A Year Of Extremes
You would be forgiven for thinking the Bordelais have had something of any easy ride of it in recent years. Relatively benign weather with warm temperatures and rain (mostly) at the right time; the viticulturists have slept well and the winemakers have had wonderful fruit to work with.
2021 Was different. It’s hard to liken the weather pattern, or indeed the wines, to any single vintage before but it is safe to say Mother Nature was not kind. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a washout vintage. We must stress that it is far from homogenous but modern viticulture and winemaking has made it possible to produce some very fine wines. Think more 80’s and 90’s styled with great freshness; rather than blockbuster noughties wines.
The Growing Season
An unusually warm Spring might be pleasant for us at home but it makes for a nervy time for any vine grower. The kiss of sun and raised temperatures early in the season are rarely sustained without a plummet into frost at least once. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened this year, the vines experienced bud burst 2 weeks earlier than normal, only for a severe frost to hit Europe. Bordeaux was not hit as hard as other parts of France but there were pockets of significant damage and ultimately a large portion of vines that could not crop this year. Volumes are far more limited than previous vintages!
Just as the Bordelais thought they were in the clear; temperatures warmed and then came the rains. This is a dangerous mix, the perfect conditions for disease. Those who sprayed (or used organic/biodynamic defences) at the wrong time, once again, lost fruit to diseases like mildew.
August arrived and so did the sunshine and warm temperatures. Perhaps the vintage was saved? To a degree, Yes! This warm weather continued into September and October with the odd patch of rain her and there but nothing to spoil the warmth the grapes needed so badly. Harvests then took place over September and October with those harvesting late benefiting from the extra maturity.
This is one of the hardest vintages to characterise or generalise for many years. The whites and sweets are so low in volume but what has been made is intensely flavoured with incredible freshness, these will be long-lived. These are often overlooked but this is a year to pay attention and enjoy the little that has been produced.
The reds are the more challenging wines to bucket. It is hard to pinpoint the best appellations or even best bank. If really pressured, the Northern Medoc was spared some of the wet weather so Northern Pauillac and Saint Estephe have produced some great wines. Similarly, Pessac has really impressed us too. Merlot was the real challenge of the vintage so the right bank is a little trickier but the top Chateaux made some delicious wines with a high percentage of Cabernet Franc. Fans of structured, powerful but elegant Bordeaux from vintages like 1996 might find these are the wines they have been pining after.
We have been very careful to select our En Primeur wines from producers who we believe have performed excellently in the face of this years challenges.