Since its launch in September, Wine Lister’s MUST BUY list has unveiled fine wines across multiple regions, vintages, price points, and drinking occasions, all with the common theme of being so good, that they simply must find their place in fine wine fanatics’ cellars. Wine Lister’s prices are updated weekly, and since price (in the form of value) plays a major part in the MUST BUY algorithm, MUST BUYs too will henceforth be updated weekly.
Since its last update, the MUST BUY list has grown by four wines (to 1,697), with 22 new entries, and 18 wines that have fallen off the list. Following the same trend as last week, nine out of the 22 new MUST BUYs (or 41%) are Burgundian. Big names in Burgundy continue to do well, with three new white Buzz Brands hailing from Raveneau, Jean-François Coche-Dury, and Pierre Yves Colin-Morey respectively.
Elsewhere within white entries are two Rieslings, the Alsatian Hidden Gem, Albert Mann’s l’Epicentre 2008, and the indomitable Joh. Jos Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr, whose 2011 is now one of seven MUST BUY vintages of this sensational Value Pick.
With the clocks turned back and a wintry chill in the air, there are twice as many new red MUST BUYs as white. Burgundy and Italy make the strongest showing, with five reds apiece. Maison Joseph Drouhin sees the addition of its Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes 2008, bringing the house’s MUST BUY total to 21 wine vintages. Meanwhile Italy’s new MUST BUYs hail from four big name growers: Gaja, Roberto Voerzio, Castello di Ama, and Isole e Olena.
Bordeaux achieves just one entry in Le Tertre-Rotebœuf 2008 (one of nine Bordeaux 2008 MUST BUYs). California also makes its mark, with Vérité’s La Joie 2013 and Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red 2011. Outside of “classic” fine wine regions, Château de Pibarnon’s Bandol Rouge 2000 also enters the fray.
See the full list of current MUST BUYs here.
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.
Wine Lister has almost 150 new MUST BUYs. Since we launched MUST BUYs officially in September, the list has been updated based first on the most recent prices and relative regional or appellational value within vintages, and subsequently on Wine Lister’s most recent trips and tastings. The full MUST BUY list has reduced by 109 (1,693 wines vs. 1,802), and includes 149 new entries.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 62 (or 42%) of new MUST BUYs hail from Burgundy. The 2017 vintage (released for the most part at the beginning of this year) yields 17 results, all worth getting hold of before availability reduces, and prices inevitably rise. Antoine Jobard achieves three mentions, all for 2017 Meursaults (Genevrières, Blagny, and Les Tillets), while Burgundy négociants are well-represented by additional MUST BUYs from Maisons Louis Latour, Louis Jadot, and Joseph Drouhin, who now count totals of 14, 42, and 20 MUST BUYs respectively. The Maisons de Négoce increasingly represent unparalleled value for money as the quality of their wines continues to increase, while their prices have not exploded in the same way as for many domaine wines.
Bordeaux gains 17 new entries, including a 2018 en primeur listing – Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. The remaining new Bordeaux MUST BUYs are mainly older vintages, with premiers and deuxièmes crus from 1982-1999 that are worth uncovering ahead of the festive season. Two Value Picks stand out from the Wine Lister team’s own tasting experiences of late – Capbern 2014 and Haut Carles 2015.
Italy reaps particular success in this new round of MUST BUYs, with 31 listings in total, split between Piedmont (14), Tuscany (15), Veneto (1), and Sicily (1). Gaja leads the charge in Piedmont with two vintages a piece for Barolo Sperss (2005 and 2014), and Barbaresco Sorì San Lorenzo (2005 and 2007). In Tuscany, a fourth vintage of Soldera’s Case Basse makes it into the MUST BUY list (1999), alongside existing MUST BUY vintages 2008, 2009, and 2013. The indomitable Castello dei Rampolla also gains an additional vintage each for Sammarco (1991), and Alceo (2008), making it the most “essential” producer to buy in Italy.
The Wine Lister team was pleased to be able to select from new wines rendered by the MUST BUY algorithm a few gems from recent tastings, including Deutz Cuvée William 2008 and Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons Blanc de Blancs 2010 from a recent trip to Champagne, and Cheval des Andes 2016 – one of the team’s favourites from the September releases through the Place de Bordeaux.
