This week Wine Lister published its first in-depth study of 2020, focusing on the leading wines and producers of Piedmont.
The key takeaways from the report prove Piedmont to be somewhat of an enigmatic region, earning high praise from critics, and experiencing strong long- and short- term price performance, while still lagging behind in terms of consumer popularity.
While this is perhaps a consequence of Nebbiolo’s relative obscurity when compared with international grape varieties, Piedmont’s unique position – a veritable treasure trove of gems to uncover – presents a real opportunity both for vinous discovery and future value.
Wine Lister Pro members can read the full Piedmont report here. All free users can purchase the report for £200 from Wine Lister’s Analysis page.
Below we examine the top Barolos and Barbarescos by WL score.
Giacomo Conterno takes both first and second places in the ranking of Barolos by WL score. The icon wine, Barolo Monfortino Riserva is the only Piedmont wine to earn a WL score of 97, while the Barolo Francia shares its score of 96 with the Barolo Riserva from the legendary Bruno Giacosa’s négociant outfit, Azienda Agricola Falletto, as well as the two highest-scoring Barbarescos (see below).
While earning joint-second place for the straight Barolo Riserva, Falletto also features for two site-specific bottlings, the Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva and Barolo Villero di Castiglione Falleto, making the renowned house the joint-most prolific producer in the top Barolo rankings shown. It shares this position with Vietti, which earns WL 95 for its Villero Riserva, Ravera, and Rocche di Castiglione Barolos.
Elio Altare’s Barolo Brunate is the most reasonably priced of these top 12 Barolos, with an average price of £112 per bottle in-bond (when purchased by the case). Both of Roberto Voerzio’s highest-scoring wines, the Sarmassa and Brunate, follow with average prices of £152 and £165 respectively.
Eight Barbarescos achieve a WL score of 95 or above. The appearance of multiple wines per producer is accentuated here, with Roagna and Gaja earning three places apiece, followed by two Barbarescos from Falletto (totalling seven wines in Falletto’s hoard of WL scores of 95 and above).
Both sets of rankings provide useful leads in terms of producers to look out for, particularly heading into further releases of Barolo’s latest vintage, 2016, in the spring. For more specific recommendations of further Piedmontese wines and back vintages, see the region’s full list of MUST BUYs, and / or Piedmont’s Hidden Gems.
In Piedmont, the 2019 harvest is late (compared to recent standards). Most Dolcetto was already picked when I visited last week, but healthy Nebbiolo bunches were still hanging on the vines (apart from those of early-picking maverick Roberto Voerzio, whose harvest finished on 23rd September, before anyone else had started). Most growers started harvesting Piedmont’s noble grape this week (the second week of October). At Gaja this was around a fortnight later than the already late vintage of 2016, which Gaia Gaja cited as similar for its great quality and quantity.
Left: the only grape-free Nebbiolo vines spotted in Piedmont last week, at Roberto Voerzio (with hail-protecting nets that stay on all-year round and last for 15 years). Right: recently picked vines at Tenuta Tignanello in Tuscany.
It has been a late year since the start: the first drought was in February and March, so there was “no energy for vegetation to develop,” explained Gaja. “In April we got rain but it was cold, so no sicknesses developed,” she continued, expressing relief that there was no replay of 2018’s almost tropical spring. There was a “shocking jump in temperature” on 25th June. With the grapes still all green, at 40°C for almost a week, some grapes burned, “even though we hadn’t touched the canopy by then, but very old vines don’t have so many leaves to protect the grapes,” explained Gaja. Then on 7th and 8th July, 200ml of much-needed rain fell. An accumulated delay was increased further by the higher quantity of grapes for each vine to ripen.
At Bartolo Mascarello, the Nebbiolo harvest is starting around now, which is especially late given that Barolo itself – where Mascarello’s vines are – ripens earliest of all the Barolo villages. However, such a late harvest has become an exception with the world heating up. “The rules have become the exceptions,” mused Maria-Teresa Mascarello, when I asked her about the usual timing for malolactic fermentation at Bartolo Mascarello. “There is no normal time for malo’ any more with so many early vintages,” she answered.
Maria-Teresa Mascarello in the Bartolo Mascarello winery in Barolo, explaining that the rules have become the exceptions due to climate change.
