Bordeaux en primeur 2021: quality under the microscope

Amongst other findings, Part II of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux Study, ‘Walking the tightrope’, explores the outperformers of the latest vintage – the top 15 wines whose Wine Lister Quality score (part of our Pro rating system) in 2021 most exceeded their wine-level average. The wine-level average is calculated based on a mean Quality score over the last five vintages, to reveal more recent trends. Seven of this year’s outperformers were also featured in the 2020 list, indicating that these wines continue to build long-term quality in 2021.

Quality score – outperformers in 2021 (as featured in Part II of our 2022 Bordeaux Study)

Four Margaux wines feature in the 2021 outperformers chart, with Durfort-Vivens this year taking the top spot from Ferrière. Receiving a score of 92-94 from Ella Lister (for Le Figaro Vin), she describes it as “Effervescent with energy and life […] with an impressive density, and a generous future ahead of it.”

New additions to the outperformers chart this year, Marquis d’Alesme and Marquis de Terme rank in 11thand 13th place respectively. As well as appearing in our list of Bordeaux 2021 Value Picks (wines with the best quality-to-price ratios), the latter earns the status as the Bordeaux red with the biggest increase in 2021 Quality score compared to the 2020 vintage (also explored in Part II). Antonio Galloni for Vinous awards Marquis de Terme 2021 its highest ever potential score from the critic platform, 93-95, calling it “inky, vibrant, and super-expressive”.

La Lagune returns to the 2021 chart in fourth place, down from third in last year’s study. James Lawther (JancisRobinson.com) calls the 2021 “pure and precise”. The estate has been certified organic since the 2016 vintage and is currently working towards biodynamic certification.

Pauillac also sees four wines on this year’s outperformers chart, with Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Haut-Batailley, and Pédesclaux showing strong improvements in Quality score in 2021. Awarding a score of 92-94, Antonio Galloni notes that Grand-Puy-Ducasse “has made important strides of late”, given the increased investment under the direction of Anne Le Naour, while Pédesclaux has also seen significant investments from proprietor Jacky Lorenzetti.

Saint-Emilion brings three wines to the 2021 outperformers chart, with Fombrauge entering the outperformers chart in 10th place, and La Dominique overtaking La Lagune to occupy the third spot. La Gaffelière has also increased its standing on the chart, having climbed six places from 11th place last year, and achieving its highest ever Wine Lister Quality score in 2021.

Les Carmes Haut-Brion continues its upward trajectory in 2021, receiving a score of 17++ by James Lawther (the highest score given by the JancisRobinson.com team since the 2015 vintage), and gaining Ella Lister’s top score for the vintage (96-99 points). Larrivet Haut-Brion enters the outperformers chart in ninth place, with the estate deciding not to include any Merlot in their 2021 blend – a first in Bordeaux.

Also appearing on our list of Value Picks for the 2021 vintage, Les Ormes de Pez rounds off the list of outperformers, having received a score of 91-93 from Neal Martin (Vinous), who calls it “A stylish Saint-Estèphe”.

For the full list of Wine Lister’s top 20 Value Picks for Bordeaux, as well as further analyses of the region’s performance on Quality, search data, auction activity, and short-term price performance, download Part II of Wine Lister’s 2022 Bordeaux study here.


Bordeaux en primeur 2021: flying in fast

It increasingly looks as though the campaign will be more or less drawing to a close this week, with a further flurry of Bordeaux 2021s released en primeur at the end of last week and into Monday, including key entries from the likes of Beychevelle, Pichon Baron, Cos d’Estournel, and Mouton.

Released on Thursday 9th June at £58.90 per bottle, Beychevelle 2021 entered the market 16% below stocks of the 2020 (which has risen in price by around 15% since last year), and otherwise substantially below all other back vintages. With a consistent track record of post-release price performance and critic speculation of the 2021’s promising potential, this may well be one worth backing en primeur.

Trotte Vieille 2021 – an oft-forgotten Saint-Émilion Classé “B” to get behind – also released on Thursday at £53 per bottle (just below the current market price of 2020 and 6% above the now scarce 2019, and otherwise comfortably below recent back vintages of comparable quality). Following suit, Brane-Cantenac 2021 entered the market at £47 (6% below the 2020 vintage and below the prior five back vintages in the market).

Pichon Comtesse 2021 released on Thursday at £134 (just below last year’s release price and 30% below the current market value of the record-quality 2019). The vintage marks the estate’s first year of organic conversion, with Nicolas Glumineau informing the Wine Lister team that 2021 was ” the worst in France for 74 years in terms of climate”, but excellent for Cabernet. Volume is down 70% in 2021, with the vintage comprising 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc – the highest proportion since the 2013 vintage (100% Cabernet Sauvignon). These drastically reduced volumes mean that anyone looking to add Pichon Comtesse 2021 to their cellar likely needs to buy it now.

