Wine Lister speaks to 10 top sommeliers to find out more about their bottles of choice
From left to right: Lupo Theones, Victor Petiot, Gareth Ferreira, Beatrice Bessi, and Paul Lo
What top wines do sommeliers recommend?
Whether offering the perfect food pairing or serving an unforgettable glass, sommeliers are often responsible for creating moments of vinous magic shared by wine lovers far and wide. Our latest blog flips the script, with some of the world’s leading sommeliers sharing with us their most memorable pours, providing the ultimate guide on how to drink like a pro.
Read our blog on your favourite winemakers’ favourite wine for more insight into what the experts are drinking here.
Lupo Theones – Head Sommelier at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, London
Lupo Theones shares the same sentiment as many of his peers: “it is challenging to choose a single wine when you taste so many great wines as a sommelier”. He nonetheless mentions Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2011 as a wine that “deeply impressed” him, having tasted it soon after moving to London to join The Connaught. Describing a “perfectly balanced” palate that “shows a great acidity and minerality”, Lupo notes that it is a wine you can drink on its own, or paired with the likes of sushi and shellfish, as well as Foie Gras.
Victor Petiot – Wine Director at Caprice at Four Seasons, Hong Kong
Having discovered the vintage just last year, Victor Petiot cites Toro Albalá Don PX 1931 as his favourite wine, due to its “uniqueness” after sleeping in barrel for over 90 years. He explains that it provides “the perfect balance between powerful and well-balanced” with a “sweet and creamy texture yet high acidity”. On the topic of pairing, Victor tells us that the wine prompted the creation of a new dish to be served with it, comprising “a pigeon cooked in a coffee dough with salsify, hazelnut, pan-fried foie gras and pigeon sauce with coffee and a bit of Toro Albalá 1931”.
Gareth Ferreira – Head Sommelier at Core by Clare Smyth, London
Gareth Ferreira recalls being “immediately hooked” on his first real trip to visit the great producers of Burgundy during his early career. He tells us of the first time he tried Jean-Marie Fourrier’s Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques, which made him question, “how can wine taste this good?”. It has since remained a wine he “looks forward to opening, no matter what the vintage is”, though the first he tasted – 2009 and 2010 – “will always have a special place in [his] heart” and 2002 is one of his favourites in Burgundy.
Beatrice Bessi – Head Sommelier at Chiltern Firehouse, London
“The reason that I became a sommelier is the Nebbiolo grape” exclaims Beatrice Bessi, who fell in love with Barolo in particular over 10 years ago. It is her “never-ending love”, as the region takes a lifetime to know in its entirety (“similar to Burgundy in that respect”, she notes). While citing Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello as “traditionalist” producers that she would turn to on special occasions, Beatrice recently “fell in love with the wines of a super modern producer”, Domenico Clerico. In regards to pairing, she tells us that there is “nothing more satisfying” than an amazing glass of Barolo with pizza – there “doesn’t need to be an occasion to have a great glass”.
Paul Lo – Wine Director at Grand Lisboa, Hong Kong
Unable to choose a favourite, Paul Lo instead recalls an exclusive dinner he hosted in May 2014, at which the late chef Joël Robuchon’s menu was paired with 10 wines from the Lisboa cellar hailing from the 1959 vintage. Listing Dom Pérignon Oenothèque, Margaux, Palmer, Latour, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Mouton, La Mission Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc, and a Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, he tells us that “uncorking the wines in a single event was unforgettable”. He gives particular praise to the Steinberger, noting “so many elements inside – nectar coupled with dried nuts, dry fruits, cigar, caramel, noble spices”, presented with “delicate and perfect acidity”.
From left to right: Stefan Kobald, Victoria O’Bryan, Julien Sarrasin, Jonathan Charnay, and Pascaline Lepeltier
Stefan Kobald – Head Sommelier at Pollen Street Social, London
Stefan Kobald tells us that current favourite wine is Philippe Colin Montagny 2016. Having always known of the producer, Stefan discovered this specific cuvée before the first lockdown and has been “hooked ever since”. He describes its “fresh acidity, stunning aromas of ripe apple, citrus notes of lemon peel, and grapefruit”, with a “hint of butter coming from the light oak usage”. Sharing the same philosophy for when he buys wine for the restaurant and himself, he seeks freshness and drinkability, and a wine that invites you back to take another sip – which this wine “definitely does”.
