France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair’s Thibault Liger-Belair

Founder and winemaker of his estate in Nuits-Saint-Georges: “I feel like an eternal beginner”.

The 29th interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series finds us once again in Burgundy where we meet Thibault Liger-Belair, #22, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in the region. His renowned estate, emblematic of the Côte de Nuits, lies at the heart of Nuits-Saint-Georges.

The Liger-Belair family has been a fixture in the world of great Burgundy wines for almost three centuries. However, Thibault Liger-Belair represents the first generation from his branch of the family to make his own wine. Founded in 1720 at Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Établissements C. Marey was one of the most important wine-trading houses in Burgundy. In 1852 the Marey family joined forces, in business and through marriage, with Count Louis Liger-Belair. In much more recent times, after two and a half centuries in business, the famous Maison de Négoce went under in 1979, and what was left was sold in 1982 on the death of Xavier Liger-Belair. Xavier’s son, Vincent, then bought back the premises and maintained the Burgundian winegrowing estate whose lovely terroirs still remained in his branch of the family, namely Clos de Vougeot, Richebourg, and Les Saint-Georges. In 2001 Vincent’s son, Thibault, took over the vineyards and founded the winemaking estate, to which he gave his own name. We should be careful to distinguish it from Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Vosne-Romanée, whose owner, Count Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, is a distant cousin of Thibault’s, their respective great-grandfathers being brothers.

In his quest to give sensitive expression to his terroirs, Thibault has, over the years, developed his personal vision of the winemaking profession. In 2004 he started a trading operation to augment the range of his Côte de Nuits terroirs (the wines produced from the grapes he buys in carry the name ‘Successeurs’ in place of ‘Domaine’). His estate has been certified organic since 2005, and he has applied a biodynamic approach since 2004, albeit eschewing biodynamic certification in order to maintain an independent approach to this form of viticulture. He has also produced wines in Beaujolais since 2009, in the Moulin-à-Vent appellation, where he creates exquisite Gamays.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Thibault Liger-Belair: I don’t feel like a winemaking champion, without pretending to false modesty. We are on a never-ending quest. Becoming a champion of wine is ultimately unattainable because we are always trying to do things better. A winemaker who thinks he has made it is a winemaker who should give up making wine, because he believes he has reached some kind of pinnacle. That is more than ever the case today, subject as we are to the effects of climate change. We have to keep looking for new solutions. I feel like an eternal beginner, albeit one who makes fewer mistakes than in the past because I have a slightly more intuitive grasp of things.

Have you been training for long?

I have been training for a long time, but there is still a long way to go. My training started from the moment that I started to taste wines with the idea of making them when I began my studies in 1991. I started training as an amateur, but since creating the estate in 2001 I have trained a bit more professionally and consistently. I took a big step forward when I was able to double my training regime. In 2009 I made my first vintage in Beaujolais, which gave me the opportunity to conduct two vinifications in two different terroirs. I then developed twice as fast because working with two different terroirs, climates, and soil structures allowed me to see things from a broader and deeper perspective.

Who is your mentor?

My mentor is my fear of making mistakes, and my determination to keep asking myself what I need to do to improve. I don’t have a mentor as such, but I do have people that I look up to, without idolising them. Our vocation is, first and foremost, intensely personal, founded in our desire to give something back through our wine. And the very foundation of our profession consists in the constant sharing of experience and ideas. The stupidest thing a winemaker can do is to declare they have a secret, particularly in a world in which human relationships are becoming more remote.

Is wine a team sport?

Of course. When you do it on your own you do it badly. When you do it with others you do it well. It’s all down to teamwork. Winemakers are frequently being filmed, photographed, or interviewed like today, but the reality behind the wines lies in the teams we choose to work with. We all work with a shared sense of purpose but everyone, with their unique personality, brings something individual to the table. I am fond of saying that we only have one mouth, but we have two ears. That surely tells us something.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

A great wine is a triptych. A terroir is like a lovely piece of music, a beautifully composed score, and the notes are the same for everyone. Then there are the tools, like Pinot Noir or Gamay, which are our musical instruments. Finally there is the interpreter, the musician or the winemaker. Even though we play the same notes, we will never produce identical results or emotions. I don’t know exactly why that is, but it is the complementarity of those three components that makes a great wine. I am against the idea that the terroir is what matters most. Every terroir has been planted by men and represents years of research, observation, and the desire for excellence. I give precedence to the men who decided to plant the terroirs in order to make great wines from them.

To what do you owe your success?

I am very open with respect to this question. In the first place I had the good luck to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth, because I have had the opportunity to work with great terroirs. Otherwise we would arguably not be doing this interview today. I believe that my success is also down to the fact that I have been lucky enough to do what I love, and to have a job which makes me happy to get up every morning – even if some days are easier than others. When you do what you love doing it’s no longer work: it’s continuing to grow and live out a passion.

Is your family proud of you?

