“Finché c’è vino c’è speranza” – As long as there is wine, there is hope.
Never before have Italian winegrowers been able to dedicate as much time to the care of their vineyards as in 2020. The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and several further Tuscan producers cite this silver lining to Covid restrictions, and they suspect it will reveal itself in the wine to come. In a year that has caused tribulation across the world, news of Italy’s promising 2020 harvest is certainly welcomed. Wine Lister has spoken to several Italian estates, which reportedly yielded high-quality grapes across the board. While regions – Piedmont and Tuscany – had their respective weather nuances, the general consensus suggests that growing season conditions were balanced, with no mention of hail or storms.
In Montalcino, the Mastrojanni team explained that lockdown prompted improved vineyard inspection in 2020: “[people] couldn’t work indoors in their offices, so the vines received the utmost attention”. They report a “very good harvest” this year, comparing it to the high-scoring 2013. Despite two short heatwaves in July and August, the estate had a mild summer overall, thanks to cooling winds that flow through the Amiata Valley in which its vineyards are situated.
On the other side of Montalcino, Cinelli Colombini reported frost during budburst, which limited the number of grape clusters in 2020. Several other Tuscan producers spoke of reduced volumes due to the cold start to spring (Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 yield is 20% lower than last year). Cinelli Colombini’s Brunello grape harvest was nonetheless of “excellent quality”, and despite it being hard to “shine after a masterpiece of a vintage like 2019”, the team believes it will be “difficult to exclude it from being among the best five vintages of the last 20 years”.
All hands on deck: the 2020 Brunello harvest at Montalcino’s Cinelli Colombini
In Chianti, Castello di Monsanto began picking its Chardonnay grapes on 8th September, and collected its final Sangiovese on 10th October. Third-generation owner, Laura Bianchi, informed us that their spring was mild, with enough rain to create a “perfect” reserve of water for the vines. After the hot and dry August, a wet start to September helped to regulate maturation – a common theme throughout Tuscany in 2020. The grapes thus developed a “great balance of sugar, pH, and phenolic maturation”, and the first fermentation already suggests a vintage of “great personality, rich tannins, and beautiful acidity”. Further east, Vecchie Terre di Montefili started picking on 29th September – late in comparison to other producers, but normal, the team explains, for their vineyards, which lie 500 metres above sea level (and therefore require a longer maturation period).
Less than an hour away, Brancaia finished its harvest on 30th September (having started on the 3rd week of August). The team tells us that they were forced to harvest their Sangiovese quickly before heavy rain arrived, but that they were lucky that the grapes were “the perfect grade of ripeness”. In contrast, IPSUS owner, Giovanni Mazzei, explains that he and winemaker Gionata Pulignani decided to wait until after the extra rain in September before starting the harvest, “to guarantee more balance, extra aromatics, and temper the alcohol content”. In doing so, the hot and dry summer was counterbalanced; Mazzei states that he could indeed “classify the  as a good compromise between cooler and hotter vintages”.
In coastal Maremma, owner and Production Manager at Fattoria Le Pupille, Ettore Rizzi, tells us that 2020 saw a significant threat of powdery mildew across its vines, especially in the thin-skinned varieties of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Syrah. He states that they nonetheless managed to trim the affected bunches and stem the problem, while their Merlot and Cabernet vines also “gave us some incredible fruit”. According to Rizzi, “the word that can best describe the 2020 vintage is concentration” – a consequence of the high temperatures in July and August.
“The final quality of the grapes was really good” – Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2020 Syrah grapes
In Bolgheri, Ornellaia’s Estate Director, Axel Heinz, declared that their 2020 vintage is “shaping up to be one to remember as a great year”. The property saw “textbook perfect conditions until the end of May”, while June saw a lot of rainfall that “accelerated vine growth”, and required lots of work in the vineyard to keep the canopies under control. Summer saw hot and dry conditions, while rain arrived in the last days of August to alleviate drought stress and lower temperatures, encouraging a more even ripening at the last moment. While an unexpected mid-September heatwave made it necessary to pick all three red varieties – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot – simultaneously at speed, Heinz notes that they nonetheless look “very promising in a rich and structured style”.
Moving up to Piedmont, fifth-generation of the esteemed Gaja family, Giovanni Gaja, tells us that they are so far “optimistic” about the 2020 vintage, despite it being early days to evaluate the exact character of the grapes. Their Barbaresco plots witnessed a moderate July, followed by a warm August that was similarly alleviated by rain towards the end of the month. While they required extra efforts to prevent mildew attacks, the final picked grapes appear “very healthy”.
