MUST BUY update – France and Italy dominate

For the last three consecutive updates, Burgundy has worn the crown for highest number of new MUST BUY entries. This week it shares its prime position with Tuscany, as the two regions hold six wines each of the 27 new MUST BUYs. Whilst previous updates have been geographically diverse, this week’s countries of focus are France and Italy only.

All but one of this week’s new Tuscan MUST BUYs can be considered “Super Tuscans”. Buzz Brands Querciabella and Sassicaia make the cut for their 2015 and 2007 respectively. Producer Fattoria La Massa earns another place this week for Giorgio Primo, making its 2016 the sixth MUST BUY vintage of this same wine. 2015 Percarlo from San Giusto a Rentennano and 2016 l’Apparita from Castello di Ama complete the new “Super Tuscans”. A second offering from Castello di Ama is this week’s only new Chianti Classico entry, and brings the producer’s MUST BUY total to eight, equalling Italy’s other top MUST BUY producers, Castello dei Rampolla, and Isole e Olena, in number.

Further North in Italy, Piedmont is by no means overlooked, with Roagna and Paolo Scavino featuring on the new MUST BUY list for Barolo this week (in 2012 and 2011 vintages respectively), alongside Giuseppe Mascarello’s 1996 Barolo Monprivato. Gaja is represented twice, and completes the Piedmont five with the straight Barbaresco and the Sorì San Lorenzo.

France’s chief MUST BUY region, Burgundy, offers three reds and an equal number of whites, with Leroy representing two of the three Pinot Noirs (2015 Vosne-Romanée Les Genaivrières and 2007 Clos de Vougeot). Vosne-Romanée earns another mention through Dujac for its 2012 Aux Malconsorts. Domaine Leflaive, Jacques Prieur, and an older vintage of Raveneau take this week’s new white Burgundy MUST BUY places.

Outside Burgundy, France is also well-represented by the Rhône, with a 2017 from Coursodon, together with 2016s from François Villard, Gangloff, and Michel et Stéphane Ogier. Chapoutier’s 2014 Ermitage Le Méal Blanc completes the latest additions of MUST BUY whites. Older vintages of Bordeaux also make the cut, including a 1966 from l’Evangile, and one 1989 from each bank – l’Eglise Clinet and Pichon Baron.

To help keep track of the weekly updates, check out our latest tool on the search page to help you browse only the newest additions to the full MUST BUY list.


Harvest time in Italy: the rule is now the exception

In Piedmont, the 2019 harvest is late (compared to recent standards). Most Dolcetto was already picked when I visited last week, but healthy Nebbiolo bunches were still hanging on the vines (apart from those of early-picking maverick Roberto Voerzio, whose harvest finished on 23rd September, before anyone else had started). Most growers started harvesting Piedmont’s noble grape this week (the second week of October). At Gaja this was around a fortnight later than the already late vintage of 2016, which Gaia Gaja cited as similar for its great quality and quantity.

Left: the only grape-free Nebbiolo vines spotted in Piedmont last week, at Roberto Voerzio (with hail-protecting nets that stay on all-year round and last for 15 years). Right: recently picked vines at Tenuta Tignanello in Tuscany.

It has been a late year since the start: the first drought was in February and March, so there was “no energy for vegetation to develop,” explained Gaja. “In April we got rain but it was cold, so no sicknesses developed,” she continued, expressing relief that there was no replay of 2018’s almost tropical spring. There was a “shocking jump in temperature” on 25th June. With the grapes still all green, at 40°C for almost a week, some grapes burned, “even though we hadn’t touched the canopy by then, but very old vines don’t have so many leaves to protect the grapes,” explained Gaja. Then on 7th and 8th July, 200ml of much-needed rain fell. An accumulated delay was increased further by the higher quantity of grapes for each vine to ripen.

