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.
If ever there is a time for claret, it’s Christmas. While Bordeaux generally provides excellent quality for its prices relative to other regions all year round, it is an especially good source for festive bottles with a bit of age. Below Wine Lister offers one MUST BUY under £100 per Bordeaux appellation – a selection that promises to please with your Christmas meal.
Aside from its lustrous gold label providing an appropriate centrepiece to any festive feast, d’Issan 2009 offers good value for its appellation, earning a WL score of 93 at £56 per bottle (in-bond). Château owner, Emmanuel Cruse, is also the “Grand Maître” of the Commanderie du Bontemps – a Bordeaux organisation uniting trade members in the preservation of Bordeaux’s excellent quality reputation. D’Issan embodies the values of its maker, exemplifying the traditional claret style with added Margaux elegance. It is available to purchase by the case of 12 from Nickolls and Perks.
Pauillac powerhouse Pichon-Baron 2008 is described by Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin (Vinous), as one of the property’s “overachievers in recent years”. Often noted for being one of the most concentrated wines of the vintage in its appellation and beyond, Martin writes that the 2008 is “full of tension and energy […] delivering real brightness and vivacity on the finish”. At £90 per bottle (in-bond), it is the most expensive wine featured in this article, however, its Second Growth status and an abundance of critics’ praise make it worthy of consideration. Pichon-Baron 2008 can be acquired by the case from Lay & Wheeler.
A top-quality substitute to some of Haut-Bailly’s more costly back vintages, the 2012 achieves the property’s second-best WL score ever, as well as second place for quality among Pessac-Léognan reds for the vintage. Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous), states that “the decision to lower temperatures in fermentation and go for a soft, gentle extraction, along with strict selection has paid off big time” in 2012, revealing notes of “dark raspberries, mint, crushed flowers, spices and rose petals”. Haut-Bailly 2012 is just entering its drinking window, and can be bought from Cru Wine.
Finding value on Bordeaux’s right bank can be trickier, particularly in Pomerol. Le Gay 2012 nonetheless offers excellent quality (WL 94) for the relatively reasonable price of £61 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, notes that it reaps “real Pomerol reward in terms of concentration”, offering a “very well-integrated nose […] sweet and focused”. In neighbouring Saint-Emilion, Larcis-Ducasse 2010 is described as “simply stunning” by Antonio Galloni, who notes “violet, lavender, graphite and menthol” that “give the 2010 its energy and tension”. It gains a WL score of 94, at £87 per bottle (in-bond). Both of these right bank picks can be purchased from Cult Wines.
Achieving Value Pick status, Saint-Estèphe’s Meyney 2015 has a WL score of 93 at £25 per bottle (in-bond), providing a veritable steal for your Christmas meal. After sampling at the annual Southwold Bordeaux tasting, Neal Martin writes that it “was the shock of this blind tasting – in a positive sense […] I thought it might be Montrose but it turned out to be Meyney. Chapeau!” Though the 2015 could benefit from a few more years of ageing, it is a brilliant gift option for your more patient guests, and can be acquired from Goedhuis & Co.
Saint-Julien star, Branaire-Ducru’s 2010 vintage was described as “dancing” by Jancis Robinson. Neal Martin’s tasting note suggests a wine of complexity: “a lovely mélange of red and black fruit, hints of dried blood and autumn leaves suggesting that this is moving into its secondary phase”. With a WL score of 93, Branaire-Ducru 2010 can be purchased by the case of 12 from Farr Vintners for £52.50 per bottle (in-bond).
For a sweet end to your Christmas meal, Wine Lister suggests Doisy-Védrines 1989. With 30 years of ageing under its belt, it achieves a WL score of 94 – the château’s highest ever. It is described by Neal Martin as boasting “a captivating bouquet of gorgeous wild honey, Seville orange marmalade, fig jam and light lemongrass scents”. He adds, “it is simply everything you desire in a sweet Bordeaux”. Purchase Doisy-Védrines 1989 by the bottle from Hedonism Wines for £62.80 (in-bond).
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”.
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.
