New releases from Tenuta San Guido – Sassicaia 2018, Guidalberto & Le Difese 2019

On 11th February, Sassicaia 2018 was released at £150 per bottle (in-bond), 6% up on the release price of the 2017.

Wine Lister attended an online tasting of this new release, as well as Guidalberto and Le Difese 2019, hosted by Armit Wines and Sassicaia’s third-generation director, Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta. Armit’s Managing Director, Brett Fleming noted the uptake on all three wines has been excellent: “it has been an extremely successful launch from Tenuta San Guido over the past two weeks. Update and demand have been far in excess of anything we’ve been able to manage”.

Though all three wines are made in the large majority from international grape varieties, Priscilla’s observation that “Cabernet [has] found its sense of place in Bolgheri” shines through the wines. Each has its own distinct character, but with a fundamentally Tuscan undertone.

Background

Sassicaia began as the passion project of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. While studying agriculture at the university of Pisa, he developed a penchant for wine from Cabernet vines, and subsequently invested in his own, so as to have wine for his family and friends that appealed to his tastes.

During the Zoom tasting, Priscilla told us that in the 1960s, Marchese Mario’s third son, (and Priscilla’s father) Marchese Nicoló, managed to convince him to begin distributing the wine, “transforming his hobby into something resembling a business”. Over the last half-century, the agricultural focus of Sassicaia’s 2,500-hectare estate has shifted increasingly towards top-quality winemaking. Still continued today nonetheless is the breeding of race-horses on the estate, as well as the preservation of a 500-hectare wildlife reserve.

Official photos courtesy of Tenuta San Guido

Sassicaia 2018

This is the 50th vintage of Sassicaia to be released onto the global wine market. Priscilla notes that “8” is usually a lucky number, and this was the case once again for the growing season resulting in this year’s anniversary release.

The wine leaps from the glass, with an energetic nose featuring suave red fruit, and a floral note of cherry blossom. The palate shows great depth – red cherries and plums as well as an earthier undertone, matched with a fine, elegant texture, particularly lifted by the wine’s vibrant acidity.

Guidalberto 2019

The only wine of the three tasted from a cask sample, the latest release from Guidalberto shows a sultry wine with impressive structure, yet seamless integration of its elements. The fruit profile is darker than its big cousin, but the same lift and freshness resounds on the palate, giving the wine a round and long finish.

Priscilla explains that the 2019 vintage was “warmer than other preceding vintages, not as much as 2017 or 2012, but comparable with 2009”. She continues, “we had a dry and mild winter, cool and rainy spring, but a regular summer, apart from rain during the middle of August which brought fresh air that allowed grapes to stay longer on the vines”. This small interruption to the ripening gave the Merlot a little extra time to soften.

She shares with us during the tasting the big news for Guidalberto – after postponing building plans for a brand new cellar of its own due to Covid restrictions, the works are finally underway, and the wine is set to have its own home, completely separate from Sassicaia, by 2023.

Le Difese 2019

After nearly 20 years in production (its first vintage was 2002), Le Difese proves itself a vibrant and well-balanced drinking wine. The 2019 shows an intense and immediate nose of sour cherry, and pure, juicy red berries on the palate.

Priscilla comments on its design; “[It] should be a wine that’s easy to drink, enjoyable young, aromatic but with some good structure because of the Cabernet Sauvignon”. The winemaking team has chosen to increase the amount of Sangiovese in the blend of the 2019 (from 30% up to 45%), so as to better service market demand for an easy-drinking wine that is approachable younger.


Harnessing data for you and your winery

In an industry so defined by the art of its craft, the limit of crunching numbers often starts and ends for wineries in vat rooms and through lab panels. Wine Lister was founded on a guiding principle that while wine is a mystical liquid, that lives and breathes, that can transcend facts and figures and contribute mightily to the human experience, there are also plain truths to be found in data analytics for both consumers and producers alike. It is on this basis that we have built a strong following of website users – collectors eager to follow trends of the secondary market, and professionals keeping abreast of the latest analyses – but also liked-minded producer clients, who find value in Wine Lister’s benchmarking and bespoke analytics solutions.

