24 May 2022
Right Bank First Growths: Four Saint Émilion Stars to Target
The importance of First Growths, the biggest names and most sought-after wines in Bordeaux, gets magnified during vintages such as 2021. It is no secret that quality in Bordeaux varied more in 2021 than in the three previous vintages. However, estates with top terroirs, winemaking teams and facilities still emerged with wines that will generate global demand that outstrips their limited supply.
The full list of Right Bank First Growths includes four Saint Émilion names as well as three from Pomerol (Lafleur, Le Pin, Petrus). Here, we’ve focussed on the four from Saint Émilion as these wines are more liquid and readily available, important points when building an allocation. Notably, Saint Émilion stars Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc pulled in the top scores from Wine Advocate and Vinous, respectively.
Market Strong Despite Classification Controversy
The market standing of top Saint Émilion estates should remain unaffected by recent controversy surrounding the appellation rankings. Over the past year, Châteaux Ausone, Cheval Blanc and, most recently, Angelus pulled out of the impending 2022 reclassification. Although this raises serious doubts over the importance and viability of the rankings going forward, the brand reputation and wine quality of these iconic estates remain as strong as ever.
Recent performance corroborates this view. Liv-ex’s Right Bank 50 has outperformed the larger Right Bank 100 index so far in 2022 (3.9% vs 2.2% as of 30 April), a sign of the power of top brands. Several Ausone vintages (2010, 2014, 2017) are among the top risers.
Narrowing the view to just Saint Émilion First Growths shows that they have started an overdue catch-up their Left Bank peers (see below) in the past six months. The extent of the Left Bank outperformance over the past five years suggests both new and back vintage Right Bank wines can maintain the upward momentum.
Left Bank FG = Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion. Right Bank FG = Châteaux Angelus, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Pavie. Source: Pricing data from Liv-ex, analysis by Cult Wine Investment as of 19 May 2022. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Second Wine Potential
Many of the second wines of the Right Bank First Growths have shot up in stature in recent years, delivering impressive price growth. Although future performance may not equal the rapid rises around 2016-2018 (Le Carillion de Angelus doubled in price according to Wine Searcher data), the second wines offer cheaper access points to the iconic brands as well as an excellent, age-worthy wines in their own right.
Although Angelus has withdrawn its candidacy for the Classé A ranking this year, its iconic status is firm. After all, this is a wine that has impressed James Bond in three different films.
The 2021 Angelus marks the highest component of Cabernet Franc (60% to Merlot’s 40%) for the wine, a testament to Hubert de Boüard de Laforest’s ability to adapt to the needs of the vintage. This also might signal the future of the estate which plans more plantings of Cabernet Franc.
With Angelus’ status, prices don’t come cheap, but long-term performance track record still looks appealing. Add in the fact that prices for most of its back vintages still sit below other Right Bank First Growths suggests room for ongoing appreciation for both the new 2021 and back vintages. In particular, the 2020 and 2016 vintages (see chart below) look appealing relative to their high scores.
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 94-96+pts
- Vinous 2021 score: 94-96pts (Galloni); 93-95pts (Martin)
- Performance: 26.0% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
- Ex-London 2021 RRP: £3,120 12x75cl
Source: Pricing data from Liv, analysis by Cult Wine Investment as of 30 Apr 2022.
Le Carillon d’Angelus
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 90-92+ pts
- Vinous 2021 score: 90-92pts (Galloni); 91-93pts (Martin)
- Performance: 28.4% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
Scarcity, brand prestige and amazing wines - Château Ausone is the definition of a ‘fine wine’. And with the top rating from Wine Advocate, the 2021 edition could become one of the top picks of the year. The small quantities of Ausone add to its investment appeal, with just around 2,000 cases of the grand vin each year from its seven hectares of vines.
Named after Roman poet and statemen Ausonius, who is said to have had a villa on the current Ausone site, the estate has grown vines since antiquity and has long been known as one of the best terroirs, sitting on the escarpment just below the Saint Émilion village. As such, Ausone was one of the original two Premier Grand Cru Classé A estate in Saint Émilion 1955 classification (Cheval Blanc the other).
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 97-100 pts
- Vinous 2021 score: 93-95pts (Galloni); 93-95pts (Martin)
- Performance: 5.9% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
La Chapelle d’Ausone
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 91-93 pts
- Performance: 4.5% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
An original Classé A Saint Émilion estate, Cheval Blanc’s association with luxury is long established and its global following will not waver even following its withdrawal from the reclassification.
Situated on the Saint Émilion-Pomerol border, strong Cabernet Franc components have long been Cheval Blanc’s point of distinction, making this 2021 vintage right up its alley as Cabernets performed better than Merlot in most places. Unsurprisingly, winemaker Pierre Lurton produced a challenger for wine of the vintage, coming tied for top place from critics including Antonio Galloni (Vinous) and Lisa Perrotti-Brown (recently launched Wine Independent)
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 95-97 pts
- Vinous 2021 score: 96-98pts (Galloni); 95-97pts (Martin)
- Performance: 20.9% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
- Ex-London 2021 RRP: £4,740 12x75cl - an encouraging level for a candidate for wine of the vintage. The RRP was only marginally above Cheval Blanc’s release price a year ago and offers discounts to current pricing of the 2018 (98+pts), 2019 (100pts), and 2020 (no WA score) vintages.
Le Petit Cheval
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: 89-91pts
- Vinous 2021 score: 92-94pts (Galloni); 90-92pts (Martin)
- Performance: 11.3% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
- Ex-London 2021 RRP: £1,560 12x75cl
Like Angelus, Château Pavie attained Classé A status in the 2012 Saint Émilion re-ranking. In the early 21st Century, Pavie sharply divided critics as its bold style found favour with some critics, notably Robert Parker, but ran afoul of others, such as Jancis Robinson, who viewed it as overripe and not Bordeaux-like. But whatever side of this debate you’re on, you cannot deny Pavie is now one of the most sought-after Saint Émilion wines.
Like many of the other Saint Emilion estates, Pavie is transitioning to higher Cabernet Franc components as its south-facing slope on the escarpment provides excellent drainage and ripening conditions.
Its growth in stature over the years has translated into solid price appreciation. Still, Pavie back vintage prices remain lower than those of their Saint Émilion peers. The vintages 2011-2020 trade on average around 35% lower than other Right Bank First Growths (Liv-ex price data).
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: N/A
- Vinous 2021 score: 95-97pts (Galloni) 93-95pts (Martin)
- Performance: 14.8% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
- Ex-London 2021 RRP: £2,784 12x75cl - the first ‘First Growth’ to hit the market this year on 18 May came at a lower price than Pavie’s release a year ago (-3.7% vs 2020 RRP). The new 2021 price is comparable to current market levels for several back vintages from the past six years, although some of these have higher scores.
Arômes de Pavie
- Wine Advocate 2021 score: N/A
- Vinous 2021 score: 91-93pts (Galloni) 90-92pts (Martin)
- Performance: 20.8% (average all-vintage 5-year return, Wine Searcher)
- Ex-London 2021 RRP: £720 12x75cl