Bordeaux MUST BUYs

Faced with a new generation of fine wine buyers seeking more of the “weird and wonderful”, let alone recent economic obstacles – Coronavirus keeping drinkers off the streets, US tariffs on European wines – Bordeaux can struggle to find space to thrive.

Bordeaux’s traditional image compared to more fashionable regions such as Burgundy, Piedmont, or Champagne means its prices are lagging behind. The silver lining is that Bordeaux appears excellent value for the high quality available in comparison.

Wine Lister’s dynamic buy recommendation tool currently identifies 219 Bordeaux wines as MUST BUYs – just 19 fewer than the original MUST BUY list from September 2019.

The above table shows each Bordeaux appellation by number of MUST BUYs, as well as average price and WL score of each MUST BUY appellation group. Marking the delayed opportunity presented by slow price evolution post-en primeur, 2016 is the most-featured vintage, achieving 40 entries out of the 219 Bordeaux MUST BUYs (or 18%).

Leading MUST BUY appellation Pessac-Léognan is made up of 28 reds and eight dry whites. Producer Domaine de Chevalier features particularly heavily, earning MUST BUY status for 1981, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2018 for its red wine, and 2004, 2009, 2010, and 2013 for white. Its second red wine, L’Esprit de Chevalier, appears for the 2016 vintage.

Smith Haut Lafitte and La Mission Haut-Brion share the remaining white places between them, while Haut-Bailly, Haut-Brion, Latour-Martillac, and Malartic-Lagravière achieve multiple entries for reds only. Price-rising superstar Les Carmes Haut Brion features for just one vintage – the 2017.

Right bank appellations Saint-Emilion and Pomerol share second place, with 33 MUST BUYs each. They both earn slightly better average WL scores than Pessac-Léognan, but at prices 26% and 366% higher respectively on average than Pessac counterparts.

The large price difference is hardly surprising in Pomerol, given that its MUST BUY hoard includes five vintages of Petrus, and one of Le Pin. Without these, the average price of Pomerol MUST BUYs is £171, and there are still options at the more affordable end (such as 2016 Vray Croix de Gay).

Powerhouse Pauillac comes next, and includes 14 first growth entries. Mouton takes the lion’s share of these, featuring seven vintages from 1996-2018. Latour earns five places (including one much older vintage – 1964), and Lafite two. Pichon Comtesse also features heavily, earning five MUST BUYs for its grand vin, and one for the Réserve de la Comtesse.

In terms of pure value for money, the one MUST BUY from the Médoc appellation – Potensac 2018 – wins out, followed more generally by Saint-Estèphe’s 22 MUST BUY entries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its crowned king is Calon Ségur, earning MUST BUY status for five vintages – 2005, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Explore all 219 Bordeaux MUST BUYs here.


Bordeaux 2017 in bottle: top dogs and underdogs

2017 was perhaps the most difficult of recent Bordeaux vintages. Looking back at our harvest report on this frost-ridden vintage, the Wine Lister team attended the annual UGC re-tasting with some trepidation last week.

Indeed, new president of the Union des Grands Crus Classés, Ronan Laborde, reminded us that 2017 had been a “vintage of challenges”, requiring “patience, determination, and energy” to battle against the frost. Even still, some producers lost their entire crop, and many that didn’t produced their “smallest quantities of recent years”.

Troubled though the vintage might have been, you wouldn’t know it from the hoards of London trade that flocked to taste Bordeaux’s latest deliverable vintage, nor indeed from many of the wines we tasted, which followed a general trend of being exceedingly approachable.

Out of some 120 wines tasted, the Wine Lister team highlights its selection of 17 top dogs, and four underdogs below.

The team’s highlights include five out of the six 2017 Bordeaux WL MUST BUYs (vs. 19 in 2018 Bordeaux), while the other 16 are those we felt showed the best of those in attendance at the UGC tasting, in the context of the 2017 vintage.

Saint-Julien was our top-performing red appellation, with exemplary wines such as “poised” Léoville Barton, as well as two great successes from Domaines Henri Martin: Saint-Pierre was a “real triumph in the vintage,”, while underdog Gloria was “lithe, lovely, and beguiling”. Elsewhere on the left bank, Margaux and Pauillac earn three highlights apiece, including “hedonistic” Giscours and Wine Lister’s top pick of the tasting, “magical, brooding” Pichon Comtesse.

