France’s 50 best winemakers: Maison Drappier’s Hugo Drappier

Winemaker of his family-owned Champagne House in Urville: “At Drappier wine is a family sport”.

For the 23rd interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series we pay a fourth visit to Champagne to meet Hugo Drappier, #28. Son of Michel Drappier, and grandson of André Drappier, it is now his turn to create the family wines at their estate in Urville, which lies at the southernmost edge of the Champagne region. In that neck of the woods, despite their global success, they keep their feet firmly on the ground.  

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Hugo Drappier: I’ll just have to take it on the chin! I wasn’t expecting that at all! That’s really nice. The whole family has put in a lot of work over recent years. We can see the results in the desirability of our wines. It was hard to believe at first. We had to figure out why what we were doing worked. Hopefully we can sustain it over time, and our wines will continue to please the customer base of wine lovers that we have managed to build up over the past few decades. As for now, we still have work to do in terms of the quality of our wines, since we are not always 100% satisfied, so we will go all out to ensure that our wines continue to improve.

Have you been training for long?

Yes, and I think that the training is far from over. There is still a great deal of work to be done to get to where we would like to be every year. We have some challenges to deal with, like global warming and natural disasters. We plan to upgrade our cellars to help keep our wines over the long term. Getting to grips with global warming is one of the generational challenges that will affect us for the next twenty years. We are only seeing the start of it, and we know that it’s going to intensify. We are going to have to reinvent ourselves.    

Who is your favourite mentor?

I cannot give you just one name. I have, in the natural course of things, encountered quite a few people who have knowingly and unknowingly influenced my choices and provided guidance in tasting. We all have our favourite styles of wine in Champagne, in France, and even internationally. Every wine I have tasted that has resonated with me has subconsciously exerted some small influence over my technical choices and over the style of the wines that I make. It is difficult to answer this question, although obviously my father has a big influence on me now. Plenty of others have also brought a little something to the table.

If you had to name names?

There are, of course, wines that we really enjoy and that we drink as a family. I could name the Amoreau family in the Bordeaux region. And then there are good friends of mine, winemakers in Burgundy who also work with Pinot, even though we make different kinds of wine. I am very close to the Richoux family in Irancy. Despite the contrast in our winemaking approaches our terroirs are very similar and we have many shared values which inspires me.   

At Drappier, is wine a team sport or a family sport?

I would say that it’s a family sport, above all because the history that pervades the house was written by the family in the first place, and that continues to be the case. Transitions take place down through the generations, and today these work themselves out between brothers and sisters. It is truly the family that has written our story and ties of parentage and blood inevitably predominate. That remains a cornerstone of our story. The family is at the centre of our daily activity, in both professional and family spheres, and I hope that is the way things stay. Unfortunately this is becoming increasingly rare, but we are trying to maintain this vital family core.  

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

This is something that has evolved through the way that Champagne winemakers have always contrived to plant their terroir in accordance with their chosen combinations of plots, grape varieties, and wines. The interesting thing about this region is that the terroir is read, perhaps more than elsewhere, through the lens of the winemaker. Every winemaker has their own way of interpreting their terroir. There are many aspects to the concept of terroir: the geological and climatic sides, and a human meaning…In Champagne, human meaning is more significant, carries more weight, than in other regions. The winemaker has a more leading role.

To what do you owe your success?

It’s all down to the family. I haven’t succeeded yet and I don’t know if I will ever get there. Either way, any success is shared. I would say, above all, that we share a love for the art of wine. I am proud to have learnt and to have travelled, values that my father and grandfather passed on to me. In terms of my winemaking education, my grandfather has played a major role, while my father has had more of a hand in my love of research and innovation. In terms of my personal fulfilment, I see it as a success to have fallen in love with this profession, to see different things every day, and never to be satisfied with what we have done.

Who is your biggest supporter?

The emotional support of fellow winemakers with whom I have been able to talk things over. I have had a few setbacks and to be able to discuss things with my winemaker friends, from Champagne and elsewhere, to appreciate that I am not the only one to have experienced technical problems, and to be able to come up with solutions together, this is a big moral support in these testing times.

Your favourite colour? 

It’s not so much a favourite colour as a colour that challenges me, especially in the world of Champagne, namely orange. That may not be terribly original, but I find it challenging.

Your favourite wine?

2018, because it strikes me as original and sums up very well what we are capable of and what we want to achieve in the years ahead.


Your favourite vintage?

2017 was really interesting, a real test. Also 2018 and 2022.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

Perhaps the renowned monk, St Bernard of Clairvaux, in terms of personality. I don’t believe that you can make wines that everyone likes. But they should be relatively straightforward, forthright, and offer something relatively unembellished, assured and slightly sharp.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

On a daily basis, with friends. And spontaneously.

France’s 50 best winemakers: Château de Pibarnon’s Éric de Saint-Victor

Owner and winemaker of his family estate in Bandol: “I was regarded as the ‘son of’ for a very long time”.

The 22nd interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series finds us once more in Provence, at Château de Pibarnon, a southern jewel which has been raising the profile of the Bandol wine region for nearly half a century. We are here to meet Éric de Saint-Victor, #29, a second-generation owner who, after many years in the shadow of his parents, has firmly established his place at the zenith of the appellation.

