The ups and downs of Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage

With the 2021 Primeurs campaign well under way, we thought it apt to give you an insight into the conditions that brought about the latest Bordeaux vintage. A complicated year was saved by a glorious end-of-season boost, allowing properties that made wise decisions to still craft fine wine. Low quantities in the vineyards put a stain on the region’s 2021, though, with some areas suffering from extremely scarce yields.

As you’ve probably already heard, iDealwine has launched its own Primeurs service for the first time this year, allowing you to purchase the 2021 vintage before it has been bottled. You can find out more on our new website and sign up to receive alerts! You’ll be the first to know when your favourite estates release their new vintage onto the Primeurs market, and you can place your orders directly through us.

2021 in Bordeaux: no fair weather

Bordeaux’s wine makers were faced with quite the challenge in 2021, to say the least, with a weather cycle that was far from straightforward. They had to overcome a severe frost in the spring, a high risk of mildew, excessive rain, and a lack of sun during the summer. Fortunately, the tide turned at the eleventh hour, giving the Bordelais vintners a final chance exactly when it counted; good conditions in October and September allowed vintners to craft excellent quality wine, although in smaller-than-ideal quantities.

A wet winter

The winter at the beginning of 2021 was much rainier than usual, and the season carried unusual waves of hard cold followed by milder periods.

An early spring

Spring was particularly mild and dry, causing early budding at the start of April, a phenomenon that has occurred over the past few years, too. It isn’t so much the early budding that causes an issue, but rather the sudden frost that can happen afterwards. The result of this frost, particularly devastating on the 7th and 8th of April 2021, was a drastic loss for wine makers in certain areas. Cold snaps also struck in May, as well, adding insult to injury for anxious vintners at the mercy of the weather. The rest of May was damp and cool, conditions that naturally slow down vine growth, until June came around with a sunnier disposition.

A cool summer

The vines blossomed in the clement conditions of June, but unfortunately this wave of warmth didn’t last. From mid-June, Bordeaux’s vineyards were faced with stormy weather, heavy rain, and even hale. And this humid state of affairs created the perfect conditions for…plant pathogens! Unfortunately, mildew was particularly virulent in the region’s vineyards. Overall, the summer season was pretty grim and lacking in sunshine, with a cool and soggy July making way for a cool and soggy August. This actually caused the vines to continue growing, an unusual happening since the vines should stop before véraison (the period when the grapes change colour, from green to red or yellow). This stage thus took place towards mid-August.

Saved at the eleventh hour

Luckily, the passage from the end of summer to the start of autumn brought much better conditions, with little rain, some sun and welcome warmth, perfect for the harvest. Bordeaux’s white grapes were harvested during the first 20 days of September, with the Sauvignons going first and the Sémillons a week later.

As for the red grapes, their harvest began with the Merlot variety towards the 25th of September. In general, the 2021 Merlot is less sugary and more acidic than usual, the grapes were big, though some of them were under-ripe even later on in the season. The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest began in October and the grapes were beautifully ripe thanks to the warm and sunny conditions just prior. These grapes also held onto a good amount of acidity, a precursor for pleasant freshness. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc alike are the vintage’s best successes, deep and aromatic with good structure and a level of alcohol that avoids excess.

Finally, the Sauternes harvests began at the start of October and were carried out over several passages through the vineyard. Botrytis developed a little later than usual, after the mid-September rain, on excellent grapes balanced out again by a nice acidity. Unfortunately, the yields from this part of Bordeaux are minuscule due to the extreme frost and hale that destroyed much of the estates’ production. Several Sauternes properties reported 2021 yields of 1 or 2hl/ha.

A winemaker’s vintage

With such a challenging series of seasons, the 2021 vintage has pushed wine makers to their limits. This means, though, that those who made wise decisions and practiced their patience, especially vintners on the most prestigious terroirs, have largely been able to adapt to the conditions and produce really good wines.

This is what’s known as a ‘millésime de vignerons’, or winemaker’s vintage, where the quality of the wine depends almost entirely on the hard work and delicate choices of the vintner. This results in a certain amount of heterogeneity in the region’s wines. However, it is far too soon to draw conclusions from this observation alone, and we’ll be providing our tasting notes from the Primeurs events as the campaign continues. So, watch this space!

You can purchase en primeur on our brand new website!

Or shop our selection of other Bordeaux wines here

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