Victoria O’Bryan – Wine Director at Addison Restaurant, California
Narrating her recent encounter with Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2002, Victoria O’Bryan tells us that it made her “weak at the knees”. She explains that the wine opened up with surprising ferocity, “like a jolt of electricity giving power and lift to bright citrus tones and a stunning limestone minerality”, with an expression that was “at once creamy and piercing with layers of intensity”. When pairing a wine with “this flair of tension and drama”, Victoria would recommend pouring it alongside caviar or oysters.
Julien Sarrasin – Head Sommelier at Hide, London
“Every wine aficionado would understand the emotion I felt when I first tried this unique wine”, notes Julien Sarrasin, referring the Rhône’s renowned Reynaud family, and specifically a 2004 Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now under the influence of the “Rayas effect”, Julien also cites a rosé called Parisy from another Reynaud property, Château des Tours – a blend of Grenache and Cinsault that provided his “most exciting experience” of rosé wine. He describes its “intense bouquet of crushed wild ripe raspberries, jammy strawberries, liquorice stick, and Mediterranean herbs”, which pairs with “intense seafood and fish dishes, as well as meat”.
Jonathan Charnay – Beverage Director at Masa, New York
Echoing Lupo Theones’s choice, Jonathan Charnay tells us that his “absolute favourite wine” is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling, though cites the Auslese as his top wine. He muses on its “great complexity and depth” with “intense aromas of white flowers and honey” that he immediately fell in love with when tasting with Egon Müller during a visit to the winery in 2013. While it is sweet when young, Jonathan points out that it can “age for decades, turning into a delicate elixir” with notes of “apricots, ginger and bergamot”.
Pascaline Lepeltier – formerly Managing Partner at Racines, New York
Pascaline Lepeltier informs us that if she “had to go back to a wine over and over again” it would be Benoit Courault’s Gilbourg – a Chenin Blanc from Anjou in the Loire, where she grew up. “Benoit was one of the first vignerons I met over 15 years ago” she explains, noting that her path was paved by time spent with him in his vineyards in the Coteaux du Layon. Produced with grapes from different plots on schists, Gilbourg is made organically and with minimal intervention – “a real paragon” according to Pascaline. Admiring its “tremendous” ageing potential, she notes its evolution into “the most complete, complex, powerful but ethereal Chenin”.
Explore Wine Lister’s own MUST BUYs for 2021 in our recent blog here.
While the market for Bordeaux remains sturdy, and interest in Burgundy continues to grow, it is easy to overlook other traditional European fine wine regions despite their impressive quality and value for money, particularly compared with upward-spiralling Burgundian price tags. This week’s top five looks at such a region – the best of Spain’s iconic Rioja.
In first place is Bodegas Lopez de Heredia’s Rioja Gran Reserva with an overall Wine Lister score of 910. Though by no means the most expensive of the five (at £63 in-bond per bottle), it earns the highest Economics score of the group (926). This is down to impressive growth over both the short- and long-term, with a six-month price performance of 28.8% and a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36.2%.
Next is the first of two wines in this week’s top five from La Rioja Alta, the 890 Gran Reserva with an overall score of 855. Its younger sibling, the 904 Gran Reserva earns fourth place in this week’s top five with a score of 840. Both wines are Buzz Brands, and while one costs more than twice as much as the other on average (£90 for 890 vs. £41 for 904), both sport similar brand successes, earning the top two spots for search rank in this week’s top five. La Rioja Alta’s 904 Gran Reserva is the 119thmost-searched-for wine of the 4,000+ wines on Wine Lister (the 890 is 284th), and earns the best Brand score of the group (902).
In third place of this week’s top five is a wine with a very different profile, not least as the only non-Gran Reserva of the group. Artadi’s Rioja Viña El Pisón achieves the lowest Brand score of the group, but the highest Quality score at 954. This combined with its low production rate of just 6,000 bottles per annum on average likely contributes towards it also having the highest price of this week’s top five, at £189 in-bond per bottle. In a global context, this price is still remarkably low for the Quality achieved – the nearest comparable Quality score for red Bordeaux is 953, achieved by Château Margaux at an average price of £422.
