Bordeaux 2021 – an impression of a vintage

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2022-04-28




Chateau Bellegrave, Pauillac


I have just returned from a short three days in Bordeaux, tasting the recently crafted 2021 vintage. My tastings were not extensive, tasting mainly at negociants and the communal tastings with only a few Chateau visits, so this report is not comprehensive, but I aim to give a well balanced impression of my findings.


The weather last year was challenging, in some cases in the extreme. Frosts in the springtime, rains in May and June that led to mildew in July, but then a good late summer into harvest time. Vignerons had to hold their nerve to see if phenolic and alcoholic maturity could be achieved - would the grapes fully ripen? Some did, others did not and in this vintage, it boils down to the microclimates, what the winemaker did, and what luck they had, either good or bad. There are some very nice wines out there but too often we found wines without enough fruit, leading to little joy or charm. 


Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes


As is always the case, wines tasted at the Chateau showed more favourably than at the communal tastings. The wines are prepared more carefully and this year, as one representative admitted, the serving temperature was warmer than in recent years. Wines from the trio of ‘hot’ vintages preceding this one were generally presented at a cooler temperature to promote the idea of freshness as much as possible, but this year they were presenting at a slightly warmer temperature to promote the aromatics and give the fruit a chance to show. Some tasting conditions were just too cold and when they were, the wines did not show well.


2021s will offer something quite different from these recent, warmer vintages. Winemakers had to be careful with extraction to avoid bitterness from underripe pips and skins, and many wines will be approachable early. Tannin levels are lower, alcohol levels are down which is great, and acidity levels are higher, some too high. The key question to bear in mind is: will the bottle you open in a few years down the line have enough fruit and concentration? If it has you should be on to a winner.


For me St. Julien was the most consistent commune, and both the Barton sisters did a star turn. I will happily buy Langoa, very sleek, juicy, and moreish with Leoville a bit more serious. I heard Poyferré made a stunner, Las Cases less so. Beychevelle and Branaire Ducru were good and Lagrange and Talbot were both very decent, you could say reliable


Chateau Giscours, Margaux


Margaux, Pomerol and St. Emilion were all over the shop, except for Canon and Rauzan Segla, surprise surprise, which were both exemplary!




Chateau Canon, St. Emilion


In Margaux, Labegorce Zede, and D’Isaan ran well. In Pomerol, La Conseillante, Certain de May, Hosanna, La Fleur Petrus all performed well and in St. Emilion, Belair Monange, Le Dome and Gaffeliere did a good job.


The powerhouses of Pauillac, I’m thinking the Pichons and Lynch Bages, not the first growths, demonstrated relatively good concentration but there were surprising disappointments too. 


I didn’t taste at the very top of the St. Estephe tree, but the Calon stable showed well, as did Ormes de Pez.


Most communes were so varied that it is hard to say one is better than the other. Also difficult are vintage comparisons. There were bits of ‘14 in the good wines, touches of ’17, and I was reminded of ’04 in parts, the greener parts, and the parts that included the dry white wines of Bordeaux. Malartic-Lagravière was a delicious glass of tropical fruit salad and Domaine de Chevalier Blanc just pure class. As is often the case with weaker red vintages, the whites have done well


The early developing Merlot was the weakest performing grape variety, in quality and quantity terms. More Merlot was lost to frost than the Cabernets, so naturally lower percentages than normal found their way into the final blends.


As ever, pricing will be important and given the economic headwinds this isn’t just about the wine. The secondary wine market is still travelling well, is in good health, but the primary market is a very different beast and it’s not a great vintage. Other than the much reduced 2019s there has been little point in tying up capital by buying en primeur across the board since the 2005 and 2008 vintages. There have been many specific wines that have worked well from other vintages, particularly ’15 and ’16 but en primeur has become a much more selective game and probably none more so than this tricky vintage but there are still some lovely wines out there.


Please look out for our analytics and comment on en primeur releases as they happen on the Jancis Robinson forum


Miles Davis

April 2022

07798 732543




The snappiest snapshot of the 2020 en primeur campaign

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2021-07-08


Top seller:

Cheval Blanc, came out early and flew out the door


Relative value analysis winners (based on JancisRobinson.com scores)

Batailley

Beau Séjour Becot

Clinet

Du Tertre

La Gaffeliere

Laroque

Latour Martillac Blanc

Please see our full analyses of the vintage's releases and identification of great buys (some from 2020 and many more from comparative back vintages) on the Jancis Robinson forum here.


Top buys for an immediate return:

Carruades

Carmes Haut Brion


Possible St Emilion reclassification bets (due 2022 in order of likelihood):

Figeac #1

Canon #2

Belair Monange #3


Top First Growth of the vintage:

Margaux


Wines to watch:

Durfort Vivens

Finally getting noticed with commensurate scores. 2016 was a watershed vintage of great harmony and precision, and the first major Bordeaux property to qualify for both biodynamic certifications. 2018 was an epic qualitative success, even though it was a disaster commercially due to rampant mildew that swept the vineyard in June - the biodynamic treatment regime unable to keep up with the excessively humid conditions. Only 583 equivalent full cases were made and the quality compares to 1945 and 1961. 2020 is another success with modestly reduced yields. The attack in particular is gorgeous, dripping with juicy black cherry fruit, but 2018 is the one to seek out.

La Gaffeliere

For those who missed the Figeac boat before it left the harbour, La Gaffeliere is still at anchor in terms of price, and with every prospect of setting sail with a bit of time. Great terroir next to Ausone, seriously elegant, with layer upon layer of complexity to seduce the connoisseur.


Best commune bets in 2020?

St Emilion

Margaux

Pomerol


Themes of 2020

Black bottles with gold engraving. What Chateau Margaux started off, in 2015 as a fitting tribute and wonderful enduring memorial to the late Paul Pontallier, became ubiquitous in 2020 in honour of all sorts of anniversaries. The black bottle salesperson was probably not referencing their list of ‘wins' in 2020 with their prospects, for fear of undermining the hoped-for premium packaging premium.

Modest increases at the beginning of the campaign over the very well priced 2019s (as is so often the case) ended with a frenzy of price increases for the late releases of between 25%-c40%. Sellers will have had to bank on Giffen’s Paradox to sell through at the top end of price hikes.


2020 vs 2019

There were still values to be had in 2019 at the start of this campaign. Better priced 2019s that were down on their 2018 release prices and which hadn’t budged since last year’s release price got snapped up as this year's campaign played out. There are still plenty to pick from. Overall 2019 is likely a more consistent vintage than 2020, and perhaps rather more balanced in the Medoc notwithstanding plenty of low alcohols in 2020 (partly due to rain which most affected the top half of the Medoc notably St Estephe, Pauillac, a bit less in St Julien, and quite a bit less in the heart of Margaux). Left bank wines’ stats offered up a paradoxical combination of moderate alcohols and very elevated pH values (denoting low acidity in spite of tasters' visceral sense of freshness). The Right Bank got spared the later downpours and so are richer; many with the higher trademark alcohols of a hot vintage (notably the 100% Merlots) but with pH values closer to norms.


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