Letter of June 24, 2022.
The last two vintages (Vieux-Certan and Le Pin) of the Thienpont family have closed the beginning of the campaign 2021 Futures and, from now on, the 2021 Bordeaux wines will leave the bosom of the properties that gave them birth and will go all over the world to conquer their markets. We are sure that they will easily find their place by the qualities of freshness, elegance and moderate alcohol which differentiate them from the last Bordeaux vintages.
As the price of all of them is now known, we have established a list of our favourite (and recommended) 2021 red Bordeaux wines by category, taking into account their qualitative success as much as their quality/price ratio. Thus, we give you the list of the wines that have lowered their price the most this year (2021 vs 2020):
- 15%: Léoville-Las Cases
- 12%: La Mission Haut-Brion
- 11%: Clarence de Haut-Brion, Montrose, Rocheyron, Le Dôme
- 10%: L'Église Clinet
- 9%: Rauzan-Ségla
- 7%: La Mission Haut-Brion Chapel, Léoville-Barton, Dragon de Quintus, Valandraud
- 6%: Quintus, Canon
- 5%: Smith Haut-Lafitte, Brane-Cantenac, Vieux Château Certan
our favourites among the "1ers grands crus classés" (count 500 € and more)
Ranking in absolute value, without taking into account the price:
• Left bank: Haut-Brion
for its velvety finesse and Lafite-Rothschild
, the most taut and racy of the Médoc.
• Right bank: Cheval Blanc
, inimitable with its Cabernet Franc, the finest of the vintage. our favourites among the "super-seconds" = the best except the 1st (between 60 € and 250 €)
Only one wine per appellation (if you only needed one, it would be this one...):
• Pessac-Léognan: La Mission Haut-Brion
(half the price of Haut-Brion)
• Margaux: Brane-Cantenac
(at €55, by far the cheapest in this category)
• Saint-Julien: Léoville-Las Cases
(the biggest price drop of the vintage)
• Pauillac: Lynch-Bages
(we could have named Pichon-Baron or Comtesse but Lynch-Bages' success in 2021 is striking)
• Saint-Estèphe: Montrose
• Pomerol: Vieux Château Certan
• Saint-Emilion : Clos Fourtet
our favourites among the "crus classés" = the best after the 1st and super-seconds (between 30 € and 60 €)
Only one vintage per appellation:
• Pessac-Léognan: Domaine de Chevalier
• Margaux : Durfort-Vivens organic
• Saint-Julien: Lagrange
• Pauillac : Grand-Puy Lacoste
• Saint-Estèphe : Haut-Marbuzet
• Pomerol : Feytit-Clinet
• Saint-Émilion : Larcis-Ducasse
our favourites among the "cellar basics" = the best at less than €30
Two wines per appellation:
• Pessac-Léognan: Haut-Bergey organic, Haut-Bailly II
• Médoc: Poujeaux (Moulis), Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc)
• Margaux: Tour de Mons, Baron de Brane
• Saint-Julien: Fiefs de Lagrange, Gloria
• Pauillac : Lacoste-Borie, Pédesclaux
• Saint-Estèphe: Meyney, Cos Labory
• Libournais: Dalem (Fronsac), Montlandrie (Côtes de Castillon)
• Pomerol: Mazeyres organic, Bellegrave organic
• Saint-Émilion: Côte de Baleau, Dragon de Quintus
Three lessons can be drawn from these rankings:
• the quality of the 2021s is more a question of the application and know-how of the men, and all the appellations have magnificent success stories, regardless of the terroirs and exposure.
• for the same reason, producers who have interpreted the vintage perfectly are cited for several of their wines. For example:
- Jean-Philippe Masclef (cellar master): the entire Haut-Brion and Quintus range, both red and white.
