The Place de Bordeaux’s 2022 September campaign has seen its third week of releases, with a number of key entries including the likes of Pym Rae 2018, Dalla Valle Maya 2019, and Château Palmer 2012.
The Armagh vineyard in autumn
Following a UK bank holiday on Monday to mark the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Tuesday 20th September morning saw several releases in quick succession, starting with Pym Rae 2018, which entered the market at a recommended retail price of £270 per bottle. Tasting at the CVBG Beyond Bordeaux London event earlier this month, Wine Lister’s Founder and CEO, Ella Lister found this vintage to be a real step-up from the Tesserons’ Californian outpost, awarding the 2018 96 points and noting “exceptional balance, the texture of taffeta, and an addictive softness”.
Another standout release, Telmo Rodríguez’s Yjar saw its second ever vintage – 2018 – released through the Place at £95 per bottle (in-bond). Tom Parker (tasting for jancisrobinson.com) awards a score of 17, while Ella scored 96 points, comparing its balance to that of “a ballet dancer, toned and delicate”, noting that it is “the perfect wine for today’s palate”. The 2018 vintage saw a production volume of just 6,000 bottles – a reduction of 1,000 bottles compared with the 2017.
The Armagh Shiraz 2018 was also released on Tuesday at £165 per bottle (in-bond), with Ella awarding 95 points and describing the latest offering from Jim Barry as “rich and opulent” – a vintage “worthy of the 50 years since the first Shiraz was planted at the domaine in 1968”.
Wednesday 21st September saw the release of Le Petit Cheval Blanc 2020, which entered the market at £100 per bottle (in-bond). It was shortly followed by Giovanni Rosso Barolo Ceretta 2018, released at £51 per bottle (in-bond). Walter Speller (for jancisrobinson.com) awards the latter a score of 17++, describing it as “simply gorgeous” and praising its “beautifully sculpted chewy tannins”.
Next up on Wednesday, Dalla Valle Maya 2019 was released at £464 per bottle (in-bond), marking the first vintage produced since the estate committed fully to biodynamic practices. Another first – Château Haut-Batailley introduced its 2016 vintage to the market at £36.67 per bottle (in-bond). A transitional year, the Cazes family acquired the estate shortly before the 2016 primeurs and oversaw blending, while vinification had been carried out by the previous owners (the Borie family) – provoking the decision to withhold its release. The 2016 bottle features a transitional label – neither the previous label under the Borie family, nor the new label under the Cazes family, debuted in 2017. Neal Martin (for Vinous) awards the 2016 94 points, calling it “an outstanding Haut-Batailley”.
Château Palmer released ex-château stock of its 2012 vintage on Thursday 22nd September, the third vintage to be released from the estate’s “Ten years on” series. Since 2010, approximately half of each year’s production has been reserved in the cellars, while the remaining half is sold en primeur. The 2012 vintage was released at £257 per bottle (in-bond), having achieved scores of 17 from Jancis Robinson (for jancisrobinson.com) and 94 from Antonio Galloni (for Vinous).
Also released this week were Cobos 2019 and Clos des Goisses 2013.
Likely to be released next week are Kracher Tba N°5 Grande Cuvee 2019c, Château d’Avize 2012, Morlet Cœur de Vallée 2019, Allegrini Fieramonte 2015, La Poja 2017, and Biserno 2017.
With this year’s September campaign now in full swing, we examine some of the key releases from the second week, including offerings from Château Latour, Bibi Graetz, and Catena Zapata.
The Wine Lister team got the chance to taste a number of wines scheduled for release during this year’s CVBG ‘Beyond Bordeaux’ tasting in London on 8th September 2022
One of the most anticipated releases from this year’s campaign, ex-château stock of Château Latour’s iconic 2010 vintage was released on Tuesday 13th September. Release prices varied, with listings for the latest tranche started from around £1,045 per bottle (in-bond). Tasting twice from magnum in February 2020, Vinous’ Neal Martin awards it a perfect score of 100 points, declaring that the wine “can be summed up in two words: ‘The king’”, while the 2020 earns the wine’s joint-highest WL score (98) alongside the 2005.
Tuesday also saw two releases from Bibi Graetz; Colore 2020, offered by some retailers at £173, was a Wine Lister favourite at the CVBG tasting. Wine Lister’s CEO Ella Lister described it as a “calming, zen wine, with all the confidence, wisdom, and stillness befitting a wine from such ancient vines”, referring to its “neverending finish” and scoring it 98 points. Testamatta 2020 was also released, garnering a score of 95 points from Ella and fetching a price of £68 from retailers.
