here to view all MUST BUYs, or read more below.
Piedmont constitutes over a quarter of the new MUST BUY picks, with entries from five of the region’s leading producers. Currently at its peak drinking, Luciano Sandrone’s 2005 Barolo Le Vigne comprises a blend of fruit from four of the estate’s top vineyards, each with different terroirs, altitudes, and exposures. Harvested, vinified, and aged separately, the final assemblage is intended to express the best characteristics of each plot. Wine Lister’s partner critic, Jancis Robinson, describes it as “complex”, with “already very integrated aromas”. It can be purchased from Farr Vintners for £79 per bottle (in-bond).
In Burgundy, Thibault Liger-Belair’s 2018 Richebourg achieves its highest WL score since the successful 2010 vintage (96), and is described by Wine Lister’s Burgundy specialist critic, Jasper Morris, as possibly “[Thibault’s] best Richebourg to date”. Awarding it 95-98 points, Jasper notes that “the oak […] is so suffused by a brilliant dense entirely red fruit, soft strawberry and more pronounced raspberry”. It is available to buy from Corney & Barrow for £450 per bottle (in-bond).
Representing the Southern Hemisphere, Shaw and Smith’s 2019 Pinot Noir also has Value Pick status, with a WL score of 92 at £26 per bottle (in-bond). The first vintage to include fruit from the property’s Lenswood vineyard, which boasts mature vines and high altitude, it marks an exciting development for Shaw and Smith. Richard Hemming for Jancis Robinson describes it at “superbly fragrant” and representative of “the sheer pleasure of the variety”. It can be bought from The Fine Wine Company.
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey makes up two of three Burgundy whites to feature in the latest MUST BUY update, with its 2016 Meursault Perrières and 2018 Corton-Charlemagne. At £210 per bottle (in-bond), the former achieves 94 points from Jasper Morris, who notes “riper fruit, almost some orange blossom, but still an underlying freshness”. Meanwhile, Julia Harding for Jancis Robinson awards 19 points to the 2018 Corton-Charlemagne, describing it as “powerful and elegant” with a “smoky and quite subtle” nose. While both wines are more difficult to source, it is worth informing your merchant of your interest in purchasing them.
Other wines featured in the new MUST BUY selection are: 2005 Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2009 Gaja Barbaresco Sori Tildin, 2009 Peter Michael Les Pavots, 2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia, 2010 La Spinetta Barbaresco Gallina, 2014 Bouchard Père et Fils Montrachet, 2015 Bond Quella, 2016 Giacomo Grimaldi Barolo Sotto Castello di Novello, 2017 Gangloff Condrieu, 2017 Kistler Vineyards Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay, 2017 Kistler Vineyards McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay, 2018 Castello di Fonterutoli Siepi, 2018 Georges Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux, and 2019 l’Evangile.
Like many of the world’s winemaking regions, Barolo is increasingly subject to dramatic weather patterns as a result of global warming. With significant frost in spring followed by an extremely hot summer, its 2017 growing season was no exception to these severe shifts. Akin to its vines, Barolo’s producers are now more than ever demonstrating their resilience to change, as evident in its latest offerings.
To guide those buying Barolo 2017 over the coming weeks, Wine Lister has spoken to nine of the region’s top producers to get a better picture of the vintage and its viticultural demands.
Chiara Boschis and her team during the 2017 harvest at E.Pira e Figli
A reduction in production
As cited by several producers, spring frost and summer drought resulted in reduced yields across the board in 2017. Situated in the heart of Barolo, Chiara Boschis tells us that production at E.Pira e Figli was down between 10-20% on the 2016. The estate had to carefully select “clusters that were compact when picked”, as heat stress was preventing complete berry development. Marco Marengo notes that yields at his estate were 25% lower than average in 2017, while owner and winemaker at La Spinetta, Giorgio Rivetti, saw levels down by roughly 30%. A representative at Giacomo Conterno, Stephanie Flou tells us that its 2017 vintage was particularly affected by it being “the second year in a row in which [the estate] has suffered drought”. She states that while yields were limited “because the grapes dried out”, they are “positively surprised with how the vintage has ended up”.