Over the past decade, biodynamic wine has exploded in popularity, particularly amongst a younger generation of wine drinkers. Having spoken to a selection of top producers that follow biodynamic farming, Wine Lister’s latest investigation attempts to explore the practice further, and better understand the shared values of this often-misunderstood philosophy.
The biodynamic calendar: racking at Comtes Lafon (pictured) is timed according to the lunar phases (Photo: Jean Chevaldonné)
Often associated with organic winemaking, biodynamics also dictates the avoidance of pesticides and chemical fertiliser, and many of its wines are therefore organic in practice. Certified by independent associations (e.g. Demeter and Biodyvin) rather than the government, biodynamics goes one step further, providing a more holistic approach to farming that attempts to embrace all natural biological processes. Coined in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner – an Austrian philosopher and scientist – biodynamics draws on the specific belief that all living species experience constant transformation, due to physical, metaphysical, and cosmic realities acting upon them. While it is not essential for certification, most biodynamic producers therefore follow the biodynamic lunar calendar, which dictates the optimum days for viticulture and winemaking activities, based on the moon’s cycle.
In Burgundy, Comtes Lafon plans its planting, pruning, harvest, racking, and bottling according to the lunar calendar (see photo above), despite not being certified officially. Having shifted to biodynamic farming in 1998, owner and winemaker, Dominique Lafon, tells us that he was initially inspired by the practice in several of his friends’ vineyards at the time, and was “impressed by the way the vines behaved”. He states that while it is more time consuming, biodynamic farming provides him “pleasure to work closer to the vineyards, following their natural rhythms”.
Among a list of other principles, biodynamic producers must complete a cow horn preparation, otherwise known as process 500, in which manure is packed into the horn of a female cow and buried under the vines for six months. The horns are then dug up, and the content of the horns is combined with water and sprayed across the vineyards, in the belief that the solution enhances plant growth and improves the quality of the crops. Dominique tells us that while some results of biodynamic farming can be seen “rapidly, within the first year”, process 500 begins to change the soil “after three years or so, and is fully effective after 10 years”.
In Bordeaux, Château Palmer also completes the cow horn preparation (pictured below) – the Margaux estate began experimenting with biodynamics in 2008, adopting it completely in October 2013, and releasing its first certified vintage in 2018. Winemaker Thomas Duroux, tells us that the adoption of such biodynamic principles has yielded “results in the vineyard” and encouraged “better quality soil”, while helping him to achieve his goal of “growing a vineyard without any use of chemicals”. Explaining the difference between organic and biodynamics, Duroux notes that the latter is “a different way to see agriculture”, and that when you apply biodynamic principles, “you see the farm as an ensemble”. This resonated across several other biodynamic producers, who similarly considered biodiversity to be at the core of this mode of farming.
Process 500: biodynamic compost preparations at Château Palmer
Indeed, Elisabetta Foradori tells us that since its conversion, Foradori has founded a new focus on biodiversity and sustainability, with livestock now used to produce dairy products and compost for the vineyard. She began to introduce biodynamic principals into the family estate in 1999, converting the whole property in 2002, and eventually achieving certification in 2009. Foradori tells us that she had begun to feel “disconnected to the plants after many years of working in wine”, and biodynamic viticulture allows her to “go into the deepness of the life of the plant and its soil”. She states that the practice has catalysed an “evolution in the fertility of the soil”, watching vine roots “grow deeper and deeper”.
Further south in Chianti, Querciabella conversely practices a “cruelty-free” biodynamics, according to its team, without the use of manure or animal remnants in the soil. Winemaker Manfred Ing states that while “eliminating all of the animal-based preparations”, the estate has implemented a strict cover crop preparation, planting up to 35 different plants across its vineyards, depending on the soils and the grapes that grow in each plot. He states that this improves the quality of the land, whilst adhering to the biodynamic principle of “getting as much quantifiable life in the soil and the vineyard as possible.”
