As the rest of the world recovered more or less successfully from the aftermath of Covid, there was one industry that did not fare so well. The Bordeaux en-primeur wine season 2021 was difficult. At best. It was a meteorological nightmare – almost every scenario of a producer’s nightmare was present. Severe frost? Check. Mildew? Check. Excess rain? Check. Botrytis? Check. Rain during harvest? Check. More mildew? Check. The list went on and on. The complicated climatic challenges of this vintage were vast and varied and regrettably left their mark on the wine.
But, there is a but. Yes, conditions were not the best, but the sheer quality of the wines produced in this most incredibly difficult vintage is, in some cases, truly impressive. Producers accepted the challