Italy 2020: a hopeful harvest

“Finché c’è vino c’è speranza” – As long as there is wine, there is hope.

Never before have Italian winegrowers been able to dedicate as much time to the care of their vineyards as in 2020. The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and several further Tuscan producers cite this silver lining to Covid restrictions, and they suspect it will reveal itself in the wine to come. In a year that has caused tribulation across the world, news of Italy’s promising 2020 harvest is certainly welcomed. Wine Lister has spoken to several Italian estates, which reportedly yielded high-quality grapes across the board. While regions – Piedmont and Tuscany – had their respective weather nuances, the general consensus suggests that growing season conditions were balanced, with no mention of hail or storms.

In Montalcino, the Mastrojanni team explained that lockdown prompted improved vineyard inspection in 2020: “[people] couldn’t work indoors in their offices, so the vines received the utmost attention”. They report a “very good harvest” this year, comparing it to the high-scoring 2013. Despite two short heatwaves in July and August, the estate had a mild summer overall, thanks to cooling winds that flow through the Amiata Valley in which its vineyards are situated.

On the other side of Montalcino, Cinelli Colombini reported frost during budburst, which limited the number of grape clusters in 2020. Several other Tuscan producers spoke of reduced volumes due to the cold start to spring (Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 yield is 20% lower than last year). Cinelli Colombini’s Brunello grape harvest was nonetheless of “excellent quality”, and despite it being hard to “shine after a masterpiece of a vintage like 2019”, the team believes it will be “difficult to exclude it from being among the best five vintages of the last 20 years”.

All hands on deck: the 2020 Brunello harvest at Montalcino’s Cinelli Colombini

In Chianti, Castello di Monsanto began picking its Chardonnay grapes on 8th September, and collected its final Sangiovese on 10th October. Third-generation owner, Laura Bianchi, informed us that their spring was mild, with enough rain to create a “perfect” reserve of water for the vines. After the hot and dry August, a wet start to September helped to regulate maturation – a common theme throughout Tuscany in 2020. The grapes thus developed a “great balance of sugar, pH, and phenolic maturation”, and the first fermentation already suggests a vintage of “great personality, rich tannins, and beautiful acidity”. Further east, Vecchie Terre di Montefili started picking on 29th September – late in comparison to other producers, but normal, the team explains, for their vineyards, which lie 500 metres above sea level (and therefore require a longer maturation period).

Less than an hour away, Brancaia finished its harvest on 30th September (having started on the 3rd week of August). The team tells us that they were forced to harvest their Sangiovese quickly before heavy rain arrived, but that they were lucky that the grapes were “the perfect grade of ripeness”. In contrast, IPSUS owner, Giovanni Mazzei, explains that he and winemaker Gionata Pulignani decided to wait until after the extra rain in September before starting the harvest, “to guarantee more balance, extra aromatics, and temper the alcohol content”. In doing so, the hot and dry summer was counterbalanced; Mazzei states that he could indeed “classify the [2020] as a good compromise between cooler and hotter vintages”.

In coastal Maremma, owner and Production Manager at Fattoria Le Pupille, Ettore Rizzi, tells us that 2020 saw a significant threat of powdery mildew across its vines, especially in the thin-skinned varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Syrah. He states that they nonetheless managed to trim the affected bunches and stem the problem, while their Merlot and Cabernet vines also “gave us some incredible fruit”. According to Rizzi, “the word that can best describe the 2020 vintage is concentration” – a consequence of the high temperatures in July and August.

“The final quality of the grapes was really good” – Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 Syrah grapes

In Bolgheri, Ornellaia’s Estate Director, Axel Heinz, declared that their 2020 vintage is “shaping up to be one to remember as a great year”. The property saw “textbook perfect conditions until the end of May”, while June saw a lot of rainfall that “accelerated vine growth”, and required lots of work in the vineyard to keep the canopies under control. Summer saw hot and dry conditions, while rain arrived in the last days of August to alleviate drought stress and lower temperatures, encouraging a more even ripening at the last moment. While an unexpected mid-September heatwave made it necessary to pick all three red varieties – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot – simultaneously at speed, Heinz notes that they nonetheless look “very promising in a rich and structured style”.

