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Bordeaux 2021: what the critics are saying

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The world’s wine critics have been tasting and writing up notes for months, and are now offering their verdict on the 2021 vintage in Bordeaux. The year sees a handful of new publications and new names taking over – with Jane Anson and Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW having split from Decanter and Wine Advocate, respectively – meaning there will be even more views (and scores) to follow. We’ll be adding to this page as reports are released – offering a summary of what each of these prestigious palates is saying about the vintage and the wines they rated most highly

William Kelley, Wine Advocate

First out of the gate is William Kelley, who has taken over covering Bordeaux from Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW at Wine Advocate. He was keen to emphasise his methodology – having spent three weeks visiting over 250 châteaux throughout Bordeaux, tasting many of the wines on multiple occasions. Kelley acknowledges the many challenges the vignerons faced in 2021 and while he admits 2021 is not a great vintage overall for the reds, it has “produced several genuinely great wines, as well as many good to excellent wines that will deliver immense pleasure”. He compares the lower levels of alcohol and concentration to vintages from the 1990s, while at the same time noting how the wines have greatly benefited from today’s “agronomic progress and technical savoir faire”: “Were the 2021s transposed to the decade of the 1990s,” he says, “they would be considered the product of a superb vintage.” The cooler growing season produced “a great vintage for whites” that he believes are the finest set of dry whites since 2017.

Kelley’s highlights: Haut-BrionMargauxAusoneLafleurCheval BlancLafite-RothschildLatourLéoville Las Cases, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Laroque, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc and Palmer

Read William Kelley’s full report on the vintage on the Wine Advocate

Antonio Galloni, Vinous

First up from team Vinous is Antonio Galloni who clearly loved the best wines of 2021, which he declares “a striking combination of old-school classicism and modern-day precision”. “The top properties turned out gorgeous, classically built wines that will absolutely thrill readers who appreciate freshness and energy,” he says. Of course, he cautions that quality isn’t consistent and selection is essential in the vintage.

He notes that it was those who could afford the significant labour required who excelled, while producers also benefitted from the experience of 2017 (for frost) and 2018 (for mildew), and better equipment and know-how in the winery is also a factor. He highlights that élevage will be key for the wines. Galloni feels it’s neither firmly a Left or Right Bank vintage, although finds a little more consistency on the Left, but perhaps greater highs on the Right. He’s one of several to note that the best white wines are “absolutely riveting” – combining the richness of a warm vintage with the freshness of a cooler year, with tiny yields of “compelling” sweets as well.

Galloni’s highlights: Beau-Séjour Bécot, Calon Ségur, Cheval Blanc, La Conseillante, L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne, Ducru-Beaucaillou, La Gaffelière, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Les Perrières, Pichon Comtesse, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Vieux Château Certan, Phélan Ségur, Léoville-Poyferré and Palmer

Read Antonio Galloni’s full report on Vinous

Jane Anson, Inside Bordeaux

This is the first vintage for ex-Decanter critic and Bordeaux resident Jane Anson publishing on her own site, Inside Bordeaux. She highlights the variable success overall of the 2021 vintage, but notes that there remain a good number of estates that have produced excellent wines.

From an appellation point of view, she feels Saint-Estèphe was “a high point”, noting the drier August helped with the “natural concentration” found in the wines there. She also notes that Saint-Emilion made “some of the best wines of the vintage”, with the clay limestone soils found in certain spots “probably the most well-placed terroir overall to resist the challenges of the year”.

Her top wines however spread across all regions of Bordeaux. Ch. Haut-Brion Blanc garnered the highest score of 98 points, while Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion from Pessac-Léognan, Figeac from Saint-Emilion, Lafleur from Pomerol and Lafite from Pauillac all scored 97 points along with Ch. Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc.

Anson has given earlier drinking windows than a normal year because, despite the high levels of tannins, she notes “the structure is delicate”, advising that “you need to start drinking these while the fruits are at their best”.

Anson’s highlights: Haut-Brion Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion, Pavillon Blanc du Ch. Margaux, Lafleur, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Figeac

Read Jane Anson’s full report on Inside Bordeaux

Neal Martin, Vinous

In his detailed report, Neal Martin runs through a “complex and turbulent growing season” before laying out the consequences in the winery. He emphasises how stressful the season was for the region’s vignerons. Overall he feels it’s “a welcome return to a classic style of Bordeaux” – with lower alcohol and ripeness levels, with the finest wines that “transcend expectations”. That said he notes that they are a result of their challenging growing season, and it’s not a year that will “rank with the greats”; he didn’t find perfection. He did, however find wines that are “remarkable” given the year – “testament to the effort and skill of winemakers and vineyard teams”. He highlights “a bevy of outstanding dry whites” and that quality amongst the reds varies significantly between estates. While not declaring a drinking window firmly, he suggests the best “may well reward patience” – and will be “fascintating to watch evolve in bottle”. In distinct contrast to the warm years that preceded it, 2021 is, he says, “bejewelled with wines that will offer immense pleasure”.