The 2019 harvest might seem late compared to recent, hot vintages, but at Pio Cesare, Augusto Boffa tells me that picking in the last week of October or the first week of November used to be the norm. This is why the winery advocates the Barolo “classico” (they understandably prefer this terminology to “basic” or “standard”) – a blend of many different villages. It is “the only way we can guarantee consistency,” although he adds that, “there used to be more worries on this front climatically.”
A five-hour drive further south, in Chianti, harvest is also on the late side. At Castello di Ama, winemaker Marco Pallanti had to postpone the last day of picking due to some light rain on the morning of Thursday 3rd October. The same spring rain and dry August delayed the vines in Tuscany as in Piedmont. Pallanti was very happy with what had been picked and vinified so far. The wines have “good colour and structure,” he told me, likening the quality level to 2015 and 2016, though quantity is around 20% down on last year.
The wet, cold May and torrid summer have also delayed the vines at Tenuta Tignanello, where they were running the risk of rain to achieve the right balance of sugars and polyphenolics. While the season “started very late and is very long,” said CEO Renzo Cotarella, “the vines didn’t suffer,” he continued, leading to “very balanced grapes” and vines “that still look unstressed even now.” He compares 2019 to 2016 and 2010, saying it is “more fresh than powerful”. If 2019 is anything like the 2016s (“the best we’ve ever made”, declares Cotarella) then we’re in for a treat.*
*I was lucky enough to taste the 2016 and the 2009 Solaia side-by-side at the estate, and very excited to hear about an upcoming retrospective at The Ledbury in London being organised by Wine Lister’s partner critic Vinous. It will include those two vintages and go all the way back to 1978. Renzo Cotarella will be there, as will Piero Antinori, with Antonio Galloni as host. Tickets are available here to Vinous subscribers or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week we revealed the top 20 gainers in presence in the world’s best restaurants over the past 12 months. That was in terms of breadth, i.e. the number of restaurants in which a wine features. Wine Lister also analyses the depth of presence – the range of vintages and/or bottle formats of each wine therein. Here we look at the top 21 wines achieving the largest increases in restaurant presence depth since last year.
In first place, with an impressive 35 additional vintages and/or bottle formats listed across the world’s 150 best restaurants since this time last year, is Vega-Sicilia’s Unico. This brings its total references to 250 (almost three and a half in each of the 71 lists in which it features). Given Unico’s average drinking life span of 13 years, and its reputation for longevity (an Unico vertical tasting is an opportunity not to be missed), this result is hardly surprising. Its strong restaurant presence is matched by online popularity (Unico is the 33rd most-searched-for wine in our database), resulting in a Brand score of 992 – the best of any Spanish wine on Wine Lister.
Though Spain takes the number one spot, Italy is the overall biggest mover in increased depth of representation, claiming 12 out of the 21 places shown on the chart below.
Ornellaia is among these, and is also the most thoroughly represented wine of the group, with 280 vintages and/or bottle formats featured across 43% of the world’s best restaurants.
Several others – Cerbaiona Brunello, Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore, Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, and Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin – feature in the top gainers for horizontal as well as vertical presence in the world’s best restaurants. The latter is one of five Barolos to feature in the chart above, joined by Parusso Barolo Bussia, Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo, Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio Barolo Monprivato, and finally, Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Big’d Big, which sees the biggest increase in vertical presence of the whole group. Despite a horizontal representation increase of just 1%, the number of vintages and/or bottle formats listed across the 3% of the world’s best restaurants in which it features has grown from two to 19 in the last 12 months (or in other words, by 850%).
Outside Italy, the overall picture of restaurant presence depth somewhat contradicts that of breadth painted last week. Though Champagnes, and in particular grower offerings, have increased significantly in terms of horizontal presence, their vintage and/or format gains have not been sufficient to make this week’s top 20. This suggests that whilst sommeliers are keen to add more variety of Champagne, they aren’t so worried about listing reams of vintages / formats thereof. Only one Champagne features in the group: Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses.
Bordeaux is conspicuous by its absence in this list, other than Château Clarke, with 26 overall references up from just four. In fact, Bordeaux’s big names are more likely to find themselves at the very bottom of the list, many having seen their vertical entries on restaurant wine lists shrink significantly. This seems to suggest that as restaurants diversify, they are choosing to hold less Bordeaux stock, still listing the top wines, but not necessarily in multiple vintages or formats.