Following the general sentiment of other biodynamic producers, Elisabetta Foradori states biodynamic farming enables the wine to “reflect the message of the terroir” while encouraging “purity and character”. This was particularly pertinent to one of Burgundy’s biodynamic pioneers, Leroy – speaking to Wine Lister, the team notes that biodynamic farming indeed helps the property to better “express the character” of its respective sites. Having implemented biodynamic farming since the day it was purchased by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988, the team tells us that “no one else was even organic” in the region at that time, and people “thought it was crazy” to neglect the use of fertiliser and risk decreased yields. They explain that Burgundy is an “ideal place” for biodynamic farming, through its ability to express the disparities between the different vineyard holdings of the same Burgundy varietal – a “true test of where the wine comes from”.
While biodynamic producers approach the practice with variable interpretations, its practitioners are nonetheless enthusiastic about its results. With an increasing number of producers adopting this mode of farming, we look forward to witnessing its wider recognition across the fine wine industry in years to come.
As well as marking the year that France won the World Cup Final, 2018 will be remembered in Bordeaux as a tumultuous growing season, starting with nightmare weather conditions, and finishing “in ecstasy” (recap more on the 2018 vintage in Wine Lister’s post-harvest and vintage assessment blogs).
Now that the wines have settled in bottle, it is the world around them that has been thrown into a state of chaos, though one managed impeccably by the organisers of Wednesday’s UGC tasting (see photo below). Tasting around 130 wines, members of the Wine Lister team have chosen a selection of highlights, as examined in this post.
The team’s highlights include seven of the 19 Bordeaux 2018s MUST BUYs, and 11 other picks that were showing the best out of those present at the UGC tasting.
Pauillac and Pessac-Léognan were our top two appellations, with four picks apiece. The two Pichons – Baron and Comtesse – were showing beautifully, the former impressing with a “ripe, autumn berry profile” and a “dense but silky texture”. Pichon Comtesse – one of Wine Lister’s favourites during 2018 en primeur tastings – exhibited toasty notes of “tobacco, coffee, and mocha” on the nose, that opened into an elegant and energetic palate of “black cherry with chai spices”.
In Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier presented subtly at first, but opened up into a “heady nose of plum and cassis”, matched with an equally sumptuous palate that was “deep in tone, but lifted in structure”. Malartic-Lagravière displayed a distinct Pessac minerality, and featured an intense, perfumed nose of “morello cherry and lavender”. The palate showed more savoury flavours, nonetheless endowed with a “velveteen texture”.
Elsewhere on the left bank, Margaux had three highlights, including the “sensual and floral” Giscours, and Brane-Cantenac – a “powerball of ripe, layered, and energetic fruit”. MUST BUY Rauzan-Ségla displayed nuanced aromas of “blueberry and raspberry”, with a notably generous and glossy mouthfeel.
Both Saint-Estèphe highlights offered complex profiles, sharing a comparable first note of “smoke and cured meats”. Lafon-Rochet prevailed in savoury finesse, opening up into “sandalwood and black pepper” on the nose, while Ormes De Pez developed into a “sweet and plummy” bouquet, providing “crunchy red apple and bramble” on the palate.
In Saint-Julien, MUST BUY Branaire-Ducru 2018 showed at the same time a “welcoming warmth” and a plethora of pure and precise fruit notes; “blackcurrant, blackberry, red plum” and a long, floral finish.
On the right bank, Saint-Emilion was well-represented by Canon 2018, which the Wine Lister team noted as “multi-dimensional”, encompassing an opening minerality that swiftly released into a refreshing bouquet of “luscious cherry, raspberry, and crushed strawberries”. Its palate was “utterly moreish”, with “delicate cherry notes” lingering on the finish – “this just goes on and on”, we noted.
In Pomerol, La Croix de Gay stood out with a distinct, potpourri character on the nose, and an “elegant palate of ripe berries”. L’Evangile, displayed a wealth of “black fruit flavours, overlaying its rich but balanced mouthfeel”.
Other wines included in Wine Lister’s 2018 tastings highlights are: Duhart-Milon, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, La Gaffelière, Langoa Barton, Latour-Martillac, and Les Carmes Haut-Brion.