Moving up to Piedmont, fifth-generation of the esteemed Gaja family, Giovanni Gaja, tells us that they are so far “optimistic” about the 2020 vintage, despite it being early days to evaluate the exact character of the grapes. Their Barbaresco plots witnessed a moderate July, followed by a warm August that was similarly alleviated by rain towards the end of the month. While they required extra efforts to prevent mildew attacks, the final picked grapes appear “very healthy”.

While 2020 has caused much uncertainty, the recent harvest suggests that there is  definitely hope for some excellent wine to come from this year, and we look forward to finding out for ourselves in the future.


Bordeaux 2020 harvest: optimism in the face of uncertainty

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, [2020] 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.


Topping off the 2008s – Taittinger Comtes de Champagne

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 was released yesterday (1st October) at c.£89 (per bottle in-bond), marking one of the last 2008s from the “Grandes Maisons” to enter the market. The release has reignited discussion on the success of the vintage in Champagne, which has been declared one of the best of the decade along with 2002. Below we investigate top 2008s, and where the latest addition from Taittinger fits within them.

Characterised by a consistent, dry, and cool growing season, climatic conditions in 2008 encouraged slow veraison across Champagne, which enabled grapes to achieve their full phenolic maturity while retaining acidity. The combination of both gives the vintage considerable ageing potential, and unyielding structural integrity.

As illustrated above, the top 10 2008 champagnes by WL score exhibit impressive quality, with the top three wines gaining scores of 97 and above. This has not been achieved in the past four vintages, with Krug Brut Vintage 2003 being the most recent back vintage of a champagne to achieve a WL score of 97. Indeed, the top 10 champagnes gain an average WL score of 95.8 in 2008, compared to an average of 94.6 across the top 10 champagnes from the previous vintage.

The newest addition to the top 10 haul, Taittinger Comtes 2008 shows good value within the wider context of the vintage, despite entering the market at a 26% premium on the current market price of its 2007 vintage. While achieving the same WL score as MUST BUY Philipponat Clos des Goisses 2008 (96), Taittinger’s latest release is available for 34% less, (£89 vs. £135 per bottle in-bond). Similarly, it achieves one more WL point than Bollinger Grand Année 2008 (available for £85 per bottle in-bond), for a very slight premium.

Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni awards Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 98+ points, stating it “is simply breathtaking” and “represents the purest essence of the Côtes des Blancs in a great, historic vintage”. He concludes, “readers who can find the 2008 should not hesitate”.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne is historically one of the top 10 most liquid champagne brands, giving it further investment appeal. Additionally, Taittinger announced that it has not produced any 2009, 2010, or 2011 Comtes de Champagne, due to poor weather conditions during these years – a fact that may well increase interest in this latest release.

Also featured in the list of top 10 2008 Champagnes by WL score are: Salon Le Mesnil, Cristal, Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut, Marc Hébrart Spécial Club Millésimé, Joseph Perrier Cuvée Josephine, De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies, and Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.


The best Bordeaux MUST BUY right now ? – Lafite 2018

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


September releases from La Place de Bordeaux: week three

Releases from two cult Californian producers have taken centre stage this week so far – see the analysis below.

Vérité 2017s 

The 2017 vintage of the Vérité trio – La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie – was released on Monday, at £320 per bottle each (in-bond). The latest releases have picked up much praise from critics, and mark an historic year for the estate – completing its harvest one week before the arrival of North California’s devastating Tubbs Fire, Vérité’s vineyards escaped unscathed, and their grapes picked before any smoke taint from neighbouring areas could set in. This also marks the first collective release of Vérité’s flagship wines in an assorted case, with previous vintages available to purchase separately.

Comprising 100% Merlot grapes for the first time since its conception, La Muse 2017 receives 96 points from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni. He notes that the vintage “is aromatically deep, beautifully persistent and just impeccable in its balance”, stating that he “liked it more than the 2016”. A price of £320 places the 2017 20% below the current market price of the 2016, which has risen over 30% in price since its release, and has limited remaining market availability.

Le Désir 2017 obtains 98 points from Galloniits highest ever score from the critic. He states it is “off the charts fabulous”, and describes notes of “mocha, chocolate, licorice, leather, menthol, pine and spice”. Akin to La Muse, market availability of last year’s release is scarce, illustrating its good track record of selling through post-release. Keeping in mind the 2017’s record-breaking score, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues this year, given the collective format in which the wines are being sold.

La Joie 2017 breaks the same record as its sibling, Le Désir, receiving its highest score to date from Galloni (96). He calls it “another gorgeous wine in this lineup”, describing “hints of rose petal, lavender, mint and blood orange”, and concluding that it is “a stunning wine by any measure”.