Released the same day, Joseph Phelps Insignia 2019, has so far seen merchant offers of around £182.50 per bottle (in-bond). Ella scored the wine 97 points and found that it has “the usual power of Insignia, but with a newfound subtlety and sophistication and fine tannins”. This could be down to the record-high proportion (25%) of fruit from Rutherford in 2019 – while the vintage also marks the first to include fruit from the new Joseph Phelps vineyard, El Venadito, located in the Oak Knoll District.
Adrianna Catena pouring her namesake wine for the Wine Lister team at the CVBG ‘Beyond Bordeaux’ tasting in London
Thursday morning saw two entries from the Catena Zapata stable – the 2019 vintages of Nicolás Catena Zapata and the Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terra. Nicolás Catena Zapata entered the market with a recommended UK retail price of £61 per bottle, having achieved a score of 96 points from Joaquin Hidalgo (Vinous). Adrianna Vineyard was released with a UK recommended retail price of £161 per bottle. Tasting in London, Ella awarded it 98 points, praising its “hedonistic bouquet”.
The morning of Friday 16th September marked a new entry to the Place this year – Belles Sœurs Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019 entered the market at £82 per bottle (in-bond). While Beaux Frères and Belles Soeurs 2019 were initially intended to be released together during last year’s campaign, reduced yields as a result of fires instigated the decision to release Beaux Frères 2019 last year and Belles Soeurs 2019 this year. Both cuvées will be released in tandem next year.
The 2013 vintage of Lindaflor La Violeta was also released on Friday 16th September, at £72.50 per bottle (in-bond) – having already been released in the form of a special-edition case alongside the 2011 vintage of its Bordeaux brother, La Violette, in March this year (at £325). Friday’s release marks the first solo introduction of the Parent family’s Mendoza estate through La Place, giving buyers the chance to acquire it in its own right. Tasting in Bordeaux, Ella awarded 93 points and found a nose that is “deep, meaty, with notes of paprika… sparkling, singing, seductive” and a palate of “exquisite freshness […] with a fine but firm structure”.
Also released this week were Penfolds Bin 169 2019, Petrolo Galatrona 2020, Cheval des Andes 2019, Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Siepi 2020, Orma 2020, Caiarossa 2019, and Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour 2019.
Next week’s releases are likely to include Petit Cheval Blanc 2020, Haut Batailley 2016, Cobos 2019, Giovanni Rosso Barolo Cerretta 2018, Pym Rae 2018, Clos des Goisses, and Palmer 2012.
Amongst other findings, Part II of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux Study, ‘Walking the tightrope’, explores the outperformers of the latest vintage – the top 15 wines whose Wine Lister Quality score (part of our Pro rating system) in 2021 most exceeded their wine-level average. The wine-level average is calculated based on a mean Quality score over the last five vintages, to reveal more recent trends. Seven of this year’s outperformers were also featured in the 2020 list, indicating that these wines continue to build long-term quality in 2021.
Quality score – outperformers in 2021 (as featured in Part II of our 2022 Bordeaux Study)
Four Margaux wines feature in the 2021 outperformers chart, with Durfort-Vivens this year taking the top spot from Ferrière. Receiving a score of 92-94 from Ella Lister (for Le Figaro Vin), she describes it as “Effervescent with energy and life […] with an impressive density, and a generous future ahead of it.”
New additions to the outperformers chart this year, Marquis d’Alesme and Marquis de Terme rank in 11thand 13th place respectively. As well as appearing in our list of Bordeaux 2021 Value Picks (wines with the best quality-to-price ratios), the latter earns the status as the Bordeaux red with the biggest increase in 2021 Quality score compared to the 2020 vintage (also explored in Part II). Antonio Galloni for Vinous awards Marquis de Terme 2021 its highest ever potential score from the critic platform, 93-95, calling it “inky, vibrant, and super-expressive”.
La Lagune returns to the 2021 chart in fourth place, down from third in last year’s study. James Lawther (JancisRobinson.com) calls the 2021 “pure and precise”. The estate has been certified organic since the 2016 vintage and is currently working towards biodynamic certification.
