Reflections on Bordeaux’s 2021 Vintage

Reflections on Bordeaux’s 2021 Vintage.

For many, 2021 in France will be remembered as a particularly challenging year for grape cultivation, due to unfavourable climatic conditions. Following a mild winter, an unexpectedly warm week swept across Europe at the end of March. Temperatures soared so much that it felt like a summer day, even in the Netherlands, a country further north. Consequently, bud break occurred earlier than usual, leaving the delicate buds vulnerable to spring frosts. Sadly, the return of cold winter days wreaked havoc on many regions at the beginning of April, especially in France. The loss of crops in various wine regions, such as Burgundy, where 90% of the crops were lost, was heartbreaking. 

Conversations with producers during visits to Bordeaux or portfolio tastings in the Netherlands provided insight into the challenging conditions of the 2021 vintage, and there was much curiosity surrounding the vintage’s outcome. 

Therefore, the recent attendance to the largest Bordeaux tasting experience, organized by Perswijn and offered by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB), was a highly anticipated opportunity. This article paints a picture of the 2021 vintage and highlights some of the most memorable wines we tasted at the event. 

Resilience in the Vines: Overcoming Climate Challenges in Bordeaux’s 2021 Vintage

Managing vineyards in Bordeaux is never easy. Its maritime climate, with the frequent bouts of rainfall, often leads to unexpected challenges. Rain can result in poor fruit sets, heightened disease pressure, and even diluted flavors, depending on when they occur. Unfortunately, the devastating frost in 2021 damaged both the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux, like many other regions in France. The difficulties persisted. Bordeaux experienced a cool growing season, resulting in slow ripening throughout May. Heavy rainstorms also occurred in June and July, leading to mildew and rot. Thankfully, August and September brought warm and dry weather, but the growing season remained cooler than average in Bordeaux, resulting in lower sugar levels. 

In such challenging years, producers’ techniques and meticulous care significantly influence the quality and taste of the wines. In the vineyards, many producers have adopted environmentally conscious practices, and chemical fungicides are restricted, making protective measures and accurate forecasting vital. Rigorous selection during harvesting or sorting becomes paramount to exclude unripe tannins or unhealthy grapes.  In the cellar, gentle extraction methods are necessary to avoid extracting harsh tannins. Considering these efforts were undertaken amid the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, producers’ dedication cannot be overstated.

Reflecting on the conditions of 2021, we tasted about 40 chateaux of red wines from the Right Bank and Left Bank and a wide range of white wines, from dry to sweet.

Red Wine Tasting Highlights 

Generally, red wines from this vintage lack the ripeness and aging potential of standout years like 2018, 2019, and 2020. Nonetheless, numerous wines from this year are impressively crafted, offering elegance and delicacy. They are surprisingly approachable and enjoyable even at this early stage. Below are some tasting highlights.

2021 Château Brane-Cantenac | Margaux | 2nd Growth

74 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 % Merlot, 2 % Cabernet Franc, 1 % Petit Verdot, 1 % Carménère

1% of Carménère works well with mint, eucalyptus on black cherries, blackcurrants, and spice aromas on the nose. Perfumed and high-toned. Smooth, rounded texture yet structured by refreshing acidity and seamless tannins. Weight on the mid-palate and mineral backbone. Great depth and balance. Alcohol: 12.90%. DWA-score: 95

2021 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande | Pauillac | 2nd Growth

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot 

Classic serious Pauillac. Blackcurrants, cassis, oak influences (clove, cedar, vanilla), licorice, and graphite are impressive. Tight-knitted velvety tannins and vibrant acidity needed more time to show the full potential yet already show outstanding balance and concentration. Alcohol: 12.90%. DWA-score: 96

2021 Château Batailley | Pauillac | 5th Growth

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot 

Perfumed, juicy aromas of black and red fruits, floral, licorice, and cocoa powder on the nose. Lightly framed with integrated fine tannins. Delicate and approachable. DWA-score: 92

2021 Château Batailley – Pauillac – 5th Growth.

2021 Château Beychevelle | Saint-Julien | 4nd Growth

57 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 % Merlot, 3 % Petit Verdot, 2 % Cabernet Franc 