Joseph Phelps 

Joseph Phelps’ Napa Valley vineyards – which saw their hottest recorded temperatures in 2017

Insignia 2017 entered the market yesterday at £160 per bottle in-bond (flat on the 2016 release price). As we were told in a recent Zoom tasting with Phelps’ granddaughter and the winery’s Director of Business Development, Elizabeth Neuman, the 2017 vintage lives up to her vision of Insignia as “a tangible legacy of Joe himself – achieving the best of the best”. Neuman informed us of Winemaker, Ashley Hepworth’s recent dedication to achieving texture in the wine, through which she has experimented with blending trials prior to ageing.

Awarding Insignia 2017 91-94 points, Galloni indeed describes a “dark, sumptuous and enveloping feel, with a real sense of breadth and textural resonance”, adding that “more than anything else, the 2017 is all about palate richness”. Wine Lister likewise recognised the finessed texture of the vintage, with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, calling it “supple, gentle, and silky” on the palate, complete with “dark fruit, plum, and chocolate” on the nose.

Frequent heatwaves in 2017 saw record-high temperatures reached throughout the growing season, including an instance of 46.7°C, recorded in Phelps’ Saint Helena Ranch during Labor Day weekend. The 2017 vintage is consequentially the winery’s smallest in 20 years, with total production down 60% on the 2016.  The significant reduction in the volume released this year, as well as the estate’s developing style, may work to encourage interest.

Also released over the past two days: Orma 2018, Petrolo Galatrona 2018, and Siepi 2018.

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Rounding up the second week of Place de Bordeaux releases

Sampled by the Wine Lister team at last week’s CVBG Beyond Bordeaux tasting, the latest Place de Bordeaux releases cover a range of regions and price points. Below we examine some of the highlights:

Wednesday 9th September 

Released at c.£225 per bottle (in-bond), Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2018 enters the market below the current prices of the two previous vintages (see graph below). Hommage was a Wine Lister favourite this year. We detected bright, candied strawberries, orange skin, and clove, while its mouthfeel offered a momentary grip of tannins, followed by a silky-smooth finish.

 

With a 15% reduction in volume released this year, alongside the château’s unwavering reputation for producing benchmark quality in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the new vintage is worth considering for future drinking. In the meantime, back vintages 20152012, and 2009 also look good in terms of price and quality. Writing for JancisRobinson.com, Tom Parker MW awards the 2018 17+ points, noting “meaty, earthy fruit on the nose, very complex already”, and “damson and morello cherry” on the palette.

Inglenook Rubicon 2017 also entered the market on Wednesday at £120 per bottle (in-bond). Produced by the estate since 1978, the flagship wine has maintained a score of 95 or above from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, over the past five vintages, and the latest release is no exception. Awarding it 95 points, he describes notes of “red fruit, cedar, sweet pipe tobacco, menthol and licorice” that “all develop in the glass”. Our team detected complex spice and oak, softened by a gentle hint of vanilla.

Thursday 10th September 

Released yesterday at £54 per bottle (in-bond), Cheval des Andes 2017 receives 17.5+ points from Tom Parker MW for JancisRobinson.com. He describes “intense and expansive black fruit and spices on the nose, with a hint of black olive and violet”, and “blueberry, violet and dried herbs” on the palette. He concludes, “I expect this to become even more impressive after 5 years in bottle, though you could drink it sooner”. Having tasted a flight of recent back vintages at the time of last year’s release with Technical Director, Gérald Gabillet, the Wine Lister team can attest to Cheval des Andes‘ continued upward quality trajectory. We noted a definite complexity within the latest vintage, which offers a nose of Parma violets, white pepper, and bright berries. Cheval des Andes 2017 enters the market under current prices of the last three vintages, and is worth snapping up if there remains any availability.

Solaia 2017 completes the quartet of releases from the past couple of days. Matching last year’s release price of £175 per bottle (in-bond), the latest vintage comes onto the market comfortably under current prices of the previous two (which have increased their respective values by c.20% since release – see chart below). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, awards Solaia 2017 95+ points, and describes “terrific aromatic expansiveness and tons of persistence”. There is anticipation for this score to improve: “I can’t wait to taste it with a bit more time in bottle”, he adds. We tasted the 2017 last week, and were indeed impressed with its development, finding an elegant nose of violet drops and cocoa powder. Given its impressive quality in such a challenging year, and the wine’s history of good price performance post-release, this is well worth securing now.

