BARLOW IN BORDEAUX: THE 2021 VINTAGE

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I traveled to Bordeaux to attend En Primeur Union des Grand Crus in April of this year to taste through the 2021 vintage. It’s the first time Spec’s has attended without Bear Dalton in over 25 years. I went with our new Bordeaux buyer, Alan Dennis, and our Central Texas Trainer, Evan Davis. I must admit, it was a little weird tasting through a Bordeaux vintage without the expertise of Bear Dalton to lean on but I think we came out with a very good understanding of the vintage and quality level. Here are my notes on the vintage. Enjoy!

THE VINTAGE

If I were to sum up this vintage in a word, it would be: Vintage.

Yes. Vintage, but not as in the 2021 vintage. I mean ‘Vintage’ as in this harvest is a return to the Vintage style of wine making that Bordeaux has been known for with less alcohol and fresh, restrained fruits. It was the epitomy of a wine maker’s vintage where the vigneron had lots of variable weather and issues. One common theme that I noticed is this: Chateaux that decided to take what the vintage gave them, typically made good or very good wine, while the Chateaux that decided to continue to make their ‘style’ of wine had issues with quality and consistency. FOR ME, This was a vintage that was a RETURN to the CLASSIC style of Bordeaux with less alcohol and more finesse rather than the sumptuous vintages of late in the region. In short, I LOVE this vintage, but you must not go into these wines thinking of vintages like 2016, 2018, 2019, or 2020. I personally prefer the ‘Classic’ style of wines that are more elegant, lower alcohol, and show more structure so this vintage is an easy ‘Yes’ for me, but customers need to be aware that it is definitely a vintage that you will have to pay more attention to purchases and prices. The vintage is quite ‘FRESH’ and drinkable now, but will definitely age VERY WELL. Also, don’t skip out on the white wines of 2021. They are absolutely PHENOMENAL!

Issues with Merlot caused most of the tough decision making this vintage with a late storm giving vignerons headaches as to whether to pick a little early or wait and have possible rot on their grapes. Most Chateaux (all that I talked to except one which was Lafite Rothschild) decided to wait and hope for better phenolic ripeness. Those that did wait, were rewarded as the rainfalls did not come to fruition as forecasted. Lafite Rothschild picked early, but it was of no consequence as the grapes were at the perfect condition that the Chateau wanted anyways.

WEATHER

The winter of 2020 was relatively mild, although quite wet. March brought warmer and drier weather with flowering typically between March 15th – March 30th on both the Right and Left Bank. Spring was marked by frequent frost that hit especially hard on April 6-8th which devastated much of the Sauternes vineyards. May and June recorded quite a bit of rainfall, so vignerons had to be quite mindful of disease and mildew. Mildew from all the rains wreaked havoc in the vineyards, Especially with Merlot. The Right Bank growers had to heavily rely on Cabernet Franc (Angelus used more Cabernet Franc than ever in their history) to balance their cepages. Budbreak occurred typically the last week of May into the first week of June. Fruit set was good throughout for the most part. July was also rainy, but then the weather dried up through most of August and September. Veraison was normal and occurred in mid July. Harvest for white grapes occurred in mostly in September with reds being picked mid September through early October. A massive storm was predicted to hit Bordeaux on October 2nd and 3rd, which made the vigneron quite anxious deciding whether to harvest early (many without fully mature Cabernet Sauvignon grapes) or wait through the storm and hope for perfect phenolic ripeness. Most Chateau did, in fact, wait and were rewarded as the predicted storms never materialized. This gave the vignerons a couple more weeks of sun to get the grapes into the ‘comfort zone’ that most wanted to pick in. Overall, Merlot took the biggest hit of the vintage with most leaving it in small percentages or none at all in the cepage. The grape is more susceptible to mildew and frost, which happens a lot in wetter/cooler vintages. Ducru Beaucaillou’s 2021 wine is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon (the highest percentage in their history). One would think that the Right Bank probably would not produce high quality in a decidedly UN-Merlot vintage, but that is not true at all. Vignerons typically added more Cabernet Franc to the Cepage or only picked the highest quality bunches which led to extremely low yield, but HIGH QUALITY Merlot. St. Emilion and Pomerol both made some fabulous wines (This was the BEST Clinet that I have ever tasted).