Despite this year’s unparalleled circumstances, mother nature has had no choice but to persevere – members of the Wine Lister team visited Bordeaux during September, to get a feel for the 2020 harvest. After a turbulent nine months, 2020 has reportedly yielded another excellent vintage for Bordeaux, though the region’s vines experienced their own set of ups and downs. Outside of its macro-economic turmoil, 2020 proved an uncertain growing season too, as microclimatic weather patterns appear to have been more influential than ever. Small areas on both banks experienced hail, and rainfall differed by hundreds of millimetres from one property to the next. With a bit of luck, this is a vintage the international trade will be able to taste by next spring – and it will need tasting, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the best examples of the vintage.
Common to several properties was an early start to harvest, with masked pickers dispersing across many vineyards up to two weeks ahead of a “normal” year. Indeed, Pavie began harvesting its white grapes (for Monbousquet Blanc) at the end of August – a fortnight earlier than last year. Merlot grapes began to be collected on the 21st of September – nine days earlier than in 2019 (pictured below on the 22nd September).
Masked workers sort Pavie’s 2020 Merlot grapes (22nd September 2020)
Pavie saw lower rainfall in 2020 than parts of the Médoc. The position of its vineyards at higher altitude on the south-facing slope of its renowned limestone plateau allows for both phenolic maturity and the retention of freshness. Its new Commercial Director, Olivier Gailly, notes that the mid-harvest showers also helped with the latter, freshening up the Cabernets prior to picking, and that subsequent high wind speeds dried the grapes, and prevented mildew from setting in.
Just a few kilometres north-west, Saint-Émilion star Angélus did not have a particularly early harvest in 2020, starting on the 15th of September – just three days earlier than last year. The estate saw mildew at the beginning of the season, which they managed to control ahead of a good flowering. Eighth-generation manager, Stéphanie de Boüard is confident in the new vintage, aligning it with the iconic 1947 or 2010 – “my father told me not to be ashamed to say it”, she notes of the comparison. Early analyses show the 2020 will likely be high in alcohol, but with a low pH, creating a freshness and an overall balance that was encouraged by mid-harvest rain. “This year picking dates have been more important than ever”, she adds, referring to the retention of fresh fruit, as opposed to more cooked aromas than can occur in warmer Bordeaux vintages.
Further north-west still in Pomerol, Beauregard also received much-needed rain during harvest, which similarly helped to soften the skins of its Cabernet grapes. Summer drought was more apparent here, repeating the 2018 phenomenon of hydraulic stress on the vines, and resulting in a smaller yield than 2019.
Moving to the Médoc, more properties saw the same hot and dry climatic conditions in 2020, resulting in instances of small grapes with high alcohol potential and lower acidity. In Margaux, d’Issan saw 16% potential alcohol in some of its early Merlot grapes (the highest ever recorded), and consequently welcomed the mid-September showers. Neighbouring Palmer anticipated the rain, and held off picking its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes until it came and went, ensuring the thinning of skins on smaller berries, and an overall reduction in alcohol percentage. The estate saw limited yields due to the dry summer, and Managing Director, Thomas Duroux, quipped that although “négociants would have liked a vintage with high volume and lower prices,  will be a small vintage…” While he implies it might be more expensive than the trade had hoped, he nonetheless expects the 2020 to be “rich and exuberant”, sharing the power and concentration of 2018.
In Saint-Julien, owner of Branaire-Ducru, François Xavier Maroteaux describes a 2020 growing season of neat balance. The estate had a “wet post-harvest Autumn in 2019”, which helped to prevent drought stress throughout the new growing season. As the summer began to dry out, the estate saw 100 millimetres of rainfall in a short period (at the end of August), followed by a sunny and warm September. The season itself, Maroteaux muses, is similar to the 2011 vintage. He believes the resulting wine is worth excitement, after a steady and successful ripening, avoiding any disease.
In Pessac-Léognan, Malartic-Lagravière expects a concentrated wine in 2020, having also seen low volumes of mainly small berries due to the heat. Neighbouring Domaine de Chevalier echoed the sentiment, and we were surprised to hear from owner, Olivier Bernard, that there had not been a drop of rain at estate the day before our first visit (21st September), despite it raining throughout the same day in the Médoc, and in Bordeaux itself.