Finding shade from the sun
Numerous estates noted the need for rigorous canopy management in 2017 – one of many adjustments applied across the region to cope with the extreme heat. Elio Altare’s second-generation winemaker, Silvia Altare tells us that hydric stress forced her to be amongst the vines, “meticulously managing the canopies to protect the grapes from the sun”. The team at Cantina Cooperativa Terre del Barolo also explain that this “was key in 2017 in order to keep bunches in shade, without suffocating them”, while “conservation tillage – mulching or grass covering in between the rows –was crucial to limit evaporation, and to protect the vines from the ‘mirror effect’ of the soil”. Vietti’s winemaker, Luca Currado notes that he similarly used “uniform, dense foliage to provide clusters with greater shade” and “grass cover between the rows to prevent sunlight reflecting directly onto the clusters”. The estate also started harvest significantly earlier than usual in 2017 – another recurring theme across the properties.
Keeping cool: the family dog at Elio Altare finds shade under the vines during the estate’s 2017 harvest
A crucial cooling
As mentioned by several of his peers, Azelia’s fifth-generation winemaker, Lorenzo Scavino tells us that a large diurnal temperature range helped to “preserve the freshness and the aromas of the grapes” in such a hot year. He states that while these cool nights “usually do not occur in warmer vintages, they were really a blessing”. Poderi Luigi Einaudi’s team echoed this sentiment, add that the temperature changes between day and night helped to develop the “polyphenolic profile of the Nebbiolo”, allowing “an excellent accumulation of tannins”. Rainfall in early September also helped to ensure balance in the 2017 vintage, with Luca Currado informing us that Vietti’s “Nebbiolo and Barbera benefited in particular, with highly complex polyphenolic profiles compared to other particularly rich vintages”, and “an unexpected freshness on the palate”.
The final freshness
Indeed, according to Wine Lister’s discussions with producers, freshness has been the great surprise of the 2017 vintage – a description applied repeatedly by Wine Lister’s partner critic, Antonio Galloni, in his notes on the region’s latest offerings. Chiara Boschis notes that E. Pira e Figli’s 2017 is “generous but very fresh”, while Azelia’s Lorenzo Scavino explains that rigorous vineyard management allowed them to “preserve the acidity, which is why even in this vintage we can find a great freshness”. Silvia Altare also tells us that while “2017 is definitely a warmer, more open knit vintage than 2016”, she has “noticed over the past few months the wines have integrated more and there’s a bit more freshness”.
The successful conception of balance in a year defined by drought aptly illustrates the resilience of Barolo’s producers in 2017, which may well be described as a winemaker’s vintage. Barolo 2017 scores have so far been high across the board, giving further merit to those who have created a wine of complexity and quality in a year of climatic uncertainty.
Keep track of new Barolo 2017 scores from Wine Lister’s partner critics here.
Widely considered the most romantic (if most expensive) day of the year, Valentine’s day often brings with it pressure to spend more to prove one’s admiration. To help you avoid compromise on your Valentine’s day drinking, Wine Lister has put together a list of red Value pick MUST BUYs with WL scores above 95.
Click here to view all red Value pick MUST BUYs, or read more below.
Of the 37 red Value Pick MUST BUYs earning WL 95 and over, a substantial 27 wines hail from Italy, suggesting the impressive quality-to-price ratios offered by many of the country’s producers.
A passion for Piedmont
Famed Piedmont cooperative, Produttori del Barbaresco appears three times on the list, with the 2014 vintages of its Montefico Riserva, Montestafano Riserva, and Ovello Riserva. Despite hailstorms damaging several Barbaresco vineyards in 2014, Produttori’s premium sites are subject to rigorous grape selection, meaning its single-vineyard wines retained quality in the vintage. Achieving the highest score of the three labels from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (96) who calls it a “potent, structured Barbaresco”, the Montefico Riserva can be purchased from Hatton & Edwards for £42 per bottle (in-bond).
Tenderness for Tuscany
Moving further south, Podere Poggio Scalette’s Il Carbonaione is represented by its 2009, 2013, and 2014 vintages, which all achieve WL scores of 95. With over 10 years of age, the 2009 is described by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, as offering a “very voluptuous, exotic nose”, with notes of “both herbs and spices – and some meatiness […] very exciting and bursting with health”. It can be bought from Atlas Fine Wines for £33 per bottle (in-bond).
