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.
One of the major trends identified in Wine Lister’s first Champagne study was the rise of grower Champagnes. While maison offerings dominate the top 20 highest-quality Champagnes from the basket of 108 studied, growers achieve a higher average Quality score overall (862 vs. 853). This week’s top five looks at the top Champagnes under £100 by Quality score, and helps us examine the grower vs. maison phenomenon further.
The first of this week’s top five is grower Champagne Egly-Ouriet’s Vieillissement Prolongé Extra Brut with a Quality score of 919. Though top of the leader board for Quality, it is the least expensive of this week’s group at an in-bond per bottle price of £55 (or 34% less than the average price of the other four Champagnes). This is perhaps due to it being the only non-vintage Champagne of the group, and provides testament to the great price to quality ratio of N.V. Champagnes across the board.
Next up of this week’s top five is Henri Giraud’s Fût de Chene with a Quality score of 913. For the purposes of Wine Lister’s Champagne study, Henri Giraud was in fact not classed as a grower Champagne, since our definition of ‘grower’ signified properties who use 100% of their own grapes (Henri Giraud buys in 20%). The 1999 vintage earns 18 points from Wine Lister partner critic Jancis Robinson, who calls it “a sort of Montrachet of Champagne”.
Third of this week’s top five is R&L Legras’ St. Vincent. Earning a Quality score of 900, it is the only Blanc de Blancs of the group. In true grower fashion, this little-known Champagne ranks as the 1,985th most-searched-for wine of the c.4,000+ wines on Wine Lister and is present in just 3% of the world’s best restaurants.
The last two Champagnes of this week’s top five may have the same Quality score of 899, but have very different profiles. It is surely a satisfying conclusion that, despite maison Champagne’s stronger brand position overall, these two wines (one maison and one grower) prove the opposite to be true. Maison offering Joseph Perrier’s Cuvée Josephine has the lowest Brand score (474) of this week’s top five, while grower Champagne Vilmart et Cie Coeur de Cuvée earns the highest (779), with a search rank in 854th place and presence in 11% of the world’s best restaurants. The rise of grower Champagnes is in full force.
For a more in-depth look at Champagne, subscribe or log-into read the full report here. Alternatively, all readers can access a five-page executive summary. (Both versions are also available to download in French).
With the first major set of releases for 2019 in full swing (Burgundy 2017), the Wine Lister team are already looking ahead for what else is in store for wine collectors and trade members alike. In February we expect to see the release of Barolo 2015s – set to be a more concentrated and riper vintage than the previous due to high temperatures throughout the summer. In anticipation of these, Wine Lister is examining the top five Piedmont Buzz Brands by Brand score.
Ironically, the highest-scoring brand of this week’s top five is in fact not a Barolo at all. Gaja’s Barbaresco takes the top spot with a Brand score of 975. Wine Lister partner critic Antonio Galloni gives the 2014 vintage 96 points, and comments, “this is one of the most tightly wound, intense versions of Gaja’s Barbaresco I can remember tasting. Don’t miss it”.
While it is no longer breaking news to see such high quality Barbaresco emerging from under Barolo’s shadow, the making of such a well-recognised brand is impressive. This is achieved by presence in 31% of the world’s best restaurants, and a search rank of 76 out of the c.4,000+ wines on Wine Lister. Gaja’s single vineyard Barbarescos, Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildin, and Costa Russi are also popular with an average Brand score of 915.
In second place for top Piedmont Buzz Brands is Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva. Sitting just outside the top 50 most-searched-for wines (in 51stplace), it is both the highest quality and the most expensive wine of this week’s top five, with a Quality score of 977, and an in-bond per bottle price of £766. The price tag, which is just under four times higher than the average price of the other four wines of this week’s group, is perhaps due to the tiny production quantities of just c.7,000 bottles per year.