Friday 10th June saw releases from the likes of Giscours, Pichon Baron, and Lafon-Rochet – the latter marking the last ever vintage tended by the estate’s third-generation owner, Basile Tesseron, and the first blended by its new Managing Director, Christophe Congé (of Lafite fame). Released at £25 per bottle, Lafon-Rochet 2021 enters the market below the price of all available back vintages.

Releases came in thick and fast on Monday 13th June, with first growth Mouton entering at £425 per bottle (11% and 15% below the current availability of the 2020 and 2019 vintages respectively). Its little sibling, Le Petit Mouton 2021 was released at £170 per bottle – it appears in eighth place amongst the wines that have seen the highest relative increase between ex-négociant release prices and current market prices across vintages 2016-2020 (see below – extract from Part I of Wine Lister’s 2022 Bordeaux Study).

Cos d’Estournel also entered the market on Monday at £143 per bottle (5% below current market availability of the 2020, and around 8% above the 2019), followed shortly by Cos d’Estournel Blanc at £105 per bottle. According to Wine Lister’s Quality score (892), the 2021 vintage is the best Cos d’Estournel Blanc ever produced, with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister calling it “delectable, lingering in the mouth”. Le Gay and La Violette owner, Henri Parent released his 2021s on Monday at £69.50 and £240 per bottle respectively. The latter achieves a higher Quality score in 2021 than in 2020 or 2018, while scarce availability of recent vintages on the UK market may also drive interest in the latest release.

Also released during this period: Chasse-Spleen, Réserve de la Comtesse, Léoville Poyferré, Ausone, Lascombes, Ferrière, Giscours, Pagodes de Cos, Aile d’Argent, Rouget, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Gruaud-Larose, Larcis-Ducasse, Smith Haut Lafitte.


Bordeaux en primeur 2021: new entries from across appellations

While this year’s en primeur releases are yet to kick into full gear, the past week has seen key entries from the likes of Berliquet, Pontet-Canet, Palmer, Haut-Batailley, Lafleur, and more. Reporting on a shorter week of releases than usual due to the French bank holiday on Thursday 26th May, we examine the latest 2021s to market.

Released on Tuesday 24th May at £38.15 per bottle, Berliquet achieves its highest-ever combined score from Wine Lister partner critics, Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (Vinous), who both award 91-93 points. While up on the last two years’ release prices, one top UK merchant has informed us that this is understandable at this stage in Berliquet’s progression, especially considering the comparable rise in quality and pricing from its Chanel siblings, Rauzan-Ségla and Canon.

This was followed shortly by Pontet-Canet 2021, which is so far being offered at around £74.17 per bottle. While slightly up on last year’s release price, it still poses as a good-value pick relative to its appellation, especially considering its status as the sixth-highest scoring Pauillac according to WL score (see here).

Also entering the market on Tuesday, Palmer’s 2021 vintage is another stand-out offering from the estate, reminding the Wine Lister team of a Palmer from the 1990s, but with more energy and ripeness. At £237 per bottle, the 2021 opens 1% below the 2020 release price, while volume released is down 30% this year. This, alongside strong critics’ scores and a propitious renovation programme currently underway, should no doubt encourage the success of the latest release.

This week saw releases from Palmer – tasted by the Wine Lister team in the cellar

Released on Wednesday 25th May, Haut-Batailley 2021 is so far being offered at around £39 per bottle (slightly down on the 2020 release price). As with the other Cazes properties, mildew pressure has impacted the yields in 2021, and volume produced is down 10% compared to the 2020. Its sibling in Saint-Estèphe, Les Ormes de Pez 2021 followed suit, and is so far being offered at around £18 per bottle – also fractionally down on last year’s release.

Finishing the week with a bang, Lafleur 2021 was released on Friday 27th May through its UK agent, Justerini & Brooks at £542.33 per bottle. While entering the market 3% and 12% up on the 2020 and 2019 release prices respectively, there is no remaining availability of last year’s release on the market, and the 2019 has more than doubled in price since its release. As the second-best Quality performer of red Bordeaux in 2021 (after Cheval Blanc), and with a history of consistent and impressive price performance post-release, this will be one of the best buys of the campaign for those lucky enough to get their hands on it.

Also released during this period: Sociando-Mallet, Laroque, Alter Ego, Clos du Marquis, and Nénin.