Yes, I think so. I have an unusual background, in that my father had nothing to do with the world of wine. I and my cousin (Louis-Michel Liger-Belair of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, ed.) are the first generation of winemakers in our family. In the 1970s my grandfather had told my father: “Whatever you do, don’t go into wine, there is no future in it.” It was during the time of the OPEC oil crisis and wine sales suffered badly. The fact that we have got the family business back on the road and restored the entire property is the source of some family pride. As for myself, I am proud of it! Without false modesty, I am happy to be where we are today, even though we still have some way to go. I am proud that my family is proud of it.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My wife, who occasionally tells me that she admires what I am doing, although she never lets me get complacent! I think of all my customers who sometimes tell me that our wines have moved them, and that is our quest, our Grail. It is the love and happiness that we have managed to provide. In our profession there is an element of selfishness because we necessarily make wines for ourselves, which suit our own taste and represent who we are, while at the same time we have to demonstrate our generosity in the hope that our wine brings a great deal of pleasure to others. Obviously we make wine in order to earn our living, but in Burgundy we are lucky enough to get very good prices for our wines. That makes it even more imperative to do everything we can to justify those prices through the emotions and happiness that our wines can bring to our customers. That requires a number of sacrifices, but we make them for good reason.

Your favourite colour? 

It’s blue, the blue of the foil capsules on my bottles, of the sky, of the sea. It’s a colour that makes people happy. It goes very well with my landlubber and my nautical sides. Blue is very soothing and comes in many shades.

Your hero among grape varieties?

A hero is someone who does something extraordinary when you are not expecting it. That rules out Pinot Noir because we always expect great things from it. So I would go for Gamay, which can take us much further than we would necessarily expect. Pinot Noir ousted the “disloyal” Gamay in 1395, at the behest of Philip the Bold (Duke of Burgundy, ed.). Gamay, when planted in high quality terroir, with vines cultivated with respect and grapes vinified and matured with care, produces great wines. But it’s about more than the grape variety, you have to plant them in the right place.

Your favourite wine?

Les Saint-Georges. It was my first cuvée in 2002, and the one that I have been fighting to get Grand Cru classification for since 2007. We have a real opening for this classification, and I am convinced we can achieve it and correct what is an anomaly within the next ten years or so. It is my heart’s terroir. Sometimes we don’t need to say any more than that to express our love.

Your favourite vintage?

2008. It’s not necessarily the vintage everyone would expect but it’s a vintage that really helped me develop my winemaking skills. It was really tricky, August was unusually wet, and together with our grape-pickers we ended up separating out every bunch, one by one. Between 2002 and 2007 I found making my wines quite stressful and experienced a lot of self-doubt. So I said to myself: “Thibault, you pretty much know how to make wine, if you make a mistake it’s not such a big deal, but all the same you are going to try to get it right because it’s your daughter Jeanne’s year of birth.” And something shifted. I understood that I couldn’t afford to be stressed because that affects the wine. Some vintages are easier than others, and 2008 wasn’t a vintage with great ageing potential, but when you taste the wines today they are amazingly good!

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

It’s a little bit like me, there is a certain resemblance there. Funnily enough, a customer said to me: “When people look at you, you make them think of wines that are full, rich, and concentrated, but when people taste your wines they find them, instead, delicate, elegant, and often highly distinctive.” People expect my wines to correspond to my external appearance – to my physique in particular. But my wines probably express what I am like inside.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

With friends, never on your own. What works best is to taste it slightly chilled to begin with, so that you give it time to warm up and then get to experience all it’s aromatic variations and a gradual intensification.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

A decent shot of red to get going, that’s a good drug! Yes, I have thought of adulterating my wines in the past, it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise. Like many others I have suffered from doubts. I would try adding a bit of this and a bit of that, but it never worked. On each occasion there was something wrong with the harmony of the wine. I tried things out, I made mistakes, and I learnt from them. Nowadays, while I don’t seek to make “natural” wines, I try to make wines as naturally as possible. Even if my wines can show a degree of austerity when they are young, they will mellow as they age. Wine is a tribute to time, it exists in real time, you cannot cut corners and speed things up or slow things down.

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

I am not prepared to sell my estate. It is my life, along with my family. It’s my working instrument. What would I do without it, were I to sell it? I don’t know how to do anything else; I am not someone who is especially cultured or intelligent. I just try to make a good job of what I love doing. If I were ever forced to sell it would be for the market price. We are the owners of our vineyards on paper only. The reality is that we are merely custodians before we pass them on to future generations. An estate is always being prepared for those who come next, but if my children don’t want to take it over, all the better for them, so long as they follow their hearts. Perhaps they will come back to it, perhaps not. I don’t want to tell them what to do, it would make me too miserable if they were not as happy as I am. As for the vines, they will always be there. I am an eternal optimist!

Who is your strongest competition?

I am always competing against myself because, when I taste my wines, I check for any defects before I look for their good qualities. We only have allies in our profession: in particular, the soil, the climate, and all the wildlife. And even when we experience a climate event like the frosts of 2021, we must always remember to be grateful. We work with an unknown and higher power that we cannot control, and when nature doesn’t help us then it’s up to us to help ourselves.

Which competition do you dread the most?

