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Bordeaux En Primeur 2021 Report - A Classic Vintage

En Primeur is back! Tastings of barrel samples at Primeurs week in Bordeaux brings us back to a pre-COVID style of campaign but it is not a return to the status quo ante, or is it?

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Professor Laurence Geny and Professor Axel Marchal of the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenological Research Unit state in their 2021 Vintage Report for UGCB that, ‘the diversity of situations and technical decisions calls for a nuanced analysis.’ In short, they mean it’s complicated!

Wines from 2018-2020 required collectors to do little more than close their eyes and point to find a wine worth buying. A slight exaggeration, of course, but true more often than not. The 2021 Bordeaux vintage requires a little more understanding to find those gems and there are quite a few.


‘ Bordeaux is a game and it is one we all love to play. ’


The three preceding vintages, and indeed most of the last decade, delivered what may be a golden age for modern Bordeaux. 2021 delivered more demure wines that hark back to those lower-alcohol classic luncheon clarets. Most recently, like the 2011 vintage.

The 2011s wines were on pour at Primeurs in Bordeaux week by a number of Châteuax and with good reason. The vintage wasn’t thought to be prodigious upon first tasting but the wines are singing, eleven years on. And a good deal sooner than those descendants from the late 2010s can expect.


Place de Bordeaux

Place de Bordeaux


Before we continue, it must be said that there is something of a cat and mouse game that is played every year during En Primeur. Growers lament the clockwork caprice vintage (have you ever heard of vigneron tell you they had an easy vintage?), the châteaux clear the trumpets of triumph to drive demand, and, of course, merchants furrow their brows during consternated tastings in the hope of driving down prices. Even the critics hold fire on releasing their scores. Why not publish them as they taste? Because Bordeaux is a game and it is one we all love to play.


‘ 2021 is a vintage that made the vignerons work extremely hard... ’


The top châteaux of Bordeaux don’t release bad wine. Their pockets are deep and their resources considerable, the very best philosophies, techniques, equipment, facilities, and even labour, find their homes in Bordeaux. A negative score is rarely welcome but in truth it is reputation, not revenue, that is at stake. The great wines of Bordeaux should be understood as distinct vintage releases and judged in degrees of excellence.


The Bordeaux 2021 Growing Season


There was a very early start to the growing season. Early bud break at the beginning of March meant that the vines were an easy target for the frost. Mild and rainy weather followed by severe spring frost in early April. Depending on the location, the frost was more or less damaging. For example, Pessac-Léognan had hardly any loss in the vineyards whereas the northern Left Bank and Pomerol were hit hard.

After the frost, the rain hit and it rained all of April and May and subsequently, in June, the vineyards were hit hard by mildew. In particular, Merlot suffered from the weather challenges.

The weather dried up and the sun came out in August and continued to shine until the beginning of harvest. Picking started around the 10th of September with whites and Merlot coming in first. There was severe rain at the end of September and the people who held off and didn’t pick their Cabernet did extremely well. Sun came out again early October and the picking of Cabernets finished around the 15th of October.

2021 is a vintage that made the vignerons work extremely hard and some Châteaux that stated that they passed the same plot four times to make sure they harvested only the best and ripe grapes.

Bordeaux University 2021 Vintage Report states, ‘the exceptional Indian summer helped the Cabernet Sauvignon fully ripen and made it possible to harvest in dry conditions… It was nevertheless good to very good overall.’


La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac-Léognan

La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac-Léognan


How Are The Bordeaux Wines Of 2021?


Vintage 2021 has produced some great wines in a classical vintage! Challenging, yes, but the vigneron’s are so skilled that the weather isn’t affecting them too much. Yes, the yields were down 30-40% (some châteaux in Pessac reported no loss of yields) but the quality of fruit that came in was splendid. The wines have a lower level of alcohol than what we have seen in the last few years coming at 13-13.5 ALC. A very nice and welcome change!


‘ ...some great wines, in a classical vintage! ’


While we must consider the wines still being in barrel, they are fresh and vibrant with a wonderful purity and length. Tannins are firm and long, and there’s a core of extremely vibrant and red fruit which is so very joyful.
A Classic Vintage!

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