Among other benefits available exclusively to the trade, Wine Lister’s Pro+ Subscription offers real-time release alerts and live analysis on major wine releases throughout the vinous calendar. Please email us at team@wine-lister.com to enquire.


September releases from La Place de Bordeaux: week two

The last two days of Place de Bordeaux releases have included vintages from three powerhouse producers of different regions, whose commonality lies in their use of Bordeaux varietals. Below we examine these key releases.

Monday 7th September

The second week of September Place de Bordeaux releases began with the latest offerings from cult Californian producer, Opus One. Described by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, as “one of the most complete wines of the vintage”, 2017 Opus One was released onto the UK market at £228 per bottle – the same price as the 2016. Awarding it 95+ points, he states that the 2017 is “a dense, full-throttle beauty”, with “a distinctly red-toned fruit profile that distinguishes it from the surrounding vintages”. Although receiving one point less than the 2016 (which has a score of 96+ from Galloni), the latest vintage holds particular significance. 91% of fruit had been picked just before the devastating Californian wildfires commenced, eradicating two lots of Opus One vines. Awarding 17.5 points to the 2017, Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, notes that there is “not a trace of smoke taint”, and describes “a combination of savoury and something as sweet and chalky as Edinburgh rock”.

Both the historic nature of the vintage, and the reduction in volume released this year are facts sure to encourage high levels of interest. Opus One is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one US wine (and joint-fifth overall) voted by the trade to have seen the sharpest rise in demand, as shown below:

Results from Wine Lister’s 2019 Founding Members survey, showing the consensus on the top 10 wines that have seen the sharpest rise in demand

Tuesday 8th September

Kicking off yesterday’s releases, Masseto 2017 was released, and merchants were offering at around £480 per bottle. Though slightly higher than last year’s first tranche release price (readers should note that this year, there is only one single tranche), the 2017 enters the market 11% below the current price of the 2016. Antonio Galloni gives the 2017 96-99 points (up from 94-97 for the 2016), calling it a “spectacular wine in the making”, with notes of “red cherry jam, mocha, leather, licorice and a dash of new oak”. While 2017 will be remembered as one of the hottest and driest growing seasons in recent history, Winemaker, Axel Heinz, states that the vintage “managed to encapsulate all the ripeness and concentration” of the climatic conditions. Indeed, Galloni notes that the latest release is “quite simply a remarkable wine for such a challenging year”. Masseto already earns strong acclaim as the wine to have seen the third-sharpest rise in demand according to the trade (see above) – the 15% reduction in volume released onto the market from last year will no doubt only encourage requests for the 2017 further.

The second wine from the cult producer, Massetino 2018 was also released yesterday, at a likely UK market price of c.£205 per bottle. Although its second vintage, this is the first international release of Massetino, as last year’s distribution was limited to the Italian and the US markets only. We sampled the latest release at CVBG’s Beyond Bordeaux tasting, and found it to have expressive, concentrated fruit on the nose, and more refined notes of Marcello cherry and minerality on the palette.

Yesterday’s releases ended with a bang, as Latour released its 2009 vintage. Merchants offering at c.£860 per bottle place the 2009 just under the current market price of the iconic 2010. This is the first ex-château stock to be released since its original en primeur release, and is available at a c.10% premium to existing stock on the market. Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin, awards the latest release 99 points, stating that it “is endowed with a simply magnificent nose with intense blackberry and cassis fruit laced with minerals and graphite, extremely focused to the point of overwhelming the sense”. “Wow”, he concludes.

Among other benefits available exclusively to the trade, Wine Lister’s Pro+ Subscription offers real-time release alerts and live analysis on major wine releases throughout the vinous calendar. Please email us at team@wine-lister.com to enquire.


The start of September releases: contributions from all continents

The Place de Bordeaux September releases commenced this week (Tuesday 1st September), launching the distribution of several New World (and a few Old World) icons through its impressive network. The releases have so far exhibited high praise from critics. This affirms the increasing appeal of New World wines, despite the current economic crisis making for an unlucky welcome.