- Henri Lurton: Baron de Brane and Brane-Cantenac
- Matthieu Bordes (director): Fiefs de Lagrange and Lagrange (we could have added the white Arums de Lagrange)
- François-Xavier Borie: Lacoste-Borie and Grand-Puy Lacoste
- Matthieu Cuvelier: Poujeaux, Côte de Baleau, Clos Fourtet (we could have added Les Grandes Murailles)
• in this stylish, straight and taut 2021 vintage, we found that the deep wines, with their natural velvety and fleshy character, have the advantage, such as Poujeaux, Lagrange, Lynch-Bages, Haut-Marbuzet, all the Pomerols, Dragon de Quintus, Larcis Ducasse (we could have added Malartic-Lagravière, Charmail, d'Issan, Léoville-Poyferré, Cos d'Estournel, Troplong-Mondot and so many other vintages with an innate richness. ..).
Letter of June 17, 2022.
On the price side: Even if almost all the vintages of this week have renewed last year's prices, we update last week's table with some new names (underlined):
- prices down sharply (2021 en primeur prices compared to 2020 en primeur)
- 15%: Léoville-Las Cases
- 12%: La Mission Haut-Brion
- 11%: Clarence de Haut-Brion, Montrose, Rocheyron, Le Dôme
- 10%: L'Église Clinet
- prices up sharply
+ 10%: Haut-Bergey, Chasse-Spleen, Sarget de Gruaud, Alcée
+ 12%: La Tour de Mons, Gruaud-Larose, Puyguéraud
+ 13%: Larrivet Haut-Brion, Clos du Marquis
+ 18%: Carillon d'Angélus
Top of the top : all the comments on the 2021 Bordeaux wines having been published, it is interesting to compare the scores of the 6 critics we follow (La Revue du Vin de France, Jean-Marc Quarin, Michel Bettane in En Magnum, Jacques Dupont in Le Point, Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin in Vinous) to observe their concordance or divergence.
As the scoring systems are not homogeneous, we took their 10 best red Bordeaux 2021 (sometimes a little more when there are ties). The first observation is that their preferences cover all the appellations and that none is favoured. In 2021, it is the work of the man that prevails, as we announced at the beginning of May.
Obviously, the 1st classified great growths (or assimilated) dominate the rankings of each one:
- quoted 6 times: Lafite-Rothschild and Cheval Blanc
- quoted 5 times: Margaux
- quoted 4 times: Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafleur
- quoted 3 times: Ausone
- quoted twice: Latour and Petrus
But this list also includes a number of classified (or unclassified) growths, proving better than any commentary their qualitative will and the value of their teams, at a much lower price (for some in a ratio of 1 to 10):
- quoted 4 times: Calon-Ségur and La Conseillante
- quoted 3 times: Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville-Las Cases
- quoted twice: Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Palmer, Pichon-Baron, Cos d'Estournel, Vieux Certan, Canon and Figeac
- quoted once: Haut-Bailly, Smith Haut-Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, d'Issan, Rauzan-Ségla, Brane-Cantenac, Lynch-Bages, Pichon-Comtesse de Lalande, Montrose, L'Évangile, Trotanoy, La Gaffelière, Beauséjour Bécot, Troplong-Mondot, Clos Fourtet, Pavie
For the dry white Bordeaux wines, which are far less numerous than the reds, we have proceeded in the same way, taking the 3 best of each classification. Logically, Haut-Brion white takes the first place, but it is not alone:
- quoted 6 times: Domaine de Chevalier and Haut-Brion
- quoted 4 times: Smith Haut-Lafitte and La Mission Haut-Brion
- quoted 2 times: Pavillon Blanc
You will find this list of the greatest dry whites and reds 2021 by clicking on the "Top of the top" tab above.
Finally, for the sweet white wines, such a ranking is not significant because of the number of great growths absent from the en primeur tastings (Yquem, Rieussec, Guiraud...).
Letter of June 15, 2022. Outside of Bordeaux
Among the non-Bordeaux producers that we select, three are pleased to offer their new vintages each year at the same time as the Bordeaux wines:
Domaine Jean Chartron : with temperatures reaching -7°C in places, the frost of April 6th-7th-8th, 2021 had a heavy impact on the Côte de Beaune in general and on the vineyard of Domaine Chartron in particular. With 60% less harvest, Jean-Michel Chartron has decided to wait until the end of the maturing process to know exactly what his (meagre) production is and exceptionally to put it on sale after bottling. See you in autumn 2023.