Wine Lister’s benchmarking solution relies on 14 separate data points across three areas in the life of a fine wine – Quality, Brand, and Economics – as well as qualitative trade panel feedback (through an unparalleled network from founder Ella Lister’s years as a fine wine journalist) to assess a wine’s 360° positioning in the global marketplace. Measured annually, Wine Lister’s benchmarking service enables continuous measurement of a wine within its global competitive environment, and results in a reliable, tangible reflection of progress, and ideas for the strategy path forward. Indeed, long-time Wine Lister client Don Weaver of Harlan Estate recently reflected that “It was a natural growth [to work with Wine Lister], another coming of age of our business… As we’ve matured as a business and penetrated further out into the market, we realised that we needed analytics coming back to us, and we needed best practices in our business. We can’t do everything, so we looked at Wine Lister to help us see things through different eyes.”

Such analytical rigour has resulted in numerous actionable insights for our clients, from assisting one client in increasing its journalistic coverage in a foreign market where it was underrepresented compared to peers, to a pricing strategy update for another that balanced the producer’s own interests while maintaining market confidence.

Once findings are identified, clients of Wine Lister can choose to investigate further, by supplying some of their own internal data to our analysts, enabling us to conduct deep-dives on topics as wide-ranging as customer retention, social media and communications effectiveness, or individual release price positioning. The benchmarking analysis is thus a base on which Wine Lister builds long-term relationships with its clients, helping them take their wine to the next level.

For more information, see our producer services page, or contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.


Burgundy 2019s so far – finding value at the top

It is the ultimate question for Burgundy fans seeking wines for drinking – with prices of the region’s best having risen so high, where can one find value?

Wine Lister’s second Burgundy study published in collaboration with regional specialist, Jasper Morris, notes the proliferation of good value wines hailing from some of the lesser-known appellations, and even outside of the Côte d’Or (Saint-Aubin, Marsannay, Mercurey, and Pouilly-Fuissé were among those mentioned).

Below Wine Lister explores some of the wines worth snapping up from the 2019 campaign*, based on their relative value when compared with other wines in their sought-after appellations. 37 out of the 58 wines listed in charts below are white.

Chablis – a permanent alternative source for Burgundy drinking white outside of the Côte de Beaune – features heavily. Buzz brands William Fèvre and Billaud-Simon achieve multiple entries, as does the Chablis estate of Maison Albert Bichot – Long-Depaquit, and relative newcomer to the cream of the crop, Jean-Paul et Benoît Droin. This group of top Chablis achieves an average price of £52 in bond per bottle, while their Côte de Beaune counterparts cost more than 30% more for the same quality (since both groups achieve an average WL score of 93).

Among the Côte de Beaune whites, Alain Chavy’s Puligny-Montrachet Folatières, and Fontainte-Gagnard’s Chassagne-Montrachet Caillerets provide the best quality-to-price ratios, both achieving WL scores of 94, for £48 and £53 per bottle in-bond respectively. Domaine Rapet’s Corton-Charlemagne provides excellent value for Grand Cru white (considering that the appellation’s reference – Jean-François Coche-Dury – typically costs over £3,000 per bottle).

Only one Grand Cru red makes the cut in top-scorers under £100 per bottle – Georges Lignier’s Clos Saint-Denis.

In the rest of the Côte de Nuits, strong value propositions hail from Taupenot-Merme throughout, particularly its Morey-Saint-Denis La Riotte. Maison Louis Jadot and Heresztyn-Mazzini achieve multiple entries in Gevrey, and the Nuits-Saint-Georges appellation makes an appearance across three producers – Grivot, Faiveley, and Henri Gouges.

The average price difference between the reds of both Côtes is not so dramatic as for Chablis and its Beaune counterparts. Côte de Beaune reds as shown the image above reach an average price of £72, just 10% lower than the Côte de Nuits group (for the same average WL score of 92). Domaine de Montille takes three of the eight places for its Corton Clos du Roi, Volnay Taillepieds, and Pommard Pézerolles.

*N.B. prices are based on those aggregated through Wine Lister’s pricing partner, Wine Owners. Not all Burgundy 2019s have recorded prices as yet, so the above lists may well evolve over the coming weeks and months.


21 for 2021: Wine Lister’s Champagne MUST BUYs

The end of 2020 is perhaps reason enough to pop open a bottle of champagne. With Christmas and New Year around the corner, Wine Lister has compiled a list of 21 Champagne MUST BUYs to enjoy over the last days of this year, and into 2021. Whether you have a penchant for discovering grower champagnes, or prefer to relish in those the top Grandes Maisons have to offer; whether you enjoy the purity of a Blanc de Blancs, the balance of an assemblage, or the opulence of a Blanc de Noirs, the selection of vintage champagnes below is sure to offer guidance for any preferred style.

Find out more about our 21 Champagne MUST BUYs for 2021 below.

Long-established house, Charles Heidsieck, is represented in our MUST BUY selection with two vintages of its Blanc des Millénaires – 1995 and 2004. The wine is so-named to reflect its high ageing potential, and is only created in vintages worthy of the label (since its inception, just five have been made). The 2004 achieves a WL score of 95, and is praised by Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson, as having “sheer confidence, appeal and completeness”. Earning one more WL point, the 1995 shows “just how compelling this often-overlooked vintage can be”, according to Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous). Both vintages can be bought by the case of six in-bond from Cru World Wine.

Also the crown jewel of its own house, Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque carries its own portion of history within its name, referencing the Art Nouveau movement of the early 1900s. The prestige bottling can be appreciated on the inside and out, particularly in the spectacular 2008 vintage. Wine Lister tasted it recently, and found it to have a concentrated nose of white peaches, brioche, and a hint of honeysuckle, with brilliant tension on the palate. 2008 Belle Epoque is available to purchase by the bottle from Lay & Wheeler, for £129 (in-bond).

A further two MUST BUYs hail from the boutique house, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses. The 5.5-hectare Clos de Goisses parcel is the oldest and steepest “Clos” in champagne. The 2006 and 2008 vintages of this single-vineyard cuvée both receive a WL score of 96. Jancis Robinson praises both vintages, writing that the 2006 “positively screams for attention”, while the 2008 is “explosive… like a firework on the palate”. They can both be acquired in-bond from Bordeaux Index.

Included in our 21 MUST BUY champagnes are two grower offerings lying outside of champagne’s more widely-declared vintages. Notorious for its killer heatwave, 2003 is not well-appreciated among the champenois. Bruno Paillard’s 2003 N.P.U. challenges this perception, offering a “dancing” palette of “open and floral notes” according to Jancis Robinson. Acknowledging that the vintage was hugely criticised, Paillard says that for him, “it’s a great vintage”. Another elusive grower champagne rounds off our list. Jancis Robinson hailed the 2005 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée as “a wine to wallow in”, praising its complexity and “refreshing finish”.

Also featured in the list of 21 Champagne MUST BUYs for 2021 are: 2006 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé, 2008 Bollinger Grande Année, 2002 Bollinger Grande Année2002 Dom Pérignon P21990 Krug Collection2004 Larmandier-Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Levant2000 Louis Roederer Cristal2009 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Fleuron Brut Blanc de Blancs2006 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill2002 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill2006 Salon Le Mesnil2002 Salon Le Mesnil2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, and 2007 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé


Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues

As 2020 draws to a close, Wine Lister has compiled a report celebrating the top-performing wines and producers within a series of categories over the past year. Using our axes of Quality, Brand, and Economics, and the several factors that constitute these values, we have created seven leagues that paint a panoramic view of some of the world’s best wines, ranked within their areas of excellence.

Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues include rankings of Quality Consistency (wines that show the smallest standard deviation between Quality scores over the last 20 vintages), and Biggest Movers (wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches over the past year). Our team has also put together its top-10 wines per Wine Lister Indicator, revealing our recommendations for Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples.

We end the Leagues with a list of 21 Ultimate MUST BUYs for 2021, compiling a selection of MUST BUY highlights hand-picked by our fine wine experts, that offer an impressive addition to any fine wine portfolio in 2021. These are some of the picks that would feature in Wine Lister’s “fantasy cellar”.

Download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues here.


Burgundy 2019: a bright future ahead

The first of the Burgundy 2019 en primeur releases began this month, reigniting conversation of last year’s growing season, and its subsequent offerings. Wine Lister has spoken to several key Burgundy producers, and has sampled the 2019s from leading négociant, Louis Jadot, to get a better picture of this promising vintage.