At Bartolo Mascarello, the Nebbiolo harvest is starting around now, which is especially late given that Barolo itself – where Mascarello’s vines are – ripens earliest of all the Barolo villages. However, such a late harvest has become an exception with the world heating up. “The rules have become the exceptions,” mused Maria-Teresa Mascarello, when I asked her about the usual timing for malolactic fermentation at Bartolo Mascarello. “There is no normal time for malo’ any more with so many early vintages,” she answered.

Maria-Teresa Mascarello in the Bartolo Mascarello winery in Barolo, explaining that the rules have become the exceptions due to climate change.

The 2019 harvest might seem late compared to recent, hot vintages, but at Pio Cesare, Augusto Boffa tells me that picking in the last week of October or the first week of November used to be the norm. This is why the winery advocates the Barolo “classico” (they understandably prefer this terminology to “basic” or “standard”) – a blend of many different villages. It is “the only way we can guarantee consistency,” although he adds that, “there used to be more worries on this front climatically.”

A five-hour drive further south, in Chianti, harvest is also on the late side. At Castello di Ama, winemaker Marco Pallanti had to postpone the last day of picking due to some light rain on the morning of Thursday 3rd October. The same spring rain and dry August delayed the vines in Tuscany as in Piedmont. Pallanti was very happy with what had been picked and vinified so far. The wines have “good colour and structure,” he told me, likening the quality level to 2015 and 2016, though quantity is around 20% down on last year.

The wet, cold May and torrid summer have also delayed the vines at Tenuta Tignanello, where they were running the risk of rain to achieve the right balance of sugars and polyphenolics. While the season “started very late and is very long,” said CEO Renzo Cotarella, “the vines didn’t suffer,” he continued, leading to “very balanced grapes” and vines “that still look unstressed even now.” He compares 2019 to 2016 and 2010, saying it is “more fresh than powerful”. If 2019 is anything like the 2016s (“the best we’ve ever made”, declares Cotarella) then we’re in for a treat.*

*I was lucky enough to taste the 2016 and the 2009 Solaia side-by-side at the estate, and very excited to hear about an upcoming retrospective at The Ledbury in London being organised by Wine Lister’s partner critic Vinous. It will include those two vintages and go all the way back to 1978. Renzo Cotarella will be there, as will Piero Antinori, with Antonio Galloni as host. Tickets are available here to Vinous subscribers or email info@vinous.com.


Top five Piedmont Buzz Brands by Brand score

With the first major set of releases for 2019 in full swing (Burgundy 2017), the Wine Lister team are already looking ahead for what else is in store for wine collectors and trade members alike. In February we expect to see the release of Barolo 2015s – set to be a more concentrated and riper vintage than the previous due to high temperatures throughout the summer. In anticipation of these, Wine Lister is examining the top five Piedmont Buzz Brands by Brand score.

Ironically, the highest-scoring brand of this week’s top five is in fact not a Barolo at all. Gaja’s Barbaresco takes the top spot with a Brand score of 975. Wine Lister partner critic Antonio Galloni gives the 2014 vintage 96 points, and comments, “this is one of the most tightly wound, intense versions of Gaja’s Barbaresco I can remember tasting. Don’t miss it”.

While it is no longer breaking news to see such high quality Barbaresco emerging from under Barolo’s shadow, the making of such a well-recognised brand is impressive. This is achieved by presence in 31% of the world’s best restaurants, and a search rank of 76 out of the c.4,000+ wines on Wine Lister. Gaja’s single vineyard Barbarescos, Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildin, and Costa Russi are also popular with an average Brand score of 915.

In second place for top Piedmont Buzz Brands is Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva. Sitting just outside the top 50 most-searched-for wines (in 51stplace), it is both the highest quality and the most expensive wine of this week’s top five, with a Quality score of 977, and an in-bond per bottle price of £766. The price tag, which is just under four times higher than the average price of the other four wines of this week’s group, is perhaps due to the tiny production quantities of just c.7,000 bottles per year.