Choices from Chile

Clos Apalta opened the stage on Tuesday, with a vintage that marks its 20th anniversary, as honoured by the 2017’s commemorative bottle. Receiving 100 points from James Suckling, and 95 points from Luis Gutiérrez for Wine Advocate, its average critics’ score of 97.5 matches both the 2016 and 2015 vintages. We sampled it at this week’s Bordeaux and Beyond tasting, organised by négociant CVBG, and found notes of bright red fruit, spice, and orange peel. Despite being one of the most expensive recent vintages (joint with 2016) at £74.50 per bottle (in-bond), Clos Apalta has no doubt achieved a high quality for this anniversary bottle.

Another Chilean entry, Almaviva 2018 was released at £101.00 per bottle (in-bond) on Wednesday (2nd September) – c.4% down on last year. Its average critics’ score of 97 points places it in line with 2017 as the joint-best average score to date, which, alongside its slight reduction in volume from last year, may stimulate demand. Indeed, we found the 2018 to be bright and energetic, with notes of ripe currants, green tomato, and spice.

The Wine Lister team sample 2018s from Seña and Chadwick with Owner, Eduardo Chadwick, and his team

Released on Thursday (3rd September) at £82.50 per bottle (in-bond), Seña 2018 is “the best vintage of this decade”, according to Owner, Eduardo Chadwick. He explained to us that growing conditions in 2018 were balanced between the two previous vintages (2016 was very cool, while 2017 was hot and dry), creating “almost a perfect season”. The vintage receives 100 points from James Suckling, and 98 points from Luis Gutiérrez for Wine Advocate, making it Seña’s highest-ever average score from those two critics – 99. Our team was equally impressed in our virtual tasting, noting its velvet mouthfeel, silky tannins, and juicy freshness. Chadwick 2018 was also released this week (just 6000 bottles), acquiring an average critics’ score of 97.5 at £226.33 per bottle (in-bond).

Introducing Italy

Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2018 and Bibi Graetz Colore 2018 entered the market on Tuesday (1st September), at £70 and £180 per bottle (in-bond), respectively. Both wines offer significant discounts from their previous releases, and have achieved praise from critics. James Suckling gives 97 points to Testamatta 2018, describing a “cherry and lemon rind character”, and “fine tannins”, and 100 points to Colore 2018, calling it “one of the best vintages ever produced. The high quality and suitable pricing of both wines will likely be embraced in the present economic climate.

An Australian addition

Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2016 entered the market on Wednesday, at c.£151 per bottle (in-bond), marking the producer’s inaugural release through La Place de Bordeaux. The vintage received 97 points from Wine Advocate’s Joe Czerwinski – the highest WA score received by The Armagh Shiraz since its 2012 vintage. He states that the 2016 is “full-bodied and supple” and “finishes cedary, intense and long, adding in complex, lingering spice notes”.

The Wine Lister team sample the 2017 Vin de Constance with Winemaker, Matt Day

A sweeter offering from South Africa

As told to us by Winemaker, Matt Day, in a recent Zoom tasting, the 2017 Vin de Constance (released on Wednesday 2nd September) is the closest vintage yet to their philosophy of creating a “dry sweet wine”. Wine Lister’s CEO, Ella Lister, notes hints of “apricots, rosewater, lemon balm, Marcona almonds, and acacia honey” among other aromas, and on the palate “dried apricots and a gorgeous savoury finish”. At £39 per bottle (in-bond), the 2017 receives 97 points from James Suckling, compared to an average of 95 (from James Suckling and Wine Advocate) for each of the past three years. While it does not offer a discount, Klein Constantia does a spectacular job of achieving high quality in its developing style of Vin de Constance.

Kick-starting California

L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2018 was released yesterday (Thursday 3rd September) at c.£68 per bottle (in-bond) – flat on the 2017 release price, and earning 95 points from Wine Advocate’s Erin Brooks (one down from the 2017). She noted that “the full-bodied palate is incredibly pixelated and silky with very bold freshness and a long, layered finish” and that she “can’t wait to taste this beauty from bottle”. We enjoyed detecting violet, toast, and vanilla on the nose, and were similarly impressed by its velvet mouthfeel.

Among other benefits available exclusively to the trade, Wine Lister’s Pro+ Subscription offers real-time release alerts and live analysis on major wine releases throughout the vinous calendar. Please email us at team@wine-lister.com to enquire.


New Wine Lister MUST BUYs

Wine Lister’s latest MUST BUY update identified 38 new wines that show quality and value within their respective vintages and appellations, and wide praise from the international trade. To help you discover these new picks, this week’s blog takes a deep dive into the latest MUST BUY wines and their geographical composition.

