The balancing act
Following our recent report on Bordeaux’s 2021 harvest, Wine Lister now turns to Tuscany to find out more about its 2021 vintage so far, with insight from 10 top producers across the region
Tuscany’s 2021 growing season has been characterised as a year of climatic extremities, including a mild and rainy winter, the onset of frost in spring, persistent drought in summer, and ending in ideal harvest conditions. In a show of resilience and adaptability, producers were able to reap the benefits of acute weather patterns – with the potential consequences of drought lessened by the groundwater reserves accumulated in winter, and dry conditions reducing disease pressure over the summer.
What can we expect from Tuscany’s 2021 vintage?
Multiple methods to fight frost
- Properties lit fires in the vineyards to circulate warm air and reduce the risk of frost. Owner of IPSUS, Giovanni Mazzei tells us that the technique successfully “increased the temperature up to 2˚C” across the IPSUS vineyards, protecting the vines from damage
- Several producers used organic treatments to improve vine health following the frost, including Argiano, whose Sales Manager, Riccardo Bogi tells us that “brown algae allowed the plants to stabilise and respond as quickly as possible to the loss of sprouts”
- Frost was particularly prevalent in low-lying coastal regions, with Ornellaia’s winemaker, Axel Heinz witnessing “damages limited to a few lower altitude vineyards, without significant impact on production”. Le Macchiole’s Commercial Director, Gianluca Putzolu tells us that the estate also implemented “organic spring fertilization” to combat frost that hit “some, but fortunately very few vineyards”
- Rainfall during winter accumulated important water reserves at both Argiano and Romitorio, encouraging a good state of hydration ahead of the growing season
- Some high-altitude properties also saw snowfall during winter that, when melted, “percolated the soil with water”, according to Romitorio’s owner, Filippo Chia
- Abundant rainfall in May allowed plants to survive the hot summer, with Riccardo confirming that this was “essential” for Argiano’s 2021 vintage, “since after that, there was no rain until the beginning of October”. Similarly, Fèlsina’s owner, Giovanni Poggiali tells us of some “rainy days in June”
Sun and heat exposure
- “The management of the canopy needed to be delicate and precise to avoid sunburns”, explains Avignonesi’s COO and Agronomist, Alessio Gorini, who also explained that the use of high-tech sorting equipment allowed them “to completely remove any berries withered or raisined by the sun”
- Organic treatments were adopted to protect the vines from sun exposure, such as the use of “kaolin” at Tenuta San Guido. General Director, Carlo Paoli explains this to be “a natural substance that we have been using for many years in hot vintages”, which helps to reduce the vines’ susceptibility to scorching
- A broad diurnal range across several high-altitude estates encouraged balance despite the hot summer, with Castiglion del Bosco’s winemaker, Cecilia Leoneschi noting that the difference of more than 10°C between day and night temperatures was a “real blessing”
Teamwork amongst Tuscan vines: IPSUS (left), Tenuta San Guido (middle), Ornellaia (right)
A remarkably healthy vintage
- Lack of rain throughout June and July minimised disease pressure; Filippo confirmed that “from a mould and disease standpoint, it was actually one of the healthiest vintages [Romitorio] has seen”, thanks to the “dry summer”. Giovanni echoes this sentiment for IPSUS, while Gianluca reiterates there were “no particular problems” at Le Macchiole, despite the risk of powdery mildew – a more common problem for the Bolgheri area
Striking when the time was right
- For many estates, harvest timing was essential, with Alessio and the Avignonesi team similarly conscious of “avoiding over-ripening on such concentrated grapes”
- Producers had to be particularly reactive to picking dates, explains Axel – whose 2021 harvest “required great skill” in planning, eventually leading to a “very compact harvest completed in one month, instead of the usual 40 days”. Owner of Tua Rita, Giovanni Frascolla similarly characterised 2021 as a “lightning harvest”
- “Powerful dark structure – we normally see this with low acid, but this has high acid” recounts Filippo from Romitorio’s latest tasting of the blend
- First impressions show “bright aromatics and, luckily high acidities to keep everything in balance”, at Ornellaia, with Axel describing a “rich and concentrated” wine, “with soft tannins”
- “Grapes matured in a homogeneous way and with a perfect balance of acidity and PH” explains Carlo at Tenuta San Guido
Key fine wine releases from Bordeaux and Beyond
As another week of releases draws to a close, we reflect on highlights from the past fortnight, including the latest vintages of signature New and Old World wines, offered through the Place de Bordeaux’s impressive network.
Cheval des Andes’ Technical Director, Gerald Gabillet (bottom right), with the winemaking team
Which wines offer the best investments from the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign?
