How 2021 Bordeaux became 2021 Bordeaux…
Making good wine is simple. That is until Mother Nature gets involved. Agriculture can be a tricky business. And 2021 Bordeaux is the product of a tricky vintage indeed. For an overview of the wines, and the official tastings, please read 2021 Bordeaux Vintage and Barrel Tasting Report
2021 Bordeaux, The Growing Season and Harvest.
The 2021 Bordeaux vintage started off with a winter marked by rain and relatively mild climatic conditions with some colder periods. By the time February rolled around, with its warm, sunny temperatures, it was looking like the vintage could be precocious, even with all the rain.
Things changed rapidly in April. While the month started off with more, gorgeous, sunny weather, things declined dramatically over the nights of April 7 and April 8 when temperatures dipped to below freezing causing damage and crop loss all over Bordeaux. While the destruction was devastating in Sauternes, vineyards in St. Emilion, Cotes de Bordeaux, and other appellations in the Right Bank as well as in the Left Bank suffered losses as well.
May wasn’t much better with its less-than-ideal conditions brought about by colder temperatures and rain. The month started off with more fears of frost when temperatures were close to freezing, on May 1 and 2. Those climatic conditions exacerbated an uneven flowering in June. The summer rains along with hail were not what growers were hoping for. The 2021 Bordeaux growing season continued along the same vein with rain coupled with a lack of sun and more rain.
2021 Bordeaux when things turned rotten in the vineyards.
If that wasn’t enough for growers and vineyard managers to deal with, the next issues were the rapid outbreaks of rot and downy mildew. When you add up all the damage caused by rain, lack of sun, cool weather, frost, hail, rot, and mildew, you begin to understand the difficulties with 2021 Bordeaux and why the crop losses were so dramatic.
The first two weeks of July delivered more rain. By this point, growers were as you would expect, not happy about the uncertain outcome of the vintage. Véraison finally began taking place by the first week of August. Most of August was dry, which helped, but the month remained cool and lacked sunshine until the end of the month.
2021 Bordeaux was not looking good at this time. However, once again, Bacchus realized he loved the wines of Bordeaux and tossed the region a lifeboat with a warm, sunny end of August which continued in September. That was never going to be enough to make a great vintage, but it was all growers needed to salvage the vintage and the harvest.
Harvest time for 2021 Bordeaux.
As usual, the harvest begins with the white Bordeaux wine grapes. Bordeaux is an interesting area climatically for red and white wine grapes. The region is often a bit too warm for the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. But not with 2021. In fact, as you can see by my tasting notes, this is a vintage for the white wine grapes. All the dry white wines were picked at close to perfect levels of maturity, beginning near the end of September.
That is not the case with the red wine grapes, which needed more time on the vines to reach maturity. 2021 has 2 key points to the positive side of the growing season. The first good point came with the warm and sun-filled conditions at the end of August, continuing into September. In fact, the month of September is in the record books as being the third-warmest month in almost 25 years!. Many growers I spoke with said the Indian Summer saved the vintage.
The second key moment took place when weather forecasters predicted massive rainstorms on October 2 and 3. Growers already despondent over the conditions throughout the season were tired of taking risks and losing out to the weather. However, the storm never materialized. Those that picked prior to October 2, to avoid the rains, (Which never came) were not so fortunate. Finally, October provided warm, sunny days, and cool to cold nights, exactly what the doctor, I mean Bacchus ordered.
Vignerons who waited to pick until after the supposed October rains were able to take their time and wait for better ripeness, harvesting into the middle of October, making in some cases, very good wine, especially with later ripening grapes, (mostly the Cabernets) and cooler terroir that also allowed for harvesting into the middle of October, making 2021 Bordeaux a late vintage.
Although, you know what they say, “Late is never great.” That’s certainly true. But that doesn’t mean some growers were not able to produce good wine. They were. Though 2021 is not an even vintage and it is harder to find truly good wines this year unless you know where to look.
In the cellars, 2021 Bordeaux offered additional choices and challenges. To make the best wine possible, it took more than just a light touch. First, rigorous selection was needed, further reducing the yields. Some lots of Merlot in the Left Bank and parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon that did not achieve ample ripeness needed to be chaptalized. Generally speaking, additional sugars were needed to increase the alcohol levels by .5 to 1%.
Because of the dilution, a large percentage of vignerons employed saignée, and reverse osmosis, techniques which reduce the amount of water in the wine, adding more concentration and richness. Fermentations required a gentle touch, lower temperatures, and less handling if possible. The addition of press wine to add more body, color and tannins varied, depending on the property.
The final choice until now is the amount of new oak used for the aging period. As I mentioned in my previous article, today, many estates have decreased the amount of new oak they have used in the past, Additionally, more estates are also aging a portion of their wine in neutral vessels. Foudres, amphora, and egg-shaped tanks are seen to some degree in cellars all over Bordeaux.
At the end of the day, as you will see in the appellation reports, there are some very nice 2021 Bordeaux wines. While the vintage clearly favors the dry white wines, for consumers that prefer more classically-styled, red-fruited, brighter, fresher Bordeaux with low alcohol levels, they should find a lot to like about the wines this year.
Up next, we will publish tasting notes for all the best 2021 Saint Estephe Wines followed by 2021 Pauillac, 2021 St. Julien, 2021 Margaux, and 2021 Pessac Leognan before moving on to the best 2021 Right Bank wines.