Burgundy’s 2019 growing season was marked by a notably hot and dry summer, resulting in wines of extreme concentration. Due to a combination of spring frost, uneven flowering, and summer drought across many sites, yields in 2019 are significantly lower than average.

A line-up from Louis Jadot’s 2019 en primeur tasting, organised by Hatch Mansfield at Vagabond, Monument on the 3rd of November 2020

Sourcing grapes from across the region, including its own holdings in some of Burgundy’s most prized plots (e.g. Chapelle Chambertin, Clos Vougeot, and Vosne-Romanée), Louis Jadot’s production in 2019 is down 50% for Chardonnay, and 30% for Pinot Noir. A cool and windy spring caused millerandage across Jadot’s sites, leading to many of the smaller, unripe berries being discarded. Warm temperatures in 2019 meant that grapes had high natural sugar levels, and correspondingly high alcohol across the region. Deputy General Manager, Thibault Gagey, tells us that several Louis Jadot wines are approaching 14 degrees in 2019, however, they nonetheless offer “good acidity, so they are powerful but balanced”, and there “isn’t a feeling of high alcohol”.

Wine Lister agrees whole-heartedly, and was particularly impressed by the quality of the whites. The Chablis Blanchot was “pure and lithe with an already-sumptuous texture”, while the Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle offered a delightful nose of “honey, truffle, and brioche”, with “rich citrus” on the palate. For reds, Wine Lister enjoyed the “complex and earth-toned” Clos Saint-Denis, and the “powerful but poised” Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques. Gagey informs us that he is indeed “very proud of the 2019s”, and is “confident that it will be a good vintage”.

Across the Côte de Beaune, harvests were small in 2019. Arnaud Ente tells us that his namesake domaine saw “a spell of spring frost”, which caused significant damage and loss of yield, and “uneven weather patterns during flowering”, caused coulure and millerandage. The summer was mostly hot and dry, causing hydraulic stress to the vines, but “20-30mm of rainfall in late August” helped to unblock phenolic maturation, and allow the grapes to reach “impressive levels of maturity while maintaining good sugar levels, and also a very lovely acidity”. Ente notes that his 2019s have achieved “extraordinary balance, due to the acidity in the grapes developing slowly”. The vintage is of “enormous potential”, if down 20% on an average year in terms of volume.

Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard similarly experienced significant frost in 2019; the principal cause of its small harvest. Winemaker Caroline Lestimé echoes the experience of  “millerandage followed by hydraulic stress on the vines during the summer drought”, resulting in “small, but thankfully exceedingly concentrated berries”. Due to the two extremes of conditions throughout the season, Lestimé analysed the sugar / acid balance frequently near to harvest, so as to pick the optimum window for picking. Once again, quality here is likely a triumph, but Lestimé adds that “Jean-Noël Gagnard has not seen such a small harvest since 1999”.

Guillaume d’Angerville tells us that in Volnay, “frost risk was on everyone’s mind”, however, “dry and windy conditions helped to avoid frost damage” across Marquis d’Angerville’s plots. Water and heat stress in summer was a problem here too, “stopping the plant’s evolution, and veraison was delayed as a result”. He similarly explains that “selecting the correct harvest date proved difficult”, in part due to the “heterogenous grape maturation”, however in the end, “the entire range benefitted from the perfect maturity of the grapes”, despite yields being down 20-30% on the average year. He tells us that his 2019s are “succulent and full of energy”, without being “jammy” from such a hot year, and therefore providing “another successful vintage ending in 9”.

Akin to Louis Jadot, Winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo tells us that Méo-Camuzet’s 2019s are “well-ripened”, with “fairly high alcohol levels, around 14 degrees”. He states that there is nonetheless “a nice acidity to start”, which provides the wines “a good freshness and a certain structure”, as well as lengthy ageing capacity. Echoing d’Angerville’s sentiment on the success of 9s, Méo foresees “an evolution of this vintage like the 2009: rich and greedy at first, then gradually closing, to emerge in a decade more tense and structured than suggested today”.

Despite the significantly reduced volumes in 2019, the quality of Burgundy’s latest vintage release clearly suggests a long and promising future ahead. The combination of these two factors will surely see demand outweigh supply for en primeur once again. For more guidance on buying Burgundy 2019 en primeur, and essential analysis to inform your wider Burgundy investment decisions, purchase our in-depth Burgundy study here.


