The balancing act
Following our recent report on Bordeaux’s 2021 harvest, Wine Lister now turns to Tuscany to find out more about its 2021 vintage so far, with insight from 10 top producers across the region
Tuscany’s 2021 growing season has been characterised as a year of climatic extremities, including a mild and rainy winter, the onset of frost in spring, persistent drought in summer, and ending in ideal harvest conditions. In a show of resilience and adaptability, producers were able to reap the benefits of acute weather patterns – with the potential consequences of drought lessened by the groundwater reserves accumulated in winter, and dry conditions reducing disease pressure over the summer.
What can we expect from Tuscany’s 2021 vintage?
Multiple methods to fight frost
- Properties lit fires in the vineyards to circulate warm air and reduce the risk of frost. Owner of IPSUS, Giovanni Mazzei tells us that the technique successfully “increased the temperature up to 2˚C” across the IPSUS vineyards, protecting the vines from damage
- Several producers used organic treatments to improve vine health following the frost, including Argiano, whose Sales Manager, Riccardo Bogi tells us that “brown algae allowed the plants to stabilise and respond as quickly as possible to the loss of sprouts”
- Frost was particularly prevalent in low-lying coastal regions, with Ornellaia’s winemaker, Axel Heinz witnessing “damages limited to a few lower altitude vineyards, without significant impact on production”. Le Macchiole’s Commercial Director, Gianluca Putzolu tells us that the estate also implemented “organic spring fertilization” to combat frost that hit “some, but fortunately very few vineyards”
- Rainfall during winter accumulated important water reserves at both Argiano and Romitorio, encouraging a good state of hydration ahead of the growing season
- Some high-altitude properties also saw snowfall during winter that, when melted, “percolated the soil with water”, according to Romitorio’s owner, Filippo Chia
- Abundant rainfall in May allowed plants to survive the hot summer, with Riccardo confirming that this was “essential” for Argiano’s 2021 vintage, “since after that, there was no rain until the beginning of October”. Similarly, Fèlsina’s owner, Giovanni Poggiali tells us of some “rainy days in June”
Sun and heat exposure
- “The management of the canopy needed to be delicate and precise to avoid sunburns”, explains Avignonesi’s COO and Agronomist, Alessio Gorini, who also explained that the use of high-tech sorting equipment allowed them “to completely remove any berries withered or raisined by the sun”
- Organic treatments were adopted to protect the vines from sun exposure, such as the use of “kaolin” at Tenuta San Guido. General Director, Carlo Paoli explains this to be “a natural substance that we have been using for many years in hot vintages”, which helps to reduce the vines’ susceptibility to scorching
- A broad diurnal range across several high-altitude estates encouraged balance despite the hot summer, with Castiglion del Bosco’s winemaker, Cecilia Leoneschi noting that the difference of more than 10°C between day and night temperatures was a “real blessing”
Teamwork amongst Tuscan vines: IPSUS (left), Tenuta San Guido (middle), Ornellaia (right)
A remarkably healthy vintage
- Lack of rain throughout June and July minimised disease pressure; Filippo confirmed that “from a mould and disease standpoint, it was actually one of the healthiest vintages [Romitorio] has seen”, thanks to the “dry summer”. Giovanni echoes this sentiment for IPSUS, while Gianluca reiterates there were “no particular problems” at Le Macchiole, despite the risk of powdery mildew – a more common problem for the Bolgheri area
Striking when the time was right
- For many estates, harvest timing was essential, with Alessio and the Avignonesi team similarly conscious of “avoiding over-ripening on such concentrated grapes”
- Producers had to be particularly reactive to picking dates, explains Axel – whose 2021 harvest “required great skill” in planning, eventually leading to a “very compact harvest completed in one month, instead of the usual 40 days”. Owner of Tua Rita, Giovanni Frascolla similarly characterised 2021 as a “lightning harvest”
- “Powerful dark structure – we normally see this with low acid, but this has high acid” recounts Filippo from Romitorio’s latest tasting of the blend
- First impressions show “bright aromatics and, luckily high acidities to keep everything in balance”, at Ornellaia, with Axel describing a “rich and concentrated” wine, “with soft tannins”
- “Grapes matured in a homogeneous way and with a perfect balance of acidity and PH” explains Carlo at Tenuta San Guido
Working around the clock
Wine Lister catches up with nine top producers from Bordeaux’s Left Bank to find out more about their 2021 harvest, and to hear their early evaluation of the vintage
Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage required patience and commitment. Producers worked around the clock to protect their vines – some were threatened by frost, others by disease pressure over the cool and wet summer, but all brought their respective teams together, facing the hand that Mother Nature dealt them with the best experience and techniques the modern wine world has to offer.
What do we know about Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage so far?
