Wine Advocate – William Kelley
William Kelley’s greatly anticipated report is his longest to date. He feels that the complexities of 2021 and what he sees as a pivotal moment for the region deserved the extra word-count. He runs through the year’s conditions in detail, which we won’t regurgitate, although – contrary to our findings – he suggests the Premiers and Grands Crus were harder hit by the frost. Like us and others, he highlights that strategies in the winery varied significantly and generalizations are almost impossible.
He considers what “a great red wine vintage” is in the era of modern Burgundy and climate change – and whether the 2021s’ openness will work against them. They are, he says, “supple, fleshy and perfumed, at their best uniting the concentration of low yields and surprisingly good phenolic maturity with the vibrant, perfumed profiles of a cooler vintage”, “broad, open and charming” and, in his view, “unlikely to shut down”. He compares the wines to 2017 or 2000, and expects they will at least age as long as the latter.
As for the whites, he finds them “classically proportioned, pure and fine-boned, albeit sometimes a little lean out of the gates”. The closest comparison for him is 2013, although without the exoticism sometimes found in that vintage. He highlights that the wines are developing texture and flesh during élevage and will show better from bottle than barrel.
Of course, he cautions readers that they will need to “buy wisely”, but highlights that, even tasting over 1,000 wines, there were “very few failures” – with the year’s results far more positive than he expected from the difficult year. Indeed, he even declares them “some of the most charming young Burgundies [he has] tasted from barrel over the last 15 years” – but, he asks, “Are they too tasty to be great?”
As for the market, he notes that “the 2021s will be expensive”, but this is tied to not just demand, but land prices in the region, as well as its archaic inheritance laws and significant taxes. The inevitable result of these factors is consolidation, and while once the nobility and Church held the keys to the land, now it’s billionaires and corporations – with the future of small, family-owned domaines in doubt. His final line is one filled with a sense of urgency: “Enjoy it while it lasts”.
Inside Burgundy – Jasper Morris MW
Jasper Morris MW’s upbeat report assures the reader not to panic about the treacherous growing season that Burgundy endured in 2021: “The wines taste much better than the weather conditions might have suggested.” While wary of generalizations, he feels the whites (what little was made) were good to very good and readers should have no qualms in following them. While the natural comparison might be to 2016 – another vintage badly affected by frosts which produced two generations of grapes – those that survived the frost and the secondary buds – the 2021s avoid the sweet-and-sour profile of that year. He also particularly highlights the wines of Puligny-Montrachet, which has rediscovered a “beguiling and refined floral bouquet” in the year.
Quality among the reds, he feels, is less consistent, with the Pinot Noirs from the Côte de Nuits better than those from the Côte de Beaune. He highlights Chambolle-Musigny and Volnay as appellations that “show the elegance and fragrance… that has perhaps been missing for the last few years”. While far from classical, he believes many of the reds are “rather lovely in a style which we have not seen in the last few years”, thanks to the vintage’s cooler conditions.
He compares the reds to 2014, but less “raw” than some of the wines made in that vintage, while the whites remind him of 2013. He also suggests the vintage for both red and whites has many similarities to 2010 – a vintage that received modest reviews on release, but has, with maturity, turned out to be “rather fine”.
For him, both colors, although especially the whites “are very clear reflections of their individual sites”, and “show the hierarchical order from generic up to Grand Cru very clearly”. While he doesn’t feel they will “develop into legendary long-lived wines”, nor will they “fall over quickly”. Generally it is a vintage that is “what the French call digeste” – “accessible, easy to drink”, but he urges readers to “take the time to search out the gems which have successfully avoided any pitfalls in their path and will emerge as truly beautiful wines”.
Vinous – Neal Martin
Neal Martin offers, as ever, a long report, with his trademark satirical opening. His verdict is that 2021 is “indisputably one of the most fiendishly complex, byzantine seasons I can recall” and the wines are “shockingly good in the context of an appalling growing season that pushed many to the brink, physically and mentally”.
He runs through the growing season in detail, noting the various challenges producers faced and how they responded – something which he highlights varied significantly, making it “a season without consensus”. Despite these difficulties, he finds many of the wines “blooming delicious” – noting that “the causal relationship between the vagaries of a growing season and wine quality is not as strict. Seemingly awful vintages can be studded with vinous gems and walk-in-the-park seasons can disappoint.”
Given the lack of consensus, he emphasizes the variability of the year, and the need to drill down into the specifics of how each estate, and vineyard, fared – and he has offered a profile on almost each producer he visited to provide his insight. He points to the fact, for example, that the Grands Crus aren’t necessarily the best wines from each estate – and this is reflected in his scores.
As for the style of the wines, he finds that the whites “sometimes convey traits of warmer vintages with traces of tropical fruit that counterpoint the acidity”, and points to Chassagne-Montrachet as a stand-out village – in his view, “the most dynamic appellation in the Côte de Beaune”. The reds he declares “a sharp return to the vivid red fruit of cooler growing seasons” – with most “far removed from the black/blue-fruited 2019s and 2020s”. “There is greater underlying mineralité, tension, and vibrancy on the palate compared to recent vintages. Tannins, at best, are finely chiselled, and the finishes often contain plenty of sapidity.”