Wine Lister 2020 Burgundy Study: Out of this world

Burgundy prices continue to rise, and top wines are becoming ever-harder to access – but must what goes up really come down?

Wine Lister has published its second in-depth Burgundy report, with contribution from partner critic and leading Burgundy expert, Jasper Morris. With insights from key fine wine trade players from across the globe, the report investigates the state of Burgundy compared to other major fine wine regions, and discusses projections for its future performance.

Please see our key findings below:

You can download the study digest in English here: Wine Lister Burgundy Study Digest 2020 or French here: Wine Lister Étude Bourgogne 2020 – Résultats Clés. The full report can be purchased on our Analysis page, while Pro subscribers can access their free copy here.


Unscrambling biodynamics: what’s all the buzz about?

Over the past decade, biodynamic wine has exploded in popularity, particularly amongst a younger generation of wine drinkers. Having spoken to a selection of top producers that follow biodynamic farming, Wine Lister’s latest investigation attempts to explore the practice further, and better understand the shared values of this often-misunderstood philosophy.

The biodynamic calendar: racking at Comtes Lafon (pictured) is timed according to the lunar phases (Photo: Jean Chevaldonné)

Often associated with organic winemaking, biodynamics also dictates the avoidance of pesticides and chemical fertiliser, and many of its wines are therefore organic in practice. Certified by independent associations (e.g. Demeter and Biodyvin) rather than the government, biodynamics goes one step further, providing a more holistic approach to farming that attempts to embrace all natural biological processes. Coined in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner – an Austrian philosopher and scientist – biodynamics draws on the specific belief that all living species experience constant transformation, due to physical, metaphysical, and cosmic realities acting upon them. While it is not essential for certification, most biodynamic producers therefore follow the biodynamic lunar calendar, which dictates the optimum days for viticulture and winemaking activities, based on the moon’s cycle.

In Burgundy, Comtes Lafon plans its planting, pruning, harvest, racking, and bottling according to the lunar calendar (see photo above), despite not being certified officially. Having shifted to biodynamic farming in 1998, owner and winemaker, Dominique Lafon, tells us that he was initially inspired by the practice in several of his friends’ vineyards at the time, and was “impressed by the way the vines behaved”. He states that while it is more time consuming, biodynamic farming provides him “pleasure to work closer to the vineyards, following their natural rhythms”.

Among a list of other principles, biodynamic producers must complete a cow horn preparation, otherwise known as process 500, in which manure is packed into the horn of a female cow and buried under the vines for six months. The horns are then dug up, and the content of the horns is combined with water and sprayed across the vineyards, in the belief that the solution enhances plant growth and improves the quality of the crops. Dominique tells us that while some results of biodynamic farming can be seen “rapidly, within the first year”, process 500 begins to change the soil “after three years or so, and is fully effective after 10 years”.

In Bordeaux, Château Palmer also completes the cow horn preparation (pictured below) – the Margaux estate began experimenting with biodynamics in 2008, adopting it completely in October 2013, and releasing its first certified vintage in 2018. Winemaker Thomas Duroux, tells us that the adoption of such biodynamic principles has yielded “results in the vineyard” and encouraged “better quality soil”, while helping him to achieve his goal of “growing a vineyard without any use of chemicals”. Explaining the difference between organic and biodynamics, Duroux notes that the latter is “a different way to see agriculture”, and that when you apply biodynamic principles, “you see the farm as an ensemble”. This resonated across several other biodynamic producers, who similarly considered biodiversity to be at the core of this mode of farming.

Process 500: biodynamic compost preparations at Château Palmer

Indeed, Elisabetta Foradori tells us that since its conversion, Foradori has founded a new focus on biodiversity and sustainability, with livestock now used to produce dairy products and compost for the vineyard. She began to introduce biodynamic principals into the family estate in 1999, converting the whole property in 2002, and eventually achieving certification in 2009. Foradori tells us that she had begun to feel “disconnected to the plants after many years of working in wine”, and biodynamic viticulture allows her to “go into the deepness of the life of the plant and its soil”. She states that the practice has catalysed an “evolution in the fertility of the soil”, watching vine roots “grow deeper and deeper”.

