A vintage full of jewel-like wines that have emerged from a growing season that was never plain sailing. After a devasting early spring frost, growers had to work harder than ever, all the while bringing in some of their smallest crops on record.
It is hard to know where to start when writing up a region as complex and varied as Burgundy, but if you’ll allow us an opening generalisation, it is this; we love this vintage. Indeed, if we strip away recent solaire vintages and position the wines of 2021 in the wider pantheon of Burgundy years, it is hard to see how this wouldn't be considered a very good, at times great vintage. The only real downside is that there’s so little to go around.
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These are classical wines built along classical lines. The best brim with grace and joy. They are full of the qualities that Burgundy lovers adore. The reds are expressive, perfumed and detailed; the whites crisp, intense and full of energy.
It is a vintage that reminds us that while natural conditions can throw up all manner of hurdles, human intervention can lead to wines that excel in challenging seasons. It is true that growers were made to work hard for every grape they harvested. But beyond the frost, for many growers, the challenges were simply “normal problems”. This was the sort of vintage the likes of Frederic Mugnier, Bruno Clair and Christophe Roumier cut their teeth on. “It’s the most Burgundian vintage for a decade” Bruno remarked.
What is truly interesting about this vintage, particularly in the context of recent seasons, was the absence of any serious heat events. There were no 40-degree days, no sunburn, no raging sugar levels and no need to race to preserve freshness. Harvest happened in the cooler days of September, when the vines’ biochemistry is allowed to progress at a relaxed pace, giving rise to fully polymerised tannins. The supple textures of the reds are remarkable because of this.
That the lack of extreme heat sets the vintage apart from around two thirds of the last fifteen vintages was, for many, a cause for celebration. The sad fact is that conditions like these are becoming ever rarer. Classically styled vintages such as this are now the exception not the rule. We lost count of the number of times vignerons told us how much they love this vintage. For all the hard work that it entailed, in spite of their empty cellars, growers know that Burgundy lovers are going to be utterly captivated by the wines of 2021.
The key facts of the Burgundy 2021 vintage
• A week of exceptionally warm days at the end of March preceded an early spring frost on the nights of the 6th, 7th and 8th April. The resulting widespread losses were the worst for a generation.
• The earlier budding Chardonnay had its yields more heavily impacted than Pinot Noir.
• For both colours the precocious sites, generally the better placed vineyards, were hardest hit – parts of Meursault reported losses of 90%.
• Summer was devoid of serious heat events and punctuated by regular rainfall.
• Vineyard work was exacting; to ward off the threat of oidium and mildew, and to control vigorous canopy growth.
• The weather improved dramatically on the 15th August with the arrival of dry days and a northerly wind to aid ripeness and concentration.
• Harvest for most started between the 17th and the 27th September – a “perfect late harvest” according to Frederic Mugnier.
• Potential alcohols were lower than the past few years, most wines being harvested between 12% and 12.5%.
• The worst losses were felt in Meursault, Volnay, Marsannay and Gevrey, though no appellation was entirely spared.
Jules Campbell Burgundy Buyer
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