Bordeaux 2021 – the word from the en primeurs

As the châteaux open their doors to the trade, we caught up with some producers for their take on the vintage – and asked Collective members for their impressions

France’s 2021 vintage has been one of the most talked about of recent times. But for all the wrong reasons. And the famously brutal frost last April didn’t just trash volumes in the Loire, Burgundy and Champagne; it took a fair bite out of Bordeaux as well.

Alain Reynaud is president of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux group of wineries, and his members make wines in the €5-40 area which covers around 90% of the appellation. He reckons that, on average, around 25% of the crop was lost due to the cold snap. This was followed up by a damp summer which created problems with mildew, which meant that some châteaux lost a further 25% of their total – or worse. Those practising organic or biodynamic viticulture were the most badly affected.

At Château Haut-Chaigneau, which picked just the wrong time to start its conversion to biodynamic viticulture, Andrea Giraud reckons they lost 60% of their crop. ‘Fortunately, we have a lot of stock,’ she said. ‘But we need 2022 not to be the same as 2021.’

It’s a cliché to say that a terrible start to the year was rescued by a good autumn, but that does seem to have been the case. A tasting of the Grand Cercle wines in London before Easter revealed good colour and decent fruit – though less depth and ageability than the top vintages. According to Reynaud, the polyphenol rating is just 70-80, compared to 100-120 in 2021.

Bordeaux’s chateaux suffered with volume, but quality was better than expected – and more ‘classic’

Millésime de restaurant

It is, to use another cliché, a restaurant vintage – accessible straight away. And since it is unlikely to interest collectors as much as a top year, prices should be the same as 2020, or even go down a little, making it affordable. It will be tough for the producers, charging less for a smaller year, but if they want to sell the wines, it’s what most of them will do – at least away from the very top châteaux.

All of which means that, for Collective members, this could be a useful vintage for wines around the £8-20 ex VAT level. And since they’re not too heavy, they could even be Bourgogne Rouge alternatives, since we know there’s hardly any of that about – and what there is is expensive.

‘From time to time we need years like this,’ said Reynaud. ‘But we can’t have them every year. If we made [wines like this] every year we would be dead very quickly.’

Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux’s Alain Reynaud

Expressive of vintage

What was very obvious from tasting wines particularly at this more affordable end of the scale is that the winemaking has been significantly more sensitive than might have been the case 20 years ago when it seemed like everyone was desperately trying to impress Robert Parker.

Oak use was mostly moderate, allowing refreshing, bright fruit to speak. The word ‘classic’ has been used, which can be a euphemism for ‘unripe’ but actually seems accurate here. The Grand Cercle wines I tried were refreshing.

Armit’s buyer, Nicolas Clerc MS, describes it as a ‘classic’ vintage – stylistically more like the kind of wines seen at the end of the 1980s or early 1990s.

‘There is a potential for ageing, but you need to know the people behind the wine,’ he said. ‘It’s a sensitive year and proper ripeness hasn’t always been easy to find.’

‘We didn’t try to make something that the vintage couldn’t give,’ says Jean-Francois Quenin, owner of Château Tour de Pressac. Which, if nothing else, makes these wines authentic expressions of their vintage.

Though of course, whether France’s winemakers will want to be reminded of 2021 is another matter entirely…

Collective members sample the vintages
There were a wide spread of vintages on display
Some tasters relax after a stimulating session

We took a string of Grand Cercle Bordeaux wines – en primeur and older vintages – to Edinburgh to get some feedback from Sommelier Collective members (above). Here are their favourites.

James Payne, Douneside House

Château Mazeyres 2021/2018, Pomerol

Both of these wines stood out for me. The 2021 was so different in its airy biodynamic texture, but still showcased a Merlot-dominant richness of plummy fruit and rounded mouthfeel.

The 2018 had an amazingly velvety texture which, for me, is hallmark Pomerol.

Isobel Salomon, Market Street Hotel

Château Grand Corbin-Despagne 2016, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé

This was all cherry vanilla ad barky chocolate notes, with a lovely eucalyptus note coming through as well. I’d have this with chicken or a hard cheese.

Maybe chicken drumsticks with lentils.

Graeme Sutherland, Good Bros wine bar

Château Soutard-Cadet 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

Dense and dark with lots of pencil shavings and cloves with silky dark fruit, it was the balance of sweet and savoury that won me over.

Food wise, there’s no need to complicate it, this would be great with Sunday roast, or the Moorish dish, pinchos morunos – pork skewers marinated in paprika, cloves and garlic.

Molly  Buesnel, WineKraft

Château de Villegorge 2015, Haut-Médoc

I’m not typically a Bordeaux drinker, since I’m a vegetarian and don’t go for larger reds, but this was both silky and lighter in style; quite accessible with bright fruit and controlled oak.

I’d serve it with puy lentils and mushroom casserole.

Davide Traverso, Divino

Château Tour Baladoz 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

This wine is still quite young, but it’s already starting to acquire some really nice complexity. There’s plenty of fruit, with a complex liquorice and aniseed finish.

It would be great with a fillet steak with a wine reduction sauce and steamed chicory.

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