The biggest struggle is to preserve the freshness in our wines, so that they continue to be like Burgundy wines and are not completely altered by an excessively hot climate. It’s about our capacity to adapt to climate change. We shouldn’t complain about global warming, we have to understand why it’s happening and do everything in our power to prevent it warming up too quickly. Mother Teresa used to say: “We realise that what we are doing is only a drop in the ocean. But without this drop the ocean would be missing something.” On the estate the winery consumes minimal electricity and water. We treat the water in order to return it to nature in the same condition that we found it. We try to ensure that 95% of our materials are recyclable. All these are tiny drops of water, not a revolution. Soil is the most efficient absorber of carbon dioxide, so we should treat it as an incredible factory for capturing the damaging emissions caused by our modern society and then we could really achieve some positive results. For the past 50 years we have focused on the needs of our plants and not on the needs of our soil. Our knowledge of the soil is very limited, we currently only understand 15% of what is going on there. Our work has straightforward aims: to create real freshness in our wines, to produce appetising, mouth-watering wines, and to preserve the fertility of the soil. When all is said and done we are farmers, people of the soil, and we have to concentrate on the requirements of the soil, we have to get back to the fundamentals.

What is your greatest source of pride?

To have achieved a balance between my professional life and my personal life, because it’s a job that can be very demanding and one which requires quite a few personal sacrifices. I have got a team of great people around me, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family behind me. When you receive you have to give, it’s a fundamental balance.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

I’ll start with the cellar. In the first place, we are determined not to incorporate anything into the wine which is not naturally occurring, namely sulphur. We have stopped using petrochemically-produced sulphur-dioxide and we now work solely with native sulphur. That has fundamentally changed the appearance of our wines and we no longer feel we are harming the wine like before. On top of that, we have just completed the renovation of the entire winery. You have to work really hard in the vineyard in order to be as lazy as possible in the winery and avoid an excessive workload when it comes to extraction. Our new tanks, based on the golden ratio that we introduced in 2022, create Brownian motion through temperature exchanges between the exterior and interior. For me that is a genuine innovation. As for the vineyard, by contrast, our approach has been to take a step back to the older ways of doing things. I have practised biodynamic cultivation for quite a few years now, having started in 2004. We applied for certification in 2007 but I turned it down in 2012. I found it required a dogmatic approach that jarred with my convictions. I believe in two things in life, science and God. There are lots of good things in biodynamics, but we should not slavishly follow agronomic principles, we should observe them in practice in order to come to an intuitive understanding of what works. I don’t want to follow prescribed formulae.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

Someone with the same passion, whose eyes gleam when they talk about wine. Someone who feels good outdoors, among the vines, and, above all, someone who makes wines that are very different from mine. Someone with awareness, who is sure of their taste, with the strength of mind to do things their own way and not just follow in my footsteps. I am not looking to be a mentor, but if they need me I will be there!

Bordeaux Study 2023 Part II: Reaching for the stars

Study digest: key findings from this year’s second regional report

Wine Lister has now published Part II of its 2023 Bordeaux Study, created in partnership with our price and popularity data partner, Wine-Searcher. The report examines the top-quality Bordeaux wines and appellations in 2022, provides insight into online search activity and trends, and reveals the wines that have performed the best in terms of quality, quality-to-price ratio, long-term price performance, and presence at auction.

Please see our key findings below, or download the study digest in English: Bordeaux Study Digest 2023 PII – ENG or in French: Bordeaux Study Digest 2023 PII – FR.

Critics’ consensus on the top 30 Bordeaux wines of 2022

While the Bordeaux 2022 en primeur campaign is yet to kick off in full swing – with just a handful of key releases entering the market over the past three weeks – Wine Lister’s partner critics’ scores are now in (Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin from Vinous, Jancis RobinsonBettane+Desseauve, and Le Figaro Vin) informing our overarching 100-point Wine Lister score. The WL score is the average score of our five partner critics, normalised to take into account each critic’s scale and scoring habits.

In our latest blog, we examine the wines that gain the top Wine Lister scores in 2022 – a vintage that, despite extreme weather conditions, is projected to be one of the best from this century (recap Ella Lister’s vintage report here).

The top 30 wines of the vintage are shown below, with all estates in this ranking boasting scores of 96 or above. Scores are shown to one decimal place to enable a detailed ranking within the top scorers.

The 30 wines with the highest WL scores, including their points increase versus 2021

Reflecting trade and press sentiment regarding the exceptional quality of the 2022s, wines across the board have generally seen their WL scores increase on last year, and in some cases, significantly. This year, 64 wines achieve WL scores of 95 and over, more than double the number in 2021 (29). While the estates that made up our top 30 last year had an average score of 95.2, this year’s top 30 average 96.8 points.

A glaring observation: only red wines have scored above 96 in 2022 – the vintage having been kinder to Merlots and Cabernets than to their white counterparts, which struggled to maintain acidity in the heat. Only six whites – predominantly sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac – scored just outside the examined range, with WL scores of around 95. These include – in descending order – Climens, Suduiraut, Doisy-Daëne L’Extravagant de Doisy (last year’s top-scoring wine, with 97 points in 2021), Rayne-VigneauLa Mission Haut-Brion Blanc (the only dry white), and Fargues.

Turning to reds, Cheval Blanc stands at the top of the podium (up 3 points on 2021), followed by Léoville Las Cases (up 3.4 points), Latour (up 2.9 points), Vieux Château Certan (up 2 points), Mouton-Rothschild (up 3.2 points), and Lafite Rothschild (up 2 points), which all boast rounded scores of 98. They are closely tailed by La Conseillante (up 2.1 points), Petrus (up 2.7 points), and Figeac (up 2.6 points), amongst others.