Giacomo Conterno also takes a second spot in this week’s top five – fourth place, with his Barolo Cascina Francia, which earns a Brand score of 956 and a Quality score of 960. Despite score gaps between these two wines of a mere 14 and 17 points respectively, an average of three times as many bottles are produced of Cascina Francia than its grander (and much rarer) sibling. It is available at just 23% of the price of the Barolo Monfortino Riserva – £176 per bottle in-bond.
In third place of this week’s top five is Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo with a Brand score of 965. While its scores across the board sit in the mid-range of this week’s top five, it achieves the best long-term price performance, with a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7%.
Lastly, at number five of this week’s group is Bruno Giacosa’s Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva with a Brand score of 928. Although the Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva has the lowest search rank of this week’s top five (158th), online searches for this wine saw impressive increases last year (read more here). It achieves a Quality score of 974 – just two points under the best Quality performer of the group (Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva). Indeed at vintage level these two wines share a near-perfect Quality score of 998 for their respective 2004 vintages, both earning 100/100 from Antonio Galloni.
It is interesting to note the high quality that accompanies these top Piedmont Buzz Brands (an average Brand score of 959 vs. 945 for Quality). The disparity between scores is more accentuated for the equivalent group in Tuscany, which achieves a Brand score of 991 for a Quality score of 932, or in other words, a 59-point gap.
While Bordeaux may be best-known for its red blends, many a left-bank cru classé also produces a dry white, particularly in Pessac-Léognan. This week we examine the five most expensive dry white Bordeaux wines.
Whilst each of the five frequently stands in the shadow of their red counterpart (or flagship sweet white in the case of Y d’Yquem), their average price is in fact 28% higher (£260 vs £203). This is presumably due to the dry whites being produced in considerably smaller volumes than their red/sweet white counterpart (just 10% on average).
Leading the way is Haut-Brion Blanc at a cool £596 per bottle in-bond, 78% more expensive than Bordeaux’s second-most expensive dry white – its neighbour La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc – and well over three times the average price of the remaining wines in this week’s top five. Whilst its very low production, almost identical to La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc’s and thus the joint-lowest of the five, undoubtedly plays a part in its high price, the fact that it achieves the group’s best Quality and Economics scores (923 and 890 respectively) will also be a contributing factor. Aside from high ratings from each of Wine Lister’s partner critics, its excellent Quality score is also thanks to an average wine life of 10.3 years – the longest of all dry Bordeaux whites on Wine Lister. Indeed, the 2014 vintage, Haut Brion Blanc’s best ever with a Quality score of 975, “should drink well for years and perhaps even decades to come”, according to Antonio Galloni.
Next comes La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc at £331 per bottle in-bond. Relabelled in 2009, this was formerly Laville Haut-Brion. The 2011 is its best vintage since its relabelling, achieving an outstanding Quality score of 974, with Jancis Robinson – who tends to award it her highest scores of the group – calling it “one of the best Bordeaux 2011s”.
In third place is Margaux Pavillon Blanc (£155 per bottle in-bond). Whilst still priced considerably below the whites from Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, it is closing the gap, courtesy of vastly stronger growth rates, with a three-year compound annual growth rate of 18% and having added 6% to its value since May. Over both the long and short-term, the two Pessac-Léognan whites have each grown at under half the rate of Pavillon Blanc.
Y d’Yquem is Bordeaux’s fourth most-expensive dry white, at an average price of £119 per bottle in-bond. Boosted by the immense clout of the château’s flagship sweet wine – which enjoys the joint-best Brand score of any wine on Wine Lister (999) – it has the strongest brand of this week’s top five (894). It does so thanks to featuring in the greatest number of the world’s best restaurants of the group (15%), just managing to nudge ahead of Haut-Brion Blanc (12%).
We return to Pessac-Léognan for Bordeaux’s fifth most-expensive dry white, Pape Clément Blanc (£100 per bottle in-bond). The 2017 was its best ever vintage, achieving an excellent Quality score of 903. Whilst it wasn’t quite able to match the scores of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion (931 and 939 respectively), it represents considerably better value. At £100 per bottle, it is around one fifth the price of its Pessac-Léognan rivals.
