Last year, the reports coming from Bordeaux read like a vigneron’s worst nightmare come true. Severe frosts across the region, heavy rain, lack of sunshine and bouts of mildew and disease were the trials and tribulations nature threw at the winemakers of Bordeaux, not to mention the added challenge of operating during a global pandemic.
The skill, patience and nerves of the region’s vignerons were thoroughly tested this vintage, however their responsiveness and precision have created a “chic” vintage which holds promise and there is excellence to be found in both the Left and Right Bank.
Cited the “winemakers’ vintage”, those that had healthy grapes to harvest have been surprised and rewarded with the resulting quality in the tank. A list of important decisions – from how to prevent and/or tackle frost and mildew, the date of harvest, through to the final blend – has created a heterogenous vintage in characteristics, with flavours and aromatics of a cooler year, but with plenty of acidity and tannin on show giving a balanced structure.
Key takeaways of the 2021 vintage
- A freshness and elegance across the best of the wines
- A vintage where the details and decisions of the vineyards’ team to the challenges of the season are key
- Those who were able to wait to pick their Cabernet later in October were rewarded with elevated concentrations and grapes which were ripened to maturity
- Smaller yields across the region, with some vineyards heavily impacted by the April frosts, especially in Sauternes
- Pricing will be difficult to predict
A compromised growing season
The season started with a wet but mild winter, with a clement beginning to spring leading to early bud break. The huge frosts during April caused quite a bit of damage (temperatures reached as low as -6/7 degrees celsius in Graves and Sauternes) leading to losses in localised areas. During our visit to the château, Haut-Bailly reported they have 60% less volume going into their grand vin this vintage due to being hit hard by the weather.
A wet May/June meant some winemakers were battling with mildew and disease and the slow start to summer slowed vine growth and the grey skies and cool temperatures in July resulted in véraison in mid-August. August continued to be cool but fairly dry and late summer weather picked up in September and continued into October which allowed the grapes to reach maturity, but it was a close call.
The balance of cool nights in contrast to the warm autumn days allowed the fruit to retain fresh acidity, as report by Haut Brion, giving their reds “structure and balance”.
Harvest was late, with many producers not starting until early October. Some growers would have preferred to wait a few more days to pick but it was too risky. The last reds came into the cellars around October 20, particularly on parts of the Right Bank.
Olivier, Commercial Director at Château Pavie commented that they waited until 14th October to pick the fruit and were very happy with the quality of grapes they harvested and the resulting wine.
A taste of promise
The team have just got back from Bordeaux, getting a initial glimpse at this vintage at finding out first-hand how each estate has fared. From the wines tasted, there is seemingly greater consistency on the Left Bank with the ever-reliable St-Julien and Pauillac faring better than some of their neighbouring communes.
Graves whites express the freshness of the vintage, with one or two châteaux walking a fine line between tension and greenness. Elegance and refinement can be found in the best reds.
The Right Bank shows the most heterogeneity in terms of quality and will require careful consideration to unearth the jewels in this tricky vintage.
We will continue to report back following further tastings over the coming weeks.
Watch this space.