Tardieu-Laurent : as in Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley experienced weather in 2021 reminiscent of the years 1980-2000, significantly cooler and less dry than in recent vintages.
2021 began with heavy frosts at the beginning of April, severely affecting the earliest white grape varieties (particularly in Condrieu) as well as the northern vineyards (up to 80% damage in Côte-Rôtie). This was followed by a summer with no pronounced heat, fairly wet in June and July (mildew pressure) but drier than normal in August and September, resulting in slow ripening and a harvest spread out over time, from the end of August until mid-October.
Rhône white wines
: Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Condrieu and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Unquestionably, 2021 is a vintage made for white grape varieties (when they have escaped the frost). The wines have excellent health, fresh acidity and ripeness without excess supported by low pH. The wines are more airy and less sunny than their predecessors, with good ageing potential. Rare Condrieu (half-harvest) and a novelty this year: the white Saint-Joseph, 85% marsanne, 15% roussanne and only 13° of alcohol (like the white Crozes-Hermitage).
Northern Rhône red wines
: Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage.
2021 reminds us 25 years later of the 1996 vintage by its minerality, its low degrees (no wine exceeds 13°) and its ageing potential (wait 5 to 10 years minimum before appreciating them, while their vivacity mellows). The Syrahs have produced wines that are lively and crisp, elegant and subtle, with Michel Tardieu's work consisting of ageing them on the lees to better enrich and soften them. As in every fresh vintage, it is the solar hillside of Hermitage that gave the best result, both in quantity (little frost) and in quality. The Cornas Vieilles Vignes cuvée was not produced in 2021, the only 3 barrels produced having been folded into simple Cornas.
Southern Rhône red wines: Côtes du Rhône, Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape.
No particular climatic worries in the Southern Rhône (practically no damage due to frost, almost no mildew) except for the slow maturation. The winegrowers had to be patient in order to pick their different grape varieties without haste and at the right maturity, which was relatively easy for the Grenache, more complicated for the Mourvèdre. The wines are quite clear, expressive (fresh fruity aromas), medium-bodied, less alcoholic than usual (about one degree less), with supple tannic structures. The 2021s are less southern than usual, like the 2015 vintage. Michel Tardieu has increased the proportion of Grenache in all his cuvées, with a special mention for the two "special cuvées" (Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape) and the Gigondas Vieilles Vignes.
Provence red wine: Bandol.
When its maturity is not complete, Mourvèdre produces wines of a formidable austerity. In 2021, it is only on its favourite terroir of Bandol that Mourvèdre has been able to produce convincing results. Michel Tardieu's wine is fresh, racy, with a nice tension on a present but velvety tannic base.
On the price side: with an average 4% increase this year, the Rhône producers have not passed on the losses inherent in the 2021 vintage in their prices. Unquestionably, the Rhone Valley remains a safe and economical value for the cellar of any European wine lover. For the record, we offered the red Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes de Tardieu-Laurent at the 1995 Primeurs at exactly the same price as Léoville-Poyferré. 26 years later, we offer this same Châteauneuf 2021 at 60% less than Léoville-Poyferré 2021.
Dominio de Pingus : Peter Sisseck, always looking for freshness and lightness in his wines, was very pleased with the 2021 vintage in Ribera del Duero, with a summer of normally warm days and exceptionally cool nights (6.3°C on 13 July, 6.7°C on 8 August, 6.2°C on 19 September).
PSI: Spreading over a dozen communes, PSI's fragmented vineyard allows Peter Sisseck to modulate his blend according to the circumstances of the vintage. In 2021, PSI is produced on the best limestone soils (regular water supply), at an average altitude of 900 m, with 10% Grenache and 90% Tempranillo.
Flor de Pingus organic: little change except for the addition of 4% Grenache and the use of large wooden tuns (1500 l) for a softer ageing (this use of large tuns will eventually be used for the great Pingus wine). For once, Flor de Pingus is less colourful than Pingus, but still offers a lush mouthfeel.