Finally, at number five is Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva. Though middle of the range for almost every score criterion, Cune achieves the best vertical restaurant presence of the group, with an average of 1.6 vintages and/or formats in 10% of the world’s best restaurants.
This week, our Listed blog focuses on Spain’s strongest Brands. Unsurprisingly, and fittingly as we creep into autumn, all are red. It will probably also come as no shock that Bodegas Vega-Sicilia features prominently – filling an impressive three out of five spots on the list, including the top two.
Wine Lister’s Brand score combines a measure of a wine’s prestige – as indicated by its visibility in the world’s top restaurants – with its level of online popularity – calculated by ranking each of the 4000+ wines in our database by monthly search frequency on the world’s most visited wine site, Wine-Searcher. Four of this week’s top five also qualify as Buzz Brands – Wine Lister’s group of wines that perform particularly well when it comes to restaurant presence and online popularity, or are demonstrating a recent growth in popularity, and which are identified by the fine wine trade as trending or especially prestigious.
Vega-Sicilia Unico enjoys the best Brand score of any Spanish wine – and is thus the winner of this week’s race. In fact, it also achieves the highest overall Wine Lister score of all Spanish wines (974). Although Unico outperforms the rest of this week’s top five in all three of Wine Lister’s rating categories, its Brand score is particularly impressive (991). This phenomenal score is the result of excellent restaurant presence (47%) and being the 32nd most searched-for of Wine Lister’s wines on Wine Searcher.
Next, with a Brand score of 952 is Vega-Sicilia Valbuena. Despite not being able to match the Bodega’s flagship Unico in any category, it is in terms of brand recognition that it gets closest, its Quality and Economics scores trailing Unico by 115 and 54 points respectively. Its slightly lower – although still impressive – Brand score is the result of being visible in under half the number of restaurants as Unico (23%) and receiving fewer online searches (it is the 119th most popular wine on Wine Lister).
The third wine to make it onto the list is Dominio de Pingus Pingus. Presumably due to its tiny production volumes – only 6,000 bottles of it are produced each year – it is by far the most expensive of this week’s top five, at over twice the price of Unico (£599 vs £225). Its strong Brand – and high price – are supported by excellent Quality, with Pingus achieving the second highest Quality score of the group (935).
The last two places of this week’s top five are occupied by La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva and Vega-Sicilia Alión. Not only do these two have identical Brand scores (907) but, despite contrasting profiles, they also share the same overall score (858). Alión achieves a higher Economics score (874 vs 729), whereas La Rioja Alta 904 records a slightly better Quality score (876 vs 812). La Rioja Alta 904 also shows that strong Brand and Quality scores do not necessarily have to mean soaring prices, as it is by far the most affordable of the five – priced at £37 per bottle on average.
While Europe swelters, the structured reds of Rioja might not immediately spring to mind. However, this summer must surely at some point come to an end, and before we know it, it will be cold, dark, and we’ll once again be reaching for steadying reds. So in the spirit of planning ahead, this week’s Listed section considers Rioja’s five best reds by Quality score.
Remelluri’s Gran Riserva comes out on top with a formidable Quality score of 972. Costing on average £32, it is also the most affordable of the five. The 2010, which achieves a Quality score of 977 is available for as little as £35, and with Julia Harding awarding it a score of 18+/20 and calling it “long, dry and already elegant and refined” it seems a lot of bang for your buck.
From the most affordable to the most expensive, in second place is Artadi’s Viña El Pisón (954). Its high price tag is perhaps the result of its low production of on average 6,000 bottles each year. It is remarkably consistent, with its Quality score deviating just 18 points on average from vintage to vintage. 2007 is its best vintage according to Wine Lister’s partner critics, with a score of 985, Julia Harding calling it “(the) essence of Tempranillo”.
Next come Contino’s Gran Reserva and Contador’s La Viña de Andres Romeo, their Quality scores separated by just two points. It is in fact the Contador that is favoured by the critics – the result of superior ratings by Vinous, with for example Josh Reynolds calling the 2010 “a distinctly graceful and seductive expression for this vintage” and awarding it a score of 94/100. The Contino’s marginally better Quality score is thus the result of a longer ageing potential, Wine Lister’s partner critics predicting it to last on average nine years, nearly twice as long as the Contador’s five years.