The biggest climbers in the top 30 this year were Léoville Las Cases, with a WL score increase of 3.4 since the 2021, followed by Trotanoy with 3.3, Mouton-Rothschild with 3.2, La Mission Haut-Brion and Beau-Séjour Bécot with 3.1 points. On average, these 30 estates saw an increase of 2.4 points compared to 2021.

Right Bank estates take up the majority of places in this year’s top-30 list (56% compared to 45% in 2021). This is mainly thanks to 10 Saint-Émilion properties and their limestone terroirs featuring in the top 30 – exactly one third – versus 24% last year, whereas Pomerol’s representation is similar year-on-year (23% versus 21%). Other appellations featuring ore strongly in the top 30 are Pauillac (17% up from 14%), and Margaux and Saint-Estèphe (both 7% up from 3%), while Pessac-Léognan and Saint-Julien have seen their listings reduce (10% versus 17%; 5% versus 7%, respectively).

France’s 50 best winemakers: Henri Giraud’s cellar master, Sébastien Le Golvet

Chef de caves of one of Champagne’s cult family estates: “Wine bonds us and binds us”.   

The third interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series takes us to Champagne to meet Sébastien Le Golvet, #48. A genuine hedonist, dedicated to enjoyment, he tells us how his winemaking trajectory and his passions are intertwined.

As befits a true bon viveur, Sébastien Le Golvet smokes a cigar throughout our interview. He inherited this passion from his father-in-law, Claude Giraud. He has been able to fit in seamlessly with his in-laws by embracing the spirit of innovation and independence so prized by the family. The outcome is champagnes that are unique, remarkable, vinous, and resolutely hedonistic.

Le Figaro: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Sébastien Le Golvet: I see myself as more of a leader than a champion, insofar as Maison Henri Giraud is above all a team. To use a French expression, I am the one pulling the cart rather than pushing it.

Have you been training for long?

We have been training to produce great wines for a long time, going back a number of generations. Our Réserve Perpétuelle, moreover, was launched by Claude Giraud in 1990 and we continue to develop this ground-breaking work, which is the signature of the estate, to this day.

Who is your mentor?

Claude, of course, who has had the patience to pass on to me his own passion for wine. It is also through him that I have learnt to make wine while smoking cigars. He has taught me the similarity between the great terroirs of tobacco and the great terroirs of wine. He has always been at my side. He is a visionary, which is so important for making champagne – you need lots of perspective.

Is wine a team sport?

Yes, you can go fast on your own but you go much further as a team. Speed is all very well but it frequently leads to excessive haste.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

In my view you cannot separate them. You cannot replicate the terroir, it is unique, and if the winemaker does not understand his terroir he will never make a great wine. For us what comes first – the terroir – forever depends on the well-being of, and respect for, nature.

To what do you owe your success?

I think I owe it, above all, to the history of the Giraud family, which has worked the vineyard at Aÿ since 1625. It’s a long history, and we owe our success to our terroir and to our family tradition of passing on know-how as well as assets.

Is your mother proud of you?

Yes, I think that she is very proud of how far my work has brought me in my devotion to wine. I think that the most satisfying achievement is to see your children flourish.

Who are your best supporters?

Our best supporters, first and foremost, are our customers, who come to our house, visit the Henri Giraud estate, stay at the manor, and enjoy an experience of well-being, through immersion in the terroir, and especially through “Craÿotherapie” (a concept of chalk baths and applications devised by Dr. Anne Le Golvet-Giraud, Sébastien’s wife, ed.). These are the people who then spread the good word about us far and wide, and they are our best ambassadors.

Your favourite colour? 

My favourite colour – and I don’t know if it’s really a colour – would have to be gold, because for me it represents the lustre of Pinot Noir. Blanc de Noirs is thus the stroke of genius which has allowed us to make a great white wine with black grapes. That gives champagne its golden colour.

The king of grape varieties?

Pinot Noir, without question.

Your favourite wine?

I don’t really have a favourite wine because each wine has its moment, in every case an occasion for sharing and pleasure. For example, if I’m partying, I can drink litres, even bucketfuls of wine, but, conversely, the Arḡonne cuvée requires a different approach. Each wine has a distinct function.

Your favourite vintage?

2004. That’s the year my winemaking career began. I joined the domaine in 2002, and 2004 was the year of my first vinification alongside Claude. And, at the same time, it’s the year that the 15th generation arrived (with the birth of his eldest son, Arthur, ed.). Every time I open a 2004 it reminds me of both my life’s journey and an extraordinary vintage.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

Our wines are all about joy, good humour, pleasure, fun and laughter, fine dining, and taste. If I had to compare them to a person, I would choose François-Xavier Demaison, an actor from the film Champagne. He paid us a visit and he is a truly exceptional person; brilliant, a true comedian!

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

Let’s deal with the basics first: a decent glass and the right temperature. These are the first two requirements, and then the magic does its work, because wine bonds us and binds us. It helps bring people together.

With whom?