While 2020 has caused much uncertainty, the recent harvest suggests that there is definitely hope for some excellent wine to come from this year, and we look forward to finding out for ourselves in the future.
For those in need of a chilled white wine to help beat the heat, Wine Lister’s latest blog transports you to Italy, examining a selection of dry Italian whites with WL scores of 90 and above. Enjoy any of the below from the comforts of your home:
Abruzzo – Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is one of Italy’s most prominent dry whites, benefitting from remarkable ageing potential that contributes to its frequent comparison with fine white Burgundy. Described by Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic, JancisRobsinon.com as “much too young right now, but huge promise”, the 2013 vintage can be aged for another 20 years, despite already having a “gorgeous nose of spice, flint stone and mandarin fruit”. The quality of its production can be attributed to the estate’s judicious approach to grape selection, using a mere five percent of the harvest from its 170 acres of vineyards to make its own wine, and selling the rest to local co-ops. A Wine Lister MUST BUY, the 2013 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo achieves a WL score of 95 at c.£105 per bottle (in-bond). You can place a bid for this wine on the Berry Bros & Rudd online bidding platform, BBX.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Josko Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla
Situated on the Slovenian border, Josko Gravner has pioneered biodynamic winemaking in Italy. Given the plethora of high-tech winemaking equipment that exists today, his methods can be considered somewhat antiquated – his winery is stripped bare, apart from the necessary electricity for lights. Wines are fermented in underground Amphorae, filled by gravity, and aged in traditional wooden casks. An Italian indigenous grape, the Ribolla is aged for a considerable number of years before release, with the 2009 vintage displaying “fabulous aromas of dried grasses, chamomile, lapsang and smoked orange peel” and a “dry spicy grip”, according to Julia Harding for JancisRobinson.com. With a WL score of 92 at c.£70 per bottle (in-bond), this MUST BUY is available to purchase by the bottle from The Good Wine Shop.
Piedmont – Gaja Langhe Gaia & Rey
Named after Angelo Gaja’s daughter (and now fifth-generation director), Gaia Gaja, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey, Gaia & Rey was first produced in 1983. Made from the first Chardonnay vines to be planted in Piedmont, this wine pioneered the production of exceptional white wines in the Langhe Hills, where production had previously been almost exclusively red. With a WL score of 93, the 2016 vintage can be enjoyed now, or laid down for further ageing. Wine Lister partner critic Antonio Galloni for Vinous describes it as “a gorgeous Chardonnay built on persistence, energy and class. Orchard fruit, citrus, almond and floral notes give the 2016 striking vibrancy”. It is available to purchase by the case of 12 for £939 (in-bond) from Cru World Wine.
Veneto – Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca
The Pieropan family have been producing wines in Soave since the late 1880s, and were the first to bottle wine under the Soave label in the early 1930s. The late Leonildo “Nino” Pieropan, grandson of the estate’s founder, was also the first producer in Soave to make a single-vineyard wine, ‘Calvarino’, in 1971. Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca is made from Garganega grapes grown on La Rocca’s unique terroir, which exists as a limestone outcrop in a sea of Soave’s basalt. Gaining a WL score of 92, and available at less c.£20 per bottle (in-bond), the 2013 vintage is a Wine Lister Value pick. Jancis Robinson describes it as “lively and citrus” with notes of “lemon cream”. It can be bought by the bottle from The Wine Centre.
Also featured in the list of Italian whites with WL scores above 90 are: Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala, Fattoria Zerbina Arrocco Passito, Fattoria Zerbina Scaccomatto Passito, Gaja Langhe Alteni di Brassica, Jermann Capo Martino, Jermann Vintage Tunina, La Castellada Bianco della Castellada, La Castellada Ribolla Gialla, Ornellaia Bianco, and Ornellaia Poggio alle Gazze.
For bespoke fine wine purchase recommendations, as well as advice on collection re-sale, get in touch with our team at email@example.com, or download the full Cellar Analysis information pack.
With so many interesting offers coming in from different merchants, it can be tricky to keep track of what wine you have, let alone where it is, and when it should be drunk. To help you get the most out of your wine collection, Wine Lister has opened up its data analysis and fine wine expertise to private clients, who can now commission all kinds of portfolio analysis, from detailed geographical split and purchase advice, to investment forecasting and a fully-fledged “drink vs. sell” plan.