The remaining spot is filled by La Rioja Alta’s 890 Gran Reserva. Whilst it experiences the group’s lowest Quality score – its score of 917 nevertheless putting it amongst the highest echelons on Wine Lister’s scale – it enjoys the best overall score of the five (851). It turns the tables on the competition in the Brand and Economics categories, both of which it comfortably leads with scores of 792 and 807 respectively.
December is an expensive month, a time when many of us push the boat out, embracing the seasonal festivities as the days get ever shorter and the nights longer. But December has now been and gone, and January is here. Whilst it is a time for trying to tighten one’s belt – economically and physically – it needn’t be all doom and gloom.
This is where Wine Lister’s Value Picks come in to their own. One of Wine Lister’s four indicators (designed to highlight particularly noteworthy wines for our subscribers), Value Picks identify the wines and vintages that have the best quality to price ratio (with a proprietary weighting giving more importance to quality, thus giving the finest wines a look-in). This week’s Listed section looks at Spain’s top five Value Picks. Each achieving Quality scores of at least 876, and costing under £40 per bottle, they are sure to brighten up these dark January days. Please note that the prices shown are excluding duty and VAT, and often reflect prices available only when purchasing a full case.
Leading the way is La Rioja Alta Rioja 904 Gran Reserva 2005. With an excellent Quality score of 909, this is a wine that is built to last – it is only now entering its drinking window, and will be drinking well until 2032. Not only does it qualify as a Value Pick, it is also one of Wine Lister’s Buzz Brands. Available for as little as £27 per bottle, it represents outstanding value.
Vega-Sicilia Pintia fills two spots, with the 2004 and 2002. They enjoy the group’s top two highest Quality scores (987 and 965 respectively), having received excellent ratings of 19/20 and 18/20 from Wine Lister partner critic Jancis Robinson. They need drinking up now, so why not start the year as you mean to go on and get your hands on one (or both!) of these.
Numanthia 2012, on the other hand, won’t be ready until 2022. The cheapest of the group – at as little as £26 per bottle – it might be wise to buy a case and forget about it for a few years. Achieving a Quality score of 876, you won’t regret finding a bottle of it tucked away in January 2028!
The last of Spain’s top five Value Picks is Aalto 2011. With a Quality score of 920, and right in the middle of its drinking window, it would be £28 of liquid Spanish sun to brighten up the month.
Bodegas Vega-Sicilia has today released a host of wines. Alongside the 2018 edition of Unico Reserva Especial (£240 per bottle / £720 per case of three) and Valbuena 2013 (£78 per bottle / £234 per case of three), comes Unico 2006 at £195 per bottle / £585 per case of three. Below we look at all the facts about Spain’s top wine.
You can download the slide here: Wine Liser Fact Sheet Vega-Sicilia Unico
For this week’s top five, the spotlight is on our highest ranked Spanish red wines. All achieve a total Wine Lister score of over 913, yet there is a significant price difference between the lowest and highest priced bottle (over £500).
Vega-Sicilia Unico wins the Spanish sprint to the top spot with an applaudable Wine Lister score of 971. With impressive restaurant presence (47%) and over 17,000 average monthly searches, the wine’s Brand score is a big contributor to its number one spot.
Next, scoring 47 points less (923) though more than double the price (£573), is Pingus. With consistently high ratings from Jancis Robinson, Jeannie Cho Lee and Antonio Galloni, it has a very strong Quality score of 936 – identical to its Brand score.
A second wine from Spain’s most prestigious wine estate, the Vega-Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial, comes in third place with the highest Quality score of the group (983). However, similar to all the other top five’s, its price has been decreasing since August.
The most affordable wine of the group is the René Barbier Clos Mogador, at £57 per bottle on average. It’s the only wine of the five not to hold Buzz Brand status, though it scores five out of five for liquidity, with 300 bottles of its top five vintages traded in the past year.
Joint fourth is Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita, matching Clos Mogador’s Wine Lister score of 913. Its three-month average price scores four out of five — an improvement on its six-month price performance of two out of five. It’s the rarest in its peer group, producing just 1,350 bottles per year on average, though it still manages to achieve 19% restaurant presence.
