The climatic conditions of 2021 were very “turbulent”. It started well with a mild winter (1.8° to 3.7° higher than the average winter temperatures) resulting in an early budding (homogeneous and regular) at the beginning of March 2021. Spring on the other hand was cooler than usual (May being the coldest of the last 20 years) with unfortunately some frost on April 7, 8 and 13 and on May 3, resulting in harvest loss in "less well situated" terroirs. As from May 28 up to June 20, the temperature increased rapidly in combination with wet grounds, which stimulated the vegetative growth. Summer of 2021 had a difficult start (a lot of pressure from the mildew disease caused many losses for those who did not provide the necessary treatment in time and those who took time off during the weekends). Only from August 15 on did the weather improve, with two very warm and dry weeks at the beginning of September, which allowed the merlots to mature - ready to be harvested in the correct way (harvest generally between September 20 and 25). The first half of October and its two successive weeks of wonderfully dry weather eventually salvaged the year, resulting in beautiful ripe cabernets.
A VERY INTERESTING VINTAGE FOR THE CONSUMER, BUT WHY?
Those who taste 2021 must really forget the climatic course of the vintage, as the result will surprise more than just anyone! We need to forget our prejudices for a moment and give the millésime a chance to be discovered.
2021 to me means "returning to traditional Bordeaux" in the good sense of the word "traditional". The wines are of course no "monsters of concentration" (they never were, not even before the Parker era), but rather wines that are very expressive in the nose, with beautiful balance, nicely elegant fruit, freshness, crispiness with a very lovely "drinkability" and some (because not all!) are a real delicacy. They will sooner be ready to drink, awaiting the drinkability of the strong vintages of 2018, 2019 and 2020. The alcohol percentages too remind us of the old days. They often lie somewhere between 12.5% and 13.2%, something which was more common about 20 years ago, and many consumers are looking for such wines with lower alcohol percentages.
Also note that during our warm summers and nice spring days, the current global climate change causes a higher demand for wines with an elegant character, made "on the fruit" and "palatability". And admittedly, today's modern kitchen with tapas, Asian dishes etc. … does not always require a Parker wine with a score of 98/100, because then it will surpass the dishes. In that case, a wine of 88/100 can be a real pleasure in combination with some tapas on a beautiful sunny day. Those who only have top-score wines in their cellars might have a problem, and urgently need to buy some faster drinkable wines like these from 2021! This vintage will be similar to 2001, 2004, 2006, 2011 and 2012, which we never considered to be mythical years, but we now drink them with much pleasure and they often give us a "wow" effect after being opened.
Bordeaux surprises year after year with its different styles of wine, the castle's way of working, the changing climatic conditions, and each year has its own "history" and diversity when it comes to style. This is what makes it interesting for wine lovers. How often do wine clubs organise vertical tastings of different vintages of a castle to discover the typicity of that vintage? And as Mr Mitjaville (Tertre Roteboeuf – Roc de Cambes) once said to me: "I compare this to music lovers: it's not because The Rolling Stones' best rated song in the hit charts is "I can't get no satisfaction", that they will only buy this single. No, real fans will listen to and buy all songs of their favourite rock band." The same goes for wine: real enthusiasts want to know and buy all vintages of their favourite wine estates.
HETEROGENEOUS QUALITY, WHO MAKES THE BEST WINES?
The best wines have several factors to thank for their great quality:
1/ The first observation we made was that the "large" terroirs generally did not have to deal with frost, often thanks to their location close to the Gironde, or higher up, for example the Pomerol plateau or the high terroirs of Saint Emilion. After all, the cold often goes to lower terroirs. Many domains have only made wine from the “big terroirs”, which explains the surprising quality this year! In addition, most wine domains are now more prepared for frost than in 2017: everywhere we went, the pots with candles and the wind turbines were still standing in the vineyards to spread warmth, and in smaller appellations such as Pomerol almost all domains had candles, which produced a homogeneous warm glow across the entire plateau. In all these domains, there was no to little frost damage, which makes a big difference when it comes to quality. In certain higher parts of Fronsac there was no frost either.
2/ The decisions of the winemaker and the motivation of his team were of vital importance this year: very strict monitoring against diseases, even on weekends, an ideal harvest date, and those who dared to wait, brought in some very nice cabernets and merlots! Finally, once the harvest had been brought in, it was essential not to search for what wasn't there. It was crucial to work with a slow, gentle extraction at low temperature. For the ageing in barrels, the decision to use less new wood was important in order to fully make the fruit expression come out. The decisions about the assemblies were important too. We notice a particularly high percentage of cabernet sauvignon on the left bank (80% Dom the Chevalier, 96% Ch Durfort Vivens, 80% Ch Ferrière, 85% Ch Grand Puy Lacoste…) and the right bank as well had proportionally more cabernet franc than usual (e.g. Ch Angélus 60%!).
3/ The techniques used in Bordeaux allow for a quality that would have been impossible to achieve a few years ago. The most important technique was the triage based on density where they fill up a tub with water and the desired amount of sugar. The berries that contain enough sugar sink in the water because of their specific density and only these ones are used to make wine, while the berries that float don't contain enough sugar and are removed. Or they apply the "saigné" method like at Ch Léoville Poyferré, where they let the first 20% of the juice flow and only make wine from the remaining juice in proportion to much more solid matter. There is a tendency to sacrifice volume in order to achieve quality. This partly explains why the prices will supposedly not drop that much this year.
4/ Remarkable to me was that the biological wines and the domains "transitioning to bio" offer really great results and apparently, they learned their lesson in 2018 when there was a lot of pressure from mildew. We see very clear progress in their techniques to tackle this problem and the wines were generally more successful, purer and, above all, deliciously fruity. "A very fast approach of diseases was necessary this year, also during the weekends, and sacrificing volume in favour of quality is one of the rules of biological agriculture with which we have learned to live", say Claire Villars and Gonzague Lurton, who have splendid wines with small returns this year (e.g. Ch La Gurgue only 26hl/ha)!
5/ In Sauternes and Barsac there was a great loss due to frost, and what remained (from the best terroirs) got very nice and pure botrytis, but production is rather limited … often only 1hl/ha or only 3000 bottles produced per chateau, so you will have to be quick!
6/ Finally, the quality of the dry white wines is - depending on the domain - really great because of their pleasant, present freshness, which gives these wines a lot of "pep".
OUR SELECTION: SOMETHING YOU CAN COUNT ON
We were in Bordeaux for no less than 10 days (which is longer than usual) to taste, listen, select and note everything down for you in an expertly manner. As usual, you can count on our personal advice for each and every wine. If there's a wine that cannot be found in our selection, please ask us by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). We may not have liked it this year, so then we don't present it! On the other hand, we are certain that if you are to order a 2021 wine from our selection in primeur, you will enjoy an amazing moment in the future!
As from this week, new wines and their prices will be released every week. Follow the campaign closely! Considering that most of the large castles have sacrificed a lot of volume in favour of quality, there are often far fewer cases available compared to last year!