Pinot Noir picks

Burgundy dominates the new MUST BUY hoard with 13 entries, including eight reds. The perfect pick for an opulent occasion, the 1978 Romanée-Conti Richebourg costs £1,434 per bottle (in-bond), and was described by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, as “very long with smoothness, sweetness and unctuousness”. Sharing its WL score of 96, the 2010 Volnay Clos des Ducs from the Côte de Beaune’s red producer of reference, Marquis d’Angerville, provides a more affordable option at £250 per bottle (in-bond), but may merit a little patience.

Outside of Pinot Noir’s original homeland are some new MUST BUYs of brilliant quality and impressive value for money. California’s 2016 Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot Noir has a WL score of 94, and was described by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, as “racy, perfumed and beautifully layered”, with notes of “orange peel, tobacco, blood orange, spice, star anise and new oak” throughout. It can be purchased for less than five times the price of the aforementioned Volnay, by the case of six for £262 (in-bond) from Jeroboams.

Travelling north within the US brings us to Oregon’s latest MUST BUY entry – the 2016 Cristom Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir. While more expensive than its Californian counterpart for the same WL score, Cristom’s position as the leading producer in the Willamette Valley, alongside its closer proximity to Burgundy’s cool-climate restrained style, makes it more than worth the c.35% premium. It is available to purchase for c.£60 per bottle (in-bond) from WineBuyers.com.

The best of Bordeaux blends

Bordeaux offers seven new MUST BUYs this week, including two Left Bank Value picks; 2019 Haut-Bages Libéral and 2015 Capbern. With a WL score of 92, the former addition was released en primeur two months ago, and described by James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com as, “busy and expressive on the nose with vineyard-fresh dark fruit, black-olive and mineral notes”. Labelled by Lawther as the “best in recent years”, this gem from Bordeaux’s prominent promotors of biodynamic viticulture, Gonzague and Claire Lurton, has a bright future ahead. It can still be bought en primeur through Justerini & Brooks for £142.50 per six (in-bond).

The 2010 Vieux Château Certan also appears in the latest MUST BUY update, 10 years on from the iconic vintage. It provides a more lavish option for the Bordeaux buyer, receiving a WL score of 96 at £216 per bottle (in-bond). Moving across the border into Tuscany, the 2010 Sassicaia also offers a more luxurious alternative to the Bordeaux blend. Comprising of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, it was described by Antonio Galloni as, “just beginning to show the first signs of aromatic development”, including hints of “sweet tobacco, mint, pine, dried cherries and licorice”. It achieves a WL score of 95, and is available to purchase by the case of six for £915 from Goedhuis & Co.

Choosing Chardonnay

Back to Burgundy, and the new white MUST BUYs this week offer opulence from three iconic Meursault producers; 2015 Roulot Charmes, 2010 Comtes Lafon Genevrières, and 2017 Arnaud Ente Les Petits Charrons are all exceptional choices, albeit for an average price of £492 per bottle (in-bond). Further north, two entries hail from Chablis, and the appellation’s original historic vineyard, Les Clos; 2014 Laroche Les Clos, and 2010 Christian Moreau Père et Fils Les Clos. For those who enjoy a more pure, lean, and mineral style of white wine, the Chablis MUST BUYs exhibit notable value within their appellation and achieve higher WL scores than their buttery Meursault counterparts. The latter can be bought by the case of 12 from Cru World Wine for £871 (in-bond).

California’s latest white MUST BUY hails from Kistler Vineyard; a cult producer known for its emulation of pure and balanced Burgundian Chardonnays, over the rich and oaky Californian style. The 2017 Kistler Vineyards Dutton Ranch Chardonnay achieves a WL score of 96, and is labelled by Antonio Galloni as “such an intriguing wine because of the way it is airy and lifted and yet also so deep in feel”. Providing a less expensive alternative to Côte d’Or whites, it is priced at £133 per bottle (in-bond).