Pingus organic: deep colour (but not black), beautiful balance between high acidity and rich tannins. As the extraction of colour, aroma and tannin was spontaneous, the fermentations were conducted at low temperature (22°C) with three times less pumping over (pumping out the bottom of the tank to spray the top of the tank with marc) in order to preserve all the freshness and fruit qualities of the vintage. For Peter Sisseck, "Pingus 2021 is a re-reading of the great Pingus 2000.
On the price side: 7.5% increase for Flor and Pingus, 10% increase for PSI (which, at less than €20.00 ex-VAT per bottle, remains an exceptional value for money).
Letter of June 10, 2022.
Classified growths that use cardboard
: due to ecological awareness and supply difficulties, this year we are seeing several Bordeaux classified growths definitively abandoning the traditional wooden case in favour of cardboard packaging. It is true that cardboard offers many advantages: it is recyclable, more economical (half the price of the equivalent wooden case), easily available, less heavy, less fragile, printable and customisable on all sides, including the inside...
Thus, the classified growths Latour-Martillac, Malescot-Saint-Exupéry, Durfort-Vivens, Langoa-Barton and Barde-Haut will deliver their 2021 wines in cardboard cases and we are convinced that the majority of the classified growths will follow this movement in the next vintages, the wooden case remaining in the long term the prerogative of the greatest growths or of the special boxes. In the same spirit, several châteaux are thinking of doing away with metal capsules. To be continued...
: enough red Bordeaux is now available to know the price trend for 2021. Or rather the absence of a trend.
The critics' notes and comments logically place the (good) 2021s a notch below the (great) 2020s. Under these conditions, the price of 2021s could have been lower than last year. Conversely, the sharp fall in 2021 yields and the many current inflationary pressures (mentioned in the Week 1 newsletter) could have justified a rise.
As evidence of the perplexity, we saw at the beginning of the campaign the marketing of the Léoville-Las Cases wines, with a 15% drop for the Grand Vin and a 13% rise for the second wine Clos du Marquis.
With no clear market direction and global economic uncertainties, the majority of Grand Cru producers decided to maintain last year's prices (noting that the price of their 2020s had since risen by 10% to 20%).
However, this generalized status quo is subject to variations depending on the cru, the most notable of which are (to date):
- price down (2021 en primeur price compared to 2020 en primeur)
- 15%: Léoville-Las Cases
- 11%: Montrose, Rocheyron
- prices up
+ 10%: Haut-Bergey organic
, Chasse-Spleen, Alcée
+ 12% : La Tour de Mons, Puyguéraud
+ 13%: Larrivet Haut-Brion, Clos du Marquis
+18%: Carillon d'Angélus
Letter of June 3, 2022.
: with Haut-Bergeron and Suduiraut proposed this week, we already close our short list of 2021 en primeur sweet wines. This selection is all the more shortened as :
- some crus have not produced anything in 2021 (Climens...),
- some crus have decided to postpone the sale of their tiny 2021 production until after bottling (Guiraud...),
- some crus have offered their wines as futures, but in very small quantities (Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Doisy-Daëne, Coutet, Suduiraut...), which are almost immediately sold out,
- some crus no longer sell their wine en primeur (Yquem, Rieussec...).
This unfortunately in a 2021 vintage worthy of the highest praise, but that few will have the chance to taste.
12.2 percent : for the red Bordeaux, 2021 differs from previous vintages by its lower alcoholic degrees, mostly between 12.5% and 13.5%, 12.2% being the record to our knowledge. These controlled degrees were achieved thanks to a summer without heatwave and to blends favouring Cabernets. A low alcoholic degree on a successful maturity is the guarantee of fine, balanced, delicate and digestible wines, intended to age harmoniously.