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.
Part of Wine Lister’s Brand score includes a measure of prestige, achieved by analysing a wine’s presence in the world’s best restaurants. Whether a restaurant makes the cut depend on a combination of measures including the Michelin Guide, San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants, and World of Fine Wine Best Wine List Awards.
The chosen wine lists are then analysed to give us the breadth (how many restaurants) and depth (how many formats and/or vintages in each restaurant) of presence achieved by each wine on Wine Lister. Looking at the former criterion, the chart below shows the top 20 biggest gainers since our last blog on the subject. (Next week we will be looking at wines with the greatest increase in depth of representation.)
Six out of the 20 wines with the biggest increase in restaurant presence are Champagnes. Ruinart appears twice, with its NV rosé having made the greatest improvement, now appearing in 33% of the world’s best restaurants. However, the overall winner – present in more than double the number of restaurants, is Dom Pérignon’s Vintage Brut. Despite not featuring in the top 20 biggest risers above, the Champagne Brand king is now present in 69% of top restaurants worldwide, overtaking last year’s winner, Yquem.
Contrary to our last analysis on the subject, not all the biggest Champagne gainers in restaurant presence are big brands. Ruinart Rosé, Dom Pérignon P2, and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs may well fit this bill, with an average Brand score of 878, but the lesser-known three, grower Champagnes Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules, Jacquesson Dégorgement Tardif Avize Grand Cru, and Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes, do not, as shown by a lower collective Brand score average of 664.
If this alone is not an indication of restaurant wine lists branching out, then perhaps the absence of Bordeaux is (indeed, a handful of Bordeaux wines with strong restaurant presence have lost a little ground since last year’s analysis). This diversification does however appear exclusive to the Old World, with no New World wines in the top 20 gainers.
Burgundy is well-represented amongst the top gainers, with one white, Raveneau’s Chablis Blanchot, and four reds: Sylvain Cathiard’s Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts, Denis Mortet’s Clos de Vougeot, Armand Rousseau’s Gevrey-Chambertin, and Fourrier’s Gevrey Chambertin Vieilles Vignes.
Italy brings a show of diversity with six wines hailing from four different appellations across the 20 biggest movers. Vietti’s Barolo Ravera – one of three Barolos to feature in this list – has the lowest restaurant presence of the group (5%) and Solaia’s younger sibling, Tignanello the highest (47%).
Having dipped its toe in New World waters last week to look at Argentina’s best wines, the Listed blog now shifts its attention considerably further North, heading to the Alsace to consider its top five dry whites by Wine Lister score.
Whilst there was not much between Argentina’s top two wines, in the Alsace it is very much a case of the best and the rest, Trimbach’s flagship Clos Sainte Hune leading by 90 points with a score of 916. Its dominance is thanks to comfortable leads across each of Wine Lister’s rating categories. However, it is in terms of Economics that no other Alsatian wine can get close to it, its score of 804 nearly 120 points ahead of Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling, whose score of 688 makes it the region’s number two wine in the commercial category. The Clos Sainte Hune’s economic clout is thanks to its higher price (over three times the average of the four other contenders to the Alsatian crown), and trading 2.6 times as many bottles at auction as the others over the past four quarters. As an aside, it is also by far the region’s most searched-for wine online, although its ranking as the 216th most popular wine on Wine Lister perhaps betrays a lack of public interest in Riesling and Alsatian wines in general. Sommeliers are more convinced however, with it featuring in 37% of the world’s top restaurants – which, interestingly, is not the best performance of any Alsatian wine. That accolade goes to its sibling Cuvée Frédéric Emile which manages to pip it to the post in this particular criterion (38%).