As well as a further flurry of releases from the Americas and Tuscany, the past two weeks have also witnessed exciting French entries from the likes of the Rhône Valley, and a re-release of Latour 2005.
One of the top 20 fine wine brands in the world (according to its Wine Lister Pro Brand score), Opus One released its 40th vintage, 2018 last Monday (6th September), at £230 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous) gives the latest release a score of 95, describing it as “incredibly elegant and polished, right out of the bottle”.
Napa Valley neighbour, Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2018 was released on Tuesday (14th September) at £115 per bottle (in-bond). Describing the wine as “sensational”, with notes of “inky red fruit, chocolate, leather, and liquorice”, Galloni gives the latest vintage 98 points – its joint-highest score ever awarded by the critic body. Joseph Phelps’ Insignia 2018 entered the market in quick succession on Tuesday at £163 per bottle (in-bond). Sampled by Wine Lister COO, Chloe Ashton at a recent tasting at 67 Pall Mall (alongside the 2010 and 1998), she found the evolution in complexity, tension, and precision was clear to see.
Monday (13th September) witnessed a triptych of 2018s from Sonoma County’s Vérité, with La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie released onto the market at £300 per bottle each (in-bond). With the wines representing distinct expressions of the estate through the bespoke blending of different varietals and plots, the Merlot-based La Muse receives a perfect 100-point score from Lisa Perrotti-Brown for Wine Advocate, who calls it “Electrifying!”. Comprising a majority blend of Cabernet Franc, Le Désir gains 97+ and 97 points from Perrotti-Brown and Suckling, respectively. Whilst being Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister’s favourite amongst the three, the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant La Joie 2018 secures its highest average critics scores since 2013, inclusive of 98 points from Perrotti-Brown and 99 points from Suckling.
South American sensations
Leading last week’s South American entries, Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Chilean winery Almaviva released its 2019 vintage on Wednesday (8th September) at £108 per bottle (in-bond). The Wine Lister team found it to show good complexity for its young age, with dense black fruit, exotic spices, and a touch of hay smoke.
Across to Argentina, Cheval des Andes 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September) at £59 per bottle (in-bond). The latest vintage aligns with the estate’s upward quality trajectory in recent years, having been awarded a score of 98 from James Suckling, who describes it as “very long and structured, yet controlled and in balance”.
Wildflowers growing in-between Siepi’s Merlot and Sangiovese vines
A Tuscan triumph
There are now only limited remaining stocks of Masseto 2018, which was released on Tuesday (7th September), starting from £495 per bottle (in-bond). The estate saw one of the rainiest springs in its history, and consequentially faced high levels of disease pressure. Nonetheless, the team at Masseto handled challenges that arose deftly, reflected in Wine Lister’s praise of its dense, layered, and lithe texture.
Now with similarly limited availability at around £208 per bottle (in-bond), Solaia 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September). Galloni awards it a strong score of 98, noting that he “can’t remember ever tasting a young Solaia with this much sheer appeal and balance”. Demand for the 2018 may well be encouraged by the estate’s positive price performance track record, which has seen some of its top-scoring vintages appreciate significantly post-release.
The first of the Tuscan trio to be released last week was Petrolo’s Galatrona 2019, which entered the market on Monday (13th September) at £72 per bottle (in-bond). Gaining a near-perfect score of 99 points from Suckling, he describes it as “muscular, yet agile” – “a unique definition of merlot in Tuscany”. Following in close succession, Castello di Fonterutoli released Siepi 2019 at £68 per bottle (in-bond). The Mazzei family planted its first Merlot grapes in 1980, with Siepi’s varietal blend now comprising equal proportions of Merlot and Sangiovese. The 2019 gains 98 points from Suckling – the joint-highest score awarded by the critic, who praises its “super-structure”, and “finesse with power”. To end Monday’s Tuscan trilogy, Tenuta Sette Ponti’s Orma 2019 was released at £56 per bottle (in-bond). Though Orma is yet to be widely scored by critics, Suckling awards it 97 points, calling it “perhaps the best Orma ever”.
Closing this week’s Italian offerings, Caiarossa 2018 entered the market on Wednesday (15th September) at £35 per bottle (in-bond). Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic, JancisRobinson.com, awards it 17+ points, considering it “classy stuff”, “which should become even more compelling with further bottle ageing”.
Back on French soil
Speculated to be the final commercial release of the vintage, Latour released a parcel of its 2005 vintage last Tuesday (7th September), which has since been offered by merchants for around £750 per bottle (in-bond). The 2005 was awarded 100 points by Galloni, who calls it “deep and sensual to the core”, and notes that it is “utterly captivating”. The iconic reputation of both the vintage and the estate is reiterated in this perfect score, which should stimulate interest from serious fine wine collectors.
