As I was a harvester in 2021, I know just how bad some grapes looked at the time they were picked. Creating lovely wines from this mess seemed at the time rather unrealistic.
The results are now almost finalised (the wines are nearing the end of their time in tank and barrel), and surprisingly, there are those who made some exciting wines, and even some stunningly good ones.
A cooler year, 2021 was marked by the terrible April frost and a wet growing season that offered the full smorgasbord of rot and disease.
The cooler weather means a return to the character of more classical Burgundies, with acidity playing the larger role in the wines it did before global warming became the norm in Burgundy.
So while it is a more classical year, ’21 was also problematic. Nonetheless, it hid stunning potential for winegrowers who worked hard in the vineyards over the wet summer, and then sorted well at harvest.
Good wines have definitely been produced; but there are also many have that give one humid greetings from the rotten mess in some vineyards.
The bottom line: 2021 is a heterogeneous vintage, and the wines should be chosen with care and a critical palate.
The reds are at best lively, energetic, and vivid, offering a different character from those from the preceding hot years.
It is not a dense or intense vintage, and especially the lesser wines can come across as a bit lean or meagre. They will perhaps serve as early drinking vins de soif – if they are pure and clean. These are not wines with great cellaring potential. Drink and enjoy; there’s nothing wrong with that! But beware: Higher levels of extraction often make the wines schizophrenic, with a weak mid-palate that lacks charm and energy.
The more serious wines – the big villages, 1ers, and grands crus – have more stuffing and intensity without being as dense or intense as the 2020s can be (for better or worse).
I really like the 2021 reds if you choose the right ones. There are some (relatively) great wines made from some of the prominent vineyards; keep an eye out for Romanee Saint-Vivant, a vineyard which has produced some truly sensual wines. That said, they are rare due to the frost, while at the same time hedonistic.
The 2021 reds can, depending on vinification, be truly refined. But they can also show cruder sides if the vinification was on more aggressive. It is, after all, a somewhat lesser year, albeit with some flashing stars among the reds, and especially among the whites.
I prefer the character of the 2021 reds to many other vintages, as it is a classical year that speaks to old Burgundy geeks like me. In reality, it’s nonetheless clearly behind vintages like 2019 in quality terms. Your preferences will ultimately determine your favourites.
At the moment, I prefer the ’21s to the 2018 reds, and in some measure also to the dense 2020s, although ’20 is a clearly bigger vintage and better overall. As well, 2021 is on some occasions a better year than 2017, while the 2016s (also frosted) are difficult to sum up – as 2021 could also prove to be.
In 2016, they were some reds that were very concentrated due to the low yields caused by the frost. These are strangely dense, and sometimes even austere. This is not a common trait in 2021, when the lively acidity gives the wines a lift.
It will be interesting to see if the best 2021s ultimately achieve a natural effortlessness, or if the verve, nerve, and tension will dominate. In either case, there are some very interesting red wines from 2021. The Côte de Nuits fared better than Beaune and south, where the frost damage was severe.
For the first time, I have rated the vintage as a whole on the hedonistic vin d’émotion scale, and the result (for both colours) is , with the promise of energy and tension in the reds as well as the best whites. So high on hedonistic liking and lower on points!!
This is a vintage where the best wines are both clean and pure, and at the same time hedonistically vivid.
The white 2021s were almost completely destroyed by the April frost, and are therefore very rare birds. In some vineyards, more than 90% of the crop was lost, and overall, yields were 70% or so below normal.
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