All MUST BUYs are qualified by a minimum quality level, but at the very top of the new MUST BUY scoreboard are 16 wines with WL scores of 97 and above. While Burgundy outperforms Italy in number of new MUST BUYs, they each earn five places in the top scorers, as shown below.
See the full list of MUST BUYs here, and watch this space for weekly MUST BUY updates from here on in.
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.
A new “normal” seems to be developing for Bordeaux.
After a fleeting trip around Bordeaux properties on both banks at the start of harvest, the Wine Lister team is excited to see the 2019 vintage take shape.
We must admit this was not our sentiment on the 23rd September, when, on arrival in a dreary, damp Bordeaux, our first thought went to the poor pickers, and of course to the grapes and potential spread of disease in such wet conditions.
Thankfully this worry was quickly cast aside – “the grapes are in an incredibly healthy state. For grape health, this has been a dream year”, said Château Dassault’s Valérie Befve. This, she further explained, was thanks to the combination of a good spring without too much humidity, budburst that was a little cold but without rain, and a dry summer that was hot without having placed too much water stress on the majority of the vines.
The summer heat wave and consequential drought, similar in timing and nature to 2018 (and to an extent, 2016), will likely result in another year where freshness and caution in extraction are key. Befve put this succinctly, noting that the “skin to juice ratio will require delicate management”. This theme, recurring in several of the last Bordeaux vintages, highlights the importance of careful handling in the cellars, and explains in part the purposeful movement towards a fresher, more approachable style, and away from big tannins and high alcohol that need time in bottle to soften.
Left: Sorting of the first Merlot grapes at Pichon Baron. Right: Pichon Baron now uses small vats on wheels to transport freshly-picked grapes into fermentation tanks, since they cause less breakage of grape skins than traditional pumps.
Comparable characteristics seem in play on the left bank too. At Pichon Baron we tasted some of the very first 2019 Merlot grapes, and though the berries are a little smaller than usual (because of the drought), they are in perfect health. Axa Millésimes’ Commercial Director Xavier Sanchez was quick to say that it was far too soon to speculate on quality levels, but that the very early analyses “resembled 2018 and 2016”.
Grapes of high sugar content will need to be vinified with caution in order to balance potentially high alcohol levels. The rain that has fallen in the past 10 days will likely be a welcome gift to the Cabernet Sauvignon from the “grands terroirs” on this front, the majority of which are set to be picked this week.
Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, Managing Director of Léoville Poyferré and Le Crock echoed the positive sentiment on the general quality of grapes for both her properties, in Saint-Julien as in Saint-Estèphe – “We’re hopeful it will be another beautiful vintage, for both quantity and quality this year”.
While successions of good years are by no means unusual for the bordelais, harvests following heatwaves are becoming a pattern. All that remains to be seen is how the winemakers of Bordeaux deal with this “new normal” in the cellar. We are looking forward to finding out next year!
The Bordeaux 2018 en primeur campaign is over. While the quality of wines available is, for the most part, unquestionably good, release prices have been on the high side to say the least, making the benefit of buying en primeur less obvious than in previous years.
Wine Lister’s brand-new website feature, WL MUST BUY, was launched this week*, especially for Bordeaux 2018 wines, to give valuable guidance as to which wines really are worth snapping up now.
Our ground-breaking MUST BUY recommendations are data-driven, with an intelligence-based, human overlay. The algorithm takes into account a wine’s quality and value within its vintage and appellation, as well as the latest industry intelligence from key players in the global fine wine trade. The Wine Lister team have scoured these results to identify must-buy wines based on our own tastings of Bordeaux 2018s, and insider market knowledge.
Given the dominance of reds in the top Bordeaux 2018 Quality scores, it is no surprise that all of these WL MUST BUYs are red.
Saint-Emilion ranks as our most recommended appellation, with six WL MUST BUYs, including the indomitable Canon, and value successes Le Prieuré, Quinault l’Enclos, and Laroque. These three achieve WL MUST BUY status by first passing the quality filter of Wine Lister’s MUST BUY algorithm (they exceed their collective Quality score average by 192 points in 2018). Their respective prices relative to similar quality 2018s from Saint-Emilion push them through the algorithm’s second step – the value filter. Finally, they have been identified by the fine wine trade and/or the Wine Lister team as wines to watch: Quinault l’Enclos is made by the elite winemaking team of Cheval Blanc, and their best yet, while Laroque has been taken to new heights by winemaker David Suire (who cut his teeth at Larcis-Ducasse).
