Five QPR Names to Watch
Image above - Chateau Carmes Haut Brion
Bordeaux en primeur (EP) is a diverse, dynamic and exciting opportunity. We’ve profiled several top name fine wine icons already but now our attention turns to our Quality Price Ratio (QPR) category.
QPR wines can offer excellent quality at attractive price points with the potential for appreciation over time. This can create compelling buying opportunities for wine lovers and investors alike. But the QPR category is large and diverse, and it’s important to take a selective approach, especially during a vintage such as 2020 when quality was excellent but did vary in some places.
Producers that have seen a change in ownership or approach or make investments in their property can often experience a jump in quality. It typically takes time for prices to catch up, creating great buying windows during EP. Here, we profile five QPR producers we think are among the most exciting names in 2020.
Château Berliquet – Newfound luxury
Until recently, Château Berliquet wines were enjoyable but far from a luxury. Then along came fashion brand Chanel, buying Berliquet in 2017 and making a series of investments to maximise the potential of this small property. Results were almost immediate as Berliquet wines now hold their own against their more well-known - and more expensive - Saint Émilion neighbours.
Chanel brought in esteemed winemaker Nicolas Audebert who had honed his craft at Chanel’s other Châteaux - Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Canon, next door in Saint Émilion. Nicolas and the team recognised that although Berliquet was surrounded by Canon’s vineyards, its 10 hectares offered a unique terroir and opted to keep Berliquet wines separate. As a result, the luxurious Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend from the small Berliquet vineyard has become a standout from one of the most prestigious corners of the fine wine world.
“Since this property was acquired by Chanel in the autumn of 2017, the positive changes in the expression and intensity of the recent vintages are very impressive, coming from a site with a lot of previously untapped potential.” Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate
The 2020 wine scored an impressive 94-96 points from Wine Advocate, its highest ever score from the publication. The next two highest-scored vintages are 2018 and 2017 (2019 not scored by WA). Clearly, Berliquet is reached a new level!
Château Les Carmes Haut Brion – Precision and individuality
Les Carmes Haut Brion’s magnificent new winery and cellars symbolise their dedication to achieving precision. The sleek facility rests seamlessly amid the natural surroundings and has helped winemaker Guillaume Pouthier and consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to dial up the quality in recent vintages.
Everything in their approach, from using horses to plough the vineyards to employing gentle winemaking techniques in the winery, aims to get the best of the coveted terroir that sits next to its more famous neighbours Haut Brion and Mission Haut Brion.
“We have been fortunate to have this incredible technical tool (new winery and cellars) and the perfect equipment that allows us to work the wines as we want, from harvesting to ageing. This helps us make wine with an aromatic brightness, expressing the singularity of our place while showing a wide span of drinkability,” explains Guillaume.
We believe the results speak for themselves. Alongside consistent quality, we love Carmes’ wines for their individuality, derived from a significant portion of Cabernet Franc compared to other Pessac-Léognan wines. The estate’s diverse soil types coax out the Cabernet Franc’s rich complex aromas and fresh silky textures that make Carmes Haut Brion one of the most exciting new releases at each EP.
“This vintage embodies the resurgence of Bordeaux, representing great ageing potential with power and harmony, as well as freshness and perfect balance to increase the drinkability,” says Guillaume about 2020.
Similar to Berliquet, Les Carmes Haut Brion’s 2020 stands as the highest ranked vintage from the producer by Wine Advocate based on the higher end of the 95-97+ point score.
“The medium-bodied palate is refreshing and elegantly styled yet with a rock-solid backbone of firm, finely grained tannins and bags of freshness, finishing long and perfumed. This is a stunning expression of the vintage that should be long lived and age with fantastic grace.” – Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate
Château La Gaffelière - Vineyard work yields results
This Saint Émilion estate has been in the family de Malet Roquefort for over 300 years, but 21st century upgrades have lifted the quality and consistency in recent years. Alexandre de Malet-Roquefort, the ninth generation of the family to lead La Gaffelière, undertook a replanting programme in the early 2000s that increased the amount of Cabernet Franc vines. These have now come of age and are adding a wonderful aromatic balance and freshness to La Gaffelière’s blends, which benefit from excellent terroir in Saint Émilion between Château Pavie and Ausone.
La Gaffelière also completed work on a new winery in 2013 that artistically incorporates ultra-modern technology within a traditional structure. This stunning facility has produced a run of exceptional vintages. According to Wine Advocate scores, the last four vintages are La Gaffelière’s best with the 2020’s 96-98-point range the top among them (based on the high end of the range). These are exciting times for La Gaffelière with a future that’s equally promising.
Château Laroque – Great value from
Laroque is on a roll! Since winemaker David Suire took over in 2015, this Saint Émilion estate has delivered inspiring wines at surprisingly accessible price points. Laroque has always benefitted from some of the best limestone terroir on the right bank but a detailed study of the soil at David’s initiative revealed the ideal harvest times and grape varieties for each section, allowing Laroque wines to achieve new levels of complexity and concentration.
Clearly, David’s handiwork is paying dividends. The Wine Advocate’s 94–96-point score for the new 2020 wine marks the second highest score ever for Laroque, right on the heels of 2019’s 95-97 points. However, prices have yet to catch up to this surging quality. The 2020 wine’s UK market RRP release came at just £18.50 per bottle! If Laroque keeps churning out such stunning wines, prices will surely trend higher in the coming years so now is the time to pounce on a true standout!
Château Smith Haut Lafitte – Staying close to nature
Devotion to nature and biodiversity has been at the heart of Daniel and Florence Cathiard’s rejuvenation of Smith Haut Lafitte over the past three decades. Smith Haut Lafitte obtained organic certification in 2019 and employ many biodynamic practices which can improve the vineyard’s natural ability to adapt to Bordeaux’s increasing extreme weather and promote long-term sustainability. They are also implementing a ‘circular economy’ model that aims to create a closed loop of resources to minimise waste and the impact on the environment.
Smith Haut Lafitte’s original ‘bioprecision’ methods also positively impact the end product. “Our wines have more energy, intensity as well as a real sense of place. We do our utmost to ensure our red and whites reflect the full potential of our magnificent terroir every vintage,” says Ludovic Fradin, Smith Haut Lafitte’s commercial director.
The results are winning over the fine wine world. The 2020 vintage looks like one of the best yet with a 98–100-point rating from Wine Advocate, matching the publication’s top score of the year. Here at Cult Wines, we were struck by Smith Haut Lafitte’s exquisite purity and concentration of flavours at our EP tastings this year. And it’s not just their seductive reds we enjoy but also for their energetic, expressive white wines, which are among the most sought-after in Pessac-Léognan!