As Wine Lister’s holistic rating system demonstrates, there are many factors (nine criteria, in all) to take into account when calculating a wine’s greatness. One of these is distribution in the world’s top restaurants, our measure of a wine’s prestige and clout on the international market. In order to identify the restaurants that count – not just for the food but for the wine – we have created a matrix of global restaurants with Michelin stars, 50 Best Restaurants, World of Fine Wine Best Wine List awards, and more. We take the most formidable combination of these as the basis for our painstaking analysis.
We are expanding our coverage constantly, and the latest instalment is now in. This year alone has seen an increase of 50%, to 150 restaurants analysed. New entrants come from across the globe, from New York’s Balthazar to Paris’s Carré des Feuillants.
The table below shows the 20 wines to have seen their restaurant presence increase the most since the last update in April:
The top three wines are Champagnes: Salon Le Mesnil, Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, and Dom Pérignon Oenothèque (the last all the more impressive since the wine was re-branded a few years ago). None of them, however, is the wine with the largest restaurant presence. That accolade falls to Yquem, which saw its presence increase by 7.3% in the latest update, appearing on 69% of the world’s top wine lists – including Boulud in New York and Sketch in London.
Second most popular of the wines above is Mouton Rothschild, whose restaurant presence increased by 5.7%, and which overall features on 58% of the best restaurants, from The French Laundry in California to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong.
It is also interesting to note the wines that have relatively low overall restaurant presence but saw a significant increase in the latest update, suggesting that their stars are on the rise. These include Bordeaux Saint Pierre and Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Millésimé, which appeared on 2% of the previous restaurant lists but are now at 8% and 9% respectively. Meanwhile, Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge found its restaurant presence tip from 9% to 15% in the latest update.
A wine’s reputation for quality cannot be determined by one vintage alone – the very best must be consistent, year-in, year-out. Today, we’ve analysed our data to determine which wines have the most consistent Quality scores (one of the three categories, alongside Brand and Economics that feed into Wine Lister’s holistic wine ratings).
Assessing all the wines in our database for which there are Quality scores for more than 30 vintages, we analysed the standard deviation of these scores from vintage to vintage. The top 10 wines below are the most consistent when it comes to quality:
Unsurprisingly, these are all big names that have been able to invest in the newest technologies to see them through the more challenging years. Their reliability is testament to their status as great wines. Seven of the world’s top 10 most consistently qualitative wines are French, although of the five Bordeaux left bank first growths, only Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion make the cut, joined by Petrus and Cheval Blanc from the right bank. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is the only producer to boast two wines in the table: La Tâche and Romanée-Conti, also the two most expensive.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the most consistent wine is also the most affordable. At an average price per bottle of £124, Californian Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello sees limited fluctuation in Quality scores between the years, with the vast majority of vintages scoring between 960 and 990. It is followed by Spain’s Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Unico – whose Quality scores on Wine Lister stretch right back to its 1920 vintage, proving almost a century of consistent winemaking.
With the latest data now in from Wine Searcher, we took a look at which wines have seen their average monthly searches soar in the last month. The US boasts two wines in this top 5, with searches continuing to increase for Screaming Eagle, and Scarecrow seeing a significant uptick. Bottled relatively recently, Scarecrow 2014 scored 96+ from our US partner critic Antonio Galloni, who described it as “a wine of finesse.” At the end of February, Scarecrow 2014 was the top lot in a Premiere Napa Valley auction, selling for $200,000. The increase in searches has boosted Scarecrow’s Brand score from 868 to 885.
Latour was the only wine from France to see its popularity rise last month, with searches for the Bordeaux first growth no doubt increasing as a result of the ex-château release in mid-March of Latour 2005, for €670 per bottle ex-négociant. Latour has the highest Brand score of all the wines in the table, with a near-perfect 999.
The final two wines to have seen a rise in popularity are Spain’s Pingus, whose 2014 recently received a 100-point score in the Wine Advocate, and Italy’s Azienda Agricola Falletto (Bruno Giacosa) Barolo Rocche Falletto Riserva. In March, Antonio Galloni praised “the genius of Bruno Giacosa” in a vertical tasting, and the increase in searches resulted in the wine’s Brand score rising from 812 to 822.
How is the popularity score calculated and how does it fit into the overall Wine Lister score?