Pessac-Léognan performed equally well for whites as reds. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc was “explosive yet precise”, and underdog Latour-Martillac Blanc showed impressive roundness and balance. Haut Bailly had “an incredible elegance”, while Les Carmes Haut Brion showed “purity and savoury spice”.

Saint-Emilion’s Figeac was the best of the right bank bunch – “muscular” in texture but balanced by “succulent fruit”. Pomerol was well-represented by “floral and velveteen” Clinet, and “powerful” Petit Village.

Other wines included in Wine Lister’s 2017 tasting highlights are: Rauzan-Ségla, D’Armailhac, Lynch Bages, Bouscaut, La Gaffelière, Canon, Beychevelle, and Malartic-Lagravière Blanc.


Bordeaux wines that the trade is backing

Included in Part II of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study 2019 (released last week), are results of our latest trade survey. Wine Lister asks its Founding Members (c.50 key players in the global fine wine trade) to give “confidence” ratings to more than 100 key Bordeaux wines on a scale of 0 to 10; 0 being zero confidence.

For the third consecutive year, no Bordeaux wine received a perfect 10/10. Wines retaining their 9/10 confidence rating since last year are Le Pin, Margaux, Mouton, and Petrus. Joining them in 2019 are Lafleur, Latour, and Vieux Châteaux Certan – the latter being a particular source of interest, given its average price of £139, or just 13% of the average of the rest of the group.

Meanwhile the two remaining left bank first growths, Haut-Brion and Lafite, have slipped down into the next confidence band, receiving an average of 8/10. Saint-Émilion superstar, Canon, has also moved down one point since last year, despite also being cited by the same trade group as a wine seeing the sharpest rise in demand, and a wine of likely future prestige.

The 8/10 category contains 24 wines, compared with 21 in 2018. New entries into the 8/10 category include two of the best performers en primeur – Beychevelle and Les Carmes Haut-Brion. Others moving up to this category are Cos d’Estournel, Les Forts de Latour, and Léoville Barton.

The improved confidence in Pomerol within the top two groups is noticeable, with Lafleur and Vieux Château Certan effectively taking the places of Canon and Lafite, and two wines from the Moueix stable – La Fleur-Pétrus and Trotanoy moving up into the 8/10 category this year (at the expense of Ausone, La Mission Haut-Brion, Léoville Poyferré, Montrose, and Palmer, which have all moved down into the 7/10 group). As well as earning high confidence, Pomerol also achieves the highest number of wines in the 2018 Quality top-25.

Visit Wine Lister’s Analysis page to buy and/or download the full report, and see confidence ratings for all other wines in the study (available in both English and French).


Bordeaux 2009 vintage tasting highlights

Wine Lister is experiencing a touch of Bordeaux fever. Having re-tasted Bordeaux 2016s in January, Wine Lister’s founder, Ella, attended BI Wines’ “10 years on” tasting last week, revisiting the iconic 2009 vintage.

As expected, the vintage yielded some truly exceptional wines, thanks to excellent weather conditions, especially around harvest time. However, some producers fell into the trap of waiting too long to pick, and high quality in 2009 is not a given. Ella has picked out 26 of the most successful examples of a unique and pleasure-giving vintage, hailing from across all of the best-known red wine Bordeaux appellations (N.B. no white wines were tasted).

The most heterogenous appellation was Saint-Emilion, with some wines rendered hot and hard by high alcohol, while those at the very top level were some of the best 2009s out there. Cheval Blanc, for example, achieved a “mystical, beguiling bouquet…like a magic potion”.

Pomerol did not seem to suffer from the heat in the same way, and made beautiful wines in 2009. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Le Pin garnered some exceptional comments, including “the richest, most decadent, abundant nose of the whole tasting”. Other Pomerol picks displayed an unusually dark-fruited character. Petrus (“not worn on the sleeve like the Le Pin”), had a “refined dark fruit character”, Hosanna “piercing damson fruit”, and La Conseillante boasted a “carnal, purple-fruit sweetness”.