Pauillac also sees four wines on this year’s outperformers chart, with Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Haut-Batailley, and Pédesclaux showing strong improvements in Quality score in 2021. Awarding a score of 92-94, Antonio Galloni notes that Grand-Puy-Ducasse “has made important strides of late”, given the increased investment under the direction of Anne Le Naour, while Pédesclaux has also seen significant investments from proprietor Jacky Lorenzetti.
Saint-Emilion brings three wines to the 2021 outperformers chart, with Fombrauge entering the outperformers chart in 10th place, and La Dominique overtaking La Lagune to occupy the third spot. La Gaffelière has also increased its standing on the chart, having climbed six places from 11th place last year, and achieving its highest ever Wine Lister Quality score in 2021.
Les Carmes Haut-Brion continues its upward trajectory in 2021, receiving a score of 17++ by James Lawther (the highest score given by the JancisRobinson.com team since the 2015 vintage), and gaining Ella Lister’s top score for the vintage (96-99 points). Larrivet Haut-Brion enters the outperformers chart in ninth place, with the estate deciding not to include any Merlot in their 2021 blend – a first in Bordeaux.
Also appearing on our list of Value Picks for the 2021 vintage, Les Ormes de Pez rounds off the list of outperformers, having received a score of 91-93 from Neal Martin (Vinous), who calls it “A stylish Saint-Estèphe”.
For the full list of Wine Lister’s top 20 Value Picks for Bordeaux, as well as further analyses of the region’s performance on Quality, search data, auction activity, and short-term price performance, download Part II of Wine Lister’s 2022 Bordeaux study here.
It increasingly looks as though the campaign will be more or less drawing to a close this week, with a further flurry of Bordeaux 2021s released en primeur at the end of last week and into Monday, including key entries from the likes of Beychevelle, Pichon Baron, Cos d’Estournel, and Mouton.
Released on Thursday 9th June at £58.90 per bottle, Beychevelle 2021 entered the market 16% below stocks of the 2020 (which has risen in price by around 15% since last year), and otherwise substantially below all other back vintages. With a consistent track record of post-release price performance and critic speculation of the 2021’s promising potential, this may well be one worth backing en primeur.
Trotte Vieille 2021 – an oft-forgotten Saint-Émilion Classé “B” to get behind – also released on Thursday at £53 per bottle (just below the current market price of 2020 and 6% above the now scarce 2019, and otherwise comfortably below recent back vintages of comparable quality). Following suit, Brane-Cantenac 2021 entered the market at £47 (6% below the 2020 vintage and below the prior five back vintages in the market).
Pichon Comtesse 2021 released on Thursday at £134 (just below last year’s release price and 30% below the current market value of the record-quality 2019). The vintage marks the estate’s first year of organic conversion, with Nicolas Glumineau informing the Wine Lister team that 2021 was ” the worst in France for 74 years in terms of climate”, but excellent for Cabernet. Volume is down 70% in 2021, with the vintage comprising 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc – the highest proportion since the 2013 vintage (100% Cabernet Sauvignon). These drastically reduced volumes mean that anyone looking to add Pichon Comtesse 2021 to their cellar likely needs to buy it now.
Friday 10th June saw releases from the likes of Giscours, Pichon Baron, and Lafon-Rochet – the latter marking the last ever vintage tended by the estate’s third-generation owner, Basile Tesseron, and the first blended by its new Managing Director, Christophe Congé (of Lafite fame). Released at £25 per bottle, Lafon-Rochet 2021 enters the market below the price of all available back vintages.
Releases came in thick and fast on Monday 13th June, with first growth Mouton entering at £425 per bottle (11% and 15% below the current availability of the 2020 and 2019 vintages respectively). Its little sibling, Le Petit Mouton 2021 was released at £170 per bottle – it appears in eighth place amongst the wines that have seen the highest relative increase between ex-négociant release prices and current market prices across vintages 2016-2020 (see below – extract from Part I of Wine Lister’s 2022 Bordeaux Study).
Cos d’Estournel also entered the market on Monday at £143 per bottle (5% below current market availability of the 2020, and around 8% above the 2019), followed shortly by Cos d’Estournel Blanc at £105 per bottle. According to Wine Lister’s Quality score (892), the 2021 vintage is the best Cos d’Estournel Blanc ever produced, with Wine Lister CEO, Ella Lister calling it “delectable, lingering in the mouth”. Le Gay and La Violette owner, Henri Parent released his 2021s on Monday at £69.50 and £240 per bottle respectively. The latter achieves a higher Quality score in 2021 than in 2020 or 2018, while scarce availability of recent vintages on the UK market may also drive interest in the latest release.