Racing over to the Rhône, Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2019 was released last Friday (10th September) at around £227 per bottle (in-bond). A cask sample score from Alistair Cooper for JancisRobinson.com signifies quality, awarding its highest score from the critic body since 2007 with 19 points, calling it “One to watch!”.
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New World icons join top Tuscan wines for the first week of releases
A trading system used to distribute Bordeaux wines for almost 800 years, the Place de Bordeaux has, in more recent years, provided an international stage for many wines originating beyond its own borders. The first non-Bordeaux bottle to join La Place in 1998 was Almaviva, followed by Opus One in 2004, Masseto in 2008, and Solaia in 2009. Over the past decade, a further flurry of eminent estates from around the world have joined the distribution network, and together they form a campaign of new vintage releases every September.
Seña and Chadwick owner, Eduardo Chadwick, and daughter, Magui
Which fine wines were released through the Place de Bordeaux this week?
South American superstars
Clos Apalta 2018 kicked off this year’s campaign on Tuesday 31st August, at £71.50 per bottle (in-bond). At this year’s CVBG London tasting at Berry Bros. & Rudd, Wine Lister enjoyed the elegance of the latest release, which boasted red fruits, pepper, and a hint of smokiness on the nose, and a fresh acidity and energy on the palate. Another vintage that adheres to the estate’s impressive quality consistency over the past five years, demand for the 2018 is further encouraged by Clos Apalta’s status as one of Chile’s leading wine brands.
Across the Andes, Catena Zapata released its 2018 vintage on Wednesday 1st September, with Nicolàs Catena Zapata entering the market at £53 per bottle (in-bond). Having gained 96 points from Joaquín Hidalgo for Wine Lister partner critic Vinous.com, the latest vintage achieves its highest ever-score from the critic outfit. He calls it “breathtaking”, with “layers of aroma, beginning with black currant and moving on to intense, precise notes of lavender and mint along with hints of black tea, sage and cigar box”.
Released yesterday (Thursday 2nd September) at £80 per bottle (in-bond), Seña 2019 was the product of a “long, stable ripening season”, according to owner, Eduardo Chadwick. Tasting with Wine Lister on Zoom, he explains that while “January did begin warmer than usual, summer in March was cooler than normal”, retaining freshness. Indeed, our team found the 2019 to be beautifully balanced, perfumed with muddled berries, sweet spice, and promising complexity of cherries and rustic earth, with satin tannins, on the palate. Supplemented by its high quality, the special-edition 25th-anniversary bottling should stimulate interest in Seña’s latest offering.
Describing Viñedo Chadwick 2019 as “one of the best recent vintages”, Eduardo tells us that, as ever, the character of the wine is shaped by the estate’s altitude. He explains that the great diurnal range throughout the warm growing season allowed freshness, encouraging what Wine Lister found to be both remarkable lift and flavour intensity, with aromas of iris, fresh herbs, and blackberry. Released onto the market at c.£230 per bottle, the 2019 was awarded 99 points by James Suckling, who echoes the sentiment that the wine is “refined, yet powerful”.
South African sweetness
On Wednesday 1st September, Klein Constantia released its Vin de Constance 2018 at £41 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister tasted the latest release on Zoom alongside Winemaker, Matt Day, and found notes of citrus and stone fruits complemented with notes of ginger on the nose, complete with a generous and balanced palate with a lightness and freshness that defies the stereotypes of “sweet wine”. Matt told us he believes the vintage represents an embodiment of his “fine-tuned” craft, which also coincided with “a perfect [growing] season”, encouraging the continuation of its positive quality trajectory this year. Indeed, the latest release (as yet not scored by any Wine Lister partner critics) gains 98 points from James Suckling in his most recent tasting.
Tasting Vin de Constance 2018 alongside Klein Constantia Winemaker, Matt Day
Top Tuscan offerings
Bibi Graetz’s Testamatta and Colore 2019 entered the market yesterday (Thursday 2nd September), at £73 and £180 per bottle (in-bond), respectively. Marking its 20th anniversary vintage, both wines feature special-edition bottles designed by artist turned vigneron, Bibi Graetz, with colour and text applied directly onto the glass. Wine Lister was particularly impressed with Colore 2019, which boasted a perfumed nose of violets, frangipane, and crushed berries, following through to a vibrant and juicy palate with silky tannins.
Wines likely to be released through the Place de Bordeaux next week include: Opus One 2018, Overture NV, Masseto 2018, Massetino 2019, Latour 2005, Almaviva 2019, Epu 2019, Cheval des Andes 2018, Solaia 2018, and Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2019.