With a mere three hectares acquired in 1977, in an appellation which formerly struggled to get on the map, Château de Pibarnon began life as a genuine gamble. “My parents purchased what was within their means,” acknowledges Éric de Saint-Victor. “My father saw that you could do something extraordinary in Bandol. They created everything from scratch.” With its two red wines, two rosés, and one white, the estate now ranks among the most sought-after in France and plays a major part in the growing reputation of the Bandol wine region on both national and international stages.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Éric de Saint-Victor: It reminds me of something my father used to say when he heard himself described as the best: “I am one of the two best, but we don’t know who the other one is!” We should bear in mind that in the 1980s and 1990s there was a competitive atmosphere between the estates, who were in a race to get results and win attention. A great wine had to be powerful and intense. That was the norm, especially in Bandol. When it comes to me, I am really fortunate to have had the time to develop my expertise and to benefit from well-established vines, so today, above all, the challenge is with myself, in the pursuit of craftsmanship rather than competition. It makes me very happy to be regarded as a champion, but just like with sailing, you have to put your own boat in order before taking on others.

Have you been training for long?

At the outset I learnt alongside my parents. My father taught me about winemaking, my mother about the business side of things. The training never stops, and you are always taking risks.

Who is your mentor?

Alain Brumont (of Château Montus and Château Bouscassé in the Southwest, ed.) who visited the estate in 1989. He was the first winemaker of note to treat me as an equal. I was regarded as the “son of” for a very long time, whereas he spoke to me as one winemaker to another, which boosted my confidence. I think that more than having a mentor, what is really valuable is to analyse the pathways taken by winemakers whose wines you love and to see how these can be understood through their wines. In this respect tasting is key to analysis. I always say that Pibarnon’s first customer is me!

Is wine a team sport?

Of course. We have a talented team here and the working atmosphere is pivotal. I don’t want a team of pruning shears; I want human beings. Everyone brings something to the table, and I favour consensus and collective decision-making.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

We are merely part of the terroir, it is our job to give it meaning, to interpret it, whereas the substrate is immutable.

To what do you owe your success?

First and foremost to the terroir. Here in Bandol we have a unique geological layer, a Triassic limestone soil which is exceptional, enjoys excellent hydromorphology, and produces grapes with quite intense tannins.

Is your family proud of you?

I think so, even though I have been an “orphan” since the ages of 49 and 50.

Your favourite colour? 

I like white, although it’s hard to choose. I roll with the seasons. My favourite style of wine is the one that takes me into its own world. I don’t look to be amazed, I go for depth and the experience of discovery.

Your favourite grape variety?

Mourvèdre, which has a fascinating, very romantic character. It’s a Don Quixote, untamed and freethinking. It’s a grape variety that requires freedom, it’s not a circus animal: you can’t put it in a box, you have to know how to guide it.

Your favourite wine?

Because of my genes it has to be Le Rouge du Château, which is Pibarnon’s standard bearer, combining all the attributes of the estate. In our southernmost environment we contrive to produce something fresh, which makes for an astonishing paradox on the palate. These are wines of light rather than wines of heat.

Your favourite vintage?

No vintage is exactly like another. I really liked 2019, for which we went out on a limb.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

A character from fiction, but intellectually rich, a bit like Steve McQueen with a feline side. It’s a wine that sometimes shows its claws but has a smooth and solitary side.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

When the wines are young, over a meal, when they have aged, in a more contemplative way, especially after 25 years of ageing. The latter are more meditative wines, producing more heightened states of intoxication, whereas the former make the conversation flow.

Who is your strongest competition?


What is your greatest trophy?

My father won six gold medals at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris. He exuded a special charm and had built up some very strong relationships with sommeliers and winemakers. In 1993 I began to take over responsibility for winemaking, then, a few years after that, I entered a competition in England. I gave that a shot because in France I would have been afraid of only getting bronze! Neither Bandol wines nor Mourvèdre were specified on the entry form, so I competed in the “others” category and six weeks later I was awarded a prize. This story aside, the greatest trophy for me today is to share a tasting with a great sommelier and to see in his eyes a growing understanding which reveals a sense of experiencing something new.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

Someone who could take my place while showing true independence through their own take on things. Someone who could build on their experience on the estate and find their own voice: they would be the ideal successor.

France’s 50 best winemakers: Patricia Ortelli, winemaker in Provence

Owner and winemaker of Château La Calisse: “You have to be tuned in to your terroir”.

The 11th in Le Figaro Vin’s series brings us back to Provence where Patricia Ortelli, #40, creates her exquisite organic wines. Here she shares her vision and her deep love for her vocation, which she has pursued for the last 30 years.

A pioneer of organic viticulture in Provence, Patricia Ortelli works her 12 hectares of vines with passion and respect for the environment, entirely eschewing weedkillers and insecticides. Château La Calisse benefits from an exceptional location, with its terroir of stony limestone soil where the vines flourish at an altitude of 500 metres, which protects them from sun damage. This terroir produces wines of extraordinary vivacity, ranging from a delicate white to a refined red by way of the palest of rosés.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Patricia Ortelli: It gives me a feeling of intense happiness, in the light of all the love that, to this very day, I have devoted to my wines.