Overall, however, he feels that “the 2021s will offer abundant short to mid-term drinking pleasure” and are “delicious early-drinking fare”, but “only a small number will age long-term”, some wines not having “the substance to last the course”. Despite that, he’s overall positive, although notes that the tiny volumes and rising prices pose challenges: “There are gems to find. It’s just that you might not be able to buy them, and if you can, you might have to remortgage the house.”
Burghound – Allen Meadows
So far Allen Meadows has published his reports on the Chablis, Mâconnais and Chalonnaise, and reds from the Côte de Nuits. His in-depth report runs through the varying meteorological considerations across the entire length of Burgundy, including for example a catastrophic hailstorm in Pouilly-Fuissé.
For the whites from the outer reaches of Burgundy, he says that, “despite all of the growing season trials and tribulations, surprisingly good, sometimes even excellent, whites were made”. There are, in his view, some “cool, pure and wonderfully transparent whites that are intense, overtly saline and well-balanced” – but he emphasizes that this is not a consistent vintage and selection is important, with quality varying. He feels “it’s not an easy vintage to pigeonhole” – and compares some wines to 2001 or 2013 for their exoticism, some to 2014 or 2017 for their restraint and freshness.
From the Chalonnaise, he particularly highlights the wines from Joblot and François Lumpp for reds that are “lovely: fresh, energetic, reasonably concentrated, transparent and balanced”.
When it comes to the Côte de Nuits, “quality is highly, even frustratingly, variable”, but “2021 is the kind of vintage that I absolutely love”. It is, in Meadows’ view, “a burg geek’s vintage par excellence” – with terroir transparency at its heart, with wines that are “strikingly refreshing and tension filled”. Many will make for “delicious drinking early on, yet be capable of amply rewarding mid-term cellaring and in a few cases, they should be as long-lived as most collectors would reasonably want” – with the caveat that some, unfortunately, are not.
He highlights how work in the vineyard was key, tactics in the winery varied and picking dates too – noting that generally those who picked later fared better, but (in a running theme for the vintage) that is “far from a hard and fast conclusion”. Although most are medium-bodied, he feels that some producers shied away from extraction – with the result that some wines don’t quite have sufficient mid-palate density.
With the quality varying, it’s a year to focus on “producer first, second and third rather than the commune”, although the classification hierarchy is clearly reflected in the quality of the wine.
This is, most importantly, a vintage that is the opposite to 2018, ’19 and ’20, and he feels the closest comparison for the reds is 2001, with a similar 10- to 20-year arc of aging ahead of them.
There are some wines that are underripe or herbaceous, but: “The best wines are classic Burgundies in the best sense of that term. They have something of everything in terms of a tantalizing freshness as they are decidedly very pinot in character followed by a dazzling transparency on the palate. As I noted above, the sense of terroir is at the core of each wine, and when a palpable sense of energy is added, the wines are a joy to drink.”
Decanter – Charles Curtis MW
The headline of Charles Curtis MW’s report is that there are “some excellent wines, if you choose carefully”. The “antithesis of recent years”, he anticipates that those who are selective will “be delighted by the classic style of this vintage”, which has produced “crisp, concentrated” whites and – at their best – reds that are “perfumed, elegant and structured”. He emphasises how important the harvest date was, as well as sorting once the fruit was picked.
Although he found significant variability in quality – “with liltingly charming wines alternating with less successful examples” – he is clear that “the best wines are definitely worth buying”. His wines of the vintage are Domaine des Comtes Lafon’s Montrachet and Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin-Clos de Bèze – wines that, sadly, few will be able to get their hands on.
Jancis Robinson MW
Jancis Robinson MW’s site offers extensive coverage of the vintage mainly by Burgundy-based Matthew Hayes and herself, with extensive tasting notes. Jancis’s own report – based on tastings mainly in London and published in early January 2023 – vouched for the quality of the fruit at harvest, and how despite “a gruelling growing season”, with the results that she had so far tasted “delicious”.
Matthew Hayes doesn’t shy away from this being a “difficult” vintage, but “quality has been unexpectedly higher than received wisdom suggested”. Beyond the challenges of the growing season, Hayes highlights how the winemaking was handled differently almost everywhere, although generally people reduced extraction. He’s wary of giving the year “the kiss of death” by declaring the vintage “merely good”, but considers how there’s more to greatness than ageability. For him it is a vintage that “will appeal to real cognoscenti of Burgundian Pinot Noir, to the absolute devotees of fragrance, limpidity and soft, ethereal tannins – that gossamer touch that normally speaking should take decades to evolve”. The wines are earlier-drinking given how open they are – a relief in some senses that you needn’t feel too guilty of “infanticide”.