Giacomo Conterno also takes a second spot in this week’s top five – fourth place, with his Barolo Cascina Francia, which earns a Brand score of 956 and a Quality score of 960. Despite score gaps between these two wines of a mere 14 and 17 points respectively, an average of three times as many bottles are produced of Cascina Francia than its grander (and much rarer) sibling. It is available at just 23% of the price of the Barolo Monfortino Riserva – £176 per bottle in-bond.

In third place of this week’s top five is Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo with a Brand score of 965. While its scores across the board sit in the mid-range of this week’s top five, it achieves the best long-term price performance, with a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7%.

Lastly, at number five of this week’s group is Bruno Giacosa’s Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva with a Brand score of 928. Although the Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva has the lowest search rank of this week’s top five (158th), online searches for this wine saw impressive increases last year (read more here). It achieves a Quality score of 974 – just two points under the best Quality performer of the group (Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva). Indeed at vintage level these two wines share a near-perfect Quality score of 998 for their respective 2004 vintages, both earning 100/100 from Antonio Galloni.

It is interesting to note the high quality that accompanies these top Piedmont Buzz Brands (an average Brand score of 959 vs. 945 for Quality). The disparity between scores is more accentuated for the equivalent group in Tuscany, which achieves a Brand score of 991 for a Quality score of 932, or in other words, a 59-point gap.


Listed: Italy’s top five Buzz Brands by Wine Lister score

Buzz Brands are wines that are sure to turn heads, destined to cause a stir whenever they are opened. They combine excellence across Wine Lister’s two Brand criteria – restaurant presence and online popularity – whilst also being held in the highest regard by the fine wine trade – as confirmed by Wine Lister’s Founding Members’ survey which gathers the opinions of around 50 key players in the international wine trade. This week, the Listed section focuses on Italy’s top five Buzz Brands by overall Wine Lister score.

Barolo is home to four of Italy’s top five Buzz Brands, two of which are produced by Giacomo Conterno – the flagship Monfortino in first place (973) and Francia not far behind in second place (954). The Monfortino achieves Italy’s best Quality score (977), the result of remarkable consistency from vintage to vintage, having achieved a score of 993 or above in seven of the past 10 vintages. Its best ever vintage was 2004 (998), thanks to a perfect 100-point score from Antonio Galloni, who writes: “I imagine the 2004 Monfortino will give readers an utterly spellbinding drinking experience for the next few decades”.

Whilst the Francia is pipped at the post in each category by its illustrious stablemate (trailing by 17 points in the Quality category, 11 in the Brand category, and 34 in terms of Economics), it does manage superior restaurant presence, visible in 30% of the world’s top establishments, compared to the Monfortino’s 23%. This is presumably due to over three times as many bottles of it being produced each year on average.

In third place is Azienda Agricola Falletto’s Rocche Falletto Riserva (953). It records the best Economics score of the five (969) and Italy’s second-best, beaten only by Falletto’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva (978). It does so thanks to the combination of very strong growth rates – it has recorded a three-year compound annual growth rate of 21% and has added 8% to its value over the past six months alone – and strong liquidity – its top five vintages having traded 398 bottles at auction over the past year. Perhaps collectors have been eager to get their hands on a bottle after the passing of Bruno Giacosa in January.

Proving that Super Tuscans can mix it with Piedmont’s top nebbiolos, Sassicaia takes fourth place. Whilst it cannot keep pace with Barolo’s finest in the Quality and Economics categories, Sassicaia stretches out a comfortable lead in the Brand category thanks to an extraordinary score of 998. This near-perfect score puts it alongside Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Petrus, beaten only by the Pauillac First Growths, Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut, and Yquem. Its brand dominance is the result of outstanding restaurant presence (49%) and online popularity – receiving well over three times as many searches each month as Conterno’s Monfortino, which is the group’s second-most popular wine.

Rounding out the five is Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo. Its brand is its strongest asset, its score of 964 making it Barolo’s second-strongest brand behind Conterno’s Monfortino. Despite receiving over 20% fewer online searches each month than the Monfortino, it matches its level of restaurant presence – perhaps the azienda’s famous “no barrique no Berlusconi” message strikes a chord with sommeliers.


