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Bordeaux has launched its annual en primeur campaign, opening sales for wines made in 2021 that aren’t bottled yet. Consumers around the world, including here in Canada, can place orders for wines they won’t receive until 2024.
When the vintage is exceptional, there’s plenty of excitement surrounding this release. Global demand for top wines, especially the fabled first growths – Château Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion – surges and there’s a race to place orders.
Unfortunately, after a long run of warm summers that made for ripe and healthy grapes, Bordeaux experienced an unseasonably cool, wet growing season in 2021. Grapes struggled to ripen and the resulting red wines risk being lighter, with tarter flavours than collectors are used to. (The vast majority of wine produced in Bordeaux is red. Only 10 per cent of the annual production is white wine.)
But in this modern era of winemaking, the quality of a vintage isn’t solely dependent on weather conditions. Teams of highly trained grape growers can work to reduce disease pressure and promote ripening in the vineyard and winemakers have access to state-of-the-art equipment as well as workers to sort grapes and separate the healthy and ripe berries from less desirable ones. Going to great lengths, the best winemakers in Bordeaux managed to produce well-made and highly acclaimed wines in 2021.
While selling wine prior to release is customary in established wine regions, such as Burgundy, Piedmont and Port, it defines the wine industry in Bordeaux. It creates revenue for estates, selling inventory while it is still aging in barrel, and keeps attention on this celebrated corner of the wine world.
The benefit for consumers is securing wines from the top estates, hopefully at the best prices.
Wine lovers rely on critical reviews to identify top performers amongst the elite chateaux and possibly discover some good value, under-the-radar estates. Earlier in the year, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux hosted a mass tasting in the city of Bordeaux. At the same time, various communal appellation tastings were staged to allow media and wine trade to evaluate the young wines to share their insights with consumers.
Despite the challenges faced in making the 2021 wines, there are strong reviews for many red wines featured in the Bordeaux en primeur lineup. The overall quality of 2021 is far from a washout, but clouds remain over the vintage.
Speculators seeking investment opportunities will gravitate to more celebrated vintages. Wine lovers looking for an outstanding bottle of wine can shop the world these days. Bordeaux is the largest fine wine region in the world, with an incredible sense of history, but it isn’t the only source for quality and age-worthy wines. Bordeaux’s 2021 en primeur wines are going to be a hard sell.