On the left bank, Pessac-Léognan and Saint-Julien achieve joint-first place, earning five highlights each. Arguably the most impressive of these were La Mission Haut-Brion and Haut-Brion with the former described as “sensual, ethereal, and breath-taking”. Pape Clément showed almost “Rhône-esque animality”, while Malartic-Lagravière was “opulent” and “left you wanting more”.

Saint-Julien presented expected names – second growths Gruaud-Larose and Léoville Barton (described as “ultra-classical” and “thoroughbred” respectively), as well as a surprise in the form of Château Gloria, the only Cru Bourgeois to make it into this list of Bordeaux 2009 tasting highlights.

The remaining left bank appellations did not go wanting of favourites. Latour earned the comment, “impeccably turned-out, this wine demands attention”. Elsewhere in Pauillac Pichon Comtesse was “beguiling” and “gradually confident”.

In Margaux the appellation’s first growth namesake was hailed “quite the showstopper”, while Brane-Cantenac was “lifted, lovely, and luminous”. While Saint-Estèphe earned only one mention, its representative, Montrose surpassed expectation, appearing “supremely poised”.

All those wines marked “*” above currently qualify as Wine Lister “buy recommendations”. The Wine Lister team has been working hard to create a data-driven list of the ultimate best wines to buy – watch this space while we fine-tune the algorithm!

Other wines featuring in the Bordeaux 2009 highlights are: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon Baron, Haut-Bailly, Angélus, Figeac, Pavie, Troplong Mondot, Branaire-Ducru, and Ducru Beaucaillou.


Bordeaux 2016 top dogs and underdogs – part II (right bank)

Yesterday we examined Wine Lister founder, Ella Lister’s top left bank picks from the recent re-tasting of 204 Bordeaux 2016s, now in bottle.

Almost as many wines stood out across appellations on the right bank, from a tasting the following day of 171 wines – testament to the fantastic quality available across the board in 2016. There is no doubting 2016 is a great vintage in Bordeaux. Tasting these wines from bottle only served to confirm the Wine Lister team’s enthusiasm during en primeur tastings in the spring of 2017. Revisit our blog post from the time for details of the unusual weather conditions behind this vintage.

Wine Lister right bank highlights include 11 Saint-Emilion wines vs. 10 in Pomerol, and the top pick overall was Figeac, which was “intellectual”, “fine-boned” and “gourmand”.

Several of its well-known Saint-Emilion neighbours also made the cut into Wine Lister tasting highlights, including Canon ( “feather-light, but generous”), Clos Fourtet, and La Gaffelière.

N.B. The tasting did not include wines such as Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Château Certan, Trotanoy, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, or Pavie.

However, it was Pomerol that produced more “underdogs” than its neighbour: not-so-big names punching above their weight. Of particular note were Clos Vieux Taillefer and La Croix Saint-Georges.

Among Pomerol top dogs, La Violette was showing beautifully, with a “delicate, fresh” nose and “unctuous, satin” palate. Vray Croix de Gay was “refined” and “thoroughbred”, while La Conseillante produced a “gorgeous, fine-grained texture”.

Further afield, Domaine de l’A from the Côtes de Castillon impressed, as did Marsau, from Francs Côtes de Bordeaux.

Also included in Bordeaux 2016 right bank picks were: Gazin, Saint Pierre, Le Gay, Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau Lagarrosse, Larcis Ducasse, Angélus, Villemaurine, Fleur Cardinale, Clos René, Corbin, and Petit Figeac.


The Bordeaux 2018 harvest: another 2010?

As ripe, healthy grapes are being picked across Bordeaux, winemakers are anything but shy about the potential of the 2018 vintage. “2015 and 2016 are five-star vintages, but 2009 and 2010 are five-star plus,” said Olivier Bernard, president of the Union des Grands Crus Classés de Bordeaux. At his own property in Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier, “2018 has 2009-2010 potential,” he declared on Wednesday morning, just as the red harvest was beginning.

Bernard is not the only Bordeaux producer daring to hope that the region has another great vintage on its way into the cellars. Part of the Wine Lister team is just back from four days in Bordeaux, where we visited châteaux on right bank and left, from Saint-Estèphe in the very north to Pessac-Léognan south of the city. We tasted lots of berries, spoke to oenologists, and even picked some grapes.