Piedmont’s top Value Picks

With its top ten wines by Quality score costing £225 per bottle on average, Piedmont might seem overindulgent for a low key midweek meal. However, with a little bit of help in the shape of Wine Lister’s Value Pick search tool, it is easy to find wines that will deliver maximum enjoyment at reasonable prices. Value Picks represent the very best quality-to-price ratio wines, with a higher coefficient applied to allow exceptional quality to be recognised. With a remarkable average Quality score of 976, and costing £40 on average, these five Piedmontese wines prove that outstanding quality is available at all price points.

If you’re after top Nebbiolo at a fair price, then Produttori del Barbaresco’s 2013s appear a safe bet, filling three spots. However, the trade-off for top value will be patience – none of the three will enter its drinking window until 2023. However, with each of them lasting over 18 years, you will be able to make the most of your prudent purchases for years to come. And what better way to explore Barbaresco’s crus in an outstanding vintage than with these three? The Asili Riserva achieves the top Quality score of the three (987), 75 points above its wine-level average. It is also the most expensive, but £42 per bottle doesn’t seem unreasonable for such quality. The Montestefano Riserva really outperformed in the 2013 vintage with a Quality score of 972, 125 points above its average score. The market is yet to react – the 2013’s price is currently 16% below its wine-level average.

Proving that if you’re looking for value for money in Piedmont, it’s not just Barbaresco that you should look out for, Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin 2007 is the region’s number one Value Pick. With a Quality score of 989 – thanks to a 98 point score from Antonio Galloni – it is not hard to see why. What’s more, whereas the Produttori del Barbaresco 2013s require cellaring, the Ciabot Mentin is just entering its drinking window.

Showing that Piedmont is not all about Nebbiolo, Giacomo Conterno’s Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia 2013 fills the remaining spot. The group’s only Buzz Brand, this would be an excellent way to sample one of Giacomo Conterno’s wines at a fraction of the cost of the domaine’s top cuvées – the hallowed Monfortino Riserva costs £608 per bottle on average.

Prices per bottle are provided by our price partner, Wine Owners, whose own proprietary algorithms process millions of rows of incoming price data from Wine-Searcher to calculate a more realistic market level price – the price at which a wine is likely to find a ready buyer – based on market supply and spread models. As lower retail prices are likely to sell first, the prices you see on Wine Lister may be below the Wine-Searcher average in some instances.


Piedmont prevails over Tuscany with Economics scores

Confirming the outstanding economic performance of Piedmont’s top crus, Italy’s top five wines for economics all hail from Barolo and Barbaresco. Tuscany doesn’t get a look-in. Featuring just two producers – Giacomo Conterno and Bruno Giacosa – this week’s listed section boasts wines achieving outstanding Economics scores of over 960.

Wine Lister’s Economics score combines five criteria: three-month average price, six-month-price performance, three-year compound average growth rate (CAGR), price stability, and liquidity (volume traded).

A three-month average price of £595 per bottle tips the Economics rating in favour of Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino Riserva, which scores a mighty 978. Its three-month average price is over double that of the second-most expensive wine.

Seven points behind in second place is the Barbaresco Asili Riserva from Giacosa’s Azienda Agricola Falletto, with an Economics score of 971. Just one point behind that, in third place, with an Economics score of 970, Giacomo Conterno’s second wine to make the top five is the Barolo (Cascina) Francia. Following a slump in its score at the end of 2016, it bounced back January and continued to rise throughout the year.

Score blog image

Giacosa’s Azienda Agricola Falletto Barbaresco Rabajà is fourth-highest with a score of 963. This wine has the strongest three-year CAGR of the group, at 27.5%.

Bruno Giacosa’s third entry, completing the top five with an Economics score of 963, is his Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva. It has the highest liquidity of the group, with 500 bottles of its top five vintages traded in the past year.