Also featured in the list of new MUST BUYs are: 2009 Abreu Madrona Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, 1989 Bollinger Grande Année, 1996 Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Bèze, 2006 Cavallotto Barolo Vignolo Riserva, 2013 Ceretto Barolo Brunate, 2012 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, 1996 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Duroché Chambertin Clos de Bèze, 2017 Georges Mugneret-Gibourg Clos de Vougeot, 2012 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, 2014 Jean Grivot Richebourg, 2010 Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz, 2017 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, 1996 Lafite Rothschild, 2008 Lafleur, 2016 Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso, 2016 l’Evangile, 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, 2018 Marc Sorrel Hermitage, 2013 M. Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Blanc De l’Orée, 2016 M. Chapoutier Hermitage Ermitage Le Méal, 2012 Roagna Barbaresco Pajè Vecchie Viti, 2016 Valandraud, and 2009 Vincent Paris Cornas La Geynale.


Italian whites worth sipping in summer

For those in need of a chilled white wine to help beat the heat, Wine Lister’s latest blog transports you to Italy, examining a selection of dry Italian whites with WL scores of 90 and above. Enjoy any of the below from the comforts of your home:

Abruzzo – Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is one of Italy’s most prominent dry whites, benefitting from remarkable ageing potential that contributes to its frequent comparison with fine white Burgundy. Described by Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic, JancisRobsinon.com as “much too young right now, but huge promise”, the 2013 vintage can be aged for another 20 years, despite already having a “gorgeous nose of spice, flint stone and mandarin fruit”. The quality of its production can be attributed to the estate’s judicious approach to grape selection, using a mere five percent of the harvest from its 170 acres of vineyards to make its own wine, and selling the rest to local co-ops. A Wine Lister MUST BUY, the 2013 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo achieves a WL score of 95 at c.£105 per bottle (in-bond). You can place a bid for this wine on the Berry Bros & Rudd online bidding platform, BBX.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Josko Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla

Situated on the Slovenian border, Josko Gravner has pioneered biodynamic winemaking in Italy. Given the plethora of high-tech winemaking equipment that exists today, his methods can be considered somewhat antiquated – his winery is stripped bare, apart from the necessary electricity for lights. Wines are fermented in underground Amphorae, filled by gravity, and aged in traditional wooden casks. An Italian indigenous grape, the Ribolla is aged for a considerable number of years before release, with the 2009 vintage displaying “fabulous aromas of dried grasses, chamomile, lapsang and smoked orange peel” and a “dry spicy grip”, according to Julia Harding for JancisRobinson.com. With a WL score of 92 at c.£70 per bottle (in-bond), this MUST BUY is available to purchase by the bottle from The Good Wine Shop.

Piedmont – Gaja Langhe Gaia & Rey

Named after Angelo Gaja’s daughter (and now fifth-generation director), Gaia Gaja, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey, Gaia & Rey was first produced in 1983. Made from the first Chardonnay vines to be planted in Piedmont, this wine pioneered the production of exceptional white wines in the Langhe Hills, where production had previously been almost exclusively red. With a WL score of 93, the 2016 vintage can be enjoyed now, or laid down for further ageing. Wine Lister partner critic Antonio Galloni for Vinous describes it as “a gorgeous Chardonnay built on persistence, energy and class. Orchard fruit, citrus, almond and floral notes give the 2016 striking vibrancy”. It is available to purchase by the case of 12 for £939 (in-bond) from Cru World Wine.

Veneto – Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca

The Pieropan family have been producing wines in Soave since the late 1880s, and were the first to bottle wine under the Soave label in the early 1930s. The late Leonildo “Nino” Pieropan, grandson of the estate’s founder, was also the first producer in Soave to make a single-vineyard wine, ‘Calvarino’, in 1971. Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca is made from Garganega grapes grown on La Rocca’s unique terroir, which exists as a limestone outcrop in a sea of Soave’s basalt. Gaining a WL score of 92, and available at less c.£20 per bottle (in-bond), the 2013 vintage is a Wine Lister Value pick. Jancis Robinson describes it as “lively and citrus” with notes of “lemon cream”. It can be bought by the bottle from The Wine Centre.

Also featured in the list of Italian whites with WL scores above 90 are: Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala, Fattoria Zerbina Arrocco Passito, Fattoria Zerbina Scaccomatto Passito, Gaja Langhe Alteni di Brassica, Jermann Capo Martino, Jermann Vintage Tunina, La Castellada Bianco della Castellada, La Castellada Ribolla Gialla, Ornellaia Bianco, and Ornellaia Poggio alle Gazze.

For bespoke fine wine purchase recommendations, as well as advice on collection re-sale, get in touch with our team at team@wine-lister.com, or download the full Cellar Analysis information pack.