Pauillac houses four of the “top end” Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs – Mouton (released at £426 per bottle in bond), both powerhouse super-seconds, Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse, and Buzz Brand Lynch Bages.
Sharing three picks apiece are further left bank appellations Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, and Pessac-Léognan. Capbern, Meyney, and Latour-Martillac are testament to the value proposition available in Saint-Estèphe and Pessac-Léognan respectively. Saint-Julien MUST BUYs are represented by two fourth-growth staples, Branaire-Ducru and Beychevelle, and the second wine of Léoville Las Cases, Le Petit Lion.
Margaux earns two MUST BUYs – Rauzan-Ségla, and biodynamic Durfort Vivens (who made a huge step up in quality this year, and whose 2018 yield was less than a quarter of its usual volume). Pomerol equals this number with Lafleur and Hosanna.
Other wines featured in Wine Lister’s Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs list are: Beau-Séjour Bécot, Calon Ségur, Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, La Gaffelière, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, and Potensac.
*Wine Lister launched its MUST BUY tool on Monday at a Telegraph event entitled “Wine for Pleasure or Profit?”, where founder & CEO Ella Lister spoke about going “Back to Bordeaux” for both. You can see slides from the presentation relevant to Bordeaux 2018 MUST BUYs here: Telegraph Back to Bordeaux
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).
As en primeur 2018 picks up pace, we consider the 10 Bordeaux wines that any fine wine collector should acquire for their collection. These are based on the results of Wine Lister’s latest Founding Member survey, gathering the views of over 50 key players in the global fine wine trade.
You can download this slide here: 10 must have Bordeaux wines for your collection
In Bordeaux, 2018 was a winemakers’ vintage. That much is clear from conversations the Wine Lister team had throughout en primeur tasting week, explained further in Bordeaux 2018 en primeur part I : the vintage. Though quality across the board was good in 2018, the greats stand out all the more for being the result of key technical decisions, rather than just terroir.
Below we look at the top 25 Bordeaux 2018 red Quality scores, based on the recently-released ratings of Wine Lister partner critics Bettane+Desseauve, Julia Harding for Jancis Robinson, Antonio Galloni for Vinous, and Jeannie Cho Lee. The average Quality score of these top 25 is 975, 25 points higher than the equivalent top red panel in 2017.
Right bank super-appellation, Pomerol earns the highest number of places in the top 25 red Quality scores (6), and includes the first- and second-best wines of the vintage, Petrus and Lafleur. They earn Quality scores of 992 and 991 respectively, and the former is awarded 97-100 points by Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, who comments, “From the very first taste, the 2018 Petrus is simply magical”.
Proving the potential for high quality across both banks in Bordeaux 2018, the next highest appellations are Pauillac and Saint-Émilion with 5 wines appearing in the top 25 apiece. Pauillac wins out overall, with an average score of 976 (vs. 974 in Saint-Émilion). Cheval Blanc (990) and Canon (963) show impressive Quality improvements on 2017, moving 22 and 31 places up the rankings respectively.
Pauillac’s top quality wines are made up, perhaps unsurprisingly, of the three Pauillacais first growths, Lafite (986), Latour (985), and Mouton (983), and super-seconds Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse. This last is holds the appellation’s most-improved ranking, moving up 21 places from its 2017 position. Julia Harding of JancisRobinson.com writes of Pichon Comtesse 2018, “A gentle and surprisingly subtle beauty”.
Elsewhere on the left bank, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe earn three wines each in the top 25 for Quality. The best of these, Léoville Las Cases, earns a Quality score of 987. The three Saint-Estèphe wines follow consecutively, with front-runner and rising star Calon-Ségur moving up 37 places from its 2017 ranking – the largest improvement of all the top 25 Quality scorers in 2018.
Margaux and Pessac-Léognan appear just thrice between them in the top 25 for Quality, with Margaux (980), tiny-production Palmer (973), and Haut-Brion (981).