Also released during this period: Chasse-Spleen, Réserve de la Comtesse, Léoville Poyferré, Ausone, Lascombes, Ferrière, Giscours, Pagodes de Cos, Aile d’Argent, Rouget, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Gruaud-Larose, Larcis-Ducasse, Smith Haut Lafitte.
Following a French national holiday on Monday 6th June, this year’s Bordeaux en primeur releases have picked up momentum this week, with new entries from the likes of Lafite, Troplong-Mondot, Canon, and Rauzan-Ségla over the past two days.
The first of the Firsts was released on Tuesday 7th June, with Lafite 2021 entering the market at £484 per bottle – below every single back vintage on the market, and 19% and 27% below the current price of the 2020 and 2019 vintages respectively. The latest release is made from 96% Cabernet Sauvignon – the highest percentage since 2016 (and 1961 before that). Domaines Barons de Rothschild sibling, L’Evangile, also released on Tuesday at £185 per bottle (flat on the 2020 release price), having been met with positive feedback from several trade members during tasting week.
Troplong-Mondot 2021 released at £71 per bottle (1% down on the 2020 release price). Tasting at the property, Wine Lister was reminded by CEO, Aymeric de Gironde that 2021 was the first vintage of Troplong-Mondot made in the estate’s new 42-cuves-strong cellar, which de Gironde said “was perfect timing, as we no longer had to make any winemaking compromises”.
One of the Wine Lister team’s favourite wines from tasting week, Montrose 2021 entered the market on Wednesday 8th June at £113.40 per bottle, with the latest release marking the property’s first year of organic conversion. Technical Director, Vincent Decup, told us, “We have never done so much [in the vineyard]. To compensate for the rain, we have left more grass between the vines, trimmed higher, thinned the leaves on both sides”.
Canon 2021 was also released on Wednesday at £90 per bottle, offering a 32% and 22% discount on the current market prices of the 2020 and 2019 vintages respectively. Canon ranks in sixth place for top confidence ratings from key international trade members, (see more in Part I of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study 2022), as shown in the chart below.
Chanel sibling Rauzan-Ségla 2021 followed suit, entering the market at £60 per bottle (14% and 27% below the current 2020 and 2019 prices). Managing Director, Nicolas Audebert told Wine Lister that 2021 was “the most stressful and exhausting vintage ever” at Rauzan-Ségla, though he believes the 2021 is “as good as the last three vintages”. Following the highest amount of intra-parcel zoning ever done in the vineyard, the team were able to better identify the very best lots, and make a wine that Wine Lister’s CEO, Ella Lister describes as having “Noble flavours, an inimitable poise and texture, like a Chanel coat”.
Also released on Wednesday at £48 per bottle, La Gaffelière 2021 sits just below current market prices of the last three vintages, which have all seen price growth in the secondary market. The Wine Lister team found La Gaffelière 2021 to be dangerously drinkable, and at £48, it represents strong value for its quality within Saint-Emilion. Similarly featured in Wine Lister’s latest Bordeaux Study, La Gaffelière has increased its Wine Lister trade confidence rating hugely year-on-year, by almost 2 points out of 10.
Also released during this period: Fieuzal, Fieuzal Blanc, Kirwan, Dame de Montrose, Meyney, Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Phélan Ségur, Beauregard, Clerc-Milon, and d’Issan
While this year’s en primeur releases are yet to kick into full gear, the past week has seen key entries from the likes of Berliquet, Pontet-Canet, Palmer, Haut-Batailley, Lafleur, and more. Reporting on a shorter week of releases than usual due to the French bank holiday on Thursday 26th May, we examine the latest 2021s to market.
Released on Tuesday 24th May at £38.15 per bottle, Berliquet achieves its highest-ever combined score from Wine Lister partner critics, Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (Vinous), who both award 91-93 points. While up on the last two years’ release prices, one top UK merchant has informed us that this is understandable at this stage in Berliquet’s progression, especially considering the comparable rise in quality and pricing from its Chanel siblings, Rauzan-Ségla and Canon.
This was followed shortly by Pontet-Canet 2021, which is so far being offered at around £74.17 per bottle. While slightly up on last year’s release price, it still poses as a good-value pick relative to its appellation, especially considering its status as the sixth-highest scoring Pauillac according to WL score (see here).