Have you been training for long?

Only for 30 years! It began when I raised my hand at an auction and ended up owning an abandoned vineyard. We had to start from scratch, completely replanting and rebuilding, levelling the ground and constructing the cellar. That was when I chose to go organic, becoming a trailblazer here in Provence. We started out on land that had never been touched by chemicals.

Who is your mentor?

My oenology professor, who was a big help, and very enthusiastic about this terroir, in the northern part of Provence. This was at a time when investors were focused on the south, in order to be close to the sea, whereas here we are 500 metres above sea-level.

Is wine a team sport?

Yes, one hundred per cent. In my teams we are all on equal terms and we face the day’s challenges together, especially at harvest. One of the joys of this job is that you never know what to expect. You have to stay on your toes. Everyone in my team wants to do their best.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

For me it’s the terroir, and it is important that the winemaker understands that his task is to respect what his terroir offers. That is my definition of a great winemaker. You have to choose the right path for the wine to express its full aromatic potential, and you have to be tuned in to your terroir to find the best approach.

To what do you owe your success?

To Nature with a capital “N”.

Is your family proud of you?

I am sure they are. They have all been involved in the project and are particularly pleased with the results.

Your favourite colour? 

I produce a third of each colour, so I would say a blend of all three. There is a fascination in the specific skills and ways of working required by each of them. My first grapes were white, which went against the prevailing trend. As for the rosé, it is an extremely tricky wine to make, which gives you a great deal of joy when you get it right. Its finesse is remarkable.

The king of grape varieties?

I really think that there is an essential grape variety for each wine. For the whites that is Rolle, for the rosé, Grenache – it is the most suited to our high terroirs – and, for the reds, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each grape variety has its own personality, its own challenges, they all have something about them, and you have to discover what makes each of them tick.

Your favourite wine?

The Cuvée Étoiles, but they all bring me a different pleasure. That can be when I am making them or when they are fully realised, just like with a work of art.

Your favourite vintage?

The one which provides the depth, fullness, and freshness that I look for. 2010 for example. Every vintage has a unique character which informs and shapes our wines. But it is certainly the case that the best years are those that are free from disease and frost.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

It is the image of what nature has given us.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

In large glasses, at the right temperature, obviously. But also, ideally, in circumstances conducive to producing a particular pleasure, a sense of joy.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

No product can make a bad grape better. From the moment you harvest fully ripened grapes by hand, through the night, and your grapes are of the finest quality, there is nothing to be gained by tampering with them. The only measures we take are temperature regulation and combinations from different plots, using micro-vinifications, which enable us to balance our wines through blending.

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

There is significant pressure around us, but my estate is priceless. I could never sell it because I am entirely at one with it.

Who is your strongest competition in Provence?

The most formidable competition would be to find myself surrounded by a race to the bottom, considering the terroirs we have in our region. These days Provence has established a reputation for high-quality wine, and we have to maintain it.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

They are too many to count, all connected to my understanding of vines and wine. I use methods that are unique to me, but one of them underpins everything: paying attention. You have to pay careful attention to every aspect of winemaking; you can never relax. I try, every day, to see and understand my vines.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

My son and my grandchildren.

France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Valentin Zusslin’s Jean-Paul Zusslin

Owner and winemaker, in tandem with his sister Marie, of their family estate in Alsace: “We run on adrenaline”.












For the tenth interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series we pay our third visit to Alsace to meet Jean-Paul Zusslin, #41. He and his sister Marie work hand-in-hand with nature to create their great Alsace wines at Domaine Valentin Zusslin, founded in the late seventeenth century, at Orschwir, between Colmar and Mulhouse. The two siblings, 13th generation of a family of winemakers, work 13.5 hectares of vines, made up of nine grape varieties (Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinots Noir and Gris, Riesling, and Sylvaner). The estate’s three select terroirs, on the slopes of Bollenberg, Clos Liebenberg, and Grand Cru Pfingstberg, have been cultivated biodynamically since 1997, and produce exquisite, exciting, and elegant Alsace wines.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Jean-Paul Zusslin: I am very happy with what we have been able to achieve since my sister and I joined forces on the family estate in 2000. The estate’s reputation has grown, and we make wholesome wines which are true to us and our environment.

Have you been training for long?

Since forever, I think. Vines, wines, wine-lovers, and restaurants have all been part of my daily life from a very young age, and I never tire of them!

Who is your mentor?

My partner, my children, my sister, my mother, all my kindred winemakers. Nature, too, is a good guide when you pay it proper attention.

Is wine a team sport?

You need plenty of team-mates and have to be in good shape to make a good wine. It is important to me that everyone should work well together, start the day with a smile, be generous-spirited, and want to work hard and conscientiously. That said, I am not hugely competitive! I am a big fan of live shows and I see us more as a theatre company with me as the director. The spectators are the tasters, the actors are the vines and our team, while the playwright who guides us is nature. We try to interpret nature as faithfully as possible.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

To make a good wine you have to be a good winemaker, but to make a great one you have to understand its terroir, its environment. That comes from experience, accumulated through successive vintages, from observation, from challenging yourself, and from humility.