- Several producers were protected from the April frost due to their proximity to rivers – just 600m from its banks of the Gironde, d’Issan vineyards escaped damage, according to owner, Emmanuel Cruse. Similarly, Vineyard Manager, Nicolas Dudebout tells us that Malescasse were “naturally shielded” by their privileged positioning near the Garonne
- Other properties were well-equipped to fight the frost proactively, with Smith Haut-Lafitte’s owner Florence Cathiard confirming that a combination of “Valerian decoction (Valeriana officinalis plant root used for its restorative properties), and candles” protected their vines
Organics against disease pressure
- The cool and wet start to summer left some producers vulnerable to disease pressure: Florence told us that Smith Haut-Lafitte reacted to the threat of mildew using “copper mixed with phytotherapy decoctions of horsetail, nettle, wicker, and comfrey”
- “We take the best of both worlds” at Larrivet Haut-Brion, describes Cellar Master, Charlotte Mignon. She explains that the team were “reactive to fighting mildew attacks”, using biocontrol to facilitate the sustainable use of “organic, biodynamic, and conventional solutions [as] necessary”
Late summer ripening
- Late summer sun in August and September created favourable conditions for Merlot, an early-ripening grape variety that is notoriously challenging in hotter temperatures. Cos d’Estournel’s Technical Director, Dominique Arangoïts, found their Merlot to be “remarkably enticing, fruity, and rich with a very noble expression”
- Slower ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes encouraged good phenological maturity: During his last harvest at Lafon-Rochet, Basile Tesseron tells us that, following early pre-harvest berry tastings, the grapes fortunately progressed beautifully in the last few weeks, eventually becoming “more expressive, and well-balanced”
- After a trio of warmer vintages, Charlotte notes that the Cabernets at Larrivet Haut-Brion achieved “perfect ripeness”, thanks to a longer growing season, and sunshine in late-August right up until harvest in October, which gave grapes with “a very good state of health”
A snapshot of this year’s harvest: Lafon-Rochet (far left), Palmer (middle left), d’Issan (middle right), and Smith Haut-Lafitte (far right)
Lower alcohol content
- “Low levels of sugar have resulted in a lower alcohol content” in Cos d’Estournel’s Cabernet Sauvignon this year, with Dominique identifying “a magnificent intensity and freshness” and the characteristics of “the most elegant, sophisticated wines”
- “This harvest will be marked by an alcohol-acidity balance, completely different from previous years”, observes Haut-Brion’s Technical Director, Jean-Philippe Masclef. Their Cellar Master, Florence Forgas associates “moderate alcoholic degrees” as being “closer to much older vintages”
- A cooler vintage compared to the previous three resulted in “pure fruit, and a very interesting density” in Palmer’s 2021 grapes, according to Thomas Duroux
Good things to come
- “Merlots are softer than usual and the Cabernets more compact” according to Cantenac Brown’s winemaker José Sanfins, who hopes for an overall blend that is “dense and complete, with fine and elegant tannins”
- Favourable weather during harvest, including “morning temperatures of around 4˚C, preserving freshness across all grape varieties” at d’Issan
- Bordeaux’s whites also boast vibrancy in 2021, with Charlotte noting “freshness and tension” with “aromatic clarity” from Larrivet Haut-Brion’s Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes
As the fine wine industry starts preparing for another Bordeaux en primeur season at a distance, Wine Lister has published Part I of its annual in-depth Bordeaux Study. With insights from key fine wine trade players from across the globe, Part I evaluates Bordeaux’s recent performance, considers the major takeaways from the 2019 vintage campaign, and contemplates the lessons they might provide moving forwards.
Please see our key findings below:
You can download the study digest in English here: Wine Lister 2021 Bordeaux Study – Digest or French here: Wine Lister 2021 Bordeaux Résumé d’étude. The full report can be purchased on our Analysis page, while Pro subscribers can access their free copy here.
Burgundy prices continue to rise, and top wines are becoming ever-harder to access – but must what goes up really come down?
Wine Lister has published its second in-depth Burgundy report, with contribution from partner critic and leading Burgundy expert, Jasper Morris. With insights from key fine wine trade players from across the globe, the report investigates the state of Burgundy compared to other major fine wine regions, and discusses projections for its future performance.
Please see our key findings below:
You can download the study digest in English here: Wine Lister Burgundy Study Digest 2020 or French here: Wine Lister Étude Bourgogne 2020 – Résultats Clés. The full report can be purchased on our Analysis page, while Pro subscribers can access their free copy here.
Château Latour has released a parcel of their 2008 this morning. It is being offered in the UK at c.£425 per bottle. The factsheet below summarises its key points.
You can download this slide here: Château Latour 2008
Analysis of the new release of Dom Pérignon 2008, which has received its highest Quality score ever.
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Dom Pérignon 2008
Analysis of Dominus 2015, which was released late last week at £183.33 per bottle, with a Quality score of 988.
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Dominus 2015
Yquem 2016 released at €250 ex-négociant (same as 2015), with a UK RRP of £264 per bottle (no change on 2015 release price). Quality score 984 (vs 993 in 2015). Our factsheet below summarises all the key points.
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Yquem 2016
Château Latour has released a parcel of Les Forts de Latour 2009 this morning at €195 per bottle ex-négociant, which will likely result in a UK release price of c.£200. Our factsheet below summarises all the key points.
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Les Forts de Latour 2009
Analysis of Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2016, which has been released this morning at €270 ex-négociant (up 15% on the 2015), and is being offered in the UK at £277 (up 12% on 2015), with a higher Quality score: 988 (vs 974).
You can download the slide here: Wine Lister Factsheet Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2016