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Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur

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After two Covid-hit years, Bordeaux was back open for business over the last weeks of April, welcoming thousands of members of the global wine trade. The Latimer team went, with an open mind, on a whistle-stop visit of leading châteaux to get a better grasp of a complicated vintage.

The Vintage in a Nutshell

2021 was a challenging year for growers. Frost, mildew, a lack of sunshine and the threat of rain at harvest all had to be contended with. The decisions made in the vineyards and wineries and the timing of those decisions were of the upmost importance. Overall yields were down, and careful fruit selection was the order of the day. It was also clear from the tastings that the wines that were not forced or over extracted faired far better than those that were pushed too far. The vintage was not a homogeneous one, making comprehensive tasting through each appellation the only way to identify the highs and inevitable lows of the year.

The Wines

It's understandable that expectations were low from many critics and members of the trade, but sometimes it can be good to go into tasting expecting little. What we found was some lovely examples of classically styled wines which harked back to a different era. This is a vintage which could not have been made with any great success 20 years ago, but thanks to technology and a better understanding of terroir, there are many success stories. The hallmark of the vintage is classicism, where Cabernet prevailed and low alcohols, bright pure fruit, fresh acidity and grippy tannins all come to the fore. Although hard to compare to past vintages, 2014, 2001 and 1996 were the most common comparisons when the châteaux were pressed for their thoughts.

In our view, the best 2021s have produced delicate, vibrant and elegant Claret; the wines could not be further removed from the blockbuster “solar vintages” of 2018, and 2020. The wines will be accessible early, with most being at their best from 5 to 15 years of delivery. However, there are certainly wines which will have the capacity to age gracefully. You only have to look at how well the best 2001’s have aged (another underrated vintage) to see the potential of the best 2021’s.

One of the real success stories of the vintage is the whites, both dry and sweet. The dry whites are full of energy, vibrancy, texture and freshness. There were no flabby, over concentrated examples on show, so collectors can buy with confidence across the board. Although yields were down massively, the sweet wines should also not be overlooked.

It is impossible to say that 2021 is a Left or Right Bank vintage, both sides of the Garonne shared in the highs and lows. The common denominator is that in all appellations where producers strived for freshness rather than extraction delicious wines can be found.

For collectors who yearn for wines styled on the celebrated vintages/châteaux from the 1980s and 90s, where vineyard expression was not overlooked at the expense of greater concentration, this could be the vintage for you.

Should you buy?

Buying EP comes down mainly to a question of price. Fundamentally, they will be more expensive when they become physically available in 2024 than they are when they are released. From what we understand, prices are unlikely to come down much from 2020 levels which is going to make it more difficult to justify recommending many of these releases.

What we promise is that we will only offer wines that we believe offer a reasonable balance of quality and price and which we would genuinely like to have in our own cellars.

Where there is little commercial sense to buy – other than perhaps for scarcity reasons – we would advise you to look at back vintages and/or other regions which present a more compelling reason to buy. We will offer our impartial advice on all releases to help you make your decisions.

Should prices and scores align, we’d recommend the following highlights from our trip:

Left Bank Reds

Ch. Calon-Ségur

Cos d'Estournel

Ch. Phélan Ségur

Ch. Montrose

Ch. Haut-Batailley

Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste

Ch. Pichon-Longueville Baron

Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Ch. Lynch Bages

Ch. Batailley

Ch. Langoa Barton

Ch. Lagrange

Ch. Branaire-Ducru

Ch. Beychevelle

Ch. Léoville Poyferré

Ch. Gruaud Larose

Ch. Margaux

Ch. Brane-Cantenac

Ch. Malescot St. Exupery

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla

Ch. Palmer

Ch. Cantenac Brown

Domaine de Chevalier

Ch. Haut-Bailly

Ch. Haut-Brion

Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion

Right Bank Reds

Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot

Ch. la Gaffelière

Ch. Cheval Blanc

Ch. Canon

Ch. Berliquet

Ch. Figeac

Ch. La Conseillante

Ch. Laroque

Ch. Vieux Château Certain

Ch. Troplong Mondot

Ch. Le Tertre Roteboeuf

Whites

Blanc de Lynch-Bages

Ch. Margaux, Pavillon Blanc

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc

Ch. Cos d'Estournel Blanc (plus Pagodes de Cos Blanc)

La Clarté de Haut-Brion

Ch. Malartic Lagravière Blanc