Perfumed nose boosts blackberry, herbal spices, eucalyptus, and some green pepper. High-toned style. Supple tannins and lively acidity. Silky texture. Approachable. Alcohol: 12.90%. DWA-score: 93

2021 Château Gruaud Larose | Saint-Julien | 2nd Growth

84 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 % Merlot, 4 % Cabernet Franc 

Black currents, blackberry, tobacco, ash, cinnamon, licorice, vanilla, spices, and cedar on the nose. Smooth texture with silky tannins and lively acidity are well-balanced with fruit concentrations. Excellent work. Alcohol: 12.5%. DWA-score: 95

2021 Château Léoville Barton | Saint-Julien | 2nd Growth

84 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 % Merlot, 5 % Cabernet Franc 

Perfumed on the nose and lightly framed on the palate, but also savory and serious. Red fruits (berry, strawberry, cherry) and blueberry aromas are accentuated by green bell pepper, spices, and herbal notes. It is high-toned style with smooth tannins. Charming and vibrant. Alcohol: 13%. DWA-score: 94

2021 Château Troplong Mondot | Saint-Émilion Grand Cru | Grand Cru Classé B

85 % Merlot, 13 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 % Cabernet Franc 

Gorgeous perfumed aromas of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, spices, chocolate, cocoa powder, violet, and sweet spices on the nose. Velvety tannins and vibrant acidity. It is neither weighty nor opulent but has a great concentration, with minerality on the finish. Alcohol: 13.5%. DWA-score: 95

2021 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion | Pessac-Léognan

40 % Cabernet Franc, 35 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot

Aromatic complexity on the nose, with expressive blackcurrant, black cherry, cassis, rose, peony, spices, a hint of pepper, chocolate, and cinnamon on the nose. Extremely elegant on the palate, with silky tannins. Persistent finish with chalky minerality. Classy, outstanding wine. Alcohol: 14.2%. DWA-score: 96

White Wine Tasting Highlights

Cooler vintages, while often challenging for red wines, can be beneficial for whites. In 2021, producers noted exceptional quality in both dry and sweet white wines. These wines showcased aromatic, sweet, and ripe fruits, well-balanced with vibrant acidity.

2021 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc |Pessac-Léognan | Cru Classé de Graves

75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon 

An exquisite harmony of purity and creaminess. Beautiful fruit aromas of pineapple, lemon, green apple, honeysuckle, and spice are complemented by secondary notes of vanilla, cream, and spices on the nose. The palate offers vibrant acidity and a seamless texture, with a lingering finish. Crisp, juicy, and with a harmonious aftertaste. Alcohol: 13.5%. DWA-score: 97

2021 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – Pessac-Léognan – Cru Classé de Graves.

2021 Château Latour-Martillac Blanc | Pessac-Léognan | Cru Classé de Graves

57% Sauvignon Blanc, 43% Semillon 

Vibrant and creamy, revealing notes of green apple, blossom, cinnamon, honeysuckle, grapefruit, and tangerine on the nose. The palate boasts a creamy and oily texture, enlivened by lively acidity and a pleasant touch of bitterness. Alcohol: 13.5%. DWA-score: 93

2016 Château Guiraud | Sauternes

65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon | 1er Grand Cru Classé

Pure and wonderfully complex, showcasing notes of candied lemon, apricot, mango, pineapple, floral hints, honeysuckle, honey, marmalade, ginger, hay, and exotic spices on the nose. The palate is rich and luscious, complemented by vibrant acidity and a lingering minerality on the finish. Alcohol: 13.5%. DWA-score: 95

The 2021 Tasting of the ‘Unions des Crus de Bordeaux’.


The 2021 vintage might differ from the previous three years, which are recognized as a great consecutive vintages, with significant aging potential. However, what’s truly intriguing is the delicate, elegant, and approachable style of red wines in 2021. Some proved to be exceptionally well-managed, high-quality wines. 

Through tastings with the UGCB, it became evident that many wines had an alcohol content of 13-13.5%, notably lower than the recent average and reminiscent of levels seen in the 1980’s for reds, which will attract many wine enthusiasts. As far as it concerns white wines 2021 delivered some of the best in recent history.

This article was written by our own Kazumi Uejo. We would like to thank the teams of Perswijn and Union Grands Crus Bordeaux for the invitation, their hospitality, and all the wineries for their time and the great wines they brought with them.