Wine Lister’s “fantasy cellar”
The current list of Wine Lister MUST BUYs – wines showing notable quality and value within their respective vintages and appellations, and wide praise from the international trade – is 1,728 picks strong. While the Wine Lister team would love to own (and enjoy) all of them, below is a short selection to be put away and enjoyed at their best in five, ten, and twenty years, respectively.
Riesling to reserve
With remarkable ageing potential, and good value across the board, Riesling constitutes a brilliant white addition to any wine collection. To be opened within ten years, the 2018 A. Christmann Idig Riesling Grosses Gewächs hails from Germany’s famed Mosel, and is described by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson as “the thinking-person’s Riesling”. She notes the “understatement of individual components” in the wine, “which allows the taster to focus on balance and elegance”. Creeping over the border into the Alsace, where Riesling tends to be drier in style, Albert Mann’s 2008 Schlossberg l’Epicentre is ready but will improve – offering optimum enjoyment within the next five years. Another Alsatian, the 2010 Marcel Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim can endure another 20 years of ageing, also providing a reliable white to add to any cellar. Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, describes its “perfumed aromas of nectarine, apple blossom, minerals and honey”, calling it “vibrant and penetrating”. With notable value for their quality, the three Rieslings achieve a shared WL score of 96, at £54, £98, and £59 per bottle (in bond), respectively. For something to stash away, the latter is available by the case of six from Millésima UK.
Burgundy on standby
Louis Jadot Corton Charlemagne 2012 is a similarly reliable white to be stored in the cellar, achieving a WL score of 95 at £126 per bottle (in-bond). Barrel-fermented and aged for a further eight to ten months in 100% new oak barrels, the wine has developed complexity and enhanced ageing potential. Production in 2012 was kept notably small – indeed winemaker Frédéric Barnier states, “it is critical to control the yields in Corton-Charlemagne to make a wine of real Grand Cru quality.” It can be purchased by the case of 12 from Fine+Rare Wines, and can be opened within five years. Burgundy also offers an abundance of reds with promising ageing potential, including the 2010 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques, and the 2012 Vougeraie Corton Clos Du Roi. Both wines achieve a WL score of 95, at £192 and £90 per bottle (in-bond), respectively.
Champagne to store
A sure pick to pop open within five years, the 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal was aged on lees for six years, before being matured for a further eight years in bottle after its disgorgement in 2009. Wine Lister partner critic, Jeannie Cho Lee notes that it is a “gorgeous Cristal with a fine line of acidity running through it – it vibrates on the palate”. With a WL score of 96, at £192 per bottle (in-bond), it is available in cases of three from Vinum Fine Wines. With an identical WL score of 96, the 2008 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses can be acquired by the case of six for £850 (in bond) from Justerini & Brooks, to be enjoyed within the next decade.
New World to wait for
For some New World picks that are worth putting away for the future, Napa Valley offerings include the 2005 Bond Vecina (owned by the famed Harlan family) and the 2010 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia. In regards to the former, Antonio Galloni stated that he would “prefer to cellar it, as the future for this wine is unquestionably very, very bright”. With a WL score of 97, at £347 per bottle (in-bond) it is an opulent option to be enjoyed within the next twenty years. Of the 2010 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia, Galloni states similarly that “the 2010 will enjoy a long drinking window once it softens”. Achieving a WL score of 96, at £158 per bottle (in-bond), it is available in cases of six from Goedhuis & Co.
Also featured in the above MUST BUY recommendations are: 2016 Cheval des Andes, 2016 La Conseillante, 2015 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve, 2015 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, 2012 Marc Sorrel Hermitage Le Gréal, 2009 Margaux, 2007 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio, 2006 Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Unico, 2006 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco, 2006 Gaja Barolo Sperss, and 1996 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.
For personalised, impartial fine wine purchase recommendations, as well as further wine collection analysis, get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or download the full Cellar Analysis information pack.
Part I of Wine Lister’s annual in-depth Bordeaux report: For better, for worse, examines the state of the market for Bordeaux wines, in the context of 2019 en primeur.
As well as providing insight into the wine trade’s latest position on key wines of the region, the study examines Bordeaux’s disconnect between consumer popularity and its market performance at the start of 2020 (exacerbated by recent macro-economic hits to the UK, Hong Kong, and the US).
