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.
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