To start with, you need to be curious about other people. When you have that curiosity and you are sharing a good wine, that’s when wine works its magic. People open up. You can talk about anything and everything, you take your time – it’s like smoking a cigar – and, if you are in the company of people who are curious about each other, you can pass an entire night conversing over a glass, or rather over a bottle.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

I tested negative at my latest drug test (laughs)! As for our wines, we are in the heart of an extraordinary vineyard here in Aÿ and I therefore think that today, rather than using chemicals, we ought to show nature the greatest respect, using minimal additives and interventions, by sticking to what is natural. We don’t need to do any more than that. It is rather a case of being in the right place at the right time, for the vines and wines alike.  

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

Selling our estate today is out of the question, so I cannot name a price. We are in the process of passing the estate to the next generation. Emmanuelle, my sister-in-law, who is taking over the reins at Domaine Henri Giraud, will write a new page marking the passage towards a new generation. Our wish is to perpetuate our know-how through the generations to come. And that is invaluable.

Who is your strongest competition in Champagne?

We don’t have any competitors because we feed off each other. Once again it’s about curiosity, visiting our peers, inviting them to our estate, getting to understand each other. We cannot be competitors, because we each have our own market. In our case we occupy a very specific niche. I don’t look at my peers as competitors but more as people that we can use as models, as sources of inspiration.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

In the vineyard we now use an absolute minimum of agricultural products. Furthermore, our Coteaux Champenois is called “triple zero”, with zero pesticide residues. For us this is something that really matters, something modern, and the fruit of our labour in the vineyard.

Turning to the cellar, our most innovative technical development there has been understanding how to marry two exceptional terroirs – the terroir of Aÿ Grand Cru with that of the forest of Argonne. I always say that it’s the story of the Beauty and the Beast. We have understood how to create this synergy between the two terroirs, which now produces an exceptionally great wine. For example, contrary to what you might expect, the Cuvée Arḡonne, vinified exclusively in new barrels, is not at all oaky, but expresses the terroir of Aÿ thanks to the forest of Argonne. With the Cuvée Arḡonne, the trema on the “g” alludes to the “y” of Aÿ, and thus to the fusion of the two terroirs.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

Our ideal successor would be the 15th generation of the family. What excites Emmanuelle and me is the prospect of one of our children taking over. That is what we live for.





Top sommeliers’ top wines for under £35 per bottle

With a bank of knowledge on some of the world’s most delectable wines, sommeliers have the ultimate insider insight into which bottles are worth picking up. With this in mind, Wine Lister asked some of the world’s top sommeliers to share with us their favourite wines retailing for under £35 per bottle.

Clockwise from top left: Joshua Castle (Noble Rot), Lesley Liu (Odette), Marc Almert (Baur au Lac), Martin Jean (Domaine les Crayères), Sara Rossi (Trinity)

Joshua Castle (Noble Rot, London)

Joshua contends that “without a shadow of a doubt, Greece is producing some of the best value-for-money wines”, noting that “the most successful producers are tapping into the country’s long viticultural history, wealth of old vines, and indigenous varieties”. He cites white wines produced from grapes such as Robolla, Roditis, and Savatiano “have been a huge success in the UK on-trade” while his pick his for “a great-value Greek wine is the red Agiorgitiko ‘Natur’ from Tetramythos, a producer based in the Peloponnese”. “Acidity, fresh flavours, and light extraction are on the agenda”, according to Joshua, who admires winemaker Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos’ tempering of Agiorgitiko’s often tannic profile – resulting in a bright crunchy expression. “I first drank it at the fantastic central Athens wine bar ‘Heteroclito’ where its energetic fruit, moderate alcohol, and glou-glou style has me hooked.”

Agiorgitiko ‘Natur’ 2021 can be found in Noble Rot’s London wine shop, Shrine to the Vine, for £17 per bottle

Lesley Liu (Odette Restaurant, Singapore)

Lesley recommends a Torrontés, citing how well it compliments the tropical climate of Singapore with its refreshing minerality and “lingering floral and sweet notes of delicate exotic fruit, fleshy citrus, and wild honey”.

Lesley is particularly impressed by the barrel-fermented Torrontés produced by Susana Balbo – the first woman in Argentina to graduate with a degree in oenology. Lesley describes it as “a new chapter for Torrontés”, due to the complexity imparted by the French oak barrels – “an unusual choice for aromatic varieties”. She commends the versatility of the grape, which lends it to being a great match for all manner of Asian dishes as its “acidity can cut through the oil present”.

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2019 can be found in Roberts and Speight from £18 per bottle.

Marc Almert (Baur au Lac, Zürich)

Marc points to the wines of Côtes du Rhône for “some of the true best-buys in French wine”, and advocates looking beyond the big-name appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte Rôtie, and instead towards smaller regional appellations which “often offer great ‘bang for your buck’, whilst displaying a sense of terroir”.

Marc recommends the Mistral Domaine de Ferrand. “The Bravay family named this highly-quaffable entry into their portfolio after the namesake northwesterly wind which is key to Rhône Valley viticulture.” He praises its palate, which boasts “a rich array of violet, spice, and of course dark red fruits” and says that “it possesses a great acidity back-bone, soft tannins despite its youth, and is the kind of red wine I like to enjoy after a long service.”