To what do you owe your success?

To my family, to my partnership with my sister, to doing what I love, and to my perseverance. When I joined the family estate in 2000 my parents and grandparents gave me the freedom to experiment and do what I wanted, especially in the cellar. They gave me the same freedom in the vineyard, where I have experimented with herbal treatments, biodynamic sprays, the introduction of nesting-boxes…

Is your family proud of you?

Yes, I think they are, I certainly hope so! I am equally appreciative of everyone’s contribution.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My mother, but without a trace of objectivity!

Your favourite colour? 

White in the morning, bubbles at midday, deep yellow for afternoon tea, and red in the evening.

The king of grape varieties?

It’s hard to say, to choose is to go without! I love all the wines that I make. It’s like asking me which is my favourite child. I love both of them unconditionally. That said, I am very partial to Riesling, for its multiple dimensions, its freshness, and its versatility in matching with food.

Your favourite wine?

I am very fond of Clos Liebenberg, it’s a unique spot, a haven of biodiversity where I love to spend time, and it produces magnificent still and sparkling wines.

Your favourite vintage?

I would go for 2015, the last vintage with my father. Each year brings a new experience, a new encounter. For every vintage we spring into action, give it everything we’ve got, and the fruits of our labour are there in the bottle. Every wine has a story to tell and reminds us of some climatic or some personal event.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

I hope it is like me, on a good day! But it is also like our landscape through the passing seasons.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

Wine is a social bond, a product that we share, therefore it has to be in good company, over a meal or in the living room.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

Yes, all the time. I try to stimulate both vine and wine with willpower and with attentive, loving care. I think it is important that both vine and wine know what we expect from them, what our intentions are. We have to give heart and soul for them, always be there for them, and stay tuned in. My vinifications are very minimalist and natural but require careful attention. As for my personal stimulants of choice, they are wine, in moderation I like to think, positive energy, and strong coffee…

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

I have never considered that question. For 13 generations now my family has been making wine and looking after a bit of land. I would be very happy if I could pass that on to my children or to my sister’s children. It will be their choice, with no pressure from me. In any case, that’s for the future. I am not about to go anywhere.

Who is your strongest competition in Alsace?

No one. Instead, I see my winemaking colleagues as a source of inspiration. Everyone has their own style. When I’m at home I almost exclusively taste wines that are not my own. I try to understand what the winemaker sought to express and to discover what makes them tick. Faced with climate change we are going to have to form a collective front against numerous challenges, hence all the more reason to get on well.

Which competitions do you dread the most?

The harvest. We run on adrenaline. There are lots of team-mates to manage, you have to bring home the wines, and the days are long. By comparison the Mont Blanc ultra marathon is a walk in the park!

What is your greatest trophy?

When you start the day among the vines and you see a hare, a pheasant, a tit has come to say hello. Or perhaps when my children tell me “That’s really good!”. And when our customers tell me that my wine does them good.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

From the moment I came to the estate in 2000 I have been passionate about the natural cultivation of vines, observing and classifying the plants and small animals and insects that live in the vineyard. The estate had already been converted to biodynamic viticulture in 1997, on the initiative of my father, Jean-Marie Zusslin. I found that fascinating and delved deeply into alternative methods, especially the use of herbs. I acquired a lot of knowledge in this field about plants that produce essential oils. I have tried out different methods of extraction (infusion, decoction, and maceration) and potentisation. Currently I macerate the plants in alcohol to extract more of their essential elements. It’s an ongoing experiment, but the results so far are encouraging. The idea is also to become self-sufficient in caring for our vines, to strengthen them without stressing them.

In the cellar, for a number of years now, I have passed some fermenting wines over marcs from our great reds. That produces greater flavour, fewer tannins, and an unbelievable drinkability. We have called this wine Ophrys, after the orchids which grow on the sheltered part of Bollenberg hill.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

I hope it will be my children, or my sister’s children. But only if they choose this freely and because they are passionate about it. I think that they respect what we are doing. We try pass on to them what excites us. But it’s not an issue for the time being. I very much want to try and make another 40 vintages!

Wine Lister Leagues 2021: Biggest Movers within Bordeaux and beyond

Increased interest online across both banks

Wine Lister’s annual in-depth study shines a spotlight on the pattern of increased interest in some Bordeaux wines over the past two years, with key properties across appellations seeing elevated popularity during the pandemic.

Wine Lister Leagues 2021: the Biggest Movers in search rank – Wine Lister’s measure of popularity (p.6)

Using monthly search data from the most-visited wine website in the world, Wine-Searcher, Wine Lister’s Biggest Movers highlight wines whose online search rank has improved the most between October 2019 and October 2021 (within the top 100 most popular wines).

Which wines have seen the greatest increase in online popularity over the last two years?

The list of top 12 popularity movers comprises a range of price points, reflecting the broad spectrum of online fine wine enthusiasts, from cult classics to up-and-coming wines to watch. The findings indicate that appetite for Bordeaux has not waned, with increasing searches for Bordeaux bottles correlating to the success of the last two en primeur campaigns, within the context of a global pandemic.