As illustrated below, Bordeaux has achieved the slowest price growth on the secondary market since May 2014, while Piedmont has seen the most impressive growth – likely due to increasing attention given to the region, and the rarity factor of many of its top wines, from which Burgundy also benefits.
The price performance of Bordeaux compared to four other key fine wine regions: Burgundy, California, Piedmont, and Tuscany. The price indices comprise the top five wine brands in each respective region.
A glance at its price performance since May 2019 tells a similar, if more unnerving story – Bordeaux has floundered over the past year, down nearly 5%.
Despite its price performance difficulties, Bordeaux nonetheless continues its legacy as the most popular wine region by a large margin, based on monthly searches made on Wine-Searcher.
The average search rank of Bordeaux compared to four other key fine wine regions: Burgundy, California, Piedmont, and Tuscany. Results are based on the average searches on Wine-Searcher for the 50 top-scoring wines per region over the last year.
Irrespective of its price performance struggles, Bordeaux remains a focus of fine wine buyers – within the trade and beyond – all over the world. The en primeur campaign is a wheel that just keeps on turning, even in spite of a global pandemic. Trade and consumers alike can’t help but back Bordeaux, for richer and poorer.
More insight into the success of the 2019 en primeur campaign will be included in Part II of this study. In the meantime, visit the Analysis page to purchase Part I, or download using your Pro subscription (available in both English and French).
An Easter weekend on lockdown presents as good a time as ever to evaluate your wine collection. While it can be tricky to keep track of what you’ve got and when you should drink it, Wine Lister’s various online tools allow detailed analysis of your collection and can guide future purchases, whether for drinking or investment.
This week’s blog post examines two of the most popular Wine Lister website features amongst collectors, starting with the MUST BUY recommendation tool.
Wine Lister’s proprietary recommendation algorithm produces a dynamic list of wines with high quality that show value within their respective vintages and appellations, helping wine lovers buying at almost every level to make the best choices for their desired region, style, or vintage.
There are currently 1,665 MUST BUYs out of the 30,000+ labels on Wine Lister. See the chart below for a breakdown of MUST BUYs by region – an indication of what a diverse portfolio could look like for the modern collector.
While the same chart from a decade ago may have been dominated by Bordeaux, the global demand and secondary market values for Burgundy’s top wines have continued to spiral upwards. Burgundy represents the greatest percentage of MUST BUY wines, with red and white recommendations accounting for 33% of all MUST BUYs collectively. The red Burgundian MUST BUYs feature a range of prices starting from the most expensive, DRC’s Romanée-Conti 2015 (available at £14,500 per bottle in-bond), down to 64 wines priced at £100 or under, including Stéphane Magnien’s Clos Saint-Denis 2010 (available at £76 per bottle).
Bordeaux represents 13% of MUST BUYS, and also encompasses a wide range of prices, from six vintages of Petrus (with an average price of £1,990 per bottle) down to two vintages of Marsau (priced at £12 and £13 respectively). Tuscany, Piedmont, and the Rhône follow closely behind, while California makes up the largest proportion of New world MUST BUYs.
With so much MUST BUY choice available, you may wish to filter these by top regions, and then further by Wine Lister Indicator. For example, filter results by ‘Investment staples’ to see wines that are long-lived (but not too old), and have proven wine price performance, while staying relatively stable and liquid.
Wine Lister’s Compare tool can then further refine your investigation, by displaying your selected MUST BUYs side by side. This is illustrated below using three 2016 Saint-Estèphe MUST BUYs – Cos d’Estournel, Calon Ségur, and Montrose. While Calon Ségur appears to be the best value, Montrose has the highest scores from Wine Lister’s partner critics, and therefore the better WL score overall.
See the above comparison for yourself, or start your own wine comparison here.
Wine Lister is currently offering a range of portfolio analysis services to private clients, from detailed geographical split and further purchase advice, to investment forecasting and a fully-fledged “drink vs. sell” plan. If you are interested in having your wine collection analysed by our team of fine wine data experts, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
This week Wine Lister published its first in-depth study of 2020, focusing on the leading wines and producers of Piedmont.
The key takeaways from the report prove Piedmont to be somewhat of an enigmatic region, earning high praise from critics, and experiencing strong long- and short- term price performance, while still lagging behind in terms of consumer popularity.