It was with a heavy heart that the global fine wine trade learned of the passing of Barolo legend, Giuseppe Rinaldi, last week. Known for their elegant style and lengthy ageing potential, Rinaldi’s Barolos are not only some of the best that the region has to offer, but also some of the priciest.
In ‘Beppe’ Rinaldi’s honour, Wine Lister looks this week at the top five most expensive wines in Barolo. And there is good reason for these Barolos to be so pricey, with all of the five achieving a Quality score that falls into the “strongest” category on Wine Lister’s 1,000 point scale. On top of this, the first three qualify as Buzz Brands – Wine Lister’s group of wines that combine outstanding restaurant presence with online popularity.
Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva takes first place. At £637 per bottle it is more than twice the price of the rest of this week’s top five. In fact, it is the most expensive Italian wine on Wine Lister. However, it is no coincidence that Conterno’s Monfortino takes first place as it also achieves the group’s best Quality and Brand scores (977 and 969 respectively). Conterno Monfortino is actually the number one Italian wine and 11th best of all wines on Wine Lister, with an impressive overall score of 972.
This week’s second spot is occupied by Azienda Agricola Falletto (Bruno Giacosa) Barolo Rocche Falletto. Even though it competes well with Conterno Monfortino – with Quality and Brand scores of 974 and 914 respectively – it is a considerably cheaper option at £282 per bottle. In fact, despite its lower price, its Economics score is slightly superior to this week’s overall number one wine (969 vs 967), and is the group’s best. Furthermore, it is the second best of all Italian wines on Wine Lister – only beaten by Falletto’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva. The phenomenal Economics score is partly due to a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.8%.
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste takes third place at £247 per bottle. As perfect evidence of Rinaldi’s prowess, it is very consistent across each of Wine Lister’s three rating categories, with each score putting it amongst the very best wines in the world. Confirming its upward trajectory, it records a remarkable three-year CAGR of 36.7% – if it manages to keep that up, it will soon start to narrow the gap to Conterno’s Monfortino in this battle of the Barolos.
The two remaining wines in this group are not only very close in price but they also have the same Quality score (928). This week’s number four – at £242 per bottle – is Vietti Barolo Villero Riserva, followed closely by Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia Riserva at £239. Visible in 17% of the world’s top restaurants, Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia has the second-highest restaurant presence of the group. It is only beaten by this week’s number one, Conterno’s Monfortino, which is visible in 23% of top establishments.
Buzz Brands are wines that are sure to turn heads, destined to cause a stir whenever they are opened. They combine excellence across Wine Lister’s two Brand criteria – restaurant presence and online popularity – whilst also being held in the highest regard by the fine wine trade – as confirmed by Wine Lister’s Founding Members’ survey which gathers the opinions of around 50 key players in the international wine trade. This week, the Listed section focuses on Italy’s top five Buzz Brands by overall Wine Lister score.
Barolo is home to four of Italy’s top five Buzz Brands, two of which are produced by Giacomo Conterno – the flagship Monfortino in first place (973) and Francia not far behind in second place (954). The Monfortino achieves Italy’s best Quality score (977), the result of remarkable consistency from vintage to vintage, having achieved a score of 993 or above in seven of the past 10 vintages. Its best ever vintage was 2004 (998), thanks to a perfect 100-point score from Antonio Galloni, who writes: “I imagine the 2004 Monfortino will give readers an utterly spellbinding drinking experience for the next few decades”.
Whilst the Francia is pipped at the post in each category by its illustrious stablemate (trailing by 17 points in the Quality category, 11 in the Brand category, and 34 in terms of Economics), it does manage superior restaurant presence, visible in 30% of the world’s top establishments, compared to the Monfortino’s 23%. This is presumably due to over three times as many bottles of it being produced each year on average.
In third place is Azienda Agricola Falletto’s Rocche Falletto Riserva (953). It records the best Economics score of the five (969) and Italy’s second-best, beaten only by Falletto’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva (978). It does so thanks to the combination of very strong growth rates – it has recorded a three-year compound annual growth rate of 21% and has added 8% to its value over the past six months alone – and strong liquidity – its top five vintages having traded 398 bottles at auction over the past year. Perhaps collectors have been eager to get their hands on a bottle after the passing of Bruno Giacosa in January.