Mistral Domaine de Ferrand 2020 is available from Hedonism Wines for around £19 per bottle.

Martin Jean (Domaine les Crayères, Reims)

Martin shares a recent favourite from a blind tasting with friends –  “a sommelier friend had brought the Jaspe 2016 cuvée from Dominique Hauvette. It was a real favourite during the tasting, and something that I would want to share around a barbecue, with some grilled spiny lobster, decorated with some Provençal tomatoes, and an eggplant pie – simple dishes to share with family and friends.”

Martin praises this biodynamic, Roussanne-dominated cuvée for “its balance, its vibrancy, and saline notes”.

Domaine Hauvette ‘Jaspe’ 2016 is currently difficult to find in the UK, but can be found in outlets abroad such as Terroirs in Dublin from around £34 per bottle (excl. shipping).

Sara Rossi (Trinity Restaurant, London)

Sara has always been “fascinated by Slovenian wines because of their unique style and personality”. She particularly recommends Cotar Terra Rossa, a blend of Teran, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, describing its “delicate aromas of violet, sour red cherries, rosemary, and sage”. Sara praises its “refreshing acidity and firm tannins”, as well as its “long and complex finish”. Her ideal pairing for Terra Rossa would be “homemade truffle linguini pasta or roast grouse”.

Though currently unavailable in the UK, Cotar Terra Rossa 2009 can be found in European retailers such as Germany’s Vinoteca Maxima from £22 per bottle (excl. shipping).

A selection of MUST BUYs you must try in 2021

Wine Lister has put together a selection of MUST BUYs that have reached the perfect point of maturity in 2021. With a minimum score of 93, these picks take into account wines entering their apogee on the basis of Wine Lister partner critics’ drinking windows, and our own assessment of the optimum point with them, depending on region, grape variety, and style.

Read more below to discover some top wines that are at the peak of their drinking windows, or see more Wine Lister MUST BUYs here.

One of two Bordeaux 2000s that feature in our selection, Latour’s second wine, Les Forts de Latour aptly illustrates the success of a vintage that is widely considered one Bordeaux’s recent bests. With over 20 years of ageing under its belt, the 2000 Les Forts de Latour has a WL score of 94, and is described by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, as possessing a “minerality and lusciousness-yet-dryness on the finish”. With 10 more years to enjoy it, it is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler Wine Merchants for £198 per bottle (in-bond).

In Burgundy, Michel Lafarge’s 2011 Volnay Les Caillerets is currently at the peak of its drinking window, and is noted by Jancis Robinson as offering “rich, round and charming red fruits” that “firm up on the end of the palate”. With a WL score of 94, it has four more years of optimum drinking (Jancis notes there is “lots of fun to be had”), and can be purchased from Goedhuis & Co for £95 per bottle (in-bond).

At just £28 per bottle (in-bond), the Rhône’s Château Sixtine achieves a WL score of 95 with its 2010 Cuvée du Vatican. Writing for (another Wine Lister partner critic outfit), Josh Raynolds describes its “explosive perfumed bouquet [that]evokes dark berry preserves, incense, licorice and candied flowers”. Currently drinking at its best, this Value Pick is worth snapping up (by the case of 12, from Bordeaux Index).

Crossing into Italy, Roagna’s 2009 Barbaresco Paje is one of four selected MUST BUYs from Piedmont that can be enjoyed at their best in 2021. “The 2009 is gorgeous. Sweet tobacco, brown spices, dried cherries, menthol and leather are some of the notes that take shape in the glass” writes our partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous). The Buzz Brand is available from Bordeaux Index for £75 per bottle (in-bond).

Two New World reds feature in the selection, including Penfold’s 2005 St. Henri. The vintage saw favourable weather conditions, with particularly mild temperatures, and moderate rainfall. Available in magnum form from Cru World Wine for £144 per bottle (in-bond), it is described by Jancis Robinson as “very round, polished and gorgeous”, offering “warm, super-fruity mulberry fruit”.

Wine Lister’s selection of white MUST BUYs drinking best in 2021 includes five Burgundian picks from a range of vintages. Vincent Dauvissat’s 2012 Chablis Vaillons is a new MUST BUY, and achieves a WL score of 93. A great year for the appellation, Chablis has an average WL score of 95 across its top wines in 2012 (explore Wine Lister’s Vintage Chart here). Antonio Galloni notes that Dauvissat’s Chablis Vaillons “opens with the most exquisite, expressive aromatics imaginable. Weightless and totally gracious in the glass, […] a wine of sublime understatement”. It can be purchased from Latimer Vintners for £80 per bottle (in-bond).

View all Wine Lister MUST BUYs here, or explore our Vintage Chart to access the top wines per year.

New year, new tool – Wine Lister’s Vintage Chart

As we stayed hunkered down for much of 2020, Wine Lister was working on a new interactive tool for its website users: the Vintage Chart. Adding further breadth to our rating and information hub, this new feature allows side-by-side comparisons of top vintages from various countries, regions, and appellations.

See the example of Côte de Nuits reds below for some of the best of Burgundy’s back vintages, or explore the Vintage Chart for yourself here.