Also entering the market on Tuesday, Palmer’s 2021 vintage is another stand-out offering from the estate, reminding the Wine Lister team of a Palmer from the 1990s, but with more energy and ripeness. At £237 per bottle, the 2021 opens 1% below the 2020 release price, while volume released is down 30% this year. This, alongside strong critics’ scores and a propitious renovation programme currently underway, should no doubt encourage the success of the latest release.
This week saw releases from Palmer – tasted by the Wine Lister team in the cellar
Released on Wednesday 25th May, Haut-Batailley 2021 is so far being offered at around £39 per bottle (slightly down on the 2020 release price). As with the other Cazes properties, mildew pressure has impacted the yields in 2021, and volume produced is down 10% compared to the 2020. Its sibling in Saint-Estèphe, Les Ormes de Pez 2021 followed suit, and is so far being offered at around £18 per bottle – also fractionally down on last year’s release.
Finishing the week with a bang, Lafleur 2021 was released on Friday 27th May through its UK agent, Justerini & Brooks at £542.33 per bottle. While entering the market 3% and 12% up on the 2020 and 2019 release prices respectively, there is no remaining availability of last year’s release on the market, and the 2019 has more than doubled in price since its release. As the second-best Quality performer of red Bordeaux in 2021 (after Cheval Blanc), and with a history of consistent and impressive price performance post-release, this will be one of the best buys of the campaign for those lucky enough to get their hands on it.
Also released during this period: Sociando-Mallet, Laroque, Alter Ego, Clos du Marquis, and Nénin.
The first Bordeaux 2021 en primeur releases have started to trickle through over the past two weeks, with key entries from Batailley, Carruades de Lafite, Duhart-Milon, Pavie, Cheval Blanc, Léoville Las Cases, Angélus, and the Barton family wines.
Kicking things off on Monday 9th May, Batailley 2021 was released at £27.50 per bottle (flat on the 2020 and 2019 release prices), setting a positive pricing tone in a year where reduced quantities had prompted apprehension. Indeed, the estate’s Managing Director, Frédéric Castèja informed Wine Lister that Batailley saw no mildew in 2021, and yields are therefore at a “normal” 50 hl/ha.
Released on Thursday 12th May at £165 per bottle, Carruades de Lafite 2021 similarly presents a discount on the 2020 and 2019 release prices, while entering the market below current prices of all recent back-vintages. The wine has shown to be one of the best price performers post-release in Wine Lister’s latest Bordeaux Study, with the 2020 already witnessing a 39% price increase over the past year. Carruades’ younger cousin, Duhart-Milon 2021 was also released on Thursday at £56 per bottle.
Another encouraging price move countering the early fears of the trade, Pavie 2021 was released on Wednesday 18th May at £232 per bottle – offering a discount of 3%-13% on all physical vintages back to 2015. Cheval Blanc 2021 was released on Thursday 19th May at a slight premium on the past two years’ release prices, though still below average prices of all back-vintages on the market up until 2014. With a quality that matches recent top vintages (2019, 2018, 2016, 2015), while priced at an average 28% below them, the 2021 has already seen successes. Indeed, one top UK merchant reports having sold “even more than last year”.
Cheval Blanc’s Technical Director, Pierre–Olivier Clouet, taking the Wine Lister team through the 2021s
A similarly successful entry (in the words of another top UK merchant), Léoville Las Cases 2021 was released on Friday 20th May at £162.50 per bottle – a significant 18% down on the 2020 release price. As well as offering the greatest discount from last year’s opening price seen of key releases thus far in the campaign, the 2021 receives a score of 94-96 from both Vinous’ Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin.
Upping the pace this week (on Monday 23rd May), we saw further releases from Angélus and the Barton family. The 2021 is the first vintage of Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton vinified in the Barton family’s new winery, and the last before the passing of the estates’ legendary owner, Anthony Barton. The vintage also marks 200 years of the family’s ownership of Langoa Barton, which will be commemorated with a special-edition label on the 2021, and the release of a limited-edition, multi-vintage case.
Also released during this period: Carillon d’Angélus, La Lagune, Petit Cheval, Cantemerle, L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne, Potensac.
Wine Lister’s real-time, wine-by-wine analysis of this year’s campaign is available in email newsletter form through a Pro+ subscription. For more information on this, please contact us.
