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.
The Place de Bordeaux has welcomed dozens of new wines through its distribution system this year, with new releases expected from Champagnes Barons de Rothschild, Biserno, and Parusso, alongside old favourites such as Caiarossa, Catena Zapata, and Penfolds, among others. As the campaign kicks off, we take a closer look at the first week of entries.
Dawn at Seña vineyard. The Wine Lister team tasted Seña 2020 with the Viñedo Chadwick and Seña team via Zoom last month
Inaugurating this year’s campaign on Thursday 1st September was an offering from Seña, whose 2020 vintage was released at £85.83 per bottle (in-bond). Tasting with Wine Lister on Zoom, the Seña-Chadwick team explained that although 2020 was an unusually warm year in Chile, a wide diurnal range in the vineyards (thanks to its 230 – 460m altitude) made for a long ripening season, allowing the grapes to develop intensity of flavour whilst retaining freshness. The Wine Lister team describes the latest release as opulent, with a complex nose of black fruit, plum and spice; on the palate, its berry intensity is complemented by notes of cigar box and grilled meat.
Quintessa 2019 followed swiftly, and has so far been offered in the UK for £180 per bottle (in-bond). Antonio Galloni (Vinous) awards Quintessa 2019 94 points, calling it “one of the best wines I have tasted here in some time”. Another offering from Rutherford in the Napa Valley, Inglenook Rubicon 2019 was released on Friday 2nd September at £143 per bottle (in-bond).
Released on Monday 5th September, Opus One 2019 entered the market at £252 per bottle (in-bond), with the latest vintage so far receiving acclaim from critics including Antonio Galloni (Vinous), who awards 97 points and writes that “it has all the classicism that is such an Opus One signature” and praises its “sublime finish”. Opus One is one of the top 15 best fine wine brands in the world, according to Wine Lister’s Brand score (as part of our Pro scoring system, see more here) – with high quality in 2020 further cementing this reputation.
Tuesday 6th September saw the latest release from Masseto, whose 2019 vintage (released at £440 per bottle in-bond) was the first to be made entirely in the estate’s new dedicated state-of-the-art winery, as well as the first with 10% Cabernet Franc added to an historically 100% Merlot composition. These changes appear to have yielded positive results, with Vinous’ Antonio Galloni describing Masseto 2020 as “fabulous”, adding that it is “Silky, gracious, and super-refined”.
Vin de Constance 2019 was released on Tuesday 6th September
Following suit on Tuesday 6th September, Vin de Constance 2019 entered the market at £45 per 500ml bottle (in-bond). Achieving its highest Wine Lister score since the 2012 vintage (96), the 2019 is awarded 97 points from Vinous’ Neal Martin, who calls it a “superb Vin de Constance […] a step closer to what you might confusingly call a non-sweet dessert wine” – high praise indeed.
Wednesday 7th September saw the release of the 25th vintage of Almaviva – a warm and dry year, the 2020 harvest arrived almost three weeks earlier than usual. Almaviva 2020 entered the market at £120 per bottle (in-bond).
On Thursday 8th September, Château d’Yquem released the last remaining half bottles of the 2016 vintage ex-château at £165 per bottle (in-bond). The vintage achieved a Wine Lister score of 96, with Neal Martin (Vinous) tasting in February this year, awarding 95 points and noting it “has gained a bit more complexity in recent years”. Solaia 2019 was released on the same morning, with a likely UK onward selling price of £218 per bottle. Antonio Galloni (Vinous) sings its praises, giving 97 points and describing it as “the sort of wine I would like to spend a whole evening with”.
Viñedo Chadwick 2020 was also released on Thursday morning, so far being offered in the UK at around £232 per bottle (in-bond). This particular vintage is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (Petit-Verdot is usually included in the blend). Tasting with the Seña-Chadwick team on Zoom, Wine Lister describes it as a complex and opulent offering, exhibiting great energy, freshness, and intensity.
Friday 9th September saw the release of L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2020 at a recommended UK onward selling price of £83 per bottle (in-bond). Wine Lister CEO Ella Lister (tasting on behalf of Le Figaro Vin) awards the 2020 95 points, describing it as “Pure and upfront on the nose, with dark fruit, slate, and cinnamon”. It should be noted that the next release of l’Aventure Estate Cuvée will be in September 2024, as the property is skipping a year in order to age the 2021 longer.