Martin’s highlights: Lafleur, Haut-Brion Blanc, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Cheval Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, De Fargues, Lafite-Rothschild, Pétrus, Calon-Ségur, Haut-Brion, Vieux Château Certan, La Conseillante, Figeac

Read Neal Martin’s full report on Vinous

James Suckling

After tasting the last 39 vintages in Bordeaux, James Suckling struggles to find comparable year to 2021, such are the anomalies of the vintage. He is struck by the “bright and fresh acidity and relatively low alcohol of the wines”, making them easy to read, while also having an “immediate drinkability”. While he notes 2021 is a very heterogeneous vintage – and has produced significantly less structured wines than 2018, 2109 and 2020 – there are some “delicious”, “acid-driven” reds.

He has found more consistency in the whites and proposes, “the sweet wines of Bordeaux may be the miracle of the harvest”. Made in miniscule quantities, what little there is is sure to outlive the dry wines that he proposes will drink well young.

His top-rated pick is the Sauternes estate of Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, awarding the only potential 100-point score of the vintage. His other top wines all come from Pomerol and are the blue-chip stalwarts of Pétrus, Le Pin and Lafleur, all scoring 98-99 points. The only other wine awarded 98-99 is Domaine de Chevalier’s white.

Suckling’s highlights:Lafleur, Le Pin, Pétrus, Laufaurie-Peyraguey, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

Read James Suckling’s full report on the vintage on his website

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, The Wine Independent

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW's 2021 Bordeaux report is the first for her new publication, The Wine Independent, launched earlier this year. Overall, she is more scathing than other critics, with some noticeably low scores across a much larger range (something that is intended to be a point of difference for The Wine Independent). She found the 2021 wines to be “variable”, with “dilution” and “under-ripeness omnipresent” but at their best are “refreshing, elegant, savory wines with lower alcohol and light to medium-bodied" with "well-sustained mid-palates and finishes”. She notes that it's a significant shift from recent vintages, which “may well be just what you are seeking. Or not.” She suggests drinkers who prefer lower-alcohol wines of vintages past may enjoy the lighter style of the vintage. Most notably, she believes the wines’ ability to age is lower than recent vintages and that most wines will reach their peak within 10 years. Where quality is at its highest, she believes low yields played a big factor in 2021. When drawing comparisons to similarly styled vintages, she likens the 2021 wines to 2013.  Looking at her top-rated wines, there seems to be a preference to the Right Bank with Ch. Ausone, Ch. Cheval Blanc and Ch. Lafleur all in her top band of scores (95-97 points). The white wines of Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, Ch. Haut-Brion and Domaine de Chevalier also score highly, although she remarks that there were only a handful of whites in 2021 that really wowed her. Ch. Margaux is the highest scoring Left Bank red wine (also awarded 95-97 points).

Perrotti-Brown MW’s highlights: AusoneCheval BlancHaut Brion BlancSmith Haut Lafitte BlancMargaux, Lafleur

Georgie Hindle, Decanter

This is Georgie Hindle’s first vintage as Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent, after Jane Anson vacated the role last year. Overall, Hindle classified 2021 as a 3.5/5 vintage for the red wines and 4.5/5 for the whites and Sauternes. The challenging growing season, she notes, produced red wines of variable, uneven quality, while the whites and sweet wines were better suited to the cooler conditions. Having said that, she notes there were some “incredible wines produced in 2021”. Her favourite wine from the Médoc was Ch. Lafite. She also praised Ch. Haut-Brion from Pessac-Léognan, Ch. Figeac from Saint-Emilion and Ch. Lafleur from Pomerol. Hindle awarded her highest scores of the vintage (97 points) to the white wines of Ch. Haut-Brion and Ch. Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc. She notes that the top red wines offer a “cool classicism” and are “refined, elegant and low alcohol”. While very different in character to recent modern vintages, she says the best red wines are “supremely balanced and pleasurable”. She adds that they are “characterful with crisp red fruits, refreshing acidities and silky, well-integrated tannins as well as expressive of terroir”.

Georgie Hindle’s highlights: Ch. Haut-BrionCh. Lafleur, Ch. Lafite-RothschildCh. Haut-Brion Blanc, and Pavillon Blanc du Ch. Margaux

Read Georgie Hindle’s full report on the vintage in Decanter

Find out more about Bordeaux 2021, check our score comparison chart and pre-order wines ahead of their official release, or browse those that are already available

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