THE REMODELING OF BORDEAUX

Many Chateaux took the two years where no one was traveling to Bordeaux during Covid to revamp or build brand new state of the art cellars. I must admit that I was definitely ‘WOW’ed by Haut Bailly’s new facilities and blown away by what Troplong Mondot has done in a short amount of time. I’m excited to try the new Michelin Star restaurant that they’ve opened. Chateau Figeac also completed their new cellars which had a very natural feel to it, maybe they opened just in time to be elevated in the ranking system? Others like Chateau Lynch Bages created an almost warehouse feel in village de Bages although we did have an excellent lunch at Cafe Lavinal right beside the facility. Overall, Bordeaux has seen quite the face lift since I had traveled there three years prior. I hear that others are in the works already (Branaire Ducru), so Bordeaux is planning for the long haul at some of it’s most prestigious Chateaux!

PRICING CONCERNS

One of the biggest issues of the vintage will inevitably be that it is priced similar to the previous three vintages, yet it couldn’t be more different of a vintage. That said, pricing that has been released is not sticker shocking as it seems the Chateaux are understanding of the vintage at hand, but also cognizant (as are we all) of the very real issue of inflation that has been caused by the pandemic. I think that those who decide to buy futures will be getting some great wines that will age well. If you are planning to flip the wines, then this may not be the vintage for you, but if you are a true Francophile and lover of Bordeaux then this vintage will be truly rewarding as it’s a return to the classic style of Bordeaux.

VARIATION PER REGION

I found that there seemed to be a lot of variation per region in this vintage with Pauillac being the most variable from Chateau to Chateau. Margaux was the most consistent with St. Julien being a close second. The wines of St. Estephe were some of the best I’ve ever tasted out of the region, so I’d seek out Chateau like Calon Segur for great value. The right bank had better consistency from region to region with Pomerol leading the pack.

BRILLIANT WHITE WINES FROM PESSAC LEOGNAN

The white wines from Pessac across the board were stunning with Haut Brion Blanc being the wine of the vintage for me. Find the whites early and often as I didn’t taste a bad one in the entire area.

BARLOW’S TOP WINES OF THE VINTAGE

  1. Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 2021 55% Semillon/45% Sauvignon Blanc

Pessac Leognan

The wine is light pale straw in color. On the nose there is a beautiful concentration of cream, citrus, orange Popsicle. On the palate there is a wonderful array of white flowers and gardenia with med ium plus acidity that is integrated into a soft mid palate. The wine has an absolute blindingly delicious acid core wrapped into dense layers of flavor. Notes of Lemon grass, cream, citrus, guava apple blossom, pear blossom, lemon zest, orange blossom all burst through the seams of the layered glove. So much going on here. The finish offers touches of minerals, wet stone, pistachio pudding. Long finish. Barlow Score 100 Points. THIS IS THE ONLY PERFECTLY RATED WINE FOR ME IN THIS VINTAGE.

2. Chateau Latour 2021 96% Cabernet Sauvignon/4% Merlot

Pauillac

Almost opaque color with medium plus intensity. Chalky limestone on the nose. Dark cherry, berry on the palate with currant throughout the mid palate with thick, chewy tannins that are beautifully integrated. Notes of tobacco, tea leaf, violets, and rose underbrush. The finish is tightly wound with hints of coffee beans and graphite. This is a wine that will age a century. Barlow Score: 98-99

3. Chateau Le Pin 2021 100% Merlot

Pomerol

The wine has medium plus ruby color with medium plus intensity. Violets and rose petals on the nose. The palate shows silky red fruit with plush raspberry, strawberry, and bramble that creams out on the mid palate. The wine has an absolutely seamless palate with beautifully integrated tannins. The finish gives long lingering notes of exotic spice, vanilla, plum, hazelnuts, and tea leaf. TLC. Barlow Score: 98-99