Proving that Super Tuscans can mix it with Piedmont’s top nebbiolos, Sassicaia takes fourth place. Whilst it cannot keep pace with Barolo’s finest in the Quality and Economics categories, Sassicaia stretches out a comfortable lead in the Brand category thanks to an extraordinary score of 998. This near-perfect score puts it alongside Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Petrus, beaten only by the Pauillac First Growths, Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut, and Yquem. Its brand dominance is the result of outstanding restaurant presence (49%) and online popularity – receiving well over three times as many searches each month as Conterno’s Monfortino, which is the group’s second-most popular wine.
Rounding out the five is Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo. Its brand is its strongest asset, its score of 964 making it Barolo’s second-strongest brand behind Conterno’s Monfortino. Despite receiving over 20% fewer online searches each month than the Monfortino, it matches its level of restaurant presence – perhaps the azienda’s famous “no barrique no Berlusconi” message strikes a chord with sommeliers.
With its top ten wines by Quality score costing £225 per bottle on average, Piedmont might seem overindulgent for a low key midweek meal. However, with a little bit of help in the shape of Wine Lister’s Value Pick search tool, it is easy to find wines that will deliver maximum enjoyment at reasonable prices. Value Picks represent the very best quality-to-price ratio wines, with a higher coefficient applied to allow exceptional quality to be recognised. With a remarkable average Quality score of 976, and costing £40 on average, these five Piedmontese wines prove that outstanding quality is available at all price points.
If you’re after top Nebbiolo at a fair price, then Produttori del Barbaresco’s 2013s appear a safe bet, filling three spots. However, the trade-off for top value will be patience – none of the three will enter its drinking window until 2023. However, with each of them lasting over 18 years, you will be able to make the most of your prudent purchases for years to come. And what better way to explore Barbaresco’s crus in an outstanding vintage than with these three? The Asili Riserva achieves the top Quality score of the three (987), 75 points above its wine-level average. It is also the most expensive, but £42 per bottle doesn’t seem unreasonable for such quality. The Montestefano Riserva really outperformed in the 2013 vintage with a Quality score of 972, 125 points above its average score. The market is yet to react – the 2013’s price is currently 16% below its wine-level average.
Proving that if you’re looking for value for money in Piedmont, it’s not just Barbaresco that you should look out for, Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin 2007 is the region’s number one Value Pick. With a Quality score of 989 – thanks to a 98 point score from Antonio Galloni – it is not hard to see why. What’s more, whereas the Produttori del Barbaresco 2013s require cellaring, the Ciabot Mentin is just entering its drinking window.
Showing that Piedmont is not all about Nebbiolo, Giacomo Conterno’s Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia 2013 fills the remaining spot. The group’s only Buzz Brand, this would be an excellent way to sample one of Giacomo Conterno’s wines at a fraction of the cost of the domaine’s top cuvées – the hallowed Monfortino Riserva costs £608 per bottle on average.
Prices per bottle are provided by our price partner, Wine Owners, whose own proprietary algorithms process millions of rows of incoming price data from Wine-Searcher to calculate a more realistic market level price – the price at which a wine is likely to find a ready buyer – based on market supply and spread models. As lower retail prices are likely to sell first, the prices you see on Wine Lister may be below the Wine-Searcher average in some instances.
Wine Lister uses search frequency data from our partner, Wine-Searcher, to examine wines with increasing online popularity on a monthly basis. Wines with the highest search frequency numbers tend to be consistent, with the Bordeaux left bank premiers crus classés generally taking the top spots.
This month’s biggest search frequency gainers also rank as some of the most searched-for wines on Wine-Searcher. Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut is the third most popular wine with over 84,000 searches after Lafite and Mouton, closely followed by Petrus in fourth place. Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin and Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage appear in the top 50, while Azienda Agricola Falletto’s Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva comes lower down at number 148 out of the circa 5,000 wines on Wine Lister, but its search frequency has recently increased by 15%.
Our last post on online search frequency revealed Wine Lister’s first ever perfect Brand score. Moving on from the Christmas period, Champagne brands still show marked increases in search frequency, but this time they do not stand alone at the top.
Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut is the largest gainer in popularity for the second time running. Increasing at a slower rate than in December, its popularity nonetheless grew by 7,097 searches into January, maintaining its 1000-point Brand score. Dom Pérignon remains the only wine to achieve a perfect score from any of the Wine Lister score categories. The other Champagne still riding high on searches is Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage, which increased by 6%.