We have established a list (not exhaustive) of the degrees announced by the châteaux whose blends are already fixed. Here are some of the lowest:
- 12.2%: G d'Estournel
- 12.5%: Clos Floridène, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Gruaud-Larose, Pagodes de Cos
- 12.6%: Lafite-Rothschild
- 12.7%: du Retout, Brane-Cantenac, Cos d'Estournel
- 12.8%: Malartic-Lagravière, Sarget de Gruaud, Connétable de Talbot, Talbot
- 12.9%: Grand Puy Lacoste, Duhart-Milon, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Comtesse, Cos Labory, Calon Ségur
- 12.4%: La Clotte
- 12.7%: Chapelle d'Ausone, Ausone
- 12.9%: Peyrou, Petit Gravet Aîné, Clos Saint-Julien
- 13.0%: Fugue de Nénin, Mazeyres organic, Canon-La Gaffelière
- 13.2%: Vieux-Château-Certan, Dragon de Quintus
- 13.3%: Nénin, La Conseillante, Cheval Blanc
Letter of May 27, 2022. Red Bordeaux: what prices ?
All the factors combine today to stretch the price of great wines, whether they are from Bordeaux or elsewhere:
• the continuing rise in the price of the latest vintages to come on to the market. The 2020 and 2019 Bordeaux wines, offered 1 and 2 years ago, have reached the price of the 2018s, even though they were respectively 15% and 25% cheaper,
• the drop in production in the Gironde vineyards in 2021 (-23% on the scale of France), after several poor or even weak vintages,
• the current weakness of the euro against the dollar, which has lost 16% of its value in one year (one euro was worth 1.22 dollars in May 2021 against 1.05 dollars in May 2022), making Bordeaux wines 16% cheaper in the USA and in all countries correlated to the dollar (Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea...),
• the rise in production costs, in relation to the price of energy and dry materials,
• the return of inflation in the world economy, against a backdrop of shortages and international crises (Covid in China, war in Ukraine, etc.).
For the less prestigious and financially less fortunate crus, we do not expect any (if not symbolic) price reduction in the year when their production is cut by a quarter.
For the most attractive crus, we expect price drops weighted by the 5 points above. The release this week of Léoville-Las Cases (down 15%) is an encouraging signal. Will it be followed by others?
Letter of May 20, 2022. Background notes
After 6 consecutive vintages marked by very hot and dry summers (from 2015 to 2020, voluntarily including 2017 which was barely less hot but just as dry as its neighbors), 2021 offers us a real return to the basics, with a very classic weather pattern, alternating hot and cool, dry and rainy periods.
With global warming, we can see that little by little the climate is changing, that the exceptional becomes normal while the normal becomes exceptional. It is perhaps these vintages with an oceanic profile, such as 2021, which will become in one or two decades the most sought-after (?).
Bordeaux 2021 : the weather in Gironde
Four important events punctuated the vegetative cycle of the vine in 2021 and shaped the vintage:
• A severe frost in early April. With temperatures dropping to -5°C on the morning of April 7 and 8, all the appellations were severely but unevenly affected depending on the exposure of the plots and the earliness of the budding of the vines. An example with the Barton family: Langoa and Léoville, less than 1 km from the estuary, suffered, without any particular protection (candles, windmill, etc.), no damage whereas Mauvesin, in Moulis, 10 km as the crow flies from the estuary and duly protected, was 50% frozen.
• July and August were dry but continuously cool, with each month having a deficit of 1.2°C compared to the thirty-year average and no hot days (temperature above 35°C). We have to go back to 2014 to find a summer that was only slightly cooler.
• Four rainy episodes (September 8, 14, 18 and October 3) during the harvest. These were not settled Atlantic disturbances, but thunderstorms, occasionally intense but brief, one or two days at most. To avoid these storms, it was enough to stop the harvest on those days.
• A very nice Indian summer, a traditional phenomenon in Aquitaine at the beginning of autumn. The month of October 2021 was magnificent, warmer (20.3°C instead of 19.4°C on average), less rainy (32 mm of rain instead of 93 mm) and 40% sunnier (206 hours of sunshine instead of 147 hours).
