Simon Field MW - Bordeaux 21. The Unfinished Symphony





Saint Émilion's Château Angélus
Saint Émilion's Château Angélus

The Bordeaux Primeur caravan is back in town! Firstly, in and around the city of Bordeaux in a wildly hectic week of tasting for the buyers and a few brave journalists, and now, slowly but surely, coming to a wine merchant’s website near you. Nothing short of a Faustian pact, selling the wine in advance of bottling for a modest discount and the assurance of secured stock. Faustian indeed, because the ultimate purchaser has most definitely not tasted the wine and the heavily relied-upon intermediary, Farr Vintners say, or Justerini and Brooks, has only tasted it from barrel, that is to say before the wine has completed its maturation cycle. It night be rather different when it goes into bottle; it is bound to be very different a year down the line….and so on…A little like purchasing a painting before it has been completed, or a piece of music when it has only been partly written. There is only, as far as I recall, only one successful unfinished symphony…..


Pomerol's Château Nenin
Pomerol's Château Nenin

Anyway, I am less brave than many of my fellow journalists and am taking a more leisurely approach to tasting the 2021 Bordeaux Primeurs. Three weeks in Bordeaux in the middle of a May heatwave…..a challenge, for sure, but an exciting and enticing one. I am to write it up for The World Of Fine Wine, picking up the reins from the hugely respected Michael Schuster, who has been covering Bordeaux for over thirty years. Everyone laments the absence of Michael and his converted Jaguar…. “Who is this interloper in a small hire car?’, I think they may be saying…but probably not, because in fairness, everyone is wonderfully friendly and supportive. This is born out of goodwill for Michael more than the desire aggressively to promote a difficult vintage, I suspect… I am hugely privileged, and it becomes more and more clear that when one tastes in situ, in the ancient cuverie at Vieux Château Certan, or in the converted garage (yes it really was a garage once) at Le Pin for example, one is afforded the complete picture; one gets to understand the people and the place behind the label and only then does one get to understand the wine. Nothing especially Faustian in this pact! This is so important and so special…



Pomerol's Château Le Pin
Pomerol's Château Le Pin

What of the vintage itself? Well, there will be further reports, but the over-arching message is that it was a difficult year, especially at the beginning of the season (deadly frost) and during the middle months of May and June (rain and more rain and then, inevitably, mildew). Thereafter the sun came out, better for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot, but sometimes too late to offer much by way of redemption, certainly in terms of yields, which where parsimonious at best……. Very heterogeneous reds then, but some sublime whites; the white gapes are indifferent to modest mid-season temperatures, and the ability to preserve acidity and freshness is fundamental these days, the longer growing season fostering both freshness and precision. Most impressive! Finally, let us not forget the sweet wines; only a small coterie of producers were prepared or able to make a wine with such small yields ( 3 hl/hectare in some places)…minute production therefore, but incredible quality, botrytis and acidity dancing together across the palate……



Pomerol's Vieux Château Certan
Pomerol's Vieux Château Certan

A challenging vintage, then…some use the word ‘classic’, but many say that 20 years ago in similar conditions there would have been no quality wine made at all, quite possible no wine at all, even of indifferent quality……. a ‘technician’s’ vintage then, the euphemistic connotations of such a phrase not entirely disingenuous……. or how about a ‘new classic’, if one can forgive such a vacuous phrase? Clearly a vintage which is hard to define, to categorise and, ultimately, to position in a putative hierarchy….maybe this fact alone, paradoxically , makes 2021 Bordeaux worth discovering….. There will be more to come from me……but highlights from the Right Bank and the Pessac region tasted last week include Pétrus, VCC, Nenin, Le Pin, Angelus, Cheval Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Haut Brion, Les Carmes Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc and Coutet from Sauternes. Fantastic wines all………And now it’s the turn of the Médoc…

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