Trimbach isn’t the only producer to feature twice in this week’s top five, Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling (826) and Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer (729) both making the cut. Despite being separated by nearly 100 points overall, they achieve similarly excellent Quality scores, the Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling leading by just six points (916 vs 910). There isn’t that much between the two in terms of economic performance either, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer sitting 47 points below its stablemate (641 vs 688). Thus the real difference occurs in the Brand category, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer unable to keep pace either in terms of the number of restaurants in which it features (5% vs 16%) or search rank (2,070 vs 928), resulting in a considerably weaker score (546 vs 791). This perhaps confirms that Gewürztraminer, regardless of the quality in the bottle, is a grape that is currently unable to excite either sommeliers or consumers – Zind-Humbrechts’s Windsbuhl languishing in fifth place across both Brand criteria.
The final wine this week is Weinbach’s Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine (675). Confirming the outstanding Quality of the Alsace’s top wines, across all vintages it achieves a Quality score of 900. Its overall Wine Lister score is dragged down partly by a lower Brand score (661), but for the most part by a weak Economics score (191). However, if you’re looking for top Quality at a reasonable price, then look no further than its 2014, which qualifies as a Wine Lister Value Pick. Available for as little as £30 per bottle, yet with a Quality score of 944 and predicted to be drinking well for another 15 years, it would definitely be worth seeking out a few bottles of it.
Earlier this year Wine Lister compared the top 50 wines by Quality score from Old World and New. The outcome revealed a 35-point gap between the two, with an average Quality score for the 50 best New World wines of 948. This week, Wine Lister dips its toes back into New World waters to examine the top five Argentinian wines by Wine Lister score.
Interestingly, the winner of this week’s top five can perhaps be considered as belonging to both Worlds. Cheval des Andes, the joint venture from Terrazas de los Andes and Pierre Lurton of Cheval Blanc, has an overall Wine Lister score of 818. Unsurprisingly, Cheval des Andes shows the clear benefit of association with its Old World stablemate through a Brand score of 862, the highest of the group. This is thanks to presence in 15% of the world’s best restaurants, and a search frequency ranking as the 400th most-searched-for wine on Wine Lister’s database. It has the lowest Quality score of the five (845) – and is notably the only one of the group whose Quality score is not its strongest asset – but is also the least expensive at £55 per bottle.
Bodega Catena Zapata shows impressive presence in this week’s top five, taking the next three spots. In second place overall is Nicolás Catena Zapata with a Wine Lister score of 808. Nicolás has the highest Quality score of the group (921), however its brand strength should not be overlooked. With the second-highest Brand score of this week’s top five (828), it actually ranks 10 places higher for search frequency than New World super-brand Cheval des Andes.
Although Catena Zapata’s Adrianna Vineyard Malbec comes next for overall Wine Lister score, it is the Bodega’s Malbec Argentino (in fourth place overall) that comes next for Quality, with a score of 909. Its overall score (692) doesn’t maintain the dizzying heights set by its Quality score – nevertheless still sitting in the “strong” section of the Wine Lister 1,000-point scale – due in part to a lower Brand score (705), but mostly to a much weaker Economics score (181).
Bookending this week’s top five is another wine which might also be considered as originating from more established roots, though this time hailing from elsewhere in the New World, and more specifically, producer Paul Hobbs. Viña Cobos’ Volturno has an overall score of 635. It paints a similar picture to Catena Zapata’s Malbec Argentino, in that despite a high Quality score (902), its overall score is hindered by modest Brand and Economics scores (436 and 380 respectively).
This week, our Listed blog focuses on Spain’s strongest Brands. Unsurprisingly, and fittingly as we creep into autumn, all are red. It will probably also come as no shock that Bodegas Vega-Sicilia features prominently – filling an impressive three out of five spots on the list, including the top two.
Wine Lister’s Brand score combines a measure of a wine’s prestige – as indicated by its visibility in the world’s top restaurants – with its level of online popularity – calculated by ranking each of the 4000+ wines in our database by monthly search frequency on the world’s most visited wine site, Wine-Searcher. Four of this week’s top five also qualify as Buzz Brands – Wine Lister’s group of wines that perform particularly well when it comes to restaurant presence and online popularity, or are demonstrating a recent growth in popularity, and which are identified by the fine wine trade as trending or especially prestigious.