Hiding in plain sight: Bordeaux 2020 sibling wines

Keeping it in the family with the best value second wine picks

Further informing your Bordeaux 2020 purchases, we look at the top 20 second wines of the vintage by Wine Lister’s value score. The score is calculated based on the quality to price ratio of a wine and vintage, while still allowing room for higher-priced wines to feature.

The top 20 leading sibling wines by Wine Lister value score

 Which second wines provide the greatest value?

Often lurking in the shadows of their Grand Vin counterpart, sibling wines offer a high quality, more accessible alternative to Bordeaux’s long-ageing elite. While some are the product of grapes remaining from the Grand Vin, other producers prefer to give a sibling wine its own dedicated plots, often of slightly younger vines. In either case, these wines made at the hands of some of the world’s greatest winemakers should be considered seriously. Below we look at our top picks of sibling wines for value, based on the latest offerings from the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign.

Left Bank legacies

All major Bordeaux appellations across both banks are well-represented amongst the top 20 value picks, with Margaux property, d’Issan achieving the greatest value score for the 2020 vintage. First produced in 1985, Blason d’Issan bears a greater proportion of Merlot than its Grand Vin sibling (57% compared to 39%), but as noted by its maker, Emmanuel Cruse, is still very much a “baby d’Issan”, sporting the château’s perennial style. The second wine of 2020’s wine of the vintage (according to Wine Lister partner critics), Margaux, has been a permanent feature of the estate since the 17th century; christened Pavillon Rogue in 1908, it is 2020’s only top 20 second wine from a First Growth property. Margaux comrade, Giscours, is also represented, by its Sirène de Giscours, which enjoys the same winemaking attention and ageing as the Grand Vin, but with grapes sourced from younger vines. Finally, Margaux majesty, Palmer is featured with Alter Ego. Its 2020 release was well sought-after, particularly after no second wine was produced in 2018.

Read more Bordeaux 2020 insights: Bordeaux en primeur – wines to watch for price potential post-release

Pessac-Léognan royalty, Haut-Brion’s Clarence de Haut-Brion ranks among the top 20 sibling wines for value. It is joined by L’Espirit de Chevalier – the red counterpart of Domaine de Chevalier’s sibling series – and Haut-Bailly’s Haut-Bailly II. The latter was renamed (from La Parde de Haut-Bailly) in 2019 to symbolise the second generation of owners, the Wilmers family. Finally, Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion comes from the same vineyard as the Grand Vin, grown and harvested in the same way, with the introduction of grapes from the older parcels of La Tour Haut-Brion since the 2006 vintage.

Saint-Julien has three properties represented by their second wines, including Croix de Beaucaillou, which ranks in second place. This sibling wine is produced using grapes hailing from its own distinct vineyard, lying to the west of the château. Completing the top five rankings is Fiefs de Lagrange, which bears familiarity to its Grand Vin sibling, but is more suited for earlier drinking. Finally, Léoville Las Cases’ le Petit Lion celebrates its 13th vintage with the release of the 2020, produced from a blend of replanted vines that are now between 15 and 18 years of age.

In neighbouring Saint-Estèphe, Le Marquis de Calon Ségur and Pagodes de Cos occupy 10th and 11th place respectively, with the former taking very different form from their first wine as an alternative interpretation of the Calon terroir. The latter is produced from a separate, dedicated plot of 40-year-old vines.

Completing the Left Bank selection are four Pauillac value picks, of which two hail from the same property. Pichon Baron is the only property to see its two additional wines feature – Les Griffons de Pichon Baron and Tourelles de Longueville. Lynch-Bages’ Echo joins them within the top 10 picks by value score. Finally, Pichon Comtesse’s Réserve de la Comtesse – first sold in 1973 – is a top feature for en primeur 2020. This well-established sibling wine represents between 20% to 50% of Pichon Comtesse’s total production.

Right Bank relatives

One the Right Bank, and particularly in Pomerol, sibling wines have been slower to catch on, simply due to lower production levels per property. Two Saint Emilion Classés A properties nonetheless stand out for sibling value picks– Pavie and Angélus – featuring Arômes de Pavie and Carillon d’Angélus, respectively. The latter is increasingly becoming a “cousin” rather than a sibling, since the property has recently invested heavily in new plots for Carillon alone. Amongst this top pick hoard is Pomerol estate, Pensées de Lafleur, which takes 13th place amongst the top value picks with a limited-production of 500 cases.

To inform your Bordeaux 2020 en primeur purchases, we recommend reading: Bordeaux 2020 en primeur MUST BUYS, and The best for your buck: Bordeaux 2020 at five price points


How does climate change affect fine wine production?

Change and adaptation on the banks of Bordeaux

Unpicking the challenges of the 2020 growing season, we talk to seven top Bordeaux producers to understand more about how climate change continues to impact the region’s fine wine industry.

