April is the month in which the wine trade travels to Bordeaux as buyers seek to get their first look at the new vintage.  In recent years this has become a must-do trip.  The quality of 2019, 2018, 2016, and 2015 offered a powerful lure and everyone hastened to see if the wines lived up to the hype. 

2021 could see a reversal of this trend.  With early reports of the 2021 red Bordeaux vintage using terms like ‘challenging,’ ‘difficult,’ and – perhaps most problematic of all - ‘mixed,’ many may decide to save themselves the time and stay put. 

So what is the 2021 Bordeaux vintage like?  What does the forthcoming en-primeur campaign hold?  And is there value in a less than stellar Bordeaux vintage?  In this latest blog from MWH Wines – the home of affordable fine wine – we’ll look at these points in turn and share our thoughts on what will undoubtedly go down as the most difficult year in the region for some time.

How Good Is The 2021 Bordeaux Vintage?

The Bordelaise are brilliant at singing their region’s praises, and nowhere is better at celebrating its successes.  The silence that’s emanated from Bordeaux’s producers thus far therefore speaks volumes. 

The crucial late spring and early summer periods were far from ideal.  June was wet, July was cold and the sun didn’t shine.  While they say the vintage is made in August, the problems of mildew and rot delayed development and reduced potential yields, leaving August with an awful lot to do. 

August, alas, provided only a mild improvement, and it wasn’t until September that warmth returned with the vintage being saved by good weather that ran into October.  For almost all – and the variation from château to château will be critical in 2021 – September was a month of constant work and vigilance as they tried to decide whether to play safe and get the grapes in, or hold off and hope the fine weather would continue. 

The nature of the vintage was that no two producers seemed to have experienced the same conditions.  Some were hit by spring frosts, others missed them.  Some had botrytis toward harvest, others had none.  When to harvest was a key decision, one that some will have judged better than others.

Overall, while there will be some very good wines in 2021, not everyone will have produced great wines and buyers will need to adopt the Burgundian approach of producer, producer, producer when choosing what to buy.  Some are comparing the wines to those of years like 2014, 2008, 2007, and 2006, all of which have their stars, but which also have their strugglers.

Should You Buy 2021 Bordeaux?

At this early stage it seems likely that this isn’t going to be a vintage for collectors and investors.  Talk from Bordeaux is of immediacy and of wines that will be ready to drink young.  This, and the physical availability of incredible wines from years such as 2018, 2016, and 2015, suggests that the en-primeur campaign will be tougher than we’ve seen lately.  Obviously, much will depend on the prices.  If the château take a pragmatic view on pricing we may see some good, well-priced wines coming to market.  Lynch Bages, Petit Village, Haut Bailly and other leading second level producers may well be worth a look.  The First Growths will be (relatively!) cheap but still costly, and the boutique wineries of the right bank such as Petrus, Le Pin, and Cheval Blanc will sell out regardless.

Assuming sensible prices, this looks like a drinkers vintage.  It’s easy to forget in a world where wine has become a commodity that these wines are meant to be drunk, and with investors (largely) out of the picture, wine lovers should get a look-in for the first time in years.

Do We Need An ‘Off’ Bordeaux Vintage?

While we have sympathy with the producers in what has been a torrid year, an off Bordeaux vintage can be a good thing as: 

  1. It allows wine lovers to003DFF afford to be able to buy the best producers
  2. It stops the investment market becoming swamped
  3. It gives everyone something they can drink early. The best wines from years like 2009 and 2010 are still years away from being at their peak
  4. It gives wine lovers a change of pace and allows them to enjoy a more ‘classic’ style of Bordeaux

Having had a string of stunningly successful years, many have been concerned as to whether climate change is killing Bordeaux with kindness.  Increasing warmth and lower rainfall have forced the authorities to allow new grape varieties to be planted to withstand changing climate.  A year such as 2021 reveals that while the trend to warming is real, it also shows that Bordeaux remains a marginal region in which vintages matter and shows a different (traditional) style of wine.

Bordeaux 2021: To Buy Or Not To Buy

At MWH Wines we’re been involved in en-primeur Bordeaux campaigns for over 40 years.  In most years its fairly easy to predict how prices will come out and how buyers will respond.  Yes, there are outliers like 2006 (nowhere near cheap enough), and 2019 (unexpected bargains galore), but in the main we know which way it will go.  2021 feels to us like 2008.  The stars will be few and sought-after, and the also-rans will be reasonably well—priced.  While some will try to protect their reputations with over-priced offerings, others will be just glad to see their stocks sold.

We’ll know more about the 2021 Bordeaux after the tastings this month when the critics scores start coming out.  Buying will be based on what you are looking for, but we suspect this drinkers’ vintage is one that may be worth trying.

Like Some Fine Wine Help?

We hope you’ve found this blog on red Bordeaux to be of interest. If you would like some wine advice then please do get in touch by calling Mike on 0118 984 4654 or by emailing MWH Wines here. A recognised authority, he’ll be happy to advise you on which wine is right for you.