The first consequence of this meteorological scenario is quantitative: the 2021 harvest was historically low in Bordeaux (as in all of France), with a volume loss of 27% for all of the Gironde PDOs, following the April frost, mildew attacks during the very wet months of May and June, and the damage caused by a succession of thunderstorms in late June. 2021 has left the winegrowers with little to show for it.
Bordeaux 2021 dry whites: superb vintage
With a rather cool summer and no heat wave, 2021 was logically an ideal vintage for the production of great dry white Bordeaux wines.
The ripening of the Sauvignon and Semillon grapes was slow and smooth while the sanitary state of the grapes was impeccable thanks to August being half as wet as usual (29 mm of rain instead of 56 mm on average).
The freshness and the tonicity being acquired, the wine growers could concentrate on the perfect aromatic maturity of the white grapes to start the harvest. This took place serenely between August 28 and mid-September (15 days later than in 2020), carefully avoiding the showers of September 8 and 14.
As expected, volumes were low everywhere, more often between 30 hl/ha and 40 hl/ha except in a few protected vineyards (the Pessac-Léognan closest to the Bordeaux urban area or the northern tip of the Médoc).
After 6 months of barrel ageing, the dry white tastings are enthusiastic, the 2021s being remarkable in every respect: purity, precision and aromatic intensity, ripeness, richness and length in the mouth. All of this is supported by a lively acidity, a guarantee of a good evolution in the bottle and an assured ageing potential.
The particular success of the 2021 whites is explained by the unusual combination of the tension typical of a fresh year and the richness of texture encountered in a warm year. To put it simply, the 2021 whites have the vivacity of the 2017s and the aromatic breadth of the 2018s.
Bordeaux 2021 sweet white wines: an exceptional (but infuriating) vintage
Losing most of the harvest in the first days of spring is discouraging for any winemaker. But when the weather during the rest of the year is optimal for making glorious wines, the frustration is at its peak.
The frost at the beginning of April hit the Sauternes vineyard hard, all the more painfully as the white grape varieties had started their vegetative cycle 15 days early. With the hail storms at the end of June washing away the few remaining grapes, the 2021 production of sweet white wines is infinitesimal: the yields are everywhere lower than 10 hl/ha, and even lower than 1 hl/ha (!) in Suduiraut.
From the beginning of July, the sequence of weather sequences proved to be eminently favorable for sweet wines:
- the maturity acquired with great regularity in July and August with, as for the dry white wines, freshness and aromatic intensity,
- the hoped-for rains that arrived in waves on September 8, 14 and 18, just when the grapes were ripe and healthy,
- the Indian summer that lasted throughout the month of October, giving the grapes time to dry out, to see a pure botrytis take hold of the vineyard and to initiate the concentration of sugars,
- In spite of the extreme thinness of the harvest, the Sauternes grands crus insisted on making several selections, the most qualitative being those of mid-October (between the 10th and the 19th).
Apart from their purity and aromatic complexity, what makes the 2021 Sauternes so brilliant, so tasty and so vibrant is the acidic framework they possess as a counterpoint to their sugar concentration. This acidity gives airy, delicate, chiseled finishes and the parallel with the great 2001 vintage is accurate, minus the quantity.
Once again, we can only praise the determination of the Sauternes winegrowers to produce sweet jewels, a determination that has been poorly rewarded in recent vintages.
Bordeaux 2021 reds : back to classicism...
In 2021, Bordeaux has returned to the typical climate of southwestern France, the one that prevailed in the last century and that we fear will disappear:
- moderate daily (day/night) and seasonal (winter/summer) thermal amplitudes,
- Atlantic disturbances distributed throughout the year,
- temperate but very changeable interseasons (frost, snow, storms...),
- beautiful autumnal after-season (Indian summer) in October/November.
The 2021 vintage has exactly all these characteristics, some favorable for the vine, others less :
- unfavorable. The frost at the beginning of April, annihilating part of the volumes and forcing the vine to develop secondary buds with delayed maturity (heterogeneous harvest),
- unfavorable. The heavy rains of May and June, generating a strong pressure of mildew and complicating the task of the winegrowers, especially those in organic farming.