Right Bank recognition

Rising 30 places, Canon was the biggest popularity mover, and takes first place in the League.  Indeed, in February 2021, Wine Lister’s annual Founding Members Bordeaux survey revealed the trade’s opinion of Canon as having the most potential to see the greatest increase in demand in the near-to mid-term; naming Figeac a close second, which secures eighth position in this year’s Biggest Movers League.

Pomerol continues to prove popular – alongside Figeac, Lafleur has moved up 20 places, to sixth position in the League, while Jean-Pierre Moueix’s La Fleur-Pétrus is also featured, in 10th place.

Left Bank elevation

Two Pessac-Léognan properties appear in the top 12 Biggest Movers, with Smith Haut Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier landing in fifth and seventh place respectively. Smith Haut Lafitte red 2020 received its highest score from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (for Vinous) of 95-97 points since the celebrated 2016 vintage – on release en primeur in June this year, it was announced that the bottles will sport special edition labels, marking owners’ Florence and Daniel Cathiard’s 30th harvest, and 655 years of the property.

Representing Saint-Julien, Léoville Poyferré and Branaire-Ducru have seen upward quality and popularity trajectories in recent years. With the latter boasting another 17-point score from for the 2020 vintage, the property continues to offer notable value for its quality.

Popular picks beyond Bordeaux

Harlan is the only non-French Biggest Mover this year, not least thanks to Will Harlan and his team’s conscientious efforts to maintain strong connections with the European fine wine trade. The only champagne to be featured in the League – Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc – has a strong reputation within the industry as one of the most tradeable Grandes Marques, with investment appeal encouraging its search rank to increase by 30 places in the past two years. The wine has gained further attention from the collector market following the postponed release of the landmark 2008 vintage, in October 2020.

A popular choice amongst the trade, Rayas’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape is cited in both Wine Lister’s articles on Drinking with experts: your favourite sommeliers’ favourite wines and Drinking with experts: your favourite winemakers’ favourite wines, and jumps an impressive 23 places in search rank, while collector’s favourite, Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny climbs 14 places, to 11th in the League.

For the full analysis, download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2021 Leagues here.

Wine Lister Leagues 2021

The insider’s guide to fine wine trends, and the most compelling wines to watch

Wine Lister has released its second annual Wine Leagues, celebrating some of the top-performing wines and producers in today’s new and much-diversified fine wine era. Informed by an in-depth trade survey with leading industry figures, the report provides a 360° view of those regions, producers, and wines that have seen strides in quality, popularity, economic promise, and more in 2021.

Wine Lister’s annual in-depth survey sees our expert panel of 47 CEOs, MDs, and wine department heads share their insight on some of the fine wines to have on your radar, as we ask them:

“What are the most compelling wines and producers in the market today?”

Respondents singled out 188 wines and producers collectively, that span no less than 20 major regions. Within the list, our team identifies Bibi Graetz, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Roberto Voerzio, Berthaut-Gerbet, and Fürst as wines to watch in the Old World, whilst calling out the New World wonders of Catena Zapata, Errazuriz, Pedro Parra, Rhys Vineyards, and Ridge Vineyards.

The report also includes rankings across:

  • Biggest quality improvers, which show impressive movement from Italy (occupying five places in the list of the top 20 by Quality score progression), with Isole e Olena Chianti Classico leading the pack
  • Best search rank movers, wherein Bordeaux represents eight of the top 20 wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches (including Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Figeac, and Léoville Poyferré)
  • Burgundy superstars, focusing on popularity movements from the trade’s darling region – Arnoux-Lachaux features 10 times in the list of top 20 Burgundian wines whose online searches have increased the most over the last two years
  • Wine Lister’s top-10 recommendations per Wine Lister Indicator; Hidden GemsValue PicksBuzz Brands, and Investment Staples in 2021

For the full analysis, download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2021 Leagues here.


Tuscany Harvest Report 2021: a year of great commitment

The balancing act

Following our recent report on Bordeaux’s 2021 harvest, Wine Lister now turns to Tuscany to find out more about its 2021 vintage so far, with insight from 10 top producers across the region

Tuscany’s 2021 growing season has been characterised as a year of climatic extremities, including a mild and rainy winter, the onset of frost in spring, persistent drought in summer, and ending in ideal harvest conditions. In a show of resilience and adaptability, producers were able to reap the benefits of acute weather patterns – with the potential consequences of drought lessened by the groundwater reserves accumulated in winter, and dry conditions reducing disease pressure over the summer.

What can we expect from Tuscany’s 2021 vintage?