Top 5 Italians

All of the top five hold Buzz Brand status, but their soaring prices equate to lower price stability across the group, averaging 8.6% standard deviation compared to 7.1% for the top five Tuscan wines by Economics score. Piedmont might offer more potential upside, but by definition this makes it riskier investment territory.


Piedmont and Burgundy prices march ahead

In this blog we look at the price performance of five major fine wine regions over the past two years. Wine Lister’s regional indices use price data from Wine Owners, and each comprises the top five brands in its respective region (according to the Wine Lister Brand score).

In Bordeaux, for example, the top five strongest brands (measured by looking at restaurant presence and online search frequency), are the five first growths, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton. Posting gains of 28% over two years, and largely stagnating over the last year, the Wine Lister Bordeaux index is the worst performer of the five wine price indices shown below.

WL price indices Image 24_10_17

Piedmont, meanwhile, has enjoyed a remarkable couple of years. Not only has its index grown by an astonishing 58% over the period, it has also been very consistent, experiencing just three months of negative growth – November 2015, May 2016, and April 2017. Sustained high growth rates suggest a region in demand. The Wine Lister Piedmont index consists of two wines from Gaja – Barbaresco and Sperss (now labelled as a Barolo again after several years of declassification to Langhe Nebbiolo), two Barolos from Conterno – the Monfortino and the Cascina Francia, and finally Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo.

Next comes the Burgundy index (consisting entirely of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines), which has grown by more than 50% over the past 24 months, but with a few more blips. It decreased in value by 4% in December 2015, only managing to recover in March 2016. In a repeat of this festive dip, the index dropped over 5% in December 2016, but recovered the losses in just one month on this occasion. It has started to close the gap on Piedmont over recent months, adding over 15% since May.

Tuscany and California* made similar gains to Bordeaux over the period – up 33% and 29% respectively. The Tuscany index has progressed fairly serenely over the past two years, thanks to its liquid Super Tuscan components. Meanwhile the prices of California’s top wines have been less consistent, enduring a fall of nearly 9% in October 2015, recovering with a dramatic 8% rise in February 2016. This year, having enjoyed strong gains during February and March, their growth rate has since cooled off, adding just 1.5% over the past six months.

*As you will know, California has suffered tragic wildfires in recent weeks. Wine Lister’s partner critic, Vinous, is donating to relevant charities the profits from all maps purchased before the end of November 2018.

 


Five icons that saw searches rise in September

The annual spate of releases in September has influenced this month’s gainers in online search frequency. For the third consecutive month, Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut has seen the largest increase in average monthly searches, which we calculate using three-month data from Wine-Searcher measured against the previous period. Dom Pérignon 2009 was released in early September, and the wine’s increase of 5,154 searches is the largest incremental monthly increase seen this year, taking it to 60,241 average searches per month: the highest of any Champagne and fifth highest of all wines.

Following last month’s narrowing of regions within the top five (only two were featured), the breadth in September significantly increased, with icons from California, Bordeaux, Piedmont, and Chile joining Champagne. The number of searches has also increased dramatically after the summer slowdown, with 19 wines seeing an increase of over 1,000 average monthly searches. The release of Opus One 2014 at the beginning of September – judged “a gorgeous wine” by our partner critic Antonio Galloni – has boosted interest in this Napa Valley stalwart, with an increase of 4,651 searches taking it to over 40,000 searches per month.

Search data_October

Château d’Yquem is another wine to see online search frequency rise on the back of a September release. The 2015 was released alongside Opus One 2014 at €250 ex-négociant.

The next in the table, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, has the lowest search frequency of any of the wines above, with an average 10,075 per month. Nevertheless, with an overall Wine Lister score of 941/1,000 the wine is one of the great names of Barolo: the fourth best overall on Wine Lister.

Almaviva celebrated its twentieth anniversary in June, while its producer Viña Concha y Toro has recently entered the global ranking inside the Top 10 Beverages category within the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time. With the release of Almaviva 2015 in early September adding to the interest, the wine has seen an increase of 2,858 online monthly searches, taking it to 11,291.


