BURGUNDY 2021 | THE REDS

After two weeks of intensive tasting of the red wines throughout the Côte d’Or, our Buying Director David Roberts MW has returned excited and energised by the style and quality of Burgundy 2021. The vintage tells an extraordinary story, showing the strength of the vine following these adverse conditions and the fortitude and dedication of the very best vignerons working all hours to make some beautiful wines, despite everything that nature threw at them.
David Roberts MW on 2021 red burgundy

David Roberts MW on 2021 red burgundy

My report in October following our tasting of the white wines in the Côte de Beaune covered in detail the extraordinary climatic conditions during 2021 and their impact on style, quality and volumes for the vintage. If you wish to read this detail it is available in my October “First Thoughts” report here, but as a precis, the key points are below:

THE 2021 VINTAGE IN BURGUNDY | KEY POINTS

THE 2021 VINTAGE IN BURGUNDY | KEY POINTS

  • Exceptionally early bud break due to a freak week of hot weather averaging 25°C the week of 15th March.
  • Extreme winter frost over three days between 6th-8th April, exacerbated by snow on the second night hitting the early budding vines (particularly Chardonnay) with a huge impact on bud development and potential yield.
  • The vines went into shock and shut down for almost three weeks after the frost before showing signs of any further vegetative development.
  • A cool and damp early summer in June and July, so vigilant vineyard work was imperative to protect the frost-stressed vines against potential disease.
  • A dry August, but not excessively hot, with average temperatures of around 28°C.
  • Harvest in excellent conditions from mid September onwards, instead of the early August harvest that would have been expected prior to the impact of the frosts.
  • Dramatic yield reduction for the white wines in Côte de Beaune: between 60–80% and, in the later-budding region of Chablis, a 50% reduction.
  • Like Burgundy’s white wines, yields for red Burgundy were also down in 2021, although to a lesser extent. As an average, production of Pinot Noir was approximately 50% down, primarily due to the frost. The main reason for this is that, in a normal year, Pinot Noir tends to be two weeks behind Chardonnay in its vegetative cycle. The result is that many red vineyards were less advanced than their white counterparts, so following the heat spike in March hadn’t yet entered a full flow of budding when the April frost arrived.

    This 50% loss is, however, a generalisation; it really is both vineyard location and domaine dependant. Vineyards pruned in December and early January tended to be more advanced than later pruned sites and so were more vulnerable and suffered greater losses. The Côte de Beaune vines bud earlier than their northerly neighbours in the Côte de Nuits. At Comte Armand, Paul Zanetti quoted average losses at the domaine of 60% and Thibaud Clerget said he is over 70%. Interestingly, we heard from many growers that their cooler locations, for example in the Hautes Côtes, escaped the frost as they were significantly less advanced in their spring development. Sadly however, these sites were more vulnerable to disease later in the summer.
    The greatest sadness of the frost was in the north. Almost unanimously, growers commented that it was their best vineyards and the best locations that were most severely hit in 2021. One of the reasons for their prestigious classification is that they are the warmer sites, producing the finest and ripest fruit. However, in 2021, this benefit was to their disadvantage. This is the hardest pill to swallow in such a charming vintage: there are almost negligible volumes of the Grands Crus and finest Premiers Crus wine as a result. At Domaine Drouhin Laroze their total production of Le Musigny was just 280 bottles!


    And now to the positive. I have loved tasting this vintage. After all the stresses of the year, the growers were unexpectedly delighted by the style and quality of wines achieved. Their development in cask has been like witnessing a late developing child: exhilarating and rewarding. The senior vignerons I talked to, whilst pleased to have passed the baton to their children in the vineyards, were smiling at the tastings. This, they all said, is classic Pinot Noir: pure, elegant, refined and with a return to traditional alcohol levels below 13.5%.


    The disaster of the frost was possibly the vintage’s saviour for the red wines. Fabien Geantet was not alone in quoting that, with the cooler early summer conditions, the abundance of fruit expected earlier in the year may well have struggled to achieve optimum ripeness. Instead, the smaller number of bunches per vine, together with their delayed development, meant that they were able to make the most of the pleasant late summer temperatures and flourished in the final few weeks up to the vintage. The saying goes that it is the last three weeks that make a vintage, and as Claude de Nicolay at Domaine Chandon de Briailles said, we certainly had this at the end of August and in September in 2021.
    The wines show the character of a later ripening year. The colours are wonderfully radiant, generally brick red rather than deep, dark and opaque. Similarly, the fruit flavours are beautifully crystalline, full of summer fruits, red rather than black in nature. The alcohol levels, as I have commented, are not high. But the secret to their success is the quality of the tannins: they are exceptional and some of the finest that I have tasted in an En Primeur vintage. They are not powerful or overpowering: they sit beneath the fruit in a lovely controlled manner, providing subtle tension and great balance.

    There is of course variation from vineyard to vineyard, with the best wines showing their pedigree and excellent terroir identity. There is a range of styles on offer, from lighter earlier drinking wines to intensely structured wines which have so much potential and a long life ahead of them. This variety makes 2021 a stimulating red vintage that will both appeal to customers new to the joys of Burgundy and prove irresistible to Pinot Noir aficionados. It is classical in the very best sense of the word. 2021 might not necessarily hit the journalistic headlines, but for wine drinkers it is an absolute joy. We have been delighted by its quality; it is just a shame that there will be so little to go around!

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