Multiple methods to fight frost

  • Properties lit fires in the vineyards to circulate warm air and reduce the risk of frost. Owner of IPSUS, Giovanni Mazzei tells us that the technique successfully “increased the temperature up to 2˚C” across the IPSUS vineyards, protecting the vines from damage
  • Several producers used organic treatments to improve vine health following the frost, including Argiano, whose Sales Manager, Riccardo Bogi tells us that “brown algae allowed the plants to stabilise and respond as quickly as possible to the loss of sprouts”
  • Frost was particularly prevalent in low-lying coastal regions, with Ornellaia’s winemaker, Axel Heinz witnessing “damages limited to a few lower altitude vineyards, without significant impact on production”. Le Macchiole’s Commercial Director, Gianluca Putzolu tells us that the estate also implemented “organic spring fertilization” to combat frost that hit “some, but fortunately very few vineyards”

Water reserves

  • Rainfall during winter accumulated important water reserves at both Argiano and Romitorio, encouraging a good state of hydration ahead of the growing season
  • Some high-altitude properties also saw snowfall during winter that, when melted, “percolated the soil with water”, according to Romitorio’s owner, Filippo Chia
  • Abundant rainfall in May allowed plants to survive the hot summer, with Riccardo confirming that this was “essential” for Argiano’s 2021 vintage, “since after that, there was no rain until the beginning of October”. Similarly, Fèlsina’s owner, Giovanni Poggiali tells us of some “rainy days in June”

Sun and heat exposure

  • The management of the canopy needed to be delicate and precise to avoid sunburns”, explains Avignonesi’s COO and Agronomist, Alessio Gorini, who also explained that the use of high-tech sorting equipment allowed them “to completely remove any berries withered or raisined by the sun”
  • Organic treatments were adopted to protect the vines from sun exposure, such as the use of “kaolin” at Tenuta San Guido. General Director, Carlo Paoli explains this to be “a natural substance that we have been using for many years in hot vintages”, which helps to reduce the vines’ susceptibility to scorching
  • A broad diurnal range across several high-altitude estates encouraged balance despite the hot summer, with Castiglion del Bosco’s winemaker, Cecilia Leoneschi noting that the difference of more than 10°C between day and night temperatures was a “real blessing”

Teamwork amongst Tuscan vines: IPSUS (left), Tenuta San Guido (middle), Ornellaia (right)

A remarkably healthy vintage

  • Lack of rain throughout June and July minimised disease pressure; Filippo confirmed that “from a mould and disease standpoint, it was actually one of the healthiest vintages [Romitorio] has seen”, thanks to the “dry summer”. Giovanni echoes this sentiment for IPSUS, while Gianluca reiterates there were “no particular problems” at Le Macchiole, despite the risk of powdery mildew – a more common problem for the Bolgheri area

Striking when the time was right

  • For many estates, harvest timing was essential, with Alessio and the Avignonesi team similarly conscious of “avoiding over-ripening on such concentrated grapes”
  • Producers had to be particularly reactive to picking dates, explains Axel – whose 2021 harvest “required great skill” in planning, eventually leading to a “very compact harvest completed in one month, instead of the usual 40 days”. Owner of Tua Rita, Giovanni Frascolla similarly characterised 2021 as a “lightning harvest”

Balanced acidity

  • Powerful dark structure – we normally see this with low acid, but this has high acid” recounts Filippo from Romitorio’s latest tasting of the blend
  • First impressions show “bright aromatics and, luckily high acidities to keep everything in balance”, at Ornellaia, with Axel describing a “rich and concentrated” wine, “with soft tannins”
  • Grapes matured in a homogeneous way and with a perfect balance of acidity and PH” explains Carlo at Tenuta San Guido

     For more on the 2021 vintage, we recommend reading: Bordeaux Harvest Report 2021: the many hands of harvest

Bordeaux Harvest Report 2021: the many hands of harvest

Working around the clock

Wine Lister catches up with nine top producers from Bordeaux’s Left Bank to find out more about their 2021 harvest, and to hear their early evaluation of the vintage

Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage required patience and commitment. Producers worked around the clock to protect their vines – some were threatened by frost, others by disease pressure over the cool and wet summer, but all brought their respective teams together, facing the hand that Mother Nature dealt them with the best experience and techniques the modern wine world has to offer.

What do we know about Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage so far?

Frost protection

  • Several producers were protected from the April frost due to their proximity to rivers – just 600m from its banks of the Gironde, d’Issan vineyards escaped damage, according to owner, Emmanuel Cruse. Similarly, Vineyard Manager, Nicolas Dudebout tells us that Malescasse were “naturally shielded” by their privileged positioning near the Garonne
  • Other properties were well-equipped to fight the frost proactively, with Smith Haut-Lafitte’s owner Florence Cathiard confirming that a combination of “Valerian decoction (Valeriana officinalis plant root used for its restorative properties), and candles” protected their vines

Organics against disease pressure

  • The cool and wet start to summer left some producers vulnerable to disease pressure: Florence told us that Smith Haut-Lafitte reacted to the threat of mildew using “copper mixed with phytotherapy decoctions of horsetail, nettle, wicker, and comfrey”
  • We take the best of both worlds” at Larrivet Haut-Brion, describes Cellar Master, Charlotte Mignon. She explains that the team were “reactive to fighting mildew attacks”, using biocontrol to facilitate the sustainable use of “organic, biodynamic, and conventional solutions [as] necessary”