While this is perhaps a consequence of Nebbiolo’s relative obscurity when compared with international grape varieties, Piedmont’s unique position – a veritable treasure trove of gems to uncover – presents a real opportunity both for vinous discovery and future value.
Wine Lister Pro members can read the full Piedmont report here. All free users can purchase the report for £200 from Wine Lister’s Analysis page.
Below we examine the top Barolos and Barbarescos by WL score.
Giacomo Conterno takes both first and second places in the ranking of Barolos by WL score. The icon wine, Barolo Monfortino Riserva is the only Piedmont wine to earn a WL score of 97, while the Barolo Francia shares its score of 96 with the Barolo Riserva from the legendary Bruno Giacosa’s négociant outfit, Azienda Agricola Falletto, as well as the two highest-scoring Barbarescos (see below).
While earning joint-second place for the straight Barolo Riserva, Falletto also features for two site-specific bottlings, the Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva and Barolo Villero di Castiglione Falleto, making the renowned house the joint-most prolific producer in the top Barolo rankings shown. It shares this position with Vietti, which earns WL 95 for its Villero Riserva, Ravera, and Rocche di Castiglione Barolos.
Elio Altare’s Barolo Brunate is the most reasonably priced of these top 12 Barolos, with an average price of £112 per bottle in-bond (when purchased by the case). Both of Roberto Voerzio’s highest-scoring wines, the Sarmassa and Brunate, follow with average prices of £152 and £165 respectively.
Eight Barbarescos achieve a WL score of 95 or above. The appearance of multiple wines per producer is accentuated here, with Roagna and Gaja earning three places apiece, followed by two Barbarescos from Falletto (totalling seven wines in Falletto’s hoard of WL scores of 95 and above).
Both sets of rankings provide useful leads in terms of producers to look out for, particularly heading into further releases of Barolo’s latest vintage, 2016, in the spring. For more specific recommendations of further Piedmontese wines and back vintages, see the region’s full list of MUST BUYs, and / or Piedmont’s Hidden Gems.
With Burgundy 2018 en primeur in full swing, soaring prices for some of Burgundy’s best can add to the January blues. While Burgundy prices tend to rise more quickly after release than any other region (making the en primeur buying system therefore extremely worthwhile), other regions provide better sources of good value wines for drinking, rather than cellaring for future consumption. To wave goodbye to any remaining blues as January come to a close, Wine Lister therefore looks this week at Value Picks from across fine wine regions.
Wine Lister’s Value Pick algorithm simply flags wines with the best quality-to-price ratios of all the wines in our database. A coefficient is applied to allow exceptional quality to be recognised, even for higher-priced wines.
The chart below shows the top nine regions for red Value Picks, and their average price per region.
Italy takes the lead for number of best-value wines overall, with 227 Value Picks from across three regions – Tuscany, Piedmont, and Campania. Indeed, the top 10 Value Picks by WL score all hail from Tuscany, with wines such as Fontodi’s Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Riserva, Isole e Olena’s Collezione Privata Syrah, and Castello dei Rampolla’s Sammarco making the cut.
Piedmont does not go wanting for Value Picks, with a wide range of suggestions, from Domenico Clerico’s Barolo Ciabot Mentin to Vietti’s Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco.
France also does well for Value Picks, with 210 reds entries between Bordeaux and the Rhône. The former region has the lowest average price of all Value Pick regions shown above (£17.47 per bottle in-bond – when buying a full case), and includes Crus Classés from across appellations such as Malartic-Lagravière Rouge and Grand Mayne, as well as some second wines of Grands Crus châteaux (e.g. Pichon Comtesse’s Réserve de la Comtesse, and La Dame de Montrose).
The Rhône is home to 93 Value Picks from both north and south, and provides a list particularly strong in back vintages. Entries include Ferraton’s Hermitage Les Dionnières 2004, and Clusel Roch’s Côte Rôtie 2009.
The new world is well-represented by Value Picks from Australia across the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. California also makes an appearance, although perhaps expectedly, its 10 Value Picks earn the highest average price of any region shown in the chart above.
Search through all red Value Picks here.
Burgundy is, quite noticeably, missing from the top red Value Picks chart. It achieves just four in total: 2002 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin, 2003 Confuron-Cotetidot Echezeaux, 2017 Bertrand Ambroise Nuits-Saint-Georges, and 2007 Bouchard Volnay Clos des Chênes. However, Burgundy is much more present for whites – watch this space for white Value Picks later in the week.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.