The last day of picking at Domaine de Chevalier (30th September 2020)
“There have been lots of choices to make this year”, he continues – one of which no doubt was whether to trust the weather forecasts, particularly around harvest. With fewer planes flying around, forecasts were less accurate, and while rain fell further north, Pessac often remained dry. Bernard explains that the picking windows were tight in 2020: “instead of four days where the grapes are fine to pick, there’s one day” – since the drought and heat would cause alcohol to rise, and acidity to deplete quickly.
It seems therefore that we have another winemaker’s vintage on our hands. Mirroring somewhat the choppy commercial seas of this year, Bordeaux has had to navigate unpredictable viticultural waves too. What we have heard of the 2020 harvest thus far nonetheless leaves us hopeful, and anticipating eagerly the en primeur tastings of next spring.
Château Palmer launched its first back-vintage release yesterday (Thursday 24th September). Named “N-10”, this new release phenomenon is planned as an annual event henceforth, releasing each year the vintage celebrating 10 years of age.
N-10 therefore begins on an exceptional note for quality, with Palmer’s 2010 vintage (which earns a WL score of 96 – its second-highest ever). It is also worth noting that 2010 was the second vintage of Palmer to benefit from some biodynamic experimentation, ultimately leading to its full certification in 2017.
Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin, awarded Palmer 2010 96 points after tasting at BI Wines’ 10 years on tasting in February this year. “This is an outstanding Palmer, but it needs more time in bottle”, he notes. Wine Lister’s CEO and Founder, Ella Lister, concurs, stating, “the wood still apparent after spitting will certainly integrate more with time – because this needs lots of time”, though her overall assessment is perhaps more generous than Martin’s 96 points. She adds, “There’s a quiet, dreamy poise to this wine. [It is] enigmatic, brooding, and spellbinding”.
The last remaining ex-château stocks of Palmer 2010 entered the UK market at £293 per bottle (in-bond), making them the highest-priced recent vintage on the market. The new price of Palmer 2010 therefore sits at a 33% premium to previous remaining market availability.
This is a bold hike up from Palmer 2010’s initial release price, however Director Thomas Duroux’s communication on production quantities and pricing as a direct result of the château’s uncompromising commitment to biodynamics and exceptional quality has prepared the market for it. The last few en primeur releases have set a solid scene for Palmer’s new strategy, and provide definitive proof that the château has outgrown the bounds of its classification.
We understand that immediate take-up for the N-10 release has been good, if not quite at the fast sell-out pace of en primeur. That is not the objective here – Duroux is confident that this ex-château stock will satisfy demand in the mid-term.
Indeed, even at its higher price, Palmer 2010 remains a Wine Lister MUST BUY.
If 2020 has given any gift at all, it would be time at home, which many have used to read more, and learn new things on topics familiar and foreign. Today’s blog helps you discover the unique stories behind some of the world’s most recognisable wines. Read on below to discover beyond the label of these notable names.
Krug – Cracking the code
Beyond its reputation as one of the most admired Champagne brands, Krug has also pioneered an industry innovation: Krug iD. Since 2011, a six-digit “identification code” has been printed on the back label of every Krug bottle. Scanning the code with a smartphone gives drinkers access to the unique story of the individual bottle, including a vintage report, as well as offering food pairing suggestions, and recommendations for its storage and serving.
Photo credit: lvmh.com
Aside from its technical innovation, the quality of Krug is simply undeniable. The latest NV Krug Brut Grand Cuvée (168ème Édition) achieves MUST BUY status, and receives a score of 19/20 from Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, who notes a “remarkable acidity underpinned by great depth of flavour and beautiful balance on the finish”. It is available to purchase by the bottle from Crump, Richmond & Shaw Fine Wines for £133 (in-bond).
