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.
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.
As the Place de Bordeaux reawakens for September releases this week, Wine Lister examines some “place-distributed” wines from closer to home, namely the top five Bordeaux third growths by Wine Lister score. The successful 2009 and 2010 vintages in Bordeaux helped to coin the term “super seconds”, and despite a trickier en primeur campaign this year, these five wines make a good case for a new term: “thrilling thirds”.
In first place, and one of the first out of the blocks for en primeur this year, is Palmer. With an overall score of 937, it is not only the best of this week’s top five, but also sits 69 points ahead of the average Bordeaux second growth Wine Lister score. Aside from its impressive Quality score (909), Palmer’s strength lies in its Brand, with a score of 995, thanks to presence in 47% of the world’s best restaurants, and being ranked 22nd out of all wines on Wine Lister for searches on Wine-Searcher.
Calon Ségur comes in second place, with an overall score of 930. It is the only Saint-Estèphe with third growth status, and the only one of this week’s top five not from Margaux (unsurprising, given that 73% of all Bordeaux left bank third growths hail from the appellation). Calon’s Economics score of 941 is the fifth-best of all Bordeaux left bank reds (beaten only by Carruades de Lafite, Château Margaux, Lafite, and Mouton). This is achieved through a three-year compound annual growth rate of 17% and short-term price performance of 8% – both the highest of this week’s top five.
Giscours is next with an overall score of 853. While Brand is its strongest score category (956), its Quality and Economics scores (804 and 782 respectively) still sit within the “very strong” section of the Wine Lister 1000-point scale. Furthermore, alongside Lynch Bages, Giscours was voted the most consistent seller (in volume terms) by the Place de Bordeaux in our 2018 Bordeaux Market Study.
The last two places of this week’s top five are taken by d’Issan in fourth place, and Malescot Saint-Exupéry at number five with scores of 836 and 825 respectively. The latter is the only one of this week’s top five that is not a Wine Lister Buzz Brand. As the least-known of the five, it might be considered the best value, with a Quality score of 811 and an average price of £43.
Montrose 2017 released at €96.00 ex-négociant (6% down on 2016), with a UK release price of £98.50 (2% down on 2016), and a lower Quality score: 938 (vs 981).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Montrose 2017
Cos d’Estournel 2017 released at €108 ex-négociant (10% down on 2016), with a UK release price of £109 (7% down on 2016), and a lower Quality score: 926 (vs 969).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Cos d’Estournel 2017
Calon-Ségur 2017 released at €60 ex-négociant (4% down on 2016) with a UK release price of £61.50 (3% down on 2016), and a lower Quality score: 906 (vs 984).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Calon Ségur 2017
Lafon-Rochet 2017 released at €30 ex-négociant (11% down on 2016), with a UK RRP of £31.90 (10% down on 2016), with a lower Quality score: 785 (vs 925).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Lafon-Rochet 2017
Phélan Ségur 2017 released at €28.80 ex-négociant (11% down on 2016), with a UK RRP of £32.30 (7% down on 2016) and a lower Quality score 774 (vs 910).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Phélan Ségur 2017
The eyes and ears of the industry are focused on Bordeaux 2017. Price is always a key factor in the commercial success of a fine wine, but never more so than during the annual en primeur period, when release pricing can make or break a wine’s en primeur campaign.
It is therefore timely to take a look at some Bordeaux Economics score successes, this week from Saint-Estèphe. Wine Lister’s Economics score combines five criteria – based on price and volume data – to measure a wine’s commercial success (read more on the Economics score calculation here).
Calon-Ségur has the highest Economics score of all Saint-Estèphe wines (943). Not only does it score 53 points higher than the next wine in its peer group, it is also the number one third growth for Economics score, sitting in eleventh place for Economics of all Bordeaux wines. This is particularly impressive, considering that the average price per bottle of those ranking in the top 10 is £614, nine times higher than Calon-Ségur’s comparatively modest average price tag of £69 (read more about Calon-Ségur’s pricing in the en primeur: part II blog).
The number two Economics score in Saint-Estèphe is held by Montrose (889). It has the highest average Quality score of the five (936) and an average wine life of 15 years. Its steady price growth over the last two years (30%) makes it one to watch for investment potential.
Cos d’Estournel is the most expensive Saint-Estèphe wine at £104 per bottle. Though it comes in third place for Economics, it has the best Saint-Estèphe Brand score of 996, thanks to presence in 52% of the world’s best restaurants and over 23,000 online monthly searches. Its popularity is also clear from its position as the most traded of the five at auction (calculated using data from one of our partners, The Wine Market Journal).
Lafon-Rochet and Les Ormes de Pez take fourth and fifth places, with Economics scores of 694 and 682 respectively. Both are a level below the top three in terms of price per bottle and Quality score, but they match Montrose on long term price performance, with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of 9%. Saint-Estèphe is an appellation on the rise.
The Bordeaux 2015 vintage broke a more lacklustre run since the formidable 2010, and seemed to prove the wine trade legend of vintages ending in 5. En primeur tastings took place at the crest of “Bordeaux Bashing”, with some journalists reluctant to praise the vintage too highly, and there was talk of inconsistency between appellations. Saint-Estèphe was said to have suffered from more rain than its southerly neighbours, for example. Meanwhile in Saint-Emilion, a lack of homogeneity allowed each wine to express its terroir and its identity to the utmost.
Now that the wines have been bottled, it seems a suitable time to revisit the vintage. Our CEO, Ella Lister, has just got back from tasting over 200 wines from across the two banks with Wine Lister’s partner critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. She reports Saint-Estèphe as “exceptional and wrongly dismissed as rained-out”, and names Figeac and Canon as two highlights, both “stunning”. The two Saint-Emilion wines are among the top five Quality scores for the vintage on Wine Lister.
Figeac and Canon both also feature in this week’s top 5: Saint-Emilion 2015 Economics scores, showing that the market recognises their worth. Coming in second and fourth place, both hold premier grand cru classé B status since the reclassification of Saint-Emilion in 2012. Château Figeac 2015 achieves its best Economics score to date with an impressive six-month price performance of 18%.
However, Château Canon is the real surprise here. One of the most talked-about wines by the fine wine trade, its Wine Lister scores are improving from vintage to vintage, with its Economics scores, in particular, soaring. It comes in second place among all Bordeaux wines for Economics score in the 2016 vintage. Both Figeac and Canon are Buzz Brands and also Investment Staples (two of the four Wine Lister Indicators), and so is number one on the list…
Beating both of these is premier grand cru classé A, Château Ausone, with an Economics score of 991 – a record high for this producer, even against the strong 2005 vintage. The château also gains the number one spot across all Saint-Emilion 2015s in Quality, with a score of 990. In the context of overall Wine Lister scores, Ausone is just behind Petrus and Margaux as the third highest-scoring Bordeaux of 2015.
Magrez-Fombrauge and Péby Faugères are the ‘underdog’ entries among Saint-Emilion Economics performers. With Quality and Brand scores ranging from average to strong, the overall score of both wines is “strong” according to the Wine Lister 1,000-point scale (the other three entries sit comfortably in the “strongest” category, with overall scores significantly above 900).
In contrast, one might expect some bigger names, such as Cheval Blanc (a Wine Lister Buzz Brand) to appear higher up the list. Its Economics score of 946 puts it in seventh place, with slower price growth (3% over the last six months). Its price per bottle currently stands at around £500, over five times higher than that of Péby Faugères, and seven times more than Magrez-Fombrauge.