A romance with the Rhône
Family-owned, micro-négociant, Tardieu-Laurent represents five of the eight Rhône Value picks, with its 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Speciale, 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, 2005 Cornas Vieilles Vignes, and 2007 Hermitage. Despite its small-scale production (a consequence of its meticulous selection process), Tardieu-Laurent offers excellent value across its labels. Jancis Robinson awards 18 points to the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, noting it is “very aromatic and then so sweet and round on the palate! You want to gobble it up immediately”. It can be purchased by the case of 12 from Tardieu-Laurent’s exclusive UK agent, Corney & Barrow for £390 (in-bond).
Caring for California
Representing the New World, Ridge Vineyards’ Geyserville appears in the line-up with its 2016 vintage. A single-site blend of 73% Zinfandel, 17% Carignan, 7% Petite Syrah, and 3% Alicante Bouschet, it achieves a WL score of 95, and is described by Antonio Galloni as offering “black cherry, graphite, lavender, and spice”, with “a purity […] that is absolutely striking”. Also noted by Jancis Robinson as having “snug, focused aromatics with hints of floral lift” and “a palate bursting with flavour”, the 2016 Geyserville can be acquired by the bottle from Lay & Wheeler for £33 (in-bond).
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.
Top chefs are often interrogated on their favourite dishes to cook at home, actors on their favourite films, writers on their favourite books – Wine Lister has sought out the ultimate drinking inspiration for special occasions, interviewing a handful of top wine producers on their favourite wines.
From left to right: Axel Heinz, Chiara Boschis, Gaia Gaja, Jacques Devauges, and Marielle Cazaux
Axel Heinz – Ornellaia
“It’s certainly the most difficult question to answer for a winemaker”, Axel begins. Born in Germany, and spending his early career in Bordeaux before joining Ornellaia, his choice, once we twisted his arm, sits far from his professional vinous journey. “It would be a white, from my favourite Grand Cru in Burgundy: Corton Charlemagne”, he confesses, explaining that for him, these wines combine the structure and power of a red wine, with “the vibrancy, fragrance, and minerality that one can only find in great whites”. Admiring its capacity for a faithful expression of terroir, and display of true personal signature, he cites Coche-Dury as his go-to producer.
Chiara Boschis – E.Pira e Figli
With Barolo in her blood (her relatives founded the historic Giacomo Borgogno estate), it is not unusual that Chiara Boschis’ favourite wine should hail from this same noble Italian region. She tells us that she understood from a young age “the privilege to be born in such a generous land”, for which her parents, and the people around her had “great love and respect”. After years in the cellar at E.Pira, she too became “entirely captured by the magic of Barolo”. Chiara’s top choice is therefore a Barolo from the Mosconi vineyard for its “complexity and depth”, Cannubi for its “elegance”, and the vineyards of Via Nuova for their “diversity”.
Gaia Gaja – Gaja
While paying homage to her family’s past through her own wines, fifth generation winemaker, Gaia Gaja also has one eye on the future. Her favourite wine, from rising star appellation Mount Etna, Sicily, is Graci’s Etna Rosso Arcuria. The wine is made from one of the latest ripening European varieties, Nerello Mascalese, in one of the highest vineyards in Europe. She discovered it after “becoming close friends with Alberto Graci and his family”, often visiting them in Etna. Gaia explains that “the contrasts between its vibrancy, freshness, and warmth, as well as its perfume and smoky minerality”, remind her of “the snow and the fire of Etna”. Comparing it to Nebbiolo, she believes the grape has “intriguing personality, a strong identity of place, and a medium body that makes it versatile and easy to drink”.
Jacques Devauges – Clos des Lambrays
Moving from Clos de Tart to Clos des Lambrays last year, Jacques Devauges’ top wine of all-time was born close to home. He tells us that Comte Georges de Vogüé’s Musigny catalysed his passion for wine. Sampling the 1971 and 1978 as a teenager, he was “struck” by both, despite knowing very little about wine at that point. Jacques believes Vogüé’s Musigny shows “the signature of the Grand Vin”, to impress “not only the wine geek, or the collector, but everyone, even those who don’t know what makes a good wine”. Describing what “was almost a shock”, he notes that the “level of perfume on the nose was almost like a perfume you can put on your skin”, while the palate was “soft and delicate”.
