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OPINIONS

Bordeaux 2021, a surprising vintage given the premise, especially for whites. But with no standouts

International critics’ reviews at the latest vintage: James Suckling, Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin, Jane Anson and Jean-Marc Quarin

In terms of climate and production, the latest vintage in Bordeaux has gone down in the annals as a cool and wet one, marked by June’s rains and plummeting temperatures in July and August, for a total production of 3.7 million hectoliters, 14 percent less than 2020. And if the trade has already crowned Château Margaux, and now expects a price drop - ex négociant - of around 2.7 percent compared to 2021, from the en primeur tastings come the first reports from international critics, from Jane Anson (Bordeaux correspondent of “Decanter”) to Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni of “Vinous”, from Jean-Marc Quarin, among the top experts on Bordeaux wines in France, to James Suckling.
For the Hong Kong-based critic, the 2021, a difficult vintage, turned out to be “easy” in the end, despite having “offered winemakers virtually every calamity imaginable, including spring frost, mildew, botrytis, rain, lack of sunlight and low temperatures in the summer months”. From barrel tastings of Bordeaux’s 2021, there are essentially two things that stand out according to Suckling: “fresh, bright acidity and low alcohol content, but it’s hard to find a comparison. There are lively and interesting reds, but also fantastic whites”. The “real miracle of this vintage”, writes James Suckling again, “maybe in the sweet wines, which show great promise”. It’s no coincidence then that at the top is the 1er cru of Sauternes Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, with 99/100 points, the maximum, “perhaps the greatest sweet wine produced in 100 years by Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey”. In second place, with 98/99 points, were Lafleur, Le Pin, Pétrus and Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, followed, with 97/98 points, by Cheval Blanc.
According to Antonio Galloni, founder of “Vinous”, Bordeaux 2021 marks a “Return to Classicism”, as he titled his report on barrel tastings, which shows how “2021 is destined to turn out to be a very good vintage, especially for dry whites, but in general, given the premise, it turned out to be a surprise, with the most important producers able to produce splendid wines with a classic approach, full of freshness and energy”. For Galloni, “2021 represents a radical turnaround from the previous three vintages, with an average alcohol content one degree lower than the average for the period and wood well integrated into many of the best wines. Some inconsistency remains, so choosing carefully is even more important than usual”.
Considerations that result in seven labels deserving of the 96/98 points, the maximum score for Antonio Galloni, awarded to two whites (Les Carmes Haut-Brion and Smith Haut Lafite Blanc) and five reds: Haut-Brion Blanc, Vieux Château Certan, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Cheval Blanc and Doisy-Daëne L Extravagant.
Another prominent “Vinous” signature is that of Neal Martin, who, while agreeing on the many shortcomings of Bordeaux’s 2021, nonetheless writes of a vintage that proves to be an antidote to the last few vintages, all of which were hot. “There are, however, no exciting,
heart-pounding wines or wines that give the impression of standing before a future legend, but there are wines that testify to the effort and skill of winemakers”, Neal Martin writes. “Tastings confirm that 2021 is not up to the standards of the last few great vintages, nor is it a vintage in which one “Rive” stands out above the other”. The most enigmatic aspect, as is often the case with vintages initially given as doomed, then able to overturn predictions, concerns the aging capacity of this 2021: “it will be a fascinating bottled evolution to follow”, writes Neal Martin. In terms of prices, “it’s clear that the market expects a reduction, but producers are hoping to limit cuts as much as possible in order to contain rising production costs”. Consistent with the premise, no wine, according to Neal Martin, has the potential to reach 100 points, but the two that come closest (96/98) are Château Lafleur and Château Haut-Brion Blanc. One step lower (95/97) Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Vieux Château Certan, followed with a score of 94/96 by Château Margaux, Château Rauzan-Ségla, Château Leoville Les Cases, Château L’Eglise-Clinet and Château L’Evangile.
According to Jane Anson, Bordeaux correspondent for the British magazine “Decanter”, “2021 is the most difficult vintage since 2013, with some tastings, very good, but I don’t feel it is appropriate to compare it, as I read, to 1996 or 2001”. Turning off the enthusiasm, however, the British critics joined their colleagues’ praise of Bordeaux’s 2021 whites, awarding, not surprisingly, the highest score (98 points) to Château Haut-Brion Blanc, with Château Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc at 97 points and Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild’s whites at 96 points, as well as Château Valandraud Blanc and Lafleur’s Les Champs Libres. Four were the top reds in Jane Anson’s tastings (Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Château Figeac, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Lafleur), which she did not give any 100 (albeit potential), partly so as not to detract from the scores given by vintages such as 2009, 2016 or 2019.
Finally, an “inside” point of view, namely that of Jean-Marc Quarin, a prestigious signature of France’s wine journalism. Who returns an all in all positive first impression of Bordeaux’s 2021, described as “very heterogeneous but with some pleasant surprises”. Distinct characteristics stand out in Jean-Marc Quarin’s observations: aromaticity, lack of tannins (at least compared to recent vintages) and the low alcohol contents, but also good acidity, at least in the most successful declinations. The major problems encountered by Jean-Marc Quarin concern the lack of maturity, particularly evident in the minor crus. Overall, “2021 is an average vintage, from which some good, very good, or even excellent exceptions emerge”, but the number of exceptional wines will be half that of 2019 and 2020. Out of the 393 wines tasted en primeur by Quarin 64 scored 94/100 or more (29 from the Rive Droite, with Saint-Emilion and Pomerol at the top), three from Sauternes and Barsac and 32 from the Rive Gauche, and only 5 reach 97 points. A top five into which Château Haut-Brion Blanc, and white wines from Château Valandraud, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier and Château La Mission Haut-Brion enter.

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