The Vintage Chart above compares the past 16 vintages of Côte de Nuits reds by WL score, based on the average WL scores of the top-performing wines in each “line”.

Informed by the latest available scores from two of Wine Lister’s partner critics, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris, and Neal Martin (Vinous) a look at the 2019 column reveals the success of Musigny, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, and Vosne-Romanée in the most recent vintage currently being released en primeur. The top-performing wines across the four appellations achieve an average WL score of 96, followed closely behind by Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Charmes-Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Echezeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Grands Echezeaux all gaining an average WL score of 95 in 2019.

Using the horizontal scroll to explore back vintages, one can see that Musigny is the most consistently high-scoring Côte de Nuits red appellation, with its top wines achieving an average WL score of 95 and above in the 15 vintages since 2004.

Click here to explore the Vintage Chart for yourself, or watch our video demonstration to find out how to get the most out of this new interactive tool here.

Wine Lister Pro members have access to a more extensive Vintage Chart, which integrates our holistic 360° rating system to visualise the average scores in the Economics and Quality categories, as well as by overall WL Pro score (which also takes into account a wine’s Brand clout). Log in to your account to view the Pro Vintage Chart here, or find out more about the Pro subscription here

21 for 2021: Wine Lister’s Champagne MUST BUYs

The end of 2020 is perhaps reason enough to pop open a bottle of champagne. With Christmas and New Year around the corner, Wine Lister has compiled a list of 21 Champagne MUST BUYs to enjoy over the last days of this year, and into 2021. Whether you have a penchant for discovering grower champagnes, or prefer to relish in those the top Grandes Maisons have to offer; whether you enjoy the purity of a Blanc de Blancs, the balance of an assemblage, or the opulence of a Blanc de Noirs, the selection of vintage champagnes below is sure to offer guidance for any preferred style.

Find out more about our 21 Champagne MUST BUYs for 2021 below.

Long-established house, Charles Heidsieck, is represented in our MUST BUY selection with two vintages of its Blanc des Millénaires – 1995 and 2004. The wine is so-named to reflect its high ageing potential, and is only created in vintages worthy of the label (since its inception, just five have been made). The 2004 achieves a WL score of 95, and is praised by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, as having “sheer confidence, appeal and completeness”. Earning one more WL point, the 1995 shows “just how compelling this often-overlooked vintage can be”, according to Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous). Both vintages can be bought by the case of six in-bond from Cru World Wine.

Also the crown jewel of its own house, Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque carries its own portion of history within its name, referencing the Art Nouveau movement of the early 1900s. The prestige bottling can be appreciated on the inside and out, particularly in the spectacular 2008 vintage. Wine Lister tasted it recently, and found it to have a concentrated nose of white peaches, brioche, and a hint of honeysuckle, with brilliant tension on the palate. 2008 Belle Epoque is available to purchase by the bottle from Lay & Wheeler, for £129 (in-bond).

A further two MUST BUYs hail from the boutique house, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses. The 5.5-hectare Clos de Goisses parcel is the oldest and steepest “Clos” in champagne. The 2006 and 2008 vintages of this single-vineyard cuvée both receive a WL score of 96. Jancis Robinson praises both vintages, writing that the 2006 “positively screams for attention”, while the 2008 is “explosive… like a firework on the palate”. They can both be acquired in-bond from Bordeaux Index.

Included in our 21 MUST BUY champagnes are two grower offerings lying outside of champagne’s more widely-declared vintages. Notorious for its killer heatwave, 2003 is not well-appreciated among the champenois. Bruno Paillard’s 2003 N.P.U. challenges this perception, offering a “dancing” palette of “open and floral notes” according to Jancis Robinson. Acknowledging that the vintage was hugely criticised, Paillard says that for him, “it’s a great vintage”. Another elusive grower champagne rounds off our list. Jancis Robinson hailed the 2005 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée as “a wine to wallow in”, praising its complexity and “refreshing finish”.

Also featured in the list of 21 Champagne MUST BUYs for 2021 are: 2006 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé, 2008 Bollinger Grande Année, 2002 Bollinger Grande Année2002 Dom Pérignon P21990 Krug Collection2004 Larmandier-Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Levant2000 Louis Roederer Cristal2009 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Fleuron Brut Blanc de Blancs2006 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill2002 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill2006 Salon Le Mesnil2002 Salon Le Mesnil2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, and 2007 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé

September releases from La Place de Bordeaux: week three

Releases from two cult Californian producers have taken centre stage this week so far – see the analysis below.

Vérité 2017s 

The 2017 vintage of the Vérité trio – La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie – was released on Monday, at £320 per bottle each (in-bond). The latest releases have picked up much praise from critics, and mark an historic year for the estate – completing its harvest one week before the arrival of North California’s devastating Tubbs Fire, Vérité’s vineyards escaped unscathed, and their grapes picked before any smoke taint from neighbouring areas could set in. This also marks the first collective release of Vérité’s flagship wines in an assorted case, with previous vintages available to purchase separately.

Comprising 100% Merlot grapes for the first time since its conception, La Muse 2017 receives 96 points from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni. He notes that the vintage “is aromatically deep, beautifully persistent and just impeccable in its balance”, stating that he “liked it more than the 2016”. A price of £320 places the 2017 20% below the current market price of the 2016, which has risen over 30% in price since its release, and has limited remaining market availability.