Marielle Cazaux – La Conseillante
Joining La Conseillante from neighbouring Petit-Village in 2015, Marielle Cazaux tells us that if she had to pick a favourite wine, it would be Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, because she “has so many special memories with this wine”. As an intern at Ridge in 2001, she had the chance to taste several vintages with the legendary Paul Draper, whom she calls “one of the most gifted winemakers of the US”. Marielle considers Monte Bello a “wine with extraordinary finesse”, and “a total sense of harmony”. Describing its notes of “black pepper, lavender, mocha, liquorice, and dried flowers”, she observes that it is “perhaps one of the most “Bordeaux” style wines in California”.
From left, Nicolas Audebert, Nicolas Glumineau, Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Veronique Boss Drouhin, and Will Harlan
Nicolas Audebert – Rauzan-Ségla, Canon, and Berliquet
With some of the world’s most prestigious wineries under his belt (Terrazas de Los Andes, Cheval des Andes, Moët & Chandon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot), Nicolas echoes Axel Heinz in attempting to pick his favourite wine: “it’s impossible to answer. It’s like music – endless, initiatory, and progressive”. He instead recommends a wine from his friend, winemaker Andrea Felluga, with whom he “shares wine at simple, festive tables with lots of laughter”. He tells Wine Lister that Felluga’s wine, Livio Felluga Terre Alte “is a great white from Friuli” – a “land of contrast between the sunny and singing soul of Italy and the Alpine foothills, austere and cool”. Made from a blend of Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc, the Terre Alte is, according to Nicolas, like Felluga – “happy and lively”.
Nicolas Glumineau – Pichon Comtesse
On the subject of his favourite wine, Nicolas Glumineau (previously of Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Montrose), tells us that there are so many wines he could note – “Rayas 1990, E. Guigal La Mouline 1976, Cristal 1996, Trotanoy 2009, Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2015”. White Burgundy legend, Coche-Dury, nonetheless gets another vote from Nicolas (on top of praise from Axel Heinz) as he reminisces trying the Meursault Caillerets 2006 for the first time in London, and being “choked, speechless, and moved by such perfection”. He describes the “delicacy of its white flower aromas and the elegance of its mineral and endless finish”, and recalls the feeling “that the world has stopped turning and that time has been suspended”.
Pierre-Olivier Clouet – Cheval Blanc
Echoing the sentiment of several of his peers, Pierre-Olivier Clouet (who has been at Cheval Blanc for 16 years), tells us that “it is impossible to choose just one wine”, because “like wine, the palate of the taster is constantly evolving”. Pierre-Olivier nonetheless notes his current favourite is “Mas Jullien – a wine that fully expresses the identity of the place where it is made, and injects the touch of balance and freshness that characterises all the great wines of the world”. He recalls that the last time he tasted the Languedoc red – a blend of Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvèdre – was with his team, on the last day of Cheval Blanc’s 2020 harvest.
Veronique Boss Drouhin – Joseph Drouhin
Fourth-generation winemaker, Veronique Boss Drouhin tells us that a wine she particularly enjoys was introduced to her by her close friend, Christine Vernay, daughter of the late Georges Vernay (praised for his key role in the survival of the Condrieu appellation). Veronique recalls Vernay opening a bottle of Georges Vernay Condrieu Coteau de Vernon, and being enchanted by its “aromatics, jumping out of the glass – unique, fragrant, and complex”, and a palate that was “powerful, voluptuous, and round, but with acidity to balance it” – a rarity for Viognier. She also cites Georges & Christophe Roumier’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses as one of her favourites, adding, “Christophe’s [wine] is one of the nicest, purest, more elegant expressions of Pinot”.