Haut-Bailly harvest under the scorching September sun

How is Bordeaux adapting to climate change?

Bordeaux has been no stranger to extreme climatic conditions in recent years, culminating in what some may describe as climatological confusion for many châteaux last year. While witnessing 15% more rainfall between March and September 2020 than its 30-year average for this period, Bordeaux also saw 54 days of excessive drought during the summer. It would appear that now, more than ever, adaptation and innovation are key to the successes of the region’s releases.

Dealing with drought

  • Extensive dry spells have become a common phenomenon in Bordeaux, with Margaux’s Business Development Director, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, sharing with us his concerns that the vines “could end up with wilting” leaves, leading to “a loss in terms of yields but also eventually in terms of quality”. Despite also being one of the wettest years on record, 2020 was no exception with its pattern of heatwaves and ensuing drought.
  • Saint-Émilion’s Cheval Blanc experienced its driest vintage since 1959, though Technical Director Pierre-Olivier Clouet explains the humid spring fortunately allowed the vines to accumulate “water and nutrients much needed later in the season”. He elaborates that despite the drought, this allowed vines to “grow calmly and homogenously”.
  • Across the Gironde, Haut-Bailly’s Véronique Sanders tells us that “work in the vineyards has evolved enormously”, and that “the fundamental process of pruning has been re-examined” as part of a wider series of viticultural practices that have been changed to adapt to climate change, enabling Haut-Bailly to make the most out of the varied conditions.

Coping with concentration

  • Several properties such as Larrivet Haut-Brion saw small and concentrated berries as a result of high temperatures and persistent drought in 2020. The estate’s Cellar Master, Charlotte Mignon tells us that it has had to adapt its winemaking in recent years, opting for punching down versus pumping over in order “to control light and elegant extractions” in such hot years.
  • Alexis similarly tells us of Margaux’s recent investment in more highly advanced phenolic analysis equipment, which reports the levels of tannin and pigment in the individually-vinified lots and allows the team to “precisely plan extraction with lower temperatures, fewer and gentler pump-overs, and limited maceration time”.
  • Increasingly concentrated grapes have also reduced yields across the region, as told to us by Calon Ségur’s Managing Director, Vincent Millet, whose volumes in 2020 fell to 33hl/ha (down from 40hl/ha in 2019) due to the heat.

Read more about Bordeaux’s 2020 harvest: Optimism in the face of uncertainty

Larrivet Haut-Brion incorporating recently harvested whole bunches into their blend

A move away from Merlot

  • With global warming affecting the evolution of certain grape varieties, Palmer CEO, Thomas Duroux tells us that the “classic complex finish of Merlot” is particularly threatened by rapid ripening induced by hot summers.
  • This concern was shared amongst several properties, with Charlotte finding Larrivet Haut-Brion’s Merlot grapes to be heavier, with greater sugar levels and thus a higher alcohol potential. To regain freshness in their Merlot juice, she now “incorporates the whole grape bunch, including the stalk”, to add more structure and tannins. In the long term, the estate is planning to replant more plots to Cabernet Sauvignon due to the varietal’s slower ripening, while Margaux is similarly including “more and more” Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in their blend, and “even thinking of perhaps experimenting with a few rows of Carménère”, to study how it reacts to high temperatures.
  • In similar vein, Claire Villars-Lurton of Ferrière remarks on the advantage of less Merlot in the changing climate: “We have prioritised replanting of Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than Merlot, as even young the latter variety is more sensitive to water stress”.

Nourishing nature

  • Several of the châteaux we spoke to highlighted their aim of counteracting the effects of climate change by enriching the natural environment and the soil. Thomas emphasises the importance of having a “living soil” in the face of ecological stress, noting that biological compost and plant growth amongst the vines offers “greater stability, root resilience, and nourishment” in increasingly hot and dry years.
  • The benefits of a living soil are echoed by Vincent, who tells us that at Calon Ségur they plant grass cover in the vine rows maintains “some moisture in the soil during dry periods”.
  • Claire notes that cover crops help to maintain soil biodiversity, but the approach she takes goes beyond this purpose: “we adopt a minimal intervention approach in the vines. We plant cover crops between the rows, that we fold over or cut so as to have a natural mulch – this protects the soil from the damaging effects of strong sunlight, allows the soil to keep a good level of humidity, and means any rain that falls can seep deeper into the subsoils”.

