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Pain and Pleasure: The 2021 Bordeaux en Primeur


Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage is not likely to feature among the greats of all time. It breaks the spell of the trilogy of 2018, 2019 and 2020. It is lighter and fresher than those three vintages and will probably mature more quickly. The 2021s are now being sold en primeur, as futures.

The 2021 vintage was “an obstacle course with nature,” says Hervé Diez, head of production at Château Kirwan in Margaux. Frost in April then mildew in late July and early August were the main culprits. As a whole, bad weather cut Bordeaux’s crop by a third. It was truly a vineyard vintage.

That said, it is certainly not a vintage to avoid. It did receive a bad press before a single glass was raised to anybody’s lips, just from reports of the difficult weather, even before fermentation had finished. 

There were tales to tell. 

“We sprayed with copper 19 times through the season, a record,” says Philippe Bascaules, director general of Château Margaux, which is now effectively organic.

In typical Bordeaux language, Louis Caillard, technical director of Château Lafite-Rothschild, described the vintage as “complicated. We were kept on our toes even during the harvest.”

If all this makes 2021 sound like a bad Bordeaux vintage, that’s not the case. Conditions that even as recently as 2013 led to a poor vintage can now be overcome thanks to the quantum leap in technical know-how, particularly in the vineyard. Vignerons were constantly vigilant with the understanding of what to do and when to do it.  

The result is a small vintage of extremely enjoyable red and white wines at the top end. At its red heart, it is a Cabernet vintage. That means look for wines with Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank in the Médoc and in Pessac-Léognan and of wines with a good percentage of Cabernet Franc in Saint-Emilion. 

The 2021 is lower in alcohol than recent vintages (13-13.5% compared with 14.5% or even 15% in 2018), higher in the fresh fruits and lighter on the tannins. Whites and sweet wines in Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes are magnificent despite seriously lower volumes. 

“We have produced wines that are classic, with fruit to the fore,” says Nicolas Labenne, technical director at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac.  

“What surprised us was the ripeness of the grapes when we started tasting them before harvest, says Olivier Berrouet at Château Pétrus in Pomerol. Despite being solely Merlot, “now the wine is made, we are really pleased.”