Vega-Sicilia Unico enjoys the best Brand score of any Spanish wine – and is thus the winner of this week’s race. In fact, it also achieves the highest overall Wine Lister score of all Spanish wines (974). Although Unico outperforms the rest of this week’s top five in all three of Wine Lister’s rating categories, its Brand score is particularly impressive (991). This phenomenal score is the result of excellent restaurant presence (47%) and being the 32nd most searched-for of Wine Lister’s wines on Wine Searcher.
Next, with a Brand score of 952 is Vega-Sicilia Valbuena. Despite not being able to match the Bodega’s flagship Unico in any category, it is in terms of brand recognition that it gets closest, its Quality and Economics scores trailing Unico by 115 and 54 points respectively. Its slightly lower – although still impressive – Brand score is the result of being visible in under half the number of restaurants as Unico (23%) and receiving fewer online searches (it is the 119th most popular wine on Wine Lister).
The third wine to make it onto the list is Dominio de Pingus Pingus. Presumably due to its tiny production volumes – only 6,000 bottles of it are produced each year – it is by far the most expensive of this week’s top five, at over twice the price of Unico (£599 vs £225). Its strong Brand – and high price – are supported by excellent Quality, with Pingus achieving the second highest Quality score of the group (935).
The last two places of this week’s top five are occupied by La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva and Vega-Sicilia Alión. Not only do these two have identical Brand scores (907) but, despite contrasting profiles, they also share the same overall score (858). Alión achieves a higher Economics score (874 vs 729), whereas La Rioja Alta 904 records a slightly better Quality score (876 vs 812). La Rioja Alta 904 also shows that strong Brand and Quality scores do not necessarily have to mean soaring prices, as it is by far the most affordable of the five – priced at £37 per bottle on average.
As part of our Brand score, Wine Lister measures popularity using the three-month rolling average searches on the world’s most visited wine site, Wine-Searcher.
We have recently updated our treatment of this data to provide relative results for all 4,000+ wines on Wine Lister. Expressing each wine’s search frequency as a ranking will make it easier for our users to interpret the data. For example, Mouton is the #1 most searched-for wine of all wines on Wine Lister, according to monthly searches on Wine-Searcher.
To mark this transition, here we examine the top 50 most popular fine wines in the world.
The first seven most searched-for wines for the period of May, June, and July include the five Bordeaux left bank first growths (Mouton, Lafite, Margaux, Latour, and Haut-Brion), right-bank powerhouse, Petrus, and Champagne super-brand, Dom Pérignon. It is perhaps of no surprise that these rankings remain unchanged since the previous period (February to April) .
Burgundian searches in the top 50 are dominated by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, with Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Echezeaux, and Romanée-Saint-Vivant all achieving better rankings versus the previous period. These four together achieve an average ranking of 30th place, and an average movement up the search ranking of 11 places.
Other than Dom Pérignon, the two remaining Champagnes featured in the top 50 most searched-for wines have moved up the rankings for May-July 2018 compared to the previous three-month period. Louis Roederer’s Cristal was up 12 places, presumably due to the release of its 2008 vintage in June. Krug’s most recent Grande Cuvée (166th edition) was released in late May, explaining its jump four spots up the rankings into 24th place.
More than half of the top 50 most popular wines are Bordeaux, with 30 wines hailing from the region. However, Bordeaux did not see the boost to their search ranking one might have expected during Bordeaux’s en primeur 2017, with one fewer of the region’s wines featuring in the top 50 than before the campaign kicked off. In fact, supporting Wine Lister’s analysis of this year’s lacklustre campaign, searches for many top Bordeaux châteaux actually fell during this period. For instance, Figeac, despite achieving Bordeaux’s 10th best Quality score of the 2017 vintage, slipped nine spots down the rankings.