The 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest produced fresh and approachable wines but was not without its challenges. In fact, it’s one of the smallest harvests since 1977 and yields were about 25 to 30 percent lower than usual. However, low yields also mean that demand for 2021 Bordeaux will be higher and wines from the region’s top producers will be particularly sought-after. It will also be a good season for white Bordeaux.
In years with low yields, the top producers’ masterful blending techniques become even more important and separate them from less skilled wine makers. For this reason, 2021 Bordeaux is worth consideration among fine wine collectors. However, while the 2021 Bordeaux is expected to be excellent for drinking, those seeking investment-worthy wines will have to do their research to select wines from the best producers.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the potential quality of the vintage and how to find out which producers were able to master the 2021 harvest.
A Year that Highlights Masterful Bordeaux Blends
The main takeaway from this Bordeaux harvest is: a smaller crop of Merlot. A late April frost delayed budding on many estates, which caused the fruit to ripen much later than usual. A cold early summer slowed ripening down even further, especially for Merlot, which is sensitive to these conditions. Merlot adds ripeness and red fruit flavors to Bordeaux blends, so winemakers incorporated other elements to replicate Merlot’s effects in their blends. This makes these wines different from the sunny vintages we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few years, but the 2021 Bordeaux vintage will likely be very fresh and approachable.
Cold, cloudy weather also meant that many grapes had not undergone véraison by mid-summer. This contributed to the low yields. The grapes were less ripe, thus higher in acid, which plays a role in 2021 Bordeaux’s expected freshness. While many bottles will not be as age-worthy as their counterparts from other years, this means they will reach their peak drinking window earlier.
These cold, wet conditions continued into the 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest. Due to these conditions and the low yields, a lot of the fruit had to be handpicked. However, this has produced a more intentional product that, thanks to a small yield, will be in high demand.
2021 is a year where cultivation and blending techniques will shine through more than ever. Producers that carefully managed their vines and harvested at the perfect time were able to pick grapes that were fully ripened. In fact, some producers found that having smaller yields helped the remaining grapes ripen more fully because the vines concentrated more resources on them. Overall, producers are calling this a “technical” harvest. This is a vintage where the experience level of the winemaker and quality of the terroir are absolutely crucial for success. The good news is that we could see some very elegant wines from some of Bordeaux’s top estates.
The Success Stories of the Fall 2021 Bordeaux Harvest
It’s still too early to say for certain whether the vintage will be a success, yet there are some good signs that have some top producers feeling optimistic, including:
#1: Vineyard Location Offered Some Protection
Many of the region’s top producers faced fewer challenges during the 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest than producers in less ideal terroirs. This is no surprise, since the top growths became appellations in part because their excellent locations protect the grapes from the elements. For example, Margaux, home to Château Margaux and Château Palmer, was generally drier in the summer compared to other regions of Bordeaux.
Producers with vineyards located close to the banks of the Gironde, in regions such as Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, and Saint-Julien, also avoided the worst of the April frost, as did Pomerol.
Though it is still too early to say for certain, some wines that may fare particularly well are:
- Château Margaux
- Château Palmer
- Château Montrose
- Château Léoville-Las Cases
- Château Lafite Rothschild
- Château Lafleur
#2: The Top Bordeaux Producers Took Preventative Measures
2021 showcased why Bordeaux is the most prestigious wine region in the world. Wine makers’ experience allowed them to make preparations and rely on techniques that have steered them well in years past. For example, frost isn’t unheard of in the spring, which is why producers like Château Smith Haut Lafitte have planted frost-resistant roots and have specialized candles on hand to keep the vines warm. This estate also treated vines with a special mix of copper, nettle, comfrey, wicker, and horsetail to protect the vines during the cold, wet summer.
#3: Merlot is Likely High in Quality
Merlot tends to struggle in hot seasons, as it ripens very quickly. A year like 2021 is ideal for this grape because there was no risk of the fruit getting scorched on the vine. Château Cos d’Estournel is already expecting its 2021 Merlot to be rich and expressive. There will be less of it available due to the spring frost, but the little wine that is produced should be excellent.
#4: The Cabernet Sauvignon is Healthy
While the Cabernet Sauvignon is not as ripe as it has been in recent highly rated vintages, the thick skins of this grape allowed it to hang on the vine for longer than Merlot. Some producers found that their Cabernet was just ripe enough when it came time to harvest, which should create a delicate yet balanced wine.
So, although the 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest was undoubtedly a challenging one, winemakers are expecting to get a small amount of well-crafted wine that Bordeaux enthusiasts will find worthwhile.
Should You Invest in 2021 Bordeaux?
Because the 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest showcased producers’ skill, it is also a vintage where savvy investors and collectors will be able to leverage their knowledge to unearth hidden gems. Because it is so different from past vintages, and because the yield was so low, it provides an opportunity for collectors to get in on promising wines whose demand will skyrocket once they are tasted.
These wines will likely be lower in alcohol and less fruit-forward than vintages made in warmer years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some producers are already comparing this vintage to classical wines of the distant past, which were elegant and fresh. Although it may be different from recent Bordeaux vintages, it gives a fuller picture of Bordeaux’s history as the top winemaking region in the world and showcases producers’ technique. If you enjoy Merlot with soft tannins, then 2021 Bordeaux may be the perfect vintage for you. Additionally, Cabernet Sauvignon blends will likely taste quite dense, with a perfect balance between acidity and alcohol. As for the white wines, the Sauvignon Blanc is looking to be fresh and acidic, and they should be crowd-pleasers. This may be a good vintage to invest in if you like to drink Bordeaux young, as these wines are likely going to be very approachable, even if they’re not as age-worthy as some recent vintages.
Overall, producers consider this to be a potentially excellent drinking vintage. There’s high, yet balanced, acidity in the wine already that will lend well to being paired with a variety of foods. If you enjoyed past Bordeaux vintages such as 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2014, you’ll likely love the 2021 vintage as well. The vintage is most commonly compared to the 2014, which was known for being an easy-drinking year. It is possible that some renowned estates will produce wines that are worth aging for some time, however, the consensus is that 2021 will be the perfect year to stock up on bottles you can enjoy over dinner. This may actually be a benefit for your collection, as you can drink these wines while you wait for your more age-worthy vintages to mature. The terroir of the most iconic estates is expected to shine through beautifully in the 2021 vintage, regardless of aging potential.
So, if you’re looking for a light and refreshing Bordeaux, the 2021 vintage is one to keep a close watch on over the next few months. It’s proof that no matter how challenging the 2021 fall Bordeaux harvest was, the top producers are capable of making wines worthy of a space in anyone’s cellar.