Other wines featuring in the top 25 Bordeaux 2018 Quality scores are: Figeac, Vieux Château Certan, Montrose, Ausone, Le Pin, Cos d’Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Poyferré, Angélus, Trotanoy, and La Conseillante.
In June 2018, the idea that Bordeaux had a very good vintage on its hands was laughable. The first half of the year had seen incessant rain in the region. Mildew was rife and vignerons were fighting it all day long, including at weekends (if they could afford to). At Château Corbin, owner Anabelle Cruse cancelled her trip to Vinexpo Hong Kong to be on site to manage treatments. “We couldn’t afford any mistakes after losing nearly all of the 2017 vintage [to frost],” she said.
But then on 18th June, the weather turned, and barely another drop of rain fell until September. 2018 was a year of extremes for Bordeaux. “It started hellish, and finished in ecstasy,” said Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, Managing Director at Léoville-Poyferré. “It started a nightmare and finished a dream,” echoed Guillaume Pouthier, Director at Carmes Haut-Brion.
Against all odds, some truly extraordinary wines were made. “Technically, it’s the most accomplished wine we have made since I joined,” said Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Pichon Comtesse since 2012. Adrien Bernard declared, “the 2018 [red] is the greatest wine my dad has made” – the Bernard family bought Domaine de Chevalier in 1983. But 2018 was not a great vintage across the board like 1982, 1989, or 2010. It wasn’t a vintage where you could make a great wine with your eyes closed. On the contrary, 2018 is a vintage where human choices really mattered, and at the top level, happily, these choices were usually the right ones.
Happy with their 2018s: Guillaume Pouthier, Pierre-Olivier Clouet, and Nicolas Glumineau
Concentration in the 2018s is at unprecedented levels: grapes were lost to mildew in the spring, and then the summer drought left remaining berries very small, without much juice. Picking dates were key: the temptation to leave the grapes hanging in the Indian summer was strong, but success in 2018 was all about retaining freshness to counter the high levels of alcohol and tannin.
Even those who picked early were still facing unknown territory. Many producers recounted the topsy turvy ratio of marc to juice in the vats (more skins and pips than liquid). As a result, tannin levels were off the scale, with IPTs (Indice de Polyphénols Totaux) at their highest ever recorded for many producers. At Lynch-Bages, Technical Director Nicolas Labenne explained that, “a normal IPT would be 70, a good year is 80, and we’re at 95 in 2018.”
“But it’s the quality of the tannins that’s important,” Pouthier reminded us. This colossal potential needed taming by the winemakers if they were to make gentle giants, and not monsters in 2018. “This was a year where you couldn’t go into the cellar and say, ‘well every year I do it like this so I’ll do the same’,” said Lillian Barton. “You had to be careful with the extraction,” she explained.
During our tastings last week, producers of the best wines explained their use of more gentle, less frequent extraction, and vinification at lower temperatures than normal. At Petrus, winemaker Olivier Berrouet explained that, “In a hot vintage it’s tempting to go further, but we wanted to keep delicacy; we let the wine infuse like tea.” He was not the only one to talk about “infusion”, some châteaux foregoing altogether the use of extraction techniques such as pumping over and punching down. This allowed subtler winemakers to achieve silky, creamy tannins that melt in the mouth, while retaining all the generous flavours from the uniquely concentrated grapes.
The 2018 vintage really is one of a kind. “It’s impossible to compare it to another vintage other than to say 2016 plus plus,” offered Pierre Graffeuille, Managing Director at Léoville Las Cases, because it has “more of everything.” More alcohol, more tannin, more flavour, but also in the best examples (and there are many), more freshness and more silkiness (some of which have been highlighted in Wine Lister’s 2018 tasting favourites). So if you believe that more is more, this is a vintage for you. Just beware that some wines have all the beast and none of the beauty.
In part II of this en primeur round-up we will look at production volumes before considering the upcoming campaign – its context, as well as likely timing and pricing. Watch this space.
Part I of our annual Bordeaux study is available here, and part II will be released to subscribers in May. Follow us on Twitter for the 2018 Bordeaux en primeur release updates, or for real-time analysis enquire here about subscription to Wine Lister Pro.