Late summer ripening

  • Late summer sun in August and September created favourable conditions for Merlot, an early-ripening grape variety that is notoriously challenging in hotter temperatures. Cos d’Estournel’s Technical Director, Dominique Arangoïts, found their Merlot to be “remarkably enticing, fruity, and rich with a very noble expression”
  • Slower ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes encouraged good phenological maturity: During his last harvest at Lafon-Rochet, Basile Tesseron tells us that, following early pre-harvest berry tastings, the grapes fortunately progressed beautifully in the last few weeks, eventually becoming “more expressive, and well-balanced”
  • After a trio of warmer vintages, Charlotte notes that the Cabernets at Larrivet Haut-Brion achieved “perfect ripeness”, thanks to a longer growing season, and sunshine in late-August right up until harvest in October, which gave grapes with “a very good state of health”

 A snapshot of this year’s harvest: Lafon-Rochet (far left), Palmer (middle left), d’Issan (middle right), and Smith Haut-Lafitte (far right)

Lower alcohol content

  • Low levels of sugar have resulted in a lower alcohol content” in Cos d’Estournel’s Cabernet Sauvignon this year, with Dominique identifying “a magnificent intensity and freshness” and the characteristics of “the most elegant, sophisticated wines”
  • This harvest will be marked by an alcohol-acidity balance, completely different from previous years”, observes Haut-Brion’s Technical Director, Jean-Philippe Masclef. Their Cellar Master, Florence Forgas associates “moderate alcoholic degrees” as being “closer to much older vintages”
  • A cooler vintage compared to the previous three resulted in “pure fruit, and a very interesting density” in Palmer’s 2021 grapes, according to Thomas Duroux

Good things to come

  • Merlots are softer than usual and the Cabernets more compact” according to Cantenac Brown’s winemaker José Sanfins, who hopes for an overall blend that is “dense and complete, with fine and elegant tannins”
  • Favourable weather during harvest, including “morning temperatures of around 4˚C, preserving freshness across all grape varieties” at d’Issan
  • Bordeaux’s whites also boast vibrancy in 2021, with Charlotte noting “freshness and tension” with “aromatic clarity” from Larrivet Haut-Brion’s Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes

To find out more about this year’s harvest, we recommend reading: Tuscany Harvest Report 2021: a year of great commitment

Bordeaux 10 years on: Château Palmer’s 2011 re-release

Margaux’s Wine of the Vintage?

Our latest article takes a closer look at one of the final entries in the Place de Bordeaux’s September 2021 Campaign, as we examine Palmer’s re-release from one of Bordeaux’s most challenging recent vintages.

Palmer’s Director, Thomas Duroux tasting Palmer 2011 and Alter Ego 2017 with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister

What is the story behind Palmer’s 2011 vintage?

Palmer’s precious secrets

A decade on from production, Thursday 23rd September saw the re-release of Palmer 2011 with a recommended UK onward selling price of £228 per bottle (in-bond). This release represents the second instalment of their ‘10 years on’ series, which presents decade-old ex-château stocks to the market via the Place de Bordeaux. While still releasing Palmer’s latest vintages en primeur, the estate’s Director, Thomas Duroux tells Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister that withholding stock for ex-château release for 10 years plays tribute to Émile Peynaud’s philosophy that “A great wine needed at latest 10 years of age before it was ready to drink”.

The story of a peculiar vintage

Building momentum amongst merchants and collectors for the release of a notoriously challenging vintage is no mean feat. Duroux’s deft storytelling played on the strengths of Palmer’s historically low yields, reminiscing the events of this curious vintage to encourage interest in the re-release. With a mere 20 hl, the 2011 produced less than half the yield of a normal year, and the even-greater scarcity of re-release availability (approximately 1,000 cases) was surely designed to entice further demand. Several Bordeaux properties suffered at the hands of a significant hailstorm on 4th June 2011, with some falling victim to damage in the crucial berry set period. Although Palmer felt the effects of the growing season, it nonetheless still produced a well-scored wine, matching the average WL score of first growths Margaux, Lafite, and Mouton (93).

Crunch time

Duroux links the quality of their 2011 to the somewhat merciful timing of the hailstorm. Having passed through flowering, the berries were small and able to withstand the storm’s impact, with the damage sustained mostly by the vine’s young shoots. Since the vines compensated by rerouting their energy to grow new shoots, they devoted less energy to fruit development, therefore the harvest yielded a smaller collection of concentrated berries. Such details serve as a good reminder, that the story of a vintage can only paint a partial (and general) picture – digging into the detail of each estate can uncover so much more potential.

                  To recap week two and three highlights from the Place de Bordeaux, we recommend reading: Place de Bordeaux September 2021 campaign: highlights from weeks two and three

Place de Bordeaux September 2021 campaign: highlights from weeks two and three

Key fine wine releases from Bordeaux and Beyond

As another week of releases draws to a close, we reflect on highlights from the past fortnight, including the latest vintages of signature New and Old World wines, offered through the Place de Bordeaux’s impressive network.

Cheval des Andes’ Technical Director, Gerald Gabillet (bottom right), with the winemaking team

Which wines offer the best investments from the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign?

