The insider’s guide to fine wine trends, and the most compelling wines to watch
Wine Lister has released its second annual Wine Leagues, celebrating some of the top-performing wines and producers in today’s new and much-diversified fine wine era. Informed by an in-depth trade survey with leading industry figures, the report provides a 360° view of those regions, producers, and wines that have seen strides in quality, popularity, economic promise, and more in 2021.
Wine Lister’s annual in-depth survey sees our expert panel of 47 CEOs, MDs, and wine department heads share their insight on some of the fine wines to have on your radar, as we ask them:
“What are the most compelling wines and producers in the market today?”
Respondents singled out 188 wines and producers collectively, that span no less than 20 major regions. Within the list, our team identifies Bibi Graetz, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Roberto Voerzio, Berthaut-Gerbet, and Fürst as wines to watch in the Old World, whilst calling out the New World wonders of Catena Zapata, Errazuriz, Pedro Parra, Rhys Vineyards, and Ridge Vineyards.
The report also includes rankings across:
- Biggest quality improvers, which show impressive movement from Italy (occupying five places in the list of the top 20 by Quality score progression), with Isole e Olena Chianti Classico leading the pack
- Best search rank movers, wherein Bordeaux represents eight of the top 20 wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches (including Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Figeac, and Léoville Poyferré)
- Burgundy superstars, focusing on popularity movements from the trade’s darling region – Arnoux-Lachaux features 10 times in the list of top 20 Burgundian wines whose online searches have increased the most over the last two years
- Wine Lister’s top-10 recommendations per Wine Lister Indicator; Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples in 2021
For the full analysis, download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2021 Leagues here.
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!”.
Click here to sign up to Wine Lister’s newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest from the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign.
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.
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).
Whilst the wine world – including much of Wine Lister’s team – focuses its attention on Bordeaux for en primeur tastings, this week the blog hops over the pond to consider Oregon’s top wines. As might be expected, Oregon’s top five wines are all Pinot Noirs. Furthermore, in this relatively young fine wine region, its leading wines perform best in the Quality category (averaging 791), with their brand profiles and economic performance not yet able to keep pace (554 and 363 points respectively on average).
Whilst quality is king in Oregon, Beaux Frères Vineyard tops the table not because of its Quality score (785) – the third-best of the five – but for its stronger brand recognition. It leads Drouhin Laurène – second in the Brand category – by 113 points (715 vs 602), thanks to superior restaurant presence (9% vs 4%) and also because it receives 40% more searches on Wine-Searcher each month on average. Its Economics score of 545 is also Oregon’s strongest, but with low trading volumes and negative price growth over the past six months, this only puts it in the “average” range on Wine Lister’s 1,000 point scale, confirming that it is the area in which the region’s wines currently struggle.
Drouhin’s Laurène achieves the group’s highest Quality score (872). Produced by the Oregon offshoot of Burgundy’s Maison Joseph Drouhin, this is deemed to have the greatest ageing potential of the five, with an average drinking window of nine years, three years longer than the second-longest lived of the group – the Beaux Frères Vineyard.
Third and fourth spots are occupied by two wines from Cristom – Jessie Vineyard (584) and Sommers Reserve (578). Despite being separated by just six points at overall Wine Lister level, they display contrasting profiles. While the Jessie Vineyard achieves a superior Quality score (858 vs 770) and Brand score (490 vs 439), the Sommers Reserve nudges ahead in the Economics category (389 vs 133). This is thanks to it being the only wine of the group whose price has not dipped slightly over the past six months, instead adding 12% to its value.
The final wine of the group – Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard – epitomises the profile of Oregon’s top wines, achieving its best score in the Quality category (670), a weaker Brand score (522), before experiencing its lowest score in the Economics category (220). Perhaps as Oregon continues to establish itself on the international fine wine market – and with its quality not in doubt – its leading wines will be able to build up stronger brands and economic profiles able to rival their more southerly Californian peers.
Yes, that question: “which are better, Old World or New World wines?” Traditionalists may argue that the latter lack the prestige and quality of their Old World counterparts. Those with a preference for the New World might see these wines as better value for money, free of the price tag accompanying wines from famously exclusive Old World vineyards.
Wine Lister has compared the top 50 wines by Quality score from Old World and New. The average Quality score of the top 50 wines is 983 in the Old World and 948 in the New. Though both Worlds sit comfortably in the “strongest” section of the Wine Lister 1000-point scale for Quality, the price gap tells a different story. The average price for a top 50 ranking Old World wine is £2,114 per bottle – seven times higher than the average New World equivalent (£297).
The wine with the highest Quality score on Wine Lister is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA, which achieves a wine level Quality score of 995, having fallen just one point shy of the perfect 1,000 point score for the 2010 vintage. Riesling’s quality proliferates in the top 50, with 16 entries across Germany and Alsace. The high critics’ scores are balanced by exceptionally high prices, with an average price of £2,509 per bottle.