Cheval Blanc – Cultivation experimentation
Saint-Emilion superstar, Cheval Blanc, has illustrated significant long-term investment in its viticulture in recent years. Initiated by Managing Director, Pierre Lurton, the estate has conducted countless soil analyses, viticultural experiments, and regular phenological surveys to establish the best grape variety for each of its three different terroirs (gravel over clay, deep gravel, and sand over clay). Experiments have tested each possible variation of soil type for the Bordeaux varietals used in Cheval Blanc – 52% Cabernet Franc, 43% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon – to establish which combination delivers the best quality of fruit. Indeed, the château found its plot of sandy terroir to be particularly well suited to Cabernet Franc, providing a reference point for the best that can be achieved with the grape in Bordeaux.
Released en primeur in July this year, the 2019 Cheval Blanc was awarded 18 points from Jancis Robinson, who describes it as “beautifully poised on the palate with a density of fruit and silky texture of finely matted tannins. Pure, seductive and persistent”. It can be bought by the case of six for £2,400 (in-bond) from Farr Vintners.
Bond – Truth in terroir
With grapes sourced from select hillside plots across Napa Valley, Bond’s portfolio of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines aims to reflect each wine’s specific sense of place. The estate owns five sites featuring some of the region’s best terroirs, and has dedicated its viticultural practice to preserving the best expression of its individual plots; Melbury, Pluribus, Quella, St. Eden, and Vecina.
The fruit from each site is vinified separately, while winemaking procedures are kept the same across all of the Bond wines in order to honour terroir differences. The Vecina vineyard, for instance, sits on volcanic soil at between 221 and 330 feet above sea level, causing a thermal amplitude of cool nights and hot afternoons, which renders its wines complex and layered, with concentrated tannins. The 2015 Bond Vecina was awarded 97 points from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous), who indeed describes it as “super-expressive. A big, dense wine, the 2015 possesses stunning richness and dimension”. It is available by the bottle for £443 (in-bond) from Fine+Rare Wines.
A line-up of Bond wines, that communicate the differences in the estate’s Napa Valley sites.
Ornellaia – An artist’s interpretation
Outside its global renown as a reference for quality in Tuscany, Ornellaia also stands out for its own special label tradition. Established in 2006, the estate’s annual artist program, Vendemmia d’Artista, commissions a new artist each year for the creation of the limited-edition label, inspired by a single word chosen by winemaker, Axel Heinz, to capture the essence of the new vintage. The latest release (2017) was named “Solare” due to the especially hot growing season, in which both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested as early as August for the first time in history. This inspired contemporary artist, Tomás Saraceno’s label design (below).
Photo credit: ornellaia.com
Awarding the Ornellaia 2017 97 points, Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni describes it as “sumptuous and racy, as Ornellaias from warmer years tend to be, but it is not at all heavy or overdone. In a word: superb!”. The vintage can be bought by the case of six from Justerini & Brooks for £765 (in-bond).
The four above-mentioned wineries provide just a small handful of innovative and engaging examples of how to make a wine stand out from the crowd. Wine Lister has launched a dedicated PR and communications service in order to help more producers do the same on the UK market. To find out more, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amid the flurry of releases from La Place de Bordeaux during September, an exciting development is said to be afoot from a wine grown on home turf.
We understand that Lafite 2018 – released last spring en primeur and currently still only available to purchase as such – will be bottled next year in special, 150 year anniversary bottles, complete with one-off anniversary labels.
The current average market price of Lafite 2018 is £533 per bottle (in-bond)*. Special bottlings typically induce significant price rises, particularly for Bordeaux first growths.
Mouton 2000’s special, gold-engraved bottle is priced almost four times higher than the average of Mouton’s recent back vintages (£1,558 vs. £398).
Similarly, the price of Margaux 2015, whose special bottle features a black label in memory of its winemaker, the late Paul Pontallier, has risen 64% since the commemorative bottling was announced.
Prices of any remaining Lafite 2018 in the global marketplace are therefore poised to increase between now and the actual bottling of the wine, at which time we understand a small parcel of further, physical stock could be released by the château (presumably at a sizeable premium).
Lafite 2018 is currently an absolute MUST BUY.
*on date of publication, Thursday 17th September 2020