As well as a further flurry of releases from the Americas and Tuscany, the past two weeks have also witnessed exciting French entries from the likes of the Rhône Valley, and a re-release of Latour 2005.

California dreaming

One of the top 20 fine wine brands in the world (according to its Wine Lister Pro Brand score), Opus One released its 40th vintage, 2018  last Monday (6th September), at £230 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni (Vinous) gives the latest release a score of 95, describing it as “incredibly elegant and polished, right out of the bottle”.

Napa Valley neighbour, Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2018 was released on Tuesday (14th September) at £115 per bottle (in-bond). Describing the wine as “sensational”, with notes of “inky red fruit, chocolate, leather, and liquorice”, Galloni gives the latest vintage 98 points – its joint-highest score ever awarded by the critic body. Joseph Phelps’ Insignia 2018 entered the market in quick succession on Tuesday at £163 per bottle (in-bond). Sampled by Wine Lister COO, Chloe Ashton at a recent tasting at 67 Pall Mall (alongside the 2010 and 1998), she found the evolution in complexity, tension, and precision was clear to see.

Monday (13th September) witnessed a triptych of 2018s from Sonoma County’s Vérité, with La Muse, Le Désir, and La Joie released onto the market at £300 per bottle each (in-bond). With the wines representing distinct expressions of the estate through the bespoke blending of different varietals and plots, the Merlot-based La Muse receives a perfect 100-point score from Lisa Perrotti-Brown for Wine Advocate, who calls it “Electrifying!”. Comprising a majority blend of Cabernet Franc, Le Désir gains 97+ and 97 points from Perrotti-Brown and Suckling, respectively. Whilst being Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister’s favourite amongst the three, the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant La Joie 2018 secures its highest average critics scores since 2013, inclusive of 98 points from Perrotti-Brown and 99 points from Suckling.

South American sensations

Leading last week’s South American entries, Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Chilean winery Almaviva released its 2019 vintage on Wednesday (8th September) at £108 per bottle (in-bond). The Wine Lister team found it to show good complexity for its young age, with dense black fruit, exotic spices, and a touch of hay smoke.

Across to Argentina, Cheval des Andes 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September) at £59 per bottle (in-bond). The latest vintage aligns with the estate’s upward quality trajectory in recent years, having been awarded a score of 98 from James Suckling, who describes it as “very long and structured, yet controlled and in balance”.

Wildflowers growing in-between Siepi’s Merlot and Sangiovese vines

A Tuscan triumph

There are now only limited remaining stocks of Masseto 2018, which was released on Tuesday (7th September), starting from £495 per bottle (in-bond). The estate saw one of the rainiest springs in its history, and consequentially faced high levels of disease pressure. Nonetheless, the team at Masseto handled challenges that arose deftly, reflected in Wine Lister’s praise of its dense, layered, and lithe texture.

Now with similarly limited availability at around £208 per bottle (in-bond), Solaia 2018 was released on Thursday (9th September). Galloni awards it a strong score of 98, noting that he “can’t remember ever tasting a young Solaia with this much sheer appeal and balance”. Demand for the 2018 may well be encouraged by the estate’s positive price performance track record, which has seen some of its top-scoring vintages appreciate significantly post-release.

The first of the Tuscan trio to be released last week was Petrolo’s Galatrona 2019, which entered the market on Monday (13th September) at £72 per bottle (in-bond). Gaining a near-perfect score of 99 points from Suckling, he describes it as “muscular, yet agile” – “a unique definition of merlot in Tuscany”. Following in close succession, Castello di Fonterutoli released Siepi 2019 at £68 per bottle (in-bond). The Mazzei family planted its first Merlot grapes in 1980, with Siepi’s varietal blend now comprising equal proportions of Merlot and Sangiovese. The 2019 gains 98 points from Suckling – the joint-highest score awarded by the critic, who praises its “super-structure”, and “finesse with power”. To end Monday’s Tuscan trilogy, Tenuta Sette Ponti’s Orma 2019 was released at £56 per bottle (in-bond). Though Orma is yet to be widely scored by critics, Suckling awards it 97 points, calling it “perhaps the best Orma ever”.

Closing this week’s Italian offerings, Caiarossa 2018 entered the market on Wednesday (15th September) at £35 per bottle (in-bond). Walter Speller for Wine Lister partner critic,, awards it 17+ points, considering it “classy stuff”, “which should become even more compelling with further bottle ageing”.

To recap week one’s releases, we recommend reading: The start of the Place de Bordeaux’s September campaign.

Back on French soil

Speculated to be the final commercial release of the vintage, Latour released a parcel of its 2005 vintage last Tuesday (7th September), which has since been offered by merchants for around £750 per bottle (in-bond). The 2005 was awarded 100 points by Galloni, who calls it “deep and sensual to the core”, and notes that it is “utterly captivating”. The iconic reputation of both the vintage and the estate is reiterated in this perfect score, which should stimulate interest from serious fine wine collectors.

Racing over to the Rhône, Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2019 was released last Friday (10th September) at around £227 per bottle (in-bond). A cask sample score from Alistair Cooper for signifies quality, awarding its highest score from the critic body since 2007 with 19 points, calling it “One to watch!”.

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