Surprising, elegant and rare 2021 Bordeaux en primeur wines
The year 2021 in Bordeaux follows the 2018, 2019 and 2020 trilogy which seems to confirm that, due to global warming, powerful, sun-drenched, generous and concentrated vintages are becoming the new standard. These critically acclaimed and extremely popular styles of wine would nearly make one forget that the identity of Bordeaux is far more rich and complex.
The year 2021 in Bordeaux teaches us a sound lesson in this respect. Given the nature of the growing season and the press’ promptness in somewhat urging us to overlook a not yet released vintage, it is difficilt to assess a wine without a preconceived judgment. From the very first tastings, the first conversations with wine growers, surprise and curiosity set in and rule out any doubts and fears: this vintage is very good. Juicy, intensely aromatic, fresh and elegant are the words that crop up the most. While we could have expected long faces, many owners are smiling and are proud of this vintage which, having been salvaged at the very last minute, it "feels good" due to its balanced and delicate expression which are in keeping with the identity of the wines that have made Bordeaux a great reference.
The major concern with this vintage, however, is its scarcity. Production is low, very low, depending on the estate, and there will not be enough wine to satisfy all wine lovers. This issue doesn’t only affect Bordeaux wines but is widespread throughout the wine world, with a well-below-average global production in 2021, at a level considered as extremely low.
Stressful and challenging weather in 2021 for Bordeaux estates
Few estates have been spared by the climatic hazards that have constantly punctuated the year 2021. While the vegetation cycle was well underway due to a mild end-of-winter, the evenings of the 6th, 7th and 8th of April were marked by historic frosts. Temperatures dropped to -8°C in some places and 70% of the Bordeaux vineyards were affected, which already jeopardised a substantial portion of the future harvest.
Subsequently, humid weather set in late, delaying an already hindered cycle and favouring the development of fungal diseases. Summer finally arrived but conditions in September were unpredictable with frequent rainfall.
It took a great deal of courage to get through the month of September and wait for the grapes to ripen perfectly. The quality of the 2021 Bordeaux en primeur wines was very much at stake at this point, with a drastic downpour on October 3rd, when 40mm of rain was forecast and could potentially wipe out the crop. In the end, the weather forecasts were wrong yet again, but this time it came as a relief. A beautiful and life-saving month of October followed and the harvest was carried out in a calm environment and the grapes were then harvested at perfect maturity.
Crucial decisions, a wealth of know-how and skilful techniques
In addition to the crucial effect of the terroir on this vintage, decisions in the vineyard and the reactivity shown by the teams have rarely been so crucial regarding the quality of the wine. Early on, estates had to be on standby against mildew, then foresee the ripening of the grapes. Thinning out the bunches that did not develop properly following the setting phase, green harvesting to enable an even veraison period. A lot of patience was required to get through the month of September without giving in to an overly early harvest with the risk of losing everything. The fact that the yields are low is probably a blessing for the quality of the grapes as they wouldn’t all have reached maturity.
The level of expertise as well as the modern equipment with optical sorting in mind, enabled the teams to select only the finest grapes and to discard anything that had not reached an impeccable quality.
2021 primeurs with a firm Bordeaux identity
For this 2021 Bordeaux vintage, it is noteworthy that, depending on the properties interviewed, the vintage is described as either traditional or unusual. These two contradictory terms are reflected in this vintage which in fact perfectly showcases the identity that has built the reputation of Bordeaux wines: balance, elegance and harmony... Neither southern nor northern, Bordeaux excels in finding a middle ground and expresses, under these circumstances somewhat more than in solar vintages, the unique features of its terroirs and the know-how of its craftsmen. The sunny vintages that succeeded one another until now, were also regarded as unusual. But as their occurrence increases, they are becoming more and more conventional, while vintages like 2021 are becoming scarce.
2021 en primeur Bordeaux red wines: a fine year for the Cabernet varietal
Cabernet grapes, and in particular Sauvignon, have been the greatest success of this vintage for those estates that managed to wait for the Indian summer that set in during the month of October. A late variety, Cabernet Sauvignon showcases its very finest expression, matures very slowly and later in the season. It provides the 2021 en primeurs wines with an intense, pure and fresh aromatic bouquet often marked by red fruits, and occasionally by black fruits. With a superb acidity and fine, well-integrated tannins, the 2021 Cabernet wines will be drinkable quickly and may offer a surprising ageing potential depending on the estate. No wonder the left-bank estates have unanimously revised the 2021 Bordeaux en primeur blends, with a predominannce of Cabernet that is unprecedented.