Wine Lister’s COO, Chloe Ashton shares her thoughts on this year’s en primeur campaign so far.
The latest Bordeaux en primeur campaign is already underway, with Batailley 2021 opening the stage at the beginning of last week, and Domaines Baron de Rothschild’s Carruades and Duhart-Milon following suit. Cantemerle’s release on Friday 13th rounded out the week, and thus far starting prices have been a relatively pleasant surprise.
What does the trade expect from this year’s campaign?
In Part I of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux study, we asked key members of the global fine wine trade about their expectations ahead of the 2021 campaign. Of 47 respondents, half expected prices to be somewhat more expensive, or significantly more expensive than 2020 vintage releases, after rumblings on La Place of strong trading over the past few months.
Bordeaux study (p.10): Founding members survey – 2021 release price expectations
After the first physical en primeur week in Bordeaux since the 2018 vintage (our view of the vintage can be found here), the trade will at least have had the chance to work their way through a vintage so complex that tasting was surely a necessity. With such a heterogenous vintage, pricing strategies should logically also be extremely varied, making the potential successes of 2021 sales difficult to predict. Nonetheless, here’s what we know:
- Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux study reveals that confidence in Bordeaux us up. Respondents increased ratings on last year for three quarters of the wines included in our study – after so many trade members have been reminded of the joys of tasting in situ, both these elements could contribute to campaign positivity and momentum, with merchants backing those properties they historically believe in, and/or were indeed impressed by during en primeur tastings
- 2021 appears to be a vintage that speaks from the soil, so imparting knowledge of the best terroirs to customers should help to create demand for the best-performing wines in general
- Outside of focusing only on the very best, 2021 may be a vintage for pleasant surprises – the fresher, lower-alcohol, and more classical style of wines certainly garner appeal from traditional palates, so any merchant or collector seeking this style of drinking experience in the near to mid future could do well in seeking out some of the better-value wines hailing from this complicated campaign
Wine Lister’s wine-by-wine analysis of this year’s campaign is available in email newsletter form through a Pro+ subscription. For more information on this, please contact us.
Wine Lister’s Founder and CEO, Ella Lister shares her thoughts on Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage.
Bordeaux en primeur tastings: UGCB (left) and CVBG (right)
What can we expect from Bordeaux 2021?
The most complicated vintage since 2013, Bordeaux 2021 had everything thrown at it. The vines suffered a barrage of challenges during the growing season, from frost, then mildew, to a lack of the all-important hydric stress during a cool, cloudy summer. “It was a tiring vintage for us, and psychologically difficult” recalls Juliette Couderc, the new technical director at Château L’Evangile.
Bordeaux had been lucky with six relatively clement vintages in row, and en primeur tasters had been spoiled – especially with the trio of 2018, 2019, and 2020. Tasting more than 350 wines from the 2021 vintage in late April, we were reminded of en primeur tastings of old – the art of seeing through the wood, the hard tannins, the searing acidity, and attempting to form an idea of the wine’s future potential. And potential there is, if much less widespread than in the last three years. Buying decisions will need to be made carefully, and the critics’ views will be more important than in recent vintages blessed with high quality across the board.
Vinegrowing and winemaking have come on even in nine years, with know-how and tools at the disposal of producers that they didn’t necessarily have in 2013. Furthermore, 2021 had a saving grace – an unusually long growing season, beginning with early bud break, around the beginning of April, and ending with harvest dates running well into October, thanks to an Indian summer that finally provided some much-needed sunshine, with the sunniest October since 1991. Pierre-Olivier Clouet, technical director of Château Cheval Blanc, referred to a vintage “slow-cooked at a low temperature” following six years of cooking “on a high heat”.
The vintage was more challenging for merlot than for cabernet (franc or sauvignon), as the grape variety is more susceptible to mildew. Being an early ripener, merlot also missed out on the best of the Indian summer, whereas much cabernet benefitted from a warm and sunny early October, where vignerons dared to ignore the pessimistic weather forecasts for the weekend of 3rd and 4th October and hadn’t already rushed to pick before the non-existent rain. “The weather forecast was predicting an apocalypse,” recalls Vincent Millet, managing director of Château Calon-Ségur in Saint-Estèphe, but the cabernet grapes weren’t ready, so he waited, “and in the end there was no rain at all, and then a good stint of sunshine”. Further south in Margaux, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, co-owner of Château Margaux, echoes, “It was out of the question to pick unripe grapes ”.
At Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in Saint-Julien, owner Bruno Borie says the 2021 vintage is an “ode to cabernet sauvignon, which was much more resistant than merlot at every step.” However, cabernet’s upper hand in 2021 does not neatly translate into a left-bank vintage as might be expected. The right bank has its fair share of hits, and, bizarrely, fewer misses.
The watchword in 2021 is heterogeneous, and quality is undoubtedly very patchy in 2021, ranging from the seriously disappointing to the truly exceptional (though we are not in 100-point territory in this vintage). This makes it a hugely interesting en primeur campaign to taste, to sell, and to buy. It is a year where châteaux had a real opportunity to stand out from the pack, usually thanks to outstanding terroir and the application of significant resources – both financial and human. “It was viticulture seven days a week,” explains Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy, estates manager of the Château Mouton-Rothschild stable, who, like many others, underlined the vital importance of the team’s unstinting dedication. It was necessary to adapt tirelessly in the vineyard and in the winery; to accept that the fruit coming in at the end of the season wasn’t that of the three previous vintages, and be willing to throw out tried and tested recipes to make a different kind of wine, suited to the vintage. “We didn’t go looking for density that simply wasn’t there”, underlines Vincent Decup, technical director at Château Montrose in Saint-Estèphe. Down the road at Cos d’Estournel, Dominique Arangoïts points out “it’s an opportunity for wine lovers to really uncover the terroir, because the wines are stripped right back.”
The biggest challenges were to achieve a full enough body and to avoid vegetal (pyrazine) notes, without over-extracting hard, green tannins or being over-reliant on new wood, which the more delicate fruit couldn’t absorb. Many of the more successful properties used gentler extraction techniques than ever, and added a significant proportion of press wine to fill out the mid-palate. Chaptalisation was widely resorted to for the first time since 2013. The 2021 vintage nonetheless offers refreshingly modest alcohol levels – around 13% rather than the 15% or 15.5% which had become ubiquitous in recent years – potentially a key selling point with consumers.
Generalisations are not easy (or wise) in a vintage of such disparity of quality and style, but with few exceptions, the red wines tend to come in a lighter, fresher vein, recalling the classical clarets of the 1980s and 1990s. “It’s a wine style from the 80s, but with ripe grapes,” muses Aymeric de Gironde, president of Château Troplong-Mondot. The fruit is more red than black, with lots of raspberry and even some rhubarb. The vintage is less opulently floral than the last three, and floral notes are more often on a slightly more vegetal spectrum – iris, violet and lily. The worst wines have hollow mid-palates and searing acidity, and often an overdose of oak. The very best are so pure and soothing that you would never imagine the sweat and tears that went into making them. For Olivier Gautrat, maître de chai at Château L’Eglise Clinet, it was “a difficult and exhausting vintage. We’ve been out of the habit of less explosive flavour in the grapes, so we were really scared, but the more we taste, the more we find real charm in the 2021s. ”
The dry whites are pure and fresh, and the best have a sumptuous complexity. The sweet whites are remarkable, but produced in tiny quantities, if at all. For this reason Christian Seely describes Château Suduiraut 2021 as “tragically beautiful”, with yields of less than 1 hl/ha. What the reds, whites, and sweet wines all share is high acidity, which will likely result in long ageing capacity. We look forward to tasting the wines again in bottle in a couple of years to confirm that!
350+ tasting notes will be published (in French) at Le Figaro Vin next week. In the meantime, watch this space for part II of this blog series, with a focus on the Bordeaux market, to be published next week. To track the impending Bordeaux en primeur releases, click here to discover our en primeur page.
In anticipation of this year’s en primeur releases, Wine Lister has published Part 1 of its annual in-depth Bordeaux Study. In collaboration with the world’s most visited wine website, Wine-Searcher, our market overview examines the region’s price performance and comparative popularity progression. Drawing upon valuable insight from 47 leading trade survey respondents, the study also identifies which properties have benefited from a rise in trade confidence over the past year, and explores recommendations for châteaux and merchants to see a successful 2021 en primeur campaign.
Please see our key findings below:
You can download the study digest here: Wine Lister 2022 Bordeaux Study – Digest. The full report can be purchased on our Analysis page, while Pro subscribers can access their free copy here. For further information on the data source, please see the Wine-Searcher website here.