Though the Old World Quality top 50 is in fact white wine dominant, red Burgundy is well represented, with 13 entries and an average Quality score of 983 at £3,164 per bottle. Even excluding DRC La Romanée-Conti’s remarkable price (£11,722 per bottle), Burgundy’s remaining 12 finest reds command an average price of £2,450 per bottle.
Champagne wins the price vs quality race for the whites, with an average Quality score across its four entries of 981 at £348 per bottle. Even more impressive are the five Port entries, with an average Quality score of 982 at £244 per bottle.
In contrast to the diverse set of regions represented in the Old World top 50, the New World list is dominated by California (with 40 out of 50 wines hailing from the region). These wines achieve an average Quality score of 948 at £315 per bottle – not quite as good value as the Champagnes and Ports, but seemingly better value than their red Burgundian counterparts.
Though there are fewer entries from Australia (seven in total), the New World’s number one wine for quality comes from the Barossa Valley. Torbreck The Laird has a Quality score of 984 points and a price of £427 per bottle. When comparing this to an Old World wine of the same score, the price difference is evident. Domaine Leroy’s Romanée Saint Vivant benefits from the same Quality score, but is nearly five times more expensive, at £1,975 per bottle.
Having stopped off last week in Syrah’s spiritual home – the Northern Rhône – in search of the region’s leading wines for the 2015 vintage, this week Wine Lister’s Listed section ventures to Australia, surely Syrah’s most famous home from home. Australian Shiraz might differ stylistically from the Northern Rhône’s finest Syrahs, but the Land Down Under’s foremost brands have certainly managed to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the international fine wine market.
Penfolds’ flagship Grange is Australia’s runaway leader in the Brand category. Its formidable score of 991 is not only 75 points ahead of Australia’s second strongest brand – Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz – but also nudges ahead of the Northern Rhône’s top brand – Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. Whilst Grange can’t quite match La Chapelle in terms of the number of the world’s top restaurants in which it features (34% vs 43%), establishments in which it does appear list 1.5 times more vintages / formats on average (4.5 vs 3.0). Grange is also considerably more popular than La Chapelle, receiving nearly twice as many searches each month on Wine-Searcher. Within Australia no other wine comes close to its level of brand strength. It is visible in nearly twice as many restaurants as the group’s next-best wine in the criterion – Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz – and is searched for almost five times more frequently than the second-most popular wine of the five – Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz. Last year’s release of g3, a blend of 2008, 2012, and (the as yet unreleased) 2014 Grange will only serve to secure Grange’s standing as Australia’s top brand. Click here to see all of Grange’s vintages. Confirming Penfolds as Australia’s most prestigious producer, the St. Henri Shiraz bookends the top five with a score of 852.
Other than Grange, the only Australian wine to enjoy a Brand score above the 900-point mark – and thus making the “strongest” band on Wine Lister’s 1,000-point scale – is Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz (916). As previously mentioned, Eden Valley’s leading light achieves the group’s second-best level of restaurant presence. It is also the third-most popular wine of the five, receiving 4,107 searches each month on average and, notably, is by far the most expensive of the group.
The two remaining spots are filled by Torbreck Run Rig and Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz (894 and 862 respectively). Whilst they receive a very similar number of searches each month, Torbreck Run Rig edges ahead thanks to superior restaurant presence (17% vs 11%) – presumably in part due to producing over twice as many bottles each year as Clarendon Hills Astralis.
This week’s Listed section ventures out from the Old World to look at Argentina’s top five brands. Wine Lister’s Brand score measures a wine’s performance across two criteria – restaurant presence and online popularity. The five Argentine wines, from three producers, all achieve scores that are either strong or very strong on Wine Lister’s scale, indicating that South America’s strongest brands are now established on the global fine wine market.
With a Brand score of 849, Argentina’s leading icon is Cheval des Andes. A joint venture between Saint-Emilion heavyweight Cheval Blanc and Terrazas de los Andes, it leads the way when it comes to restaurant presence, featuring on 14% of the world’s top wine lists – its closest rival in that criterion, Bodega Catena Zapata Nicolás Catena Zapata appears on 9% of the same lists.
Nicolás Catena Zapata (834) turns the tables in terms of online popularity. The only Buzz Brand of the group, it receives on average 2,349 searches each month on Wine-Searcher, 27% more than Cheval des Andes (1,853). It also achieves the greatest vertical restaurant presence of the group, with 2.7 listings on average per list.
Nearly 100 points behind is third-placed Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira with a score of 739. Appearing in 7% of restaurants and receiving 999 searches each month, it achieves its best score in the Brand category, comfortably outperforming its Quality score (581) and Economics score (183).
The last two spots are filled by two more wines from Bodega Catena Zapata – Malbec Argentino in fourth place (694) and Adrianna Vineyard Malbec in fifth place (661). Both receive a similar number of searches each month (744 and 793 respectively), and are visible in 6% and 4% of restaurants respectively.