Bordeaux creeps back onto the map for online searches at the beginning of 2018, with the first growths having featured heavily in searches up to December 2017. Petrus is in second place after Dom Pérignon, with an 8% increase in search frequency. It will be interesting to see if search increases for Bordeaux follow the same pattern as last year as we approach the 2017 en primeur campaign.
Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin appears in third place. Armand Rousseau was only one of two producers to achieve a perfect confidence rating from our Founding Members in our recent Burgundy study.
In fifth place for increased popularity is a bittersweet entry. Searches for Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva from Azienda Agricola Falletto increased as the wine world learned of the sad passing in January of Piedmont legend, Bruno Giacosa. You can read more on Bruno Giacosa’s legacy in a recent blog on Barbaresco, here.
With the days quickly shortening and misty mornings become the norm, we bid farewell to rosé for the year and welcome back old favourites. Autumn is the perfect season for Piedmontese reds, which are not only so redolent of mist-covered hills, but also pair perfectly with the region’s food at this time of year. With that in mind, this week’s Listed section features Piedmont’s top five wines by Brand score.
Whilst Barolo might be the region’s most famous appellation, it is Gaja Barbaresco that tops the table with an outstanding Brand score of 976. It performs extremely well across both of Wine Lister’s Brand criteria – restaurant presence and online popularity – coming first and second respectively. It is visible in 33% of the most prestigious establishments worldwide, and attracts more than 8,400 searches on Wine-Searcher each month.
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva comes next (968). The first of three Wine Lister Buzz Brands in the group, it is by far the most expensive. Receiving on average 9,358 searches each month on Wine-Searcher, it is also the most popular wine in the group. Interestingly, despite experiencing the lowest restaurant presence (23%), it enjoys the greatest depth in terms of number of vintages and formats listed (4.4) – testament to its extraordinary ageing potential of over 24 years.
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (of “no barrique, no Berlusconi” fame) fills the third spot. This staunchly traditional producer enjoys its best scores in the Brand category, with its excellent search frequency of over 7,000 searches each month helping it to a score of 960.
The last two spots are filled by another wine each from Giacomo Conterno and Gaja – Barolo Francia (formerly Casina Francia) and Sperss (now labelled as Barolo again from the 2013 vintage after 17 years declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo) [Friday fun fact – Gaja now labels wines under the Europe-wide DOP classification rather than the strictly Italian DOC status]. Both wines have strong restaurant presence, at 30% and 31% respectively. Either would be a perfect accompaniment to Alba’s famous white truffles, which will be starting to appear in some of those restaurants now.
Here’s the latest instalment of our monthly series on biggest Brand gainers.
The latest Wine-Searcher search frequency data is in, allowing us to update our Brand scores with changes to each wine’s popularity (one of the two criteria contributing to the Wine Lister Brand score, the other being a wine’s presence in the world’s top restaurants).
The chart below gives us a breakdown of the five wines which improved their Wine Lister Brand score most during December:
The top five Brand gainers are not concentrated in any one country or region, with Italy, Australia, and three different French regions all represented.
As in November, Barolo is again represented. With a percentage increase of 28% in Brand score, Marengo’s Barolo Bricco Viole saw a surge in monthly online searches, increasing from an average of 103 to 342.
The second biggest gainer is Magnien’s Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, whose average monthly searches have doubled, helping raise its overall Brand score above the Wine Lister average to 545/1000.
We’ll be back next month with an update on January’s biggest Brand changers.
We’ve updated Wine Lister scores to incorporate the latest search frequency data from Wine-Searcher. The higher the relative search frequency of a wine, the higher the popularity score and consequently the better the wine’s Brand score.
The chart below shows the impact of the new online search data on Brand scores, showing the top five biggest gainers.
The brands on the rise in November were spread between several regions, with only the Rhône boasting two in the top five. Gaining most in terms of online searches month on month was Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint-Pierre. This saw a recent surge in average monthly searches, from 278 average monthly searches in the three-month period up to the end of October, to 639 now. This resulted in its brand score increasing by 65 points, up to 584 /1000.
Parusso Barolo Mariondino searches also increased substantially in the same period, from 140 to 270, taking its brand score to 434 – still below the average brand strength for wines on Wine Lister.