Le Désir 2017 obtains 98 points from Galloniits highest ever score from the critic. He states it is “off the charts fabulous”, and describes notes of “mocha, chocolate, licorice, leather, menthol, pine and spice”. Akin to La Muse, market availability of last year’s release is scarce, illustrating its good track record of selling through post-release. Keeping in mind the 2017’s record-breaking score, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues this year, given the collective format in which the wines are being sold.

La Joie 2017 breaks the same record as its sibling, Le Désir, receiving its highest score to date from Galloni (96). He calls it “another gorgeous wine in this lineup”, describing “hints of rose petal, lavender, mint and blood orange”, and concluding that it is “a stunning wine by any measure”.

Joseph Phelps 

Joseph Phelps’ Napa Valley vineyards – which saw their hottest recorded temperatures in 2017

Insignia 2017 entered the market yesterday at £160 per bottle in-bond (flat on the 2016 release price). As we were told in a recent Zoom tasting with Phelps’ granddaughter and the winery’s Director of Business Development, Elizabeth Neuman, the 2017 vintage lives up to her vision of Insignia as “a tangible legacy of Joe himself – achieving the best of the best”. Neuman informed us of Winemaker, Ashley Hepworth’s recent dedication to achieving texture in the wine, through which she has experimented with blending trials prior to ageing.

Awarding Insignia 2017 91-94 points, Galloni indeed describes a “dark, sumptuous and enveloping feel, with a real sense of breadth and textural resonance”, adding that “more than anything else, the 2017 is all about palate richness”. Wine Lister likewise recognised the finessed texture of the vintage, with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, calling it “supple, gentle, and silky” on the palate, complete with “dark fruit, plum, and chocolate” on the nose.

Frequent heatwaves in 2017 saw record-high temperatures reached throughout the growing season, including an instance of 46.7°C, recorded in Phelps’ Saint Helena Ranch during Labor Day weekend. The 2017 vintage is consequentially the winery’s smallest in 20 years, with total production down 60% on the 2016.  The significant reduction in the volume released this year, as well as the estate’s developing style, may work to encourage interest.

Also released over the past two days: Orma 2018, Petrolo Galatrona 2018, and Siepi 2018.

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Rounding up the second week of Place de Bordeaux releases

Sampled by the Wine Lister team at last week’s CVBG Beyond Bordeaux tasting, the latest Place de Bordeaux releases cover a range of regions and price points. Below we examine some of the highlights:

Wednesday 9th September 

Released at c.£225 per bottle (in-bond), Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2018 enters the market below the current prices of the two previous vintages (see graph below). Hommage was a Wine Lister favourite this year. We detected bright, candied strawberries, orange skin, and clove, while its mouthfeel offered a momentary grip of tannins, followed by a silky-smooth finish.


With a 15% reduction in volume released this year, alongside the château’s unwavering reputation for producing benchmark quality in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the new vintage is worth considering for future drinking. In the meantime, back vintages 20152012, and 2009 also look good in terms of price and quality. Writing for, Tom Parker MW awards the 2018 17+ points, noting “meaty, earthy fruit on the nose, very complex already”, and “damson and morello cherry” on the palette.

Inglenook Rubicon 2017 also entered the market on Wednesday at £120 per bottle (in-bond). Produced by the estate since 1978, the flagship wine has maintained a score of 95 or above from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, over the past five vintages, and the latest release is no exception. Awarding it 95 points, he describes notes of “red fruit, cedar, sweet pipe tobacco, menthol and licorice” that “all develop in the glass”. Our team detected complex spice and oak, softened by a gentle hint of vanilla.

Thursday 10th September 

Released yesterday at £54 per bottle (in-bond), Cheval des Andes 2017 receives 17.5+ points from Tom Parker MW for He describes “intense and expansive black fruit and spices on the nose, with a hint of black olive and violet”, and “blueberry, violet and dried herbs” on the palette. He concludes, “I expect this to become even more impressive after 5 years in bottle, though you could drink it sooner”. Having tasted a flight of recent back vintages at the time of last year’s release with Technical Director, Gérald Gabillet, the Wine Lister team can attest to Cheval des Andes‘ continued upward quality trajectory. We noted a definite complexity within the latest vintage, which offers a nose of Parma violets, white pepper, and bright berries. Cheval des Andes 2017 enters the market under current prices of the last three vintages, and is worth snapping up if there remains any availability.

Solaia 2017 completes the quartet of releases from the past couple of days. Matching last year’s release price of £175 per bottle (in-bond), the latest vintage comes onto the market comfortably under current prices of the previous two (which have increased their respective values by c.20% since release – see chart below). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, awards Solaia 2017 95+ points, and describes “terrific aromatic expansiveness and tons of persistence”. There is anticipation for this score to improve: “I can’t wait to taste it with a bit more time in bottle”, he adds. We tasted the 2017 last week, and were indeed impressed with its development, finding an elegant nose of violet drops and cocoa powder. Given its impressive quality in such a challenging year, and the wine’s history of good price performance post-release, this is well worth securing now.

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