The 2021 Bordeaux left-bank en primeur wines
Saint-Julien wines are both accessible and qualitatively consistent
Thus, in Saint-Julien, the wines are already flavoursome during the en primeur campaign. The perfect balance between a fresh and alluring expression is very pleasant indeed and many estates have succeeded in producing supple and fragrant wines. In some areas, the Merlot grapes, that were not impacted by frost, are very successful.
Saint-Estephe wines are structured but not harsh
For the 2021 Saint-Estèphe en primeur wines, the wines from this area showcase a structured expression of the Cabernet varietal along with tight tannins and a full body. The ensemble showcases the enfoldingly soft and fruity characteristics of this vintage.
Pauillac produced little in 2021 but achieved fine traditional wines
Some great wines were produced in Pauillac during this vintage. Yields are often low but the wines boast great class and elegance. The colour is deep, the nose is ripe and the palate is powerful, fragrant and long.
A light 2021 vintage at Margaux
In Margaux, the wines are rather true to the delicacy and elegance characteristic of the appellation. The 2021 Margaux en primeur wines are fragrant with a more rounded body than other vintages. These are lively wines, that boast an intense aromatic bouquet and a light mouthfeel.
Pessac-Léognan 2021 red wines: a tapestry of expressions
The 2021 Pessac-Léognan en primeurs wines are rather heterogeneous and there are as many styles of wine as there are estates. The illustrious names are holding their own and some of the vintage's greatest results stem from this appellation, located to the south of Bordeaux. It is worth noting that the properties near or in the city have been particularly successful thanks to the slightly higher temperatures than in the rest of the area. Pessac Léognan red wines, which had high alcohol levels and a high concentration in the last few vintages, are showcasing a more light, fine and elegant expression. Yet again, the Cabernet grapes are very fine and and perfectly epitomise the vintage.
In the other Médoc appellations, such as Haut-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc or Listrac, there are many styles to discover and some lesser-known estates have managed to produce great wines.
The 2021 Bordeaux right-bank en primeur wines
Shifting weather conditions in Saint-Emilion throughout 2021
The 2021 vintage was a year of great uncertain and was experienced in very different ways, depending on the estates and their location. This fine Bordeaux appellation enjoys a mosaic of soils and thus the 2021 vintage offers an array of styles. Unlike the very ripe Merlot grapes with soaring alcohol levels as seen in previous vintages, the 2021 Saint-Emilion en primeur wines offer fresh, crisp red fruit aromas. The great estates have produced exciting wines that contrast with the wines tasted over the past few years. The Cabernet Franc grapes have performed very well in this vintage and are more prominent in the blends than usual.
In Pomerol, a successful vintage thanks to great terroirs
This famous Bordeaux appellation was also affected by the weather and produced wines that were less powerful than usual. The aromatic bouquets are bursting with intensity, freshness and purity. The tannins are well-integrated and less heavy, offering an excellent drinkability. The Cabernet Franc grapes have done very well in Pomerol in 2021. They greatly contribute to the structure and to the ageing potential of the vintage, which will be very good.
The other appellations on the right bank of Bordeaux
Whether in Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Castillon or Canon-Fronsac, the trends for the 2021 vintage are confirmed with wines that are once again fruity and even floral, with a more aerial expression than in previous vintages but boasting excellent fresh, spicy and fine and well-integrated tannins.
The 2021 Bordeaux en primeur wines
Very high quality white wines
The cooler vintages generally perform in Bordeaux. The 2017 vintage was exceptional, 2021 seems to be on a par, thanks to a pleasant month of September which conferred body and intensity to the wines. White Pessac-Léognan wines unfortunately yielded a small amount of wine, thus production will be very low. The quality, however, is outstanding! The nose is beguiling and the mouthfeel is full, all complemented by an exceptional tension. These are wines that can be relished in their youth or left to enhance their complexity in the cellar. The potential is definitely there.
Bordeaux dry white wines should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, because although the quality is excellent on the whole, the challenges of this vintage are to blame for the varied wine profiles and more or less subtantial quantities.
Sweet white wines: anecdotal yields and a remarkable quality
The year was harsh for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. As soon as the frosts hit in April, any hope of a vintage that would be quantitative were crushed. Thereafter, the teams had to overcome many obstacles in order to nurture a very small amount of grapes until the development of botrytis, which took place in an exceptional manner. Some estates were unable to produce a wine in 2021. These wines will become scarce rapidly, but some of them will lay down in the cellar for a lifetime, as the quality is so high and the wines so sublime.