Shading from the sun

  • Like several châteaux adapting viticultural practices vintage-by-vintage, Larrivet Haut-Brion withheld leaf removal until later in the 2020 growing season, to shelter grapes from the scorching sun.
  • A similar strategy has been adopted at Haut-Bailly, who revise their canopy management every year to reflect the concurrent needs of vines.
  • At Calon-Ségur, Vincent explains they are “careful about thinning out the leaves in order to avoid burns”, and are considering “adjusting the height of the trellis” to provide shade from one row to another. Opting for a more permanent solution, Margaux have gone so far as to “change the orientation of the vine rows” in order to “expose each side of the vine to the heat equally and minimize sunscald”.

To read more about the evolution of viticultural practices, we recommend reading: Unscrambling biodynamics: what’s all the buzz about? and Does Bordeaux have a new “normal”?


The top Bordeaux 2020 dry white wines

As well as gaining top scores across its reds, Bordeaux 2020 was successful for dry whites, notably at the highest level. Helping you to discover some of the leading examples, we explore the top five Bordeaux 2020 dry white wines by WL score.

The top dry Bordeaux whites of the 2020 vintage, displayed in order of WL score

Will 2020 be a good vintage in Bordeaux for dry white wines?

Despite another exceedingly warm growing season in 2020, Bordeaux’s earlier-ripening white grapes fared well across many of the region’s top blanc producers. Having seen one of the earliest harvests on record, the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes were picked on the 14th of August, and all fruit destined for dry whites was harvested by early September. The white Bordeaux vintage therefore avoided high temperatures during the rest of the month, maintaining balance and freshness.

Reigning supreme – Haut-Brion Blanc

With a remarkably small production of just c.600 cases per annum, Haut-Brion Blanc remains one of the most sought-after Bordeaux dry whites. To combat the warm summer temperatures, the team conducted pre-dawn harvesting, picking grapes during the cooler night-time climate to ensure better levels of acidity and freshness. Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, found Haut-Brion Blanc to show “an almost Burgundian minerality accompanying its unmistakable Pessac green and yellow-fruit character”. With a WL score of 94, it champions the leader board of Bordeaux dry whites for the last four vintages, and there is still some of the 2020 available to purchase en primeur at IG Wines for £600 per bottle (in-bond).

Read more on Bordeaux’s top-scorers: Bordeaux 2020 en primeur – the best by appellation.

A gift from Graves – La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc

Haut-Brion’s sibling estate, La Mission Haut-Brion’s white is characterised by a Sémillon-dominated blend – a grape with naturally low acidity compared to Bordeaux’s other white varietals. With soaring summer temperatures in 2020, the team therefore increased the percentage of Sauvignon Blanc in its blend to 54.7% (up from 30.1% in 2019) to ensure balance. Ella notes the impact of the increased Sauvignon on the wine’s acidity, describing a “zippy acidity, zingy energy, [with a] peach stone finish.” La Mission Haut-Brion’s white gains a WL score of 94 for the 2020 vintage, and can be found at Justerini & Brooks for £480 per bottle (in-bond).

The Cathiard crop – Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc

Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc’s white vines are planted just behind the château to the north, where they benefit from a cooler microclimate that withstood high temperatures in 2020. Technical Director, Fabien Teitgen found a “nice balance and liveliness” in the grapes after harvest, while Ella characterises the 2020 as “subtle and flirtatious, building slowly into notes of white pepper and lime, as well as pure white fruit”. Gaining a WL score of 93, Smith Haut Lafitte blanc 2020 is available at Honest Grapes for £96 per bottle (in-bond).

The white knight – Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

Located at the heart of the Landes pine forest, Domaine de Chevalier’s vines are also subject to a cooler microclimate as a result of the surrounding woodland, which was certainly welcomed in 2020. When sampling the latest release at the estate, Ella enjoyed the richness of the vintage, noting “Aromas of tangerine, white flowers, custard, and acacia honey” and a palate that is “creamy and caressing […] with a lift of tension and a savoury bite.” Receiving a WL score of 93, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2020 can be acquired from Berry Bros & Rudd for £68 per bottle (in-bond).

A Médoc must – Pavillon Blanc

Though First Growth Margaux has been producing a dry white for over 300 years, Pavillon Blanc 2020 marks the 100th anniversary under its current name. The only non-Pessac pick to feature in the top-five ranking, the success of the latest release was not without its challenges. Tasting alongside Margaux’s Managing Director, Philippe Bascaules, and Business Development Director, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, Ella was informed of the high mildew pressure as a result of a hot wet spring in 2020, which risked affecting the Sauvignon Blanc grapes of their single-varietal wine.  Nevertheless, their 2020 receives a WL score of 93, with Ella describing a “Really rich, mouthcoating texture on entering the mouth – almost a Chardonnay-esque opulence”, and declaring the wine “Delicious.” Pavillon Blanc 2020 can be purchased en primeur from Goedhuis & Co for £180 per bottle (in-bond).