4. Chateau Lafite Rotschild 2021 96% Cabernet Sauvignon/ 3% Merlot/ 1% Petit Verdot

Pauillac

The wine has medium plus ruby color with medium plus intensity. Violets and minerals on the nose. The palate offers more framboise, white stones, potpourri turns into darker fruits on the mid palate. The tannins are quite fine and integrated. This wine is absolutely seamless. Currant flows into a fresh and vibrant core with a super energetic, bouncy backbone to this wine. The finish offers hints of lavender, salinity, and creamy red fruit with just a whiff of coffee beans. Barlow Score: 97-98

5. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou 2021 98% Cabernet Sauvignon/2% Merlot

Saint Julien

This wine is dark, dense and powerful. Medium plus ruby color with full intensity. Gleaming neon black cherry flows into the palate with full, brooding tannins. The mid palate is nervy and full of dark fruit. The finish offers tea leaf, tobacco, pencil shavings, and savory herbs. Not the typical Ducru Beaucaillou style, but extremely well made. This wine has a very long life ahead of it. Barlow Score: 97-98

6. Chateau Figeac 2021 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/31% Cabernet Franc/29% Merlot

Saint Emilion

Medium ruby core with medium intensity. Dark, plummy nose. Crunchy dark fruit on the plush palate that is sleek and silky throughout. Notes of plum, bramble, and raspberry tea flow into silky suede. Softer style with spicy aromatics, tobacco, and new oak. Long finish that shows white rocks and graphite. Barlow Score: 97-98

7. Chateau Branaire Ducru 2021 66% Cabernet Sauvignon/22% Merlot/5.5% Petit Verdot/6.5% Cabernet Franc

Saint Julien

The wine has medium plus color and medium plus intensity. Rose petals and red fruit on the nose. The palate has a silky mouthfeel that is plush and round. Flavors of red currant, black cherry, and plum flow through the mid palate with rich dark chocolate. Framboise kisses through the undercurrents of the wine with dark mocha, sweet tobacco, chalky minerality, and graphite on the finish. TLC! YUM! Barlow Score: 97-98

8. Vieux Chateau Certan 2021 77% Merlot/20% Cabernet Franc/3% Cabernet Sauvignon

Pomerol

The wine has a medium ruby color with medium intensity. The nose offers hints of blood orange and minerals. The palate has crunchy red fruit, iron, red plum, and apple skins. The mid palate shows plenty of minerality, layered complexity with red roses, violets, and neon red fruit that is beautifully enveloping. The finish offers hazelnuts, cream and a touch of gravelly minerals. Barlow Score: 97-98

9. Chateau Margaux 2021 87% Cabernet Sauvignon/8% Merlot/3% Cabernet Franc/2% Petit Verdot

Margaux

The wine has medium plus ruby color with medium plus intensity. Ripe red fruits pop on the nose. The palate offers black cherry, berry and crunchy dark fruit. The mid palate shows vanilla and violets with extremely fine tannins. The finish has exotic spice and sweet tobacco that accentuates the neon fruit. Barlow Score: 96-98

10. Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2021 90% Sauvignon Blanc/5% Sauvignon Gris/5% Semillon

Pessac Leognan

Easily the 2nd best white wine tasted En Primeur. Pale Straw color with medium intensity. Nose offers white flowers, citrus, and exotic fruit. Flavors of Poached pear, grapefruit, and honeysuckle. Hints of pineapple and quince give zesty notes with white pepper and salinity. The finish shows bits of cream, oak and orchard fruit. Barlow Score: 96-97

Thank You,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS

Spec’s Fine Wine Buyer

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1 Response to BARLOW IN BORDEAUX: THE 2021 VINTAGE

  1. LABORDE says:

    Dear James,
    Thank you very much for this great report on 2021 Vintage in Bordeaux.
    All the best. Ronan

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