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Bordeaux 2021 wines: Our en primeur verdict

Read our exclusive report on the Bordeaux 2021 vintage and see our top-scoring wines after tasting hundreds of barrel samples across the region.

Bordeaux 2021 preliminary rating:

Reds: 3.5/5 but ‘with some exceptional wines in every leading appellation’  

Dry white wines and Sauternes: 4 & 4.5/5

Bordeaux 2021 summary: Challenging conditions cannot be ignored in an uneven 2021 vintage, but heroic efforts and improved winemaking facilities mean the best wines are supremely balanced and pleasurable in a year that marks a return to ‘cool classicism’ in Bordeaux.

We’ve published 400 reviews online for Decanter Premium subscribers, and there are more to come this week.

The vintages that divide opinion are arguably more interesting than those that don’t – and Bordeaux 2021 is no exception.

Now that the annual en primeur tastings have drawn to a close, an array of differing opinions on these young wines have been offered by leading critics .

Potential 100-point scorers count among the best of the vintage, but comparisons have also been drawn to the worst vintages of the past two decades, with correspondingly low scores.

Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for the top-scoring Bordeaux 2021 en primeur wines

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Why might this be?

  • Bordeaux 2021 presented untold viticultural challenges that tested even the most hardy and experienced winemakers with varying results across the region.
  • Weather conditions included frost, hail, rain storms, cool and gloomy days and lack of sunlight – all contributing to delayed growth, uneven fruit set, mildew and grey rot.
  • Generally speaking, Merlots suffered more from frost and mildew. Cabernet performed better on gravel soils and Petit Verdot enjoyed the rainy conditions. But it’s neither a ‘Merlot’ nor ‘Cabernet’ vintage, and therefore isn’t a ‘Left’ or ‘Right Bank’ year either.
  • A long and drawn-out growing period helped to develop aromatic complexity for the reds, and benefited the whites by keeping acidity high.
  • Harvests were protracted and conditions were difficult to judge, which required flexibility and manpower.
  • Yields were already low before harvest, with precise and extremely strict sorting leading producers to discard additional uneven grape bunches.
  • Some grapes struggled with sugar accumulation, so chaptalisation was performed to increase alcohols.
  • Ripeness was for the most part achieved, with few wines exhibiting green or herbaceous flavours. However, those on the limits of ripeness, with overt acidity on show, come across as lean and austere.
  • A lack of mid-palate depth and dilution can also be experienced in the less successful wines with general increases of press wine to add body.
  • The best wines are supremely balanced and pleasurable. They are characterful with crisp red fruits, refreshing acidities and silky, well-integrated tannins as well as expressive of terroir.
  • The overall resulting style won’t necessarily be suited to all palates. There’s a return to ‘cool classicism’ with refined, elegant and low alcohol wines more reminiscent of Bordeaux from the 1980s and 1990s, as opposed to many of the recent – and much acclaimed – vintages, including 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
  • Widespread sample variation was encountered throughout the en primeur tastings, meaning many wines might have benefitted from being tasted twice (or more), or rather suffering if only tasted once on a bad occasion. There could be several reasons for this. Firstly, the 2021 blends were generally finalised later than usual so samples tasted later in the month benefitted from an extra few weeks of ageing and harmonising. Secondly, all en primeur samples are prepared in advance, but this year any that were more than a few days old seemed to have suffered from degradation. Lastly, there were huge changes in the barometric pressure across the month of April that affected tasting conditions, ranging from gloriously sunny and hot to unseasonably cold. There were even thrashing storms on one memorable day in Pomerol in mid-April.
  • Scepticism from the wine trade was widespread ahead of the primeurs and seems to have been validated in some cases, whereas others are much more positive. This is likely to affect sales messaging in the release campaign.
  • I tasted almost 950 samples, many of them more than once, and some up to four times and can absolutely say that there are some incredible wines produced in 2021.
  • Among successes in the vintage, resources and technology played a part alongside terroir and great winemaking, but strict quality control and the ability to make sound judgement calls under pressure were also key.
  • Demand is high from négociants and merchants who have little stock to sell, and want to keep their allocations.
  • While the vintage definitely shouldn’t be overlooked, questions remain firstly whether certain wines will be priced favourably enough for people to buy, and significantly whether they should be bought now.

UGCB Tasting

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2021 en primeur tasting.

Bordeaux 2021 red wines of the vintage

Médoc: Lafite Rothschild 2021

Pessac-Léognan / Graves: Haut-Brion 2021

St-Emilion: Figeac 2021

Pomerol: Lafleur 2021

In-depth overview

See tasting notes and scores for the top-scoring Bordeaux 2021 en primeur wines:

We’ll be publishing more Bordeaux 2021 wine reviews online for Premium subscribers throughout this week, with 400 tasting notes currently available.

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