Members of the picking team at Petrus during the 2018 harvest

Producers’ smiles were big, and all the signs were promising, but after such a rollercoaster growing season, can 2018 really match up to the historic pair of 2009 and 2010? I asked straight-talking winemaking consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt if this comparison was justified. “More 2010,” he confirmed, adding, “There are going to be some delicious wines.”

Spring in Bordeaux was interminably wet, and mildew a serious threat throughout the region. “We thought there might not be a harvest at all,” recalls Nicolas Audebert, Managing Director of Châteaux Canon and Rauzan-Ségla. “It rained non-stop, and with high humidity and the high temperatures in June, it was almost tropical,” he said. Some members of Audebert’s team had never seen mildew so rife in 40 years of working the vines in Bordeaux.

Many top producers were affected, especially those practising organic or biodynamic viticulture and therefore unable to treat the vines systematically to protect from the fungus. In Saint-Estèphe, at the top of the Gironde Estuary nearest the Atlantic Ocean, Lafon-Rochet, organic since 2010 (though uncertified), abandoned the practice this year, and for good, in order to fight the rain.

However, mildew “is primarily a problem for quantity, rather than quality,” explained Axel Marchal, consultant and researcher at Bordeaux University, because the affected grapes are easily removed and discarded. “Badly hit vines can see a slight quality impact too, if the stress caused to the plant is enough to delay maturity,” he clarified.

At Canon in Saint-Emilion, quantity lost to mildew was recouped by less green harvesting later in the season. Its larger Margaux sister property, Rauzan-Ségla, was not so lucky, and yields will be lower than average. The two properties are organic (again not certified), allowing them to treat the vines when “really necessary”. However, many strictly organic or biodynamic estates will produce much smaller quantities of wine this year, meaning yields will be very varied from château to château, ranging from around 15 hl/ha to 50 hl/ha or more.

Grapes ripe for picking at Petrus

Potential quantity started off high, with the rain acting as “a signal for the plant to produce lots of fruit,” explained Bernard. The incessant spring downpours had another positive effect: they left the ground full of water, helping the vines to withstand the hot, dry summer that unfolded from 20th June onwards. “Looking at our vines, it’s hard to believe it’s been one of the driest summers in 50 years,” marvelled Bernard.

Audebert thinks the 2018 Canon will be soft and rounded, but livelier than 2005 or 2009, with phenolic potential above that of the 2010 (which of course is renowned for its intense colour and high levels of ripe tannin). When I asked if it could be as good as 2010, my question was met with silence and a roguish smile.


Listed: Bordeaux’s five most expensive Buzz Brands

This week’s top five require absolutely no introduction. As Buzz Brands – Wine Lister’s group of wines that achieve outstanding online popularity and restaurant presence, and are also identified by the global fine wine trade as trending or especially prestigious – that is perhaps a given. Couple that with the fact that they hail from Bordeaux, and are the region’s most expensive Buzz Brands, it would be nigh on impossible for you not to be familiar with them to some degree.

Pomerol is home to three of the five. With the limited production volumes of the plateau’s top wines, it is perhaps no surprise that they reach eye-watering prices. Petrus leads the way with an average price across all vintages of £2,111. It is Bordeaux’s best wine, and the fifth best in the world, its phenomenal score of 983 only bettered by Salon and three (!) DRC cuvées. Petrus is consistently brilliant across Wine Lister’s three rating categories with Quality, Brand, and Economics scores of 978, 998, and 972 respectively. It is worth focusing on its Brand score. Despite its relatively low production volumes, its rate of restaurant presence is outstanding. Visible in 45% of the world’s top establishments, and with more than five vintages / formats featuring on each wine list on average, it is clearly a wine that commands the utmost respect from sommeliers. Moreover, receiving over 60,000 online searches each month, it is well over five times as popular as its Pomerol neighbours Le Pin and Lafleur.

Le Pin comes next (£2,009). It enjoys Bordeaux’s second-best Economics score (979), pipped at the post by Carruades de Lafite (980). Its outstanding score comes courtesy not just of its high price, but also strong price performance, with a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% and having added 8% to its price over the past six months alone. With those sorts of figures, it will soon overtake Petrus as Bordeaux’s most expensive wine – its neighbour having recorded a three-year CAGR of 13% but only managing to add 4% to its value since March.

