Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur Vintage Report

The 2021 Bordeaux vintage is being hailed as the ‘Miracle Vintage’ by some winemakers: between late frosts and a cool, damp summer, it was a difficult vintage, and grape yields were significantly reduced compared to recent years. However, late September warmth meant that the winemakers who were brave enough to leave the grapes on the vines and harvest late were rewarded with excellent quality fruit.

The cooler 2021 vintage conditions imparted an aromatic freshness and vibrant acidity to the best wines, which generally display lower alcohol levels than those of recent, warmer vintages. Despite the quantity of wine being lower than in recent years, the quality is undiminished and the 2021 vintage has been well-received by critics.

What the critics say

“Anyone who enjoys the great benchmark Bordeaux wines of the 1980s and 1990s should seriously reflect on what the 2021s may have to offer in 10 to 15 years time. It’s a style of wine that could come from nowhere else. Indeed, I suspect that the best 2021s are destined to be described as “better than expected” for most of their lives—except that the writing is, in fact, already on the wall. And if the 2021s’ balance is reminiscent of a vintage from yesteryear, the best wines benefit from all the precision of modern winemaking, displaying beautifully refined, polished tannins.” William Kelley, The Wine Advocate

“The 2021 Bordeaux has turned out to be such a surprise. Weather conditions were challenging, and yet the top properties turned out gorgeous, classically built wines that will absolutely thrill readers who appreciate freshness and energy. Restrained alcohols and mid-weight structures will remind readers of Bordeaux pre-2000s. The best wines offer a striking combination of old-school classicism with modern-day precision. Quality is inconsistent though, so choosing carefully is essential. Even so, there is much to like in the 2021s.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

“There are wines that will offer drinking pleasure and wines whose evolution in bottle will be fascinating to monitor. It’s a frustrating and complex growing season with the potential to become, at least at its best, the most intellectually stimulating to drink despite the absence of indisputable masterpieces. The 2021 vintage is enticingly fallible in nature.” Neal Martin, Vinous

Vintage Report

For Bordeaux, the 2021 vintage posed several challenges for the vignerons of Bordeaux, but with careful viticulture and much hard work some very good wines were made. Over the course of the vintage, producers had to battle frosts, millerandage and mildew, and vineyard geography proved crucial to the general outcome, with the best sites producing some of the best results.

The winter was mild and wetter than usual, which prompted an early budbreak at the end of March. Unfortunately, it meant vulnerable buds were exposed to the frosts that struck on April 7 and 8, causing significant damage throughout the Médoc and in Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Graves and Pessac-Léognan. Millerandage – poor fruit set – also affected yields, especially for Merlot, and growers spent many nervous nights deploying frost-fighting measures such as candles and frost fans in a bid to protect their vineyards.

The cool weather in May served to slow vine growth. After flowering, heavy rainstorms fell from late June through to early July, keeping producers on their toes as mildew ran rife.

To combat the disease, the top estates employed extensive resources like protective sprays and careful work in the vineyard to remove damaged fruit and open up the vine canopies. Fortunately, both August and early September saw warm dry weather, which stopped the rot and helped promote ripening.

Although the grape skins ripened well, the cooler-than-average growing season meant sugar levels were low and some chaptalization was necessary. Despite these measures, however, alcohol levels are more similar to those seen in wines of the 1980s. For many estates, care was required to exclude unripe green tannins from the wines and, as a result, shorter maceration times were accepted to ensure the wines had fewer of the heavy condensed tannins found in pips.

The harvest for reds began in late September with Merlot and then a week later for Cabernet Sauvignon; it was only a few days later when everything was fully in. Harvesting took place under the pressure of the global Covid-19 pandemic with both picking teams and winemakers having to work around and respect social distancing guidelines.

Although it is still too early to say how the red wines will develop exactly, initial reports suggest the most successful wines were those from appellations in the Médoc where Cabernet Sauvignon traditionally dominates the blend. These wines tend to have good acidity and fine tannins and will likely have some capacity to age. Relatively low alcohol levels ensure the wines have attractive aromas with few wines showing leafy or tobacco characteristics. These are likely to be wines that, given a few years to open, will offer excellent mid-term drinking. Lower alcohol levels and softer tannins may preclude all but the best from long-term aging. A number of excellent dry white wines were also produced.

To Summarise

Overall yields were down on average by five to 10 percent, but careful selection ensured that the fruit picked was, for the most part, healthy. The 2021 en-primeur campaign has seen the return to the traditional tastings hosted by the Union des Grand Crus in Bordeaux. After a two-year gap, critics, journalists, and merchants from around the world were able to visit the region and taste the vintage in situ once again.