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.
As much of Europe re-enters lockdown, the fine wine industry is once again adapting through the digital world. With many reliable retailers now running e-commerce platforms, there is simply no excuse not to purchase top-quality wine from the comfort of your own home. To help you get the best from your online buys, Wine Lister offers its top tips on avoiding compromise on your acquisitions, whether for drinking or for laying down in the cellar.
- Narrow down your drinking delights
With a plethora of brilliant bottles now available to purchase online, Wine Lister’s free tools provide a good place to start your decision journey, helping you to refine your browsing before you even begin. On top of our MUST BUY recommendation algorithm, our Wine Leagues provide top-10 lists of the best wines to source for given categories, be it appellation, price, or WL score (a quality measure comprising ratings from Wine Lister’s partner critics). Featured on the individual wine pages, Wine Lister’s drinking windows inform you of the best time to open your bottle, another key factor to consider when buying wine. The above sets of Wine Leagues reveal the top Bordeaux reds for under £50 (per bottle in-bond) and the top Burgundy reds for under £75.
- Elect an esteemed merchant
Whether you have determined what you want or not, it is crucial to buy only from trusted merchants. While pricing may vary, Wine Lister recommends sticking with reputable retailers to ensure top-notch provenance and delivery. The list of legitimate options is long, but we suggest the following (to name but a few): Berry Bros & Rudd, BI Fine Wines, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis & Co, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler, and Vinum Fine Wines.
- Refine through regional specialists
If your focus is on one region in particular, it can be beneficial to buy from specialist merchants. For example, Stannary Wines represent several top Burgundy producers, and Armit Wines are the agent for a number of leading Italian estates, providing dependable platforms for you to direct your search. It is useful to know which merchants are the primary UK importers of specific domains, for example, Justerini & Brooks represent Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, and Four Corners work with many top Californian fine wines.
For more industry insights and advice on which wines and regions to buy, sign up for Wine Lister’s free newsletter here.
Despite wide speculation over whether an en primeur campaign could proceed at all in 2020, this year’s campaign is now more or less complete, and Wine Lister’s scores are in. Bordeaux 2019s exhibit high quality across the board, receiving frequent comparison with recent great vintages – 2016, 2015, 2010, and 2009.
Wine Lister has now published its latest Wine Leagues on the new vintage – examining which Bordeaux 2019s rank best for WL score in each major appellation.
Pauillac First Growths, Lafite and Mouton, lead the appellation’s league of top 2019s by WL score, with a joint score of 97. Pichon Comtesse and Pichon Baron follow suit with 96 – the latter achieving its highest WL score since its 2016 vintage. Wine Lister partner critic Neal Martin describes Pichon-Baron 2019 as having “a very refined bouquet” and a “silky smooth, creamy texture”, stating it “retains all the classicism you could ask for”.
The league of Margaux 2019s by WL score is topped by the appellation’s namesake property, whose latest release joins fellow Pauillac Firsts with a score of 97. Following Palmer’s entry with 96, Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2019 achieves the château’s highest ever WL score (95). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni notes that the 2019 is “a striking wine that is sure to find many admirers”, recounting an “interplay of earthy and savoury notes with rich, dense fruit… utterly captivating”.
There are four Value picks featured in the league of Margaux 2019s by WL score, with Labégorce, Malescot Saint-Exupéry, Marquis d’Alesme, and Prieuré-Lichine all achieving scores of 93 and above, at under £35 per bottle (in-bond).
In Saint-Julien, Léoville Las Cases 2019 achieves a WL score of 97, matching that of its 2018 and 2016 vintages. Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville Poyferré appear in joint-second place with 96 – achieving their highest WL scores since 2016 and 2015, respectively. Ducru-Beaucaillou 2019 performed notably well at tastings, with Neal Martin, awarding it 96-98 points. He notes its “filigree tannins, pitch perfect acidity and a sensual, satin-like texture”, concluding that the wine is “outstanding in terms of persistence”.
With a score of 96, Cos d’Estournel 2019 tops the league for Saint-Estèphe 2019s by WL score, matching its successful 2018 and 2016 vintages. Writing for JancisRobinson.com, James Lawther describes the vintage as “powerful but carefully constructed and precise”, noting “a lovely mellow quality to such a muscular wine”. While both falling one WL score below their previous vintage, Calon Ségur and Montrose appear second in the appellation’s league, with a shared score of 95.
Branaire-Ducru 2019 and Meyney 2019 exhibit notable value within their appellations – both achieving WL scores of 93 at £29 and £19 per bottle (in-bond), respectively.
Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion perform notably well in 2019, achieving joint-first place in the league of top Pessac-Léognan 2019 reds by WL score. As examined in a previous Bordeaux 2019 en primeur blog, the en primeur darling, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, shows clear qualitative success in 2019, and its small production levels and smart en primeur pricing has once again made it a clear campaign buy. Another promising pick from Pessac-Léognan, Olivier 2019 achieves Value pick status at c.£20 per bottle (in-bond), and achieves the château’s highest WL score (92). Antonio Galloni recounts “smoke, licorice, cured meat, graphite and savory herbs infuse the 2019 with striking aromatic intensity to play off its sumptuous fruit”, concluding that the wine is “Very good”.
Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion attain joint-first place for their whites as well as reds in 2019, achieving scores of 95 in the league of top Bordeaux 2019 whites by WL score. Latour-Martillac Blanc 2019 achieves the highest WL score seen across its vintages (93) – one WL score above Pape Clément Blanc’s 92. At c.£21 per bottle (in bond) Latour-Martillac Blanc 2019 enters the market 10-30% below the current market prices of vintages 2016-2018, showing good value for its quality. Neal Martin notes on the latest vintage: “subtle tropical notes of pineapple and orange rind with hints of strawberry come through on the finish”.
On the right bank, the league of top 10 Saint-Emilion 2019s is crowned by Figeac’s high-scoring 2019. Up one point on its 2018, Figeac’s latest release achieves the highest WL score of all Bordeaux 2019s (98). Figeac 2019 illustrates the château’s impressive upward quality trajectory, which has seen its WL score slowly but surely increase from 91 in 2008. Neal Martin gives the latest vintage 97-99 points, describing it as “exquisitely defined… a deeply impressive, intellectual Figeac”.
La Conseillante, Lafleur, l’Eglise Clinet, Petrus, Trotanoy, and Vieux Château Certan share the top WL score of Pomerol 2019s (96), separated by mere decimals. A release of note, l’Eglise Clinet 2019 is the last vintage of the late Denis Durantou, who sadly passed away in May. Neal Martin’s impressive score of 97-99 suggests the last vintage was his best, adding, “the perfect way to remember and raise a toast to one of Pomerol’s finest vignerons”.
Click here to view all Wine Leagues. Pro users have access to a more extensive set of Leagues and can log in to access here.
As we spare a thought for Bordeaux during what would have been the 2019 en primeur tasting week, we continue to encourage our readers to investigate the abundance of physical vintages available from this noble region. This week we examine the top Bordeaux MUST BUYs in four of the five left bank classified growth groups.
Though the tasting and sale of 2019 may be postponed, 17 reds from last year’s en primeur campaign (2018) still appear in our top MUST BUYs selection, and are worth snapping up for future drinking. The impressive quality of recent physical vintages in Bordeaux, namely 2016 and 2015, is clear to see – each vintage earns 10 and nine MUST BUY places respectively in the Wine Leagues below.
Of the 222 Bordeaux wines that are currently identified as MUST BUYs, 97 are Médoc classified growths. Looking at the top 10 wines for ‘Cru Classé’ levels (second to fifth), WL scores indicate that the quality structure intended in the 1855 classification is perhaps not so rigid, now that modern winemaking techniques have more of an influence. For example, five wines in both the third and fourth growth groups earn 94 WL, and six wines among top fifth growths earn the same score.
These rankings are formulated by Wine Lister’s new interactive tool – Wine Leagues – which can be accessed here.
With a WL Score of 97, Montrose’s 2016 release takes the lead spot in the list of top Bordeaux second growth MUST BUYs. Awarded 98 points by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, and described as ‘a wine of pedigree, depth and character’, this wine comes at price of £111 (per bottle, in-bond, when buying by the case). Super-second Pichon Comtesse features three times – with 2016, 2010 and 2018 vintages present. The latter two vintages are available in-bond at Goedhuis & Co – the 2010 would make for a great lockdown indulgence, whilst the 2018 is an investment for future drinking.
Calon Ségur dominates the Bordeaux third growth wine league, occupying half of the top 10 spots with vintages 2005, 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The average cost of these vintages is £71 (per bottle, in-bond). Palmer features twice, though at a higher price – its two listed vintages (2008 and 2010) are available at £204 and £155 respectively from BI Fine Wine & Spirits.
The top Bordeaux fourth growth MUST BUY list is dominated by more recent vintages (2015-2018). Occupying the top two positions with its 2018 and 2016 releases, Branaire-Ducru has a notably good quality-to-price ratio. Both vintages achieve a WL Score of 94 at the cost of £38 per bottle (in-bond). The 2018 Branaire-Ducru achieved special mention in last year’s examination of WL MUST BUYs from Bordeaux en primeur 2018, as did Beychevelle. Both wines are available to purchase by the case (in-bond) at Albany Vintners.
Of the 18 Bordeaux fifth growths, eight achieve MUST BUY status. Grand-Puy-Lacoste achieves multiple entries on the League, with 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2016 all receiving a WL Score of 94. These four deliverable vintages are available from several UK merchants including Berry Bros & Rudd, where prices start from £245 for the 2014 vintage (per case of six in-bond). Described by Neal Martin as ‘one of the great vintages from this estate in the modern era’ the cost of the 2009 supersedes its descendants – a case of six bottles starts at £450 (in bond).
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.