For more Bordeaux 2020 en primeur insights, we recommend these recent articles: ‘Bordeaux en primeur 2020: our view of the vintage’ and ‘Bordeaux best dry whites (back vintages)’.


Bordeaux 2020 en primeur MUST BUYS

New additions from this year’s offerings

With the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign now concluded, Wine Lister’s latest MUST BUY update includes 13 new picks from the latest vintage, covering a range of different appellations and price points.

New 13 MUST BUY additions from Bordeaux 2020

What are the MUST BUYs from Bordeaux 2020?

Wine Lister’s MUST BUY algorithm takes into account a wine’s quality and value within its vintage and appellation to produce initial recommendations. These results are then filtered through an intelligence-based, human overlay, which identifies MUST BUY wines based on our tasting of Bordeaux 2020, and observation of the reception of each release in the market.

For more en primeur insights, read: Bordeaux 2020 en primeur – the best by appellation

Right Bank insights

Highlighting the success of the Right Bank in 2020, Saint-Emilion houses five of our 13 Bordeaux 2020 MUST BUYs. Amongst the selection is one of Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni’s (Vinous) “wines of the year”, Pavie 2020, which he scores 97-99, noting “All the elements are well balanced.” The first key release out of the gate this year, Cheval Blanc also gains MUST BUY status. With a score of 96-98 from Neal Martin (Vinous), who calls it “finely proportioned and multi-layered” with a  “mineral-driven finish”,  the 2020 can be purchased en primeur from Petersham Cellars for £388 per bottle (in-bond).

Beauséjour Héritiers Duffau Lagarrosse, Laroque, and Canon also join the Saint-Emilion entries – the latter gaining praise from Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, who describes it as “Full-to-bursting with salivating fruit, just ‘à point’, with impeccable balance”. Canon 2020 can be bought en primeur from £96 per bottle (in-bond) from Honest Grapes.

The Right Bank is represented further by prized Pomerol property, La Conseillante, which retains MUST BUY status for the second vintage in a row. Released at £156 per bottle (in-bond), the 2020 receives a score of 96-98 from Neal Martin, who calls it a “deeply impressive and quite profound La Conseillante”, and is available to purchase en primeur from Goedhuis & Co.

Left Bank investments

Over on the Left Bank, the latest Margaux MUST BUYs comprise 2020s from Brane-Cantenac, d’Issan, and Durfort-Vivens – all of which are available on the market for £50 per bottle (in-bond) or less. d’Issan performs notably well, taking new shape with the introduction of Petit Verdot and Malbec in the latest blend, hailing from new plots purchased by the estate in March 2020. It earns a score of 93-95 from Antonio Galloni, who notes that “Issan is shaping up to be a jewel of a wine.” Appearing in the rankings for most-improved Wine Lister Quality score for a third consecutive year (see our recent blog here), Durfort-Vivens also achieves MUST BUY status in 2020. The estate has seen impressive post-en primeur price performance in recent years, and shows future promise in its upward quality trajectory. Durfort-Vivens’s latest release can be bought en primeur from Justerini & Brooks at £44 per bottle (in-bond).

Pauillac’s Haut-Bages Libéral 2020 receives some of the highest scores ever achieved by the property, including a score of 17 from James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com, who calls it “pure and precise” with “silky and refined” tannins. In neighbouring Saint-Estèphe, Lafon-Rochet also features in the latest MUST BUY haul, with a vintage that marks the inaugural merging of two of the most revered minds in Bordeaux (see our recent blog here). Jean-Claude Berrouet and Eric Boissenot’s joint efforts in 2020 were praised by critics, with Jancis Robinson calling it “a very successful 2020.” Released from £27 per bottle (in-bond), Lafon-Rochet 2020 also gains Value Pick status, and can be purchased at Jeroboams.

Pessac-Léognan provides two MUST BUYs in 2020, with Malartic-Lagravière receiving a score of 93-95 from Antonio Galloni, who describes it as having “An extra kick of energy and vibrancy that is quite attractive”. Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2020 earns 95-97+ from the critic, and can be acquired from Jeroboams for £79 per bottle (in-bond).

Explore all Wine Lister MUST BUYs here, or discover more Bordeaux 2020s here.


Bordeaux 2020 en primeur: a question of quality

Part II of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux Study, “Going the (quality distance)”, explores the outperformers of the latest vintage – the top 15 wines whose Wine Lister Quality score (part of our Pro rating system) in 2020 most exceeded their wine-level average.

Read on below to find out more, or head to our analysis page to download the Bordeaux Study here.