Further south in Chianti, Querciabella conversely practices a “cruelty-free” biodynamics, according to its team, without the use of manure or animal remnants in the soil.  Winemaker Manfred Ing states that while “eliminating all of the animal-based preparations”, the estate has implemented a strict cover crop preparation, planting up to 35 different plants across its vineyards, depending on the soils and the grapes that grow in each plot. He states that this improves the quality of the land, whilst adhering to the biodynamic principle of “getting as much quantifiable life in the soil and the vineyard as possible.”

Following the general sentiment of other biodynamic producers, Elisabetta Foradori states biodynamic farming enables the wine to “reflect the message of the terroir” while encouraging “purity and character”. This was particularly pertinent to one of Burgundy’s biodynamic pioneers, Leroy – speaking to Wine Lister, the team notes that biodynamic farming indeed helps the property to better “express the character” of its respective sites. Having implemented biodynamic farming since the day it was purchased by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988, the team tells us that “no one else was even organic” in the region at that time, and people “thought it was crazy” to neglect the use of fertiliser and risk decreased yields. They explain that Burgundy is an “ideal place” for biodynamic farming, through its ability to express the disparities between the different vineyard holdings of the same Burgundy varietal – a “true test of where the wine comes from”.

While biodynamic producers approach the practice with variable interpretations, its practitioners are nonetheless enthusiastic about its results. With an increasing number of producers adopting this mode of farming, we look forward to witnessing its wider recognition across the fine wine industry in years to come.


Bordeaux 2020 harvest: optimism in the face of uncertainty

Despite this year’s unparalleled circumstances, mother nature has had no choice but to persevere – members of the Wine Lister team visited Bordeaux during September, to get a feel for the 2020 harvest. After a turbulent nine months, 2020 has reportedly yielded another excellent vintage for Bordeaux, though the region’s vines experienced their own set of ups and downs. Outside of its macro-economic turmoil, 2020 proved an uncertain growing season too, as microclimatic weather patterns appear to have been more influential than ever. Small areas on both banks experienced hail, and rainfall differed by hundreds of millimetres from one property to the next. With a bit of luck, this is a vintage the international trade will be able to taste by next spring – and it will need tasting, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the best examples of the vintage.

Common to several properties was an early start to harvest, with masked pickers dispersing across many vineyards up to two weeks ahead of a “normal” year. Indeed, Pavie began harvesting its white grapes (for Monbousquet Blanc) at the end of August – a fortnight earlier than last year. Merlot grapes began to be collected on the 21st of September – nine days earlier than in 2019 (pictured below on the 22nd September).

 Masked workers sort Pavie’s 2020 Merlot grapes (22nd September 2020)

Pavie saw lower rainfall in 2020 than parts of the Médoc. The position of its vineyards at higher altitude on the south-facing slope of its renowned limestone plateau allows for both phenolic maturity and the retention of freshness. Its new Commercial Director, Olivier Gailly, notes that the mid-harvest showers also helped with the latter, freshening up the Cabernets prior to picking, and that subsequent high wind speeds dried the grapes, and prevented mildew from setting in.

Just a few kilometres north-west, Saint-Émilion star Angélus did not have a particularly early harvest in 2020, starting on the 15th of September – just three days earlier than last year. The estate saw mildew at the beginning of the season, which they managed to control ahead of a good flowering. Eighth-generation manager, Stéphanie de Boüard is confident in the new vintage, aligning it with the iconic 1947 or 2010 – “my father told me not to be ashamed to say it”, she notes of the comparison. Early analyses show the 2020 will likely be high in alcohol, but with a low pH, creating a freshness and an overall balance that was encouraged by mid-harvest rain. “This year picking dates have been more important than ever”, she adds, referring to the retention of fresh fruit, as opposed to more cooked aromas than can occur in warmer Bordeaux vintages.

Further north-west still in Pomerol, Beauregard also received much-needed rain during harvest, which similarly helped to soften the skins of its Cabernet grapes. Summer drought was more apparent here, repeating the 2018 phenomenon of hydraulic stress on the vines, and resulting in a smaller yield than 2019.

