This week’s listed section looks at the five most expensive Californian wines. Unsurprisingly, the list comprises five cult Napa reds, all with small annual productions helping to fuel a healthy supply and demand ratio that keeps consumers thirsty and wanting more.
Leading the way is Screaming Eagle, averaging c.7,800 bottles per year. At £2,450 per bottle, it is the 12th most expensive wine in Wine Lister’s database, just £27 below DRC La Tâche.
Harlan, the third highest-rated Californian wine overall, has an average annual production of c.21,600 bottles, and is the region’s second most expensive wine. At £638, it is available at nearly a quarter of the price of Screaming Eagle.
The next three wines all have lower production volumes than Harlan. At £509, Scarecrow has a similar price point to the likes of Lafite (£522) and Masseto (£524). Fourth-placed Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon achieves a Wine Lister score of 712, considerably lower than the others, but again low production volumes (c.6,000 bottles a year) help it to achieve its hefty price tag of £474. Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon fills the fifth spot at £460 per bottle.
Produced on far greater scales than these five, Dominus and Ridge Monte Bello, Wine Lister’s two overall top-scoring Californian wines, do not make the top five most expensive. The trendline on the chart below confirms the negative correlation between price and production:
Remember that even if you don’t currently have a Wine Lister subscription you can access all the underlying data behind these five wines as well as those featured in other Top 5s, giving you an insight into the wealth of tools at our subscribers’ disposal.
The Wine Lister team is back from a week in Bordeaux tasting the 2016 vintage, and we can’t curb our enthusiasm. While the growing season was fraught with difficulty, a series of mini miracles allowed appellations across the board to make their finest wines since 2010. Most crucially, heavy spring rainfall was punctuated by a dry window during flowering, and intense summer drought was broken just in time by a dramatic rainstorm on 13th September, witnessed first-hand by Wine Lister’s Founder, Ella Lister, at Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
A sculpture at Château Smith Haut Lafitte as the storm brewed on 13th September 2016. Photo © Ella Lister
This vintage of extreme conditions has paradoxically resulted in the most balanced of wines, full of freshness. These are wines which, like the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, will be approachable relatively early – possibly sooner than the 2010s – and will keep on going. Cheval Blanc’s Chef de Culture, Nicolas Corporandy, said that compared to the 2015, “the 2016 is fresher and more tannic”, adding, “they are very different vintages, a bit like the 2009 and 2010.”
However, apart from the odd reference to the 2009-2010 duo, 2016 was not likened to any existing vintage. Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier and President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, declared, “This is another expression – not a 2009 or 2010; we are working at a different level than a few years ago.” Many producers are touting 2016 as their best ever wine, and for once, they might not be exaggerating. “I really think honestly that it’s the most accomplished of all Pontet-Canets,” avowed Alfred Tesseron, owner of Château Pontet-Canet.
We were consistently impressed and delighted by the quality and harmony of the wines on left bank and right. In Lister’s words:
“Saint-Estèphe is driven, Pauillac poised, Pomerol blue-blooded, Saint-Emilion alluring, Saint-Julien classy, Margaux pure, and Pessac-Léognan seductive”.
Many wines exceeded our expectations, and we were especially delighted to return to Smith Haut Lafitte to taste the flawless range of wines and find them entirely unscathed by September’s hail.
The excellent range of red and white wines tasted by the Wine Lister team at Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan. Photo © Wine Lister Limited
The even better news is that in general yields are higher than average (though with several exceptions, such as Châteaux Palmer, l’Evangile, and Léoville Poyferré). “With quality we have quantity and I love quantity,” quipped Bernard.
Why do yields matter? In theory, it should allow the producers to maintain reasonable prices if they have more wine to sell. As Nicolas Audebert, General Manager of Châteaux Canon and Rauzan-Ségla, put it, “Anyone who is intelligent will make their margins on the volume not on the prices; if the prices stay more or less the same when the quality is even better, everyone will be content”.
This could be wishful thinking. In the second instalment of this en primeur round-up we will explore the dynamics of the upcoming campaign, complete with the inside track from top producers and members of the trade regarding timing, pricing, and volumes, coming soon.
Check www.wine-lister.com for our partner critics’ scores over the coming weeks, and a new Bordeaux study, due for release here in early May.
The latest development on wine-lister.com enables you to see the four most interesting nuggets of information about more than 2,000 of the world’s finest wines at a single glance. Simply search for and click on the wine you want to explore, such as Yquem or Ornellaia, and scroll down to Data Driven Analytics.
An algorithm sifts through Wine Lister’s vast database, asking 37 different types of question for each wine in order to identify its most remarkable facts. These are split into four groups: first production data, and then each of the three Wine Lister rating categories – Quality, Brand, and Economics.
The range of questions asked produces different data nuggets for each wine. For example, the Quality analytics for Château d’Yquem references its longevity, whereas for Tenuta dell’Ornellaia the result relates to the average critics’ score.
Explore this feature at wine-lister.com (and look up the most remarkable facts on one of your favourite wines, or see if you can find the top three most sought-after wines, for example).