Margaux is well-represented in the 2020 outperformers chart, with five wines showing significant improvements this year. Appearing in fourth place of quality outperformers for 2019, Ferrière now tops the chart. Gaining a score of 94-96 from Wine Lister’s partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous), he describes the latest release as a “powerhouse” that shows, “the more virile side of Margaux off to great effect.” Appearing in the top spot in 2018 and 2019, Durfort-Vivens ranks second place this year, while fellow Margaux châteaux, Cantenac-Brown, Brane-Cantenac, and d’Issan take 10th, 14th, and 15th place, respectively.

La Lagune appears third in the list of outperformers for the second year running, having been described by Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, as having, “Exquisite texture” in 2020. Also hailing from the Haut-Médoc, Poujeaux appears in eighth place, with Antonio Galloni (Vinous) calling the latest release “Plush, engaging, and flat-out delicious.”

In neighbouring Pauillac, Haut-Bages Libéral returns for a second year to rank fifth amongst the top outperformers in 2020. Awarding 17 points, James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com found the latest vintage to be, “Pure and precise with plenty of energy and drive.”

On either side of Pauillac’s parameters, two châteaux from Saint-Julien feature in the list, with Talbot and Gruaud-Larose showing strong improvements in Quality score in 2020, while Saint-Estèphe is represented by Lafon-Rochet. Awarding a score of 93-95, Antonio Galloni (Vinous) describes Lafon-Rochet 2020 as, “Silky, elegant and so pure […] shaping up to be one of the real under the radar gems of 2020.”

Alongside Les Carmes Haut-Brion – who appears in seventh place amongst top outperformers in 2020 – the Pessac-Léognan picks comprise the only Bordeaux white to feature in the ranking.  Carbonnieux Blanc receives a score of 90-92 from both Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (Vinous), with the latter noting, “A fragrant, well-defined bouquet of Braeburn apples, pear and wild mint”.

Two wines from Saint-Émilion made significant advancements in this year’s ranking, with La Dominique ranking fourth, and La Gaffelière appearing in 11th place. The latter features for the second year in a row, receiving 96-98 from Neal Martin in 2020, who calls it a “magnificent prospect”.

Part II of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux Study also explores evaluating the leading Bordeaux bottles for long-term price performance and presence at auction. Check out the Study Digest for some key findings here, or purchase the full report on our Analysis page. Pro subscribers can access their free copy here.


Bordeaux 2020 en primeur – the best by appellation

As the Bordeaux en primeur campaign draws to a close, Wine Lister has published its latest Wine Leagues on the new vintage – exploring which Bordeaux 2020s rank best for WL score in each major appellation (as separated by decimals).

For the third year running, First Growths Mouton and Lafite dominate the Pauillac leader board with a joint WL score of 97. Super-seconds Pichon Comtesse and Pichon Baron follow suit with scores of 96 and 95, while Haut-Bages Libéral has climbed to joint-eighth place in 2020 (from ranking 18th in 2019). As explored in Part II of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux study, the estate is one of the top-15 wines to have seen its quality improve the most in 2020, compared to its average Quality score (explore key findings from the study here).

The Margaux appellation possesses the top-scoring wine of the vintage, Margaux 2020. Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister, tasted the vintage and is confident that “This will age into eternity. And yet the texture is already so soft now.” For the second year in a row, Palmer secures the next-best place with a WL score of 96, while Rauzan-Ségla climbs eight places this year, into the third spot.

The top five Saint-Julien 2020s are in line with that of last year’s league, with Léoville Las Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou sharing the top WL score of 96. Neighbours Léoville Poyferré and Léoville Barton follow suit with 95, while Gruaud-Larose once again achieves fifth place. Also appearing on the list of top 15 wines whose perceived quality in 2020 most exceeded their average, (Part II of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study) Talbot climbs four places since last year’s league, securing a WL score of 94 for the first time since its 1986 vintage.

Wine Lister Buzz Brand, Montrose, has another successful vintage in 2020, overtaking last year’s leader, Cos d’Estournel, to achieve the top place in the Saint-Estèphe league. Tasting in Bordeaux, Ella describes Montrose as having “silkiness in spades” and “beautifully integrated” wood on the palate. Lafon-Rochet climbs four spots to third place in 2020, having gained its highest WL score since 2016 (94). Entering the market last month (Thursday 20th May), the estate also features alongside Haut-Bages Libéral and Talbot as one of Wine Lister’s Quality score outperformers for the vintage.

Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion perform notably well, once again achieving joint-first place in the league of top Pessac-Léognan 2020 reds. As in 2019, Smith Haut Lafitte and Haut-Bailly share third place, alongside the en primeur darling, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, whose WL score increases by one mark this year to 95. Second wines Les Hauts de Smith and Le Clarence de Haut-Brion enter the league with WL scores of 93, with the former gaining with its highest ever WL score in 2020.

Despite both scoring slightly down from 95 in 2019, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion attain joint-first place for their whites as well as reds in 2020, achieving scores of 94 in the league of top Bordeaux whites by WL score. Tasting Haut-Brion Blanc, Ella notes it “Flexes its flinty muscles on the nose, with an almost Burgundian minerality accompanying its unmistakable Pessac green and yellow-fruit character.”

Pavie rises through the ranks from fourth place last year to lead Saint-Emilion’s league for the 2020 vintage, alongside Angélus, Ausone, Figeac, and Canon, whose scores of 96 are separated by fractional differences. Having been awarded 97-99 by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous), he describes it as, “Very clearly one of the wines of the year.” Clos Fourtet has climbed significantly this year, now standing in sixth position (up from the 17th spot in 2019).

As the only appellation to achieve a significantly higher average Quality score in 2020 than in 2019 (as explored in Part II of our Bordeaux Study), Pomerol takes the top spot for Quality score across all appellations in the latest vintage. Lafleur, Trotanoy, and Petrus share the leading WL score in its 2020 league (97), beating their score of 96 last year. Lafleur 2020 receives notable praise from the few critics who tasted in Bordeaux – Ella describes its mouthfeel simply as “out of this world”.

Click here to view all Wine Leagues. Pro users have access to a more extensive set of Leagues and can log in to access here.


Bordeaux 2020 en primeur: the Clarence Dillon clan

As we approach the end of this busy Bordeaux en primeur campaign, yesterday (Wednesday 23rd June) saw the release of the Clarence Dillon family wines, Saint-Éstephe superstar, Montrose, and promising Pessac-Léognan pick, Haut-Bailly.

A family affair: Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister tasted the Clarence Dillon family wines in Bordeaux

Haut-Brion released its red and white grands vins at £433 and £600 per bottle respectively, with both wines receiving strong praise from critics in 2020. The former gains 97-99 points from Wine Lister’s partner critic Antonio Galloni (Vinous), who notes “The 2020 Haut-Brion is shaping up to be one of the wines of the year. […] Wow.” Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister was also impressed, describing “Focussed purple fruits, with a fresh lift of aloe vera, pepper, and fading peonies” on the nose, with “Classical flavours of cassis and violet, [and] a beautiful, beamish balance” on the palate.

Ella also provides a positive perspective on the latest release of Haut Brion Blanc, describing an “almost Burgundian minerality” on the nose, a “golden” palate. It gains the joint-highest WL score of all dry Bordeaux whites in 2020, tying for first place with its cousin, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc.

La Mission Haut-Brion’s red and white entered the market yesterday at £252 and £480 per bottle, respectively. Gaining an impressive score of 97-99 from Neal Martin (down from the potential 100-point score of 98-100 in 2019), La Mission Haut-Brion 2020 is described by the critic as “An enthralling wine in the making from Jean-Philippe Delmas and his team”. Ella is also impressed with the latest release, noting “brooding, poised aromas of pomegranate and fig” on the nose, with a “layered and expressive” palate. Falling under the current market price of the 2018 and 2019 (whose price has increased around 63% since its release), while sporting similar average critics scores to the 2015 and 2016 vintage, this could be an attractive buy.

Outside of the Clarence Dillon clan, Montrose entered the market at £128.35 per bottle, having been well received by the few critics who tasted in Bordeaux this year (the estate was among those that did not send samples abroad). Wine Lister’s partner critics, Bettane+Desseauve award 98 points on their new scale of 100 points, while James Lawther for JancisRobinson.com gives 18+ points. Tasting in Bordeaux, Ella notes that “The fruit this year is ethereal. Luminous, racy, and as with the second wine, with an incredibly gentle touch” on the nose, whilst the palate “has that Montrose silkiness in spades”. Gaining the highest WL score of Saint-Estèphe 2020s (96), this may well see demand from fans of the estate and its appellation.

Haut-Bailly also released yesterday at £96 per bottle, having gained positive scores of 95-97 from both Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin. Hosting a virtual tasting of the estate’s 2020s for our London office, owner Véronique Sanders told us that the château confronted extreme climatic conditions last year, akin to the past three vintages, which have all produced top quality wines. Indeed, tasting at the estate, Ella found Haut Bailly’s Grand Vin to be “poised, savoury, and relaxed” on the nose, with “a lovely weight, and trademark ribbon mouthfeel”.⁣