Also released this week were Cloudburst Chardonnay 2020, Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2020, Opus One Overture 2019, Massetino 2020, Rieussec 2020, and R de Rieussec 2021. Upcoming releases over the next week are likely to include Penfolds Bin 169 2019, Cheval des Andes 2019, Bibi Graetz Colore 2020 & Testamatta 2020, Latour 2010, Petrolo Galatrona 2020, Catena Zapata Nicolas 2019, and Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour 2019.
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 the campaign is starting to pick up speed, with many producers having released their wines just before the UK’s Queen’s Platinum Jubilee bank holidays, the pricing of en primeur is not living up to the market’s expectations. May ended with a short week that saw some key releases, including Château Pédesclaux, Château Marquis de Terme, Château d’Armailhac, Château Talbot and Château Suduiraut.
Château Marquis de Terme
Château Pédesclaux was the first wine to be released this week, going on sale on Monday 30th May, at £26.25 per bottle (all prices are quoted per bottle In Bond ex-VAT and duty), a lower price than the seven previous vintages available. Since its acquisition 13 years ago in 2009 by Jacky Lorenzetti, the quality of the wine has been steadily increasing (doubtless thanks to the investment made by its owner).
Tuesday 31st was marked by a number of releases, including several Sauternes. Château Suduiraut was released at £59.40, a historically high price, justified by the vanishingly small quantities produced (yields of just 1 hl/hectare), linked to the extreme weather conditions. Christian Seely, general manager, describes the 2021 as “tragically beautiful”. Indeed, Suduiraut 2021 is the highest rated vintage by critics since 2009, and the second best of its appellation by Wine Lister score, all vintages combined (coming just after Yquem).
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey was released shortly after Château Suduiraut, with a release price of £58.44. The 2021 is also one of the most expensive vintages ever produced by the estate, along with the 2019 and 2018, justified by the tiny volume of only 1,200 bottles. The wines will feature special labels designed by Lalique.
Also released on Tuesday 31st, Château Marquis de Terme came onto the market at £29.40, 8% below the current price of the 2020. The 2021 received a positive review from Ella Lister tasting for Le Figaro, who noted “a level of sophistication, which shows that the gradual progress of this wine over the last few years is thanks to fundamental changes whose positive effect can be seen even in a more difficult vintage.” This was followed by the release of Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry, at £37.00, below the current market prices of the previous three vintages.
Tuesday also saw the release of Château d’Armailhac at £32.60, similarly priced to the 2020 and 7% below the 2019, which is available in bottle. This vintage, described as a “terroir vintage”, clearly showed itself in the 2021 Château d’Armailhac, where Cabernets are king (with perhaps a new level of grace compared to previous vintages).
Château Talbot came onto the market on Wednesday 1 June at £39.35, slightly below the release prices for the previous 2020 and 2019 vintages. It was closely followed by Château Larrivet Haut-Brion rouge, released at £23.59, and whose 2021 marks a turn towards the future style of the wines, containing no Merlot in its final blend (resulting in a 20% reduction in volume). “It was just better without,” confided Bruno Lemoine, general manager, as warmer temperatures continue to force earlier ripening dates for the variety.
Despite the bank holiday in the UK, a key market for Bordeaux, Thursday saw the release of several wines at very similar prices to last year, despite the drop in quality, namely Châteaux Gazin, Prieuré-Lichine, Canon-la-Gaffelière and Lagrange.
Also released this week: Châteaux Malartic-Lagravière Rouge et Blanc, Siran, Péby Faugères, Marquis d’Alesme, Branaire-Ducru, Lynch-Bages, Grand-Mayne, du Tertre, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, La Mondotte and Carbonnieux Rouge et Blanc.
As the Bordeaux en primeur campaign continues, Wine Lister examines the best-quality wines from a challenging vintage (read our vintage report here).
Wine Lister’s partner critics’ scores are now all in, and with one new addition for the 2021 en primeur campaign: Le Figaro’s scores have been added to those of Wine Lister’s existing critics (Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin from Vinous, Jancis Robinson, Bettane+Desseauve, and Jeannie Cho-Lee) to create the overarching Wine Lister 100-point score. The top 29 wines of the vintage are shown below.