Usher in autumn with Piedmont’s strongest brands

With the days quickly shortening and misty mornings become the norm, we bid farewell to rosé for the year and welcome back old favourites. Autumn is the perfect season for Piedmontese reds, which are not only so redolent of mist-covered hills, but also pair perfectly with the region’s food at this time of year. With that in mind, this week’s Listed section features Piedmont’s top five wines by Brand score.

Listed - Top 5 Piedmont Brand Scores

Whilst Barolo might be the region’s most famous appellation, it is Gaja Barbaresco that tops the table with an outstanding Brand score of 976. It performs extremely well across both of Wine Lister’s Brand criteria – restaurant presence and online popularity – coming first and second respectively. It is visible in 33% of the most prestigious establishments worldwide, and attracts more than 8,400 searches on Wine-Searcher each month.

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva comes next (968). The first of three Wine Lister Buzz Brands in the group, it is by far the most expensive. Receiving on average 9,358 searches each month on Wine-Searcher, it is also the most popular wine in the group. Interestingly, despite experiencing the lowest restaurant presence (23%), it enjoys the greatest depth in terms of number of vintages and formats listed (4.4) – testament to its extraordinary ageing potential of over 24 years.

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (of “no barrique, no Berlusconi” fame) fills the third spot. This staunchly traditional producer enjoys its best scores in the Brand category, with its excellent search frequency of over 7,000 searches each month helping it to a score of 960.

The last two spots are filled by another wine each from Giacomo Conterno and Gaja – Barolo Francia (formerly Casina Francia) and  Sperss (now labelled as Barolo again from the 2013 vintage after 17 years declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo) [Friday fun fact – Gaja now labels wines under the Europe-wide DOP classification rather than the strictly Italian DOC status]. Both wines have strong restaurant presence, at 30% and 31% respectively. Either would be a perfect accompaniment to Alba’s famous white truffles, which will be starting to appear in some of those restaurants now.


Value for money? Look to Bordeaux

One of Wine Lister’s four Indicators, Value Picks identify the wines and vintages which have the best quality to price ratio, with a proprietary weighting giving more importance to quality, thus giving the finest wines a look-in.

With the latest price data in, 28 new wines have recently qualified as Value Picks. While Value Picks are calculated using a three-month average bottle score for accuracy (in order to take into account any price fluctuations), we have shown the current price per bottle below for ease of comparison. Please note that the price shown is excluding duty and VAT, and often reflects prices available only when purchasing a full case:

Value Picks_2017

Bordeaux dominates the new Value Picks, filling 11 of the 28 spots. Margaux’s Prieuré-Lichine seems a particularly keenly-priced brand at the moment, with both its 2015 and 2016 vintages now Value Picks. With Wine Lister Quality scores of 891 and 912 respectively – very strong and amongst the strongest on Wine Lister’s 1000 point scale – and both priced under £30, they represent excellent value buys. Within Bordeaux, Pessac-Léognan is home to the highest number of new Value Picks. Of those, two are white, with Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2014 and Château Olivier 2015 achieving very similar Quality scores (809 and 806 respectively), and each priced at just £20.

The other wine to feature twice in the latest update is Domaine de Cristia Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with its 2010 and 2007 vintages. The former, which achieves a Quality score of 763, is available at just £18 per bottle. With plenty of life left in it, it looks like a great buy.

Three Piedmontese wines recently qualified as Value Picks – M. Marengo Barolo Brunate 2010, Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia 2010, and La Spinetta (Rivetti) Barbera d’Alba Gallina 2007. All three achieve powerful Wine Lister Quality scores of over 900 points. You might buy Giacomo Conterno’s wines to impress – the Barolo Cascina Francia is a Wine Lister Buzz Brand, but also averages £157 per bottle. If you’re looking for something more appropriate for a weeknight, the 2010 vintage of the same producer’s Barbera d’Alba, priced at just £30, would be an excellent Value Pick – a perfect example of how Wine Lister’s indicators can help you find the right wine for any situation.