Moving to the Médoc, more properties saw the same hot and dry climatic conditions in 2020, resulting in instances of small grapes with high alcohol potential and lower acidity. In Margaux, d’Issan saw 16% potential alcohol in some of its early Merlot grapes (the highest ever recorded), and consequently welcomed the mid-September showers. Neighbouring Palmer anticipated the rain, and held off picking its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes until it came and went, ensuring the thinning of skins on smaller berries, and an overall reduction in alcohol percentage. The estate saw limited yields due to the dry summer, and Managing Director, Thomas Duroux, quipped that although “négociants would have liked a vintage with high volume and lower prices, [2020] will be a small vintage…” While he implies it might be more expensive than the trade had hoped, he nonetheless expects the 2020 to be “rich and exuberant”, sharing the power and concentration of 2018.

In Saint-Julien, owner of Branaire-Ducru, François Xavier Maroteaux describes a 2020 growing season of neat balance. The estate had a “wet post-harvest Autumn in 2019”, which helped to prevent drought stress throughout the new growing season. As the summer began to dry out, the estate saw 100 millimetres of rainfall in a short period (at the end of August), followed by a sunny and warm September. The season itself, Maroteaux muses, is similar to the 2011 vintage. He believes the resulting wine is worth excitement, after a steady and successful ripening, avoiding any disease.

In Pessac-Léognan, Malartic-Lagravière expects a concentrated wine in 2020, having also seen low volumes of mainly small berries due to the heat. Neighbouring Domaine de Chevalier echoed the sentiment, and we were surprised to hear from owner, Olivier Bernard, that there had not been a drop of rain at estate the day before our first visit (21st September), despite it raining throughout the same day in the Médoc, and in Bordeaux itself.

The last day of picking at Domaine de Chevalier (30th September 2020)

“There have been lots of choices to make this year”, he continues – one of which no doubt was whether to trust the weather forecasts, particularly around harvest. With fewer planes flying around, forecasts were less accurate, and while rain fell further north, Pessac often remained dry. Bernard explains that the picking windows were tight in 2020: “instead of four days where the grapes are fine to pick, there’s one day” – since the drought and heat would cause alcohol to rise, and acidity to deplete quickly.

It seems therefore that we have another winemaker’s vintage on our hands. Mirroring somewhat the choppy commercial seas of this year, Bordeaux has had to navigate unpredictable viticultural waves too. What we have heard of the 2020 harvest thus far nonetheless leaves us hopeful, and anticipating eagerly the en primeur tastings of next spring.


Palmer’s propitious “N-10” release?

Château Palmer launched its first back-vintage release yesterday (Thursday 24th September). Named “N-10”, this new release phenomenon is planned as an annual event henceforth, releasing each year the vintage celebrating 10 years of age.

N-10 therefore begins on an exceptional note for quality, with Palmer’s 2010 vintage (which earns a WL score of 96 – its second-highest ever). It is also worth noting that 2010 was the second vintage of Palmer to benefit from some biodynamic experimentation, ultimately leading to its full certification in 2017.

Wine Lister partner critic, Neal Martin, awarded Palmer 2010 96 points after tasting at BI Wines’ 10 years on tasting in February this year. “This is an outstanding Palmer, but it needs more time in bottle”, he notes. Wine Lister’s CEO and Founder, Ella Lister, concurs, stating, “the wood still apparent after spitting will certainly integrate more with time – because this needs lots of time”, though her overall assessment is perhaps more generous than Martin’s 96 points. She adds, “There’s a quiet, dreamy poise to this wine. [It is] enigmatic, brooding, and spellbinding”.

The last remaining ex-château stocks of Palmer 2010 entered the UK market at £293 per bottle (in-bond), making them the highest-priced recent vintage on the market. The new price of Palmer 2010 therefore sits at a 33% premium to previous remaining market availability.

This is a bold hike up from Palmer 2010’s initial release price, however Director Thomas Duroux’s communication on production quantities and pricing as a direct result of the château’s uncompromising commitment to biodynamics and exceptional quality has prepared the market for it. The last few en primeur releases have set a solid scene for Palmer’s new strategy, and provide definitive proof that the château has outgrown the bounds of its classification.

We understand that immediate take-up for the N-10 release has been good, if not quite at the fast sell-out pace of en primeur. That is not the objective here – Duroux is confident that this ex-château stock will satisfy demand in the mid-term.

Indeed, even at its higher price, Palmer 2010 remains a Wine Lister MUST BUY.