Fine wine labels to watch in 2020
There’s a very established order to the fine wine secondary market with a lot of well-known labels well-ensconced in their leather armchairs in front of the club drawing room’s fire reading the paper – but who are the brash young things breaking the number one rule of no chandelier swinging before dinner?
This year’s Power 100 list compiled by Liv-ex showed a particularly interesting turnover at the very top of the order.
For the first time there were no first growths in the top 10 – with the exception of Latour which was clinging on by the very last of its fingernails in joint 10th place.
Burgundy ruled the roost instead, backed up by a coterie of Champagne and a lone Italian.
With Bordeaux generally continuing to lose market share in the increasingly broader world of fine wine, for the first time in a while there feels as though there are some potential membership spots up for grabs.
Who though will receive the invitation? In this particular case, being present on this year’s Power 100 list is a pre-requisite.
Here are our suggestions for a few that might get the nod.
2019 spot: 7
2018 spot: 29
An easy one really as Sassicaia was the aforementioned lone Italian in this year’s top 10. The Super Tuscan took a big leap from 29th place in 2018 to 7th in this year’s Power 100.
Sassicaia is very much a ‘brand’. It is well known, has wide appeal, good distribution (through La Place de Bordeaux of which it was a reasonably early adopter), strong critical reviews and a reasonable entry price which gives it room to appreciate.
Italy as a whole is on the move at the moment, led by the Super Tuscans but with some stirrings in Barolo.
Sassicaia though is well to the fore as the pre-eminent Italian fine wine label and as long as quality remains consistent and release prices don’t get out of control, it’s hard to see ‘Sass’ lose its current swag.
2019 spot: 5
2018 spot: 20
Louis Roederer is the little Champagne house that could. Punching well above its weight with its entire range (the brut NV is a perennial favourite), Roederer combines the glamour, prestige and global reach of a true grande marque with the scale and craftsmanship of a boutique grower.
Cristal currently feels like a truly refreshed brand, its days of bling, hip-hop association far behind it.
The recently released 2012 vintage is also the first to be made from biodynamically farmed grapes – an incidental feather in its cap as the wine world increasingly turns towards sustainability.
From a purely market standpoint meanwhile, Cristal (along with other prestige cuvées such as Dom Pérignon) much like Sassicaia works because it is a brand with reach, an excellent image, known quality, accessibility and is affordable to a broad cross section of people.
Les Carmes de Haut-Brion
2019 spot: 61
2018 spot: 105
This is the perfect claret to shove in the glass of anyone who drones on about how stick-in-the-mud or out of touch Bordeaux is.
Cabernet Franc-led, a proportion of whole bunch fermentation and ageing in a combination of demi-muids and terracotta and ceramic amphorae. Hell, you could even go so far as to call it an urban winery given the château and vineyard are now within the city limits.
Silencing the haters on a winemaking front aside, however, Carmes de Haut-Brion is also a shining beacon of hope and optimism in an en primeur process that is beset by doubt and questionable pricing strategies.
The last couple of campaigns have consistently seen Carmes touted as the best buy and it’s one of the few domains where prices have risen, tripled in the case of the 2018, post release.
There are other up-and-coming estates in and around the Gironde; Pichon Comtesse, Canon, Rauzan-Ségla, Haut Bailly, Calon Ségur and Beychevelle are all estates on the make but Carmes bestrides them all. It works the en primeur system like it should be and it shows.
2019 spot: 77
2018 spot: 210
There are more prestigious estates in the Côte d’Or; Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Armand Rousseau, Domaine Leroy and Comte de Vogüé for example but they’ve already hit the big time so they’re not at all ‘labels to watch’.
Burgundy is evolving in the secondary market at present. Those names mentioned above are totemic labels, the jewels of myriad collections worldwide and vastly expensive, going for many thousands per bottle.
After years of astounding growth, however, the Burgundy market is slowing. Prices are so high and quantities so limited that the very peak of the market is getting a little flaky. Buyers are also tumbling down into ‘Wave 2’ and even ‘Wave 3’ Burgundy labels, which are more affordable and also producing fantastic wines.
There are many estates that could easily have slotted into this slot but one we like is Arnoux Lachaux in Vosne-Romanée. Located in perhaps the pre-eminent address in the Côte de Nuits (and possibly Côte d’Or) and overseen by the young and very talented Charles Lachaux this is an estate that can go places.
It had a big jump in the Power rankings from last year to this year, largely thanks to good price performance. These are exciting wines from an established domain at what is near-enough pocket money in Burgundy terms. Won’t be for long.
2019 spot: 26
2018 spot: 118
The thing with the secondary fine wine market is that, a few Champagnes aside, it’s a very ‘red’ world.
Just about the only white wines of any import in the Power Rankings are white Burgundy – and a not inconsequential number either.
Domaine Guy Roulot (Meursault), Domaine Raveneau (Chablis), Ramonet (Chassagne), Coche Dury (Meursault) and Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (Chassagne) are all prominent white winemakers on the Power 100 list this year with Ramonet, Raveneau and Roulot all being new entries having stormed up the rankings.
Coche Dury and PYCM all dropped down the list in 2019 which might be a temporary thing but one can see why the other three have caught buyers’ attention.
White Burgundy is one of the world’s great wine styles and one gets a sense that there is less fear over premature oxidation in more recent vintages and the reputation of the wines has been somewhat restored.
At the very least any lingering concerns over ‘prem-ox’ might be driving collectors to drink the stuff so it’s a dwindling supply, driven by the sudden remembrance at how glorious these wines are and therefore that they need to be acquired.
Coche Dury and PYCM seem to have been the immediate beneficiaries of this but with average prices for Coche now being £7,000 a case (PYCM is more like £700), it’s no surprise buyers may look elsewhere.
Ramonet has been described by Clive Coates as the “white equivalent of Henri Jayer or DRC” and with an average case price of £2,013 that is one tempting proposition.
2019 spot: 59
2018 spot: 191
The Rhône has traditionally been the junior region among the secondary market greats. Often under-performing and with lots of hope it might break out at some point it never quite does.
Sure the ‘La Las’ from Guigal, Jaboulet’s La Chapelle and Chapoutier’s top wines are standouts with strong brands and international recognition and then there are superstar growers such as Clape, Allemand, Gonon, Sorrel and Château Rayas.
The Rhône may struggle a little in the secondary market but that doesn’t mean it’s short of highly revered and keenly sought-after wines.
Blazing a trail though and coming on strong is Jean-Louis Chave who leapt from 191st place in 2018 to 59th in the Power 100 this year.
A flash in the pan? There’s always that possibility but Chave has an excellent and growing reputation, small but not miniscule production and concentration in Hermitage (and a little in St Joseph) with some of the best plots going, these are benchmark wines in the Northern Rhône.
If there’s one Rhône label that’s going to make waves before too long, it will likely be Chave.