- favorable. Slow maturation without stress in July and August.
- unfavorable. The rains of September, disrupting the harvest of the early Merlot.
- favorable. The Indian summer of October, allowing us to wait for the complete ripening of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The main disadvantage of a classic vintage is that human intervention is decisive in order to make the most of all the potential qualities and correct the inherent imperfections. In this sense, 2021 was demanding for all the winegrowers and all the appellations, requiring constant attention (from March to October), experienced know-how (interpreting a vintage opposite to the previous ones), well-stocked and reactive teams (fighting against diseases), a good dose of coolness (wise choice of harvest dates) and important financial means (sorting of the harvest and drastic selection of the lots).
The great advantage of 2021 is to return to the fundamentals of Bordeaux: to produce fine, elegant and digestible red wines, delicate and full-bodied, without harshness or rusticity. Bordeaux wines are neither the most tannic, nor the richest, nor the most vigorous, but they have a balance, a complexity and a longevity that have made their reputation throughout the world.
Bordeaux 2021 reds : ... mais un classicisme moderne
Over the last 20 years, the great growths of Bordeaux have acquired prodigious knowledge, technical equipment and competence (sometimes at the cost of their past mistakes). We are now far from the time when winegrowers used to focus on filling up (= reaching the maximum authorized yield) and then trying to make good, or from the time (1990-2000) when, in order to get the best rating from Parker, it was necessary to concentrate and over-wood the classic vintages.
In 2021, the challenge for the grands crus was to make the most of the natural qualities of elegance and refinement of the vintage, and to bring in addition mellowness, depth and silkiness of the tannins, all with alcohol levels most often between 12.5° and 13.5°. For this, they had to :
- wait for the full (and late) phenolic maturity of the grapes. This was easy for the Cabernets, picked in October during the beautiful Indian summer, and much more difficult for the Merlot, which was ripe and harvested between the rainy periods of September.
- to vinify gently, that is to say to infuse more than to extract (less punching down and pumping over in the vat), to lead the alcoholic fermentation at low temperature, possibly chaptalizing from 0.3° to 0.5° (because the alcohol participates to the sensation of fatness and roundness).
- To mature with tact, by reducing the proportion of new barrels and the degree of toasting of the barrels, or by using large containers (barrels of 400 l and more).
Under these conditions, 2021 resembles the beautiful classic vintages of 2014 and 2008, but more precise, more velvety, more seductive. And surely of very beautiful guard.
Bordeaux 2021 reds : what are the best choices?
Left bank or right bank?
As mentioned above, 2021 depends on people more than on terroir, which explains the great heterogeneity of the vintage. We have seen neighboring properties, with the same terroir and the same grape varieties, obtain radically opposed 2021s. It is the right perception of the vintage and the technical means used that make the difference. As well as the financial means because, to succeed in making a great 2021, it was necessary to be ready to eliminate all the unsatisfactory lots. This is always a difficult decision to make, especially in a low production vintage.
Merlot or Cabernet ?
The answer is simple: the Cabernets, both Francs and Sauvignons, have clearly done better in 2021 than the Merlots, which is perfectly reflected in the blends with a lower proportion of Merlot and a higher proportion of Cabernet. To the point that some Medocs are almost mono-varietal in 2021: 98% Cabernet Sauvignon at Ducru-Beaucaillou, 97% at Durfort-Vivens, 96% at Lafite-Rothschild...
Small chateaux or great growths?
The well-known adage advising to buy small châteaux in great vintages and great vintages in small vintages is not totally true this year. Our tastings proved how discarding defective lots (there were some even among the greatest) was the key to success. In 2021:
- the grands crus are an obvious choice,
- second wines if... the château also makes a third wine,
- the first wines of the crus bourgeois and non classified if... the château makes a second wine or if the château is attached to a grand cru with important technical, financial and human means. Potensac, a Cru Bourgeois belonging to Léoville-Las Cases and having a second wine (La Chapelle de Potensac) is a brilliant example.