From a year acknowledged as the most complicated vintage since 2013, 29 wines achieve WL scores of 95 and over, compared to 43 last year. Wine Lister’s 100-point score combines normalised scores from Wine Lister’s partner critics. For the first time this year, the score also includes ratings from Wine Lister’s parent affiliate, Le Figaro Vin.
Bordeaux 2021 – Wine Lister scores of 95 and above
In 2021, the top- scoring wine is L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne from the Sauternes appellation with a score of 97 points – one point up on its score in 2020 . Two other sweet wines make the top cut – Suduiraut and Rieussec – in a year that has produced beautiful Sauternes and Barsac wines, if very little of them. Indeed, wines from sweet appellations in 2021 show quality overall that is unsurpassed since the 2015 vintage.
These are joined by two dry whites – Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, earning 96 and 95 points respectively. Haut-Brion’s red counterpart and Lafite take an equal lead over fellow first growths, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton in 2021.
Also equalling the impressive score of 96 is super-second, Ducru-Beaucaillou, and left bank darlings, Cheval Blanc and Lafleur (both already released – see our latest release blog for details).
Of the 19 reds earning a score of 95, 11 (or 58%) hail from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol collectively. This is perhaps surprising, given that the vintage is reported as having been more difficult for Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon. With fewer top-scoring wines than last year, the 2021 vintage is all about terroir and resources, with first growths and renowned right bank stars dominating the list.
However, even top scores are lower than in 2020. In 2020, the highest scoring wine was Chateau Margaux with a Wine Lister score of 98, 10 wines scored 97 points and 14 wines scored 96 points (compared to just one 97-pointer in 2021, six 96-point wines and 22 95-point wines).
That’s an average top 29 score of 96.3 in 2020 compared with 95.3 in 2021. That the difference is only one point in the context of such a difficult vintage is surely a reflection of excellent wine making across the region.
Most of the ranking movements are therefore relative, reflecting the fact that scoring 96-97 points in the 2020 vintage was more widespread that in 2021. For example, Suduiraut gains 31 places in 2021 despite also achieving a 96-point rating in 2020. Similarly, Troplong-Mondot and Le Pin are also risers despite their scores remaining unchanged compared to 2020.
One particular success among this is La Gaffelière, which ranks 15th in 2021 with a score of 95, a three point increase on its 2020 score of 92.
Wine Lister is excited to announce the addition of a new partner critic in time for the Bordeaux 2021 en primeur campaign. Scores from Le Figaro are now included in the 100-point Wine Lister aggregated score, alongside those of existing partner critics (Jancis Robinson, Bettane+Desseauve, Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin from Vinous, Jeannie Cho Lee, and Jasper Morris).
Since Wine Lister’s acquisition by Groupe Figaro in 2020, founder and CEO, Ella Lister, has been in charge of tasting for Le Figaro, including Bordeaux as well as other regions such as Burgundy and Champagne, with the support of a panel of expert tasters across these and other French regions*.
Having tasted 380 Bordeaux wines during en primeur, we examine below Ella’s top scores for the 2021 vintage.
41 wines achieve a score of 93-96 or above. While none receive a full 100-point rating, Les Carmes Haut-Brion comes the closest to perfect, with a potential score of 99.
The 36 reds are otherwise split evenly across both banks, with 17 left bank, and 19 right bank stars. Of first growths, Ella awards the highest scores to Haut-Brion and Latour (96-98), while Lafite receives 95-98, and Margaux and Mouton share a score of 95-97.
Super-seconds Ducru-Beaucaillou and Pichon Baron earn the highest scores of their classification (95-98), while Léoville Las Cases and Pichon Comtesse also fare well, matching Mouton’s score of 95-97.
Three dry whites – Haut-Brion Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, and Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc appear in Ella’s top 41. Two sweet white gems – de Fargues and Suduiraut complete the set of top scorers.
Click here to view and search all Figaro scores on the Wine Lister website.
*including for de Fargues, rated by Figaro journalist Béatrice Delamotte, who also tasted a handful of the other wines in the table above alongside Ella Lister.
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.