At roughly a quarter of the price of Petrus and Le Pin, Lafleur is Bordeaux’s fifth most expensive Buzz Brand (£523). It was Bordeaux 2017’s top red for Quality, its score of 978 putting it just ahead of Petrus (971). Across all vintages it is also the longest-lived of this week’s top five, with Wine Lister’s partner critics predicting an average ageing potential of 21 years.

We cross over to the left bank for the group’s remaining two wines, the first of which might come as a slight surprise. Haut-Brion Blanc is Bordeaux’s third-most expensive Buzz Brand (£584). It is of course its rarity that propels it up the price tables. Producing just 6,720 bottles on average each year – 15 times fewer than Haut-Brion Rouge – it is over 60% more expensive than its red counterpart, despite trailing across each category.

Rounding out the group – if it can ever be described as such – is Lafite (£546). With the best part of 200,000 bottles of it produced each year, it will come as no shock that it manages the best restaurant presence of the five, both in terms of the number of establishments in which it appears (54%) and the number of references per list (6.3 on average). It is also the most popular wine in the world, receiving over 80,000 online searches each month.


Listed: Top 5 Pomerol 2017 by Wine Lister score

As a sort of postscript to the difficult 2017 en primeur campaign (read our CEO Ella’s thoughts here), over the past week or so Pomerol powerhouses Petrus and Le Pin were released at £1,480 and £1,750 per bottle respectively. With Pomerol wines achieving the top three Quality scores of all reds for 2017 – and five of the top 10 – it was the top-performing red appellation of the vintage.

Now that we have release prices for all of Pomerol’s top wines, we can see which came out on top in terms of overall Wine Lister score*.

With a score of 979, Petrus was not just Pomerol’s leading wine of 2017, but the number one wine in Bordeaux. This is perhaps unsurprising given that it received the joint-second best Quality score of the vintage of all reds (971) – alongside Vieux Château Certan – and also has a Brand score of 998 (beaten only by Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Yquem, and Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut) along with a wine-level Economics score of 978 (third-best in Bordeaux). With Wine Lister’s Founding Members voting it the second-most prestigious wine in the world in a recent survey, behind DRC La Romanée-Conti, Petrus is currently unbeatable in Bordeaux.

Number two on the 2017 Pomerol leaderboard is Vieux Château Certan (959). While the confidence rating attributed by Wine Lister’s Founding Members slipped a point over the past year from 9/10 to 8/10, it nevertheless achieves Pomerol’s second-best Brand score (972). Thus, despite its relatively modest Economics score (909) – still putting it amongst the very best on Wine Lister’s 1,000 point scale – the 2017, thanks to its excellent Quality score, manages to edge just ahead of Lafleur in terms of overall Wine Lister score (957).

Lafleur 2017, the best red wine of the vintage for Quality (978), was released in early May at £430 per bottle, a 7% decrease on the 2016 release price. This was Neal Martin’s favourite of the five, Wine Lister’s newest partner critic awarding it a score of 95-97 /100 and commenting: “This is an awesome 2017 from Baptiste Guinaudeau, one of the few that will oblige several years in the cellar”.

Le Pin 2017 was released in the UK at £1,750 per bottle, its 25% decrease on the 2016 release price the largest year-on-year reduction of the five. It experiences the lowest Quality score of the five for the vintage (951), and also has the group’s lowest Brand score (944). The fact that the 2017 betters Lafleur and La Conseillante in terms of overall Wine Lister score is thus the result of its formidable Economics score (980), which it achieves not just because of its high average price but also strong growth rates, which are the best of the group over both the long and short-term.

Rounding out the group is La Conseillante (945). Whilst it is by far the most affordable of the group, it is the only one of the five whose 2017 climbed the Bordeaux Quality score table compared to 2016, surging 21 spots to be the eighth best red and 11th best overall.

Remember that you can catch up on all of the campaign’s releases on our dedicated en primeur page.

* Please note that overall Wine Lister scores for en primeur wines use estimated Economics scores based on the performance of back vintages.