Will Harlan – Promontory
Leading Harlan Estates‘ second-generation venture, Will Harlan explains to us that while he cannot choose a favourite, Jacques-Frederic Mugnier’s Musigny 2001 is a wine that he believes to “belong among the finest”. Will recalls coming across the bottle while “travelling with colleagues through Copenhagen a few years ago”, and as there hadn’t been a correct time to open it, the bottle joined them “on a course through Germany to Switzerland”. Having finally found an appropriate evening in Zurich to open it, “by the lake — the first bit of rest since the trip began”, he was “drawn in, as each feature of the wine, with a humble nobility, felt very naturally and confidently in its place”. Will notes it was a “wine that was singular and true”, that “would mark a memorable evening of our travels and in our friendships”.
“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.
For those in need of a chilled white wine to help beat the heat, Wine Lister’s latest blog transports you to Italy, examining a selection of dry Italian whites with WL scores of 90 and above. Enjoy any of the below from the comforts of your home:
Abruzzo – Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is one of Italy’s most prominent dry whites, benefitting from remarkable ageing potential that contributes to its frequent comparison with fine white Burgundy. Described by Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic, JancisRobsinon.com as “much too young right now, but huge promise”, the 2013 vintage can be aged for another 20 years, despite already having a “gorgeous nose of spice, flint stone and mandarin fruit”. The quality of its production can be attributed to the estate’s judicious approach to grape selection, using a mere five percent of the harvest from its 170 acres of vineyards to make its own wine, and selling the rest to local co-ops. A Wine Lister MUST BUY, the 2013 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo achieves a WL score of 95 at c.£105 per bottle (in-bond). You can place a bid for this wine on the Berry Bros & Rudd online bidding platform, BBX.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Josko Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla
Situated on the Slovenian border, Josko Gravner has pioneered biodynamic winemaking in Italy. Given the plethora of high-tech winemaking equipment that exists today, his methods can be considered somewhat antiquated – his winery is stripped bare, apart from the necessary electricity for lights. Wines are fermented in underground Amphorae, filled by gravity, and aged in traditional wooden casks. An Italian indigenous grape, the Ribolla is aged for a considerable number of years before release, with the 2009 vintage displaying “fabulous aromas of dried grasses, chamomile, lapsang and smoked orange peel” and a “dry spicy grip”, according to Julia Harding for JancisRobinson.com. With a WL score of 92 at c.£70 per bottle (in-bond), this MUST BUY is available to purchase by the bottle from The Good Wine Shop.
Piedmont – Gaja Langhe Gaia & Rey
Named after Angelo Gaja’s daughter (and now fifth-generation director), Gaia Gaja, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey, Gaia & Rey was first produced in 1983. Made from the first Chardonnay vines to be planted in Piedmont, this wine pioneered the production of exceptional white wines in the Langhe Hills, where production had previously been almost exclusively red. With a WL score of 93, the 2016 vintage can be enjoyed now, or laid down for further ageing. Wine Lister partner critic Antonio Galloni for Vinous describes it as “a gorgeous Chardonnay built on persistence, energy and class. Orchard fruit, citrus, almond and floral notes give the 2016 striking vibrancy”. It is available to purchase by the case of 12 for £939 (in-bond) from Cru World Wine.
Veneto – Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca
The Pieropan family have been producing wines in Soave since the late 1880s, and were the first to bottle wine under the Soave label in the early 1930s. The late Leonildo “Nino” Pieropan, grandson of the estate’s founder, was also the first producer in Soave to make a single-vineyard wine, ‘Calvarino’, in 1971. Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca is made from Garganega grapes grown on La Rocca’s unique terroir, which exists as a limestone outcrop in a sea of Soave’s basalt. Gaining a WL score of 92, and available at less c.£20 per bottle (in-bond), the 2013 vintage is a Wine Lister Value pick. Jancis Robinson describes it as “lively and citrus” with notes of “lemon cream”. It can be bought by the bottle from The Wine Centre.
Also featured in the list of Italian whites with WL scores above 90 are: Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala, Fattoria Zerbina Arrocco Passito, Fattoria Zerbina Scaccomatto Passito, Gaja Langhe Alteni di Brassica, Jermann Capo Martino, Jermann Vintage Tunina, La Castellada Bianco della Castellada, La Castellada Ribolla Gialla, Ornellaia Bianco, and Ornellaia Poggio alle Gazze.
For bespoke fine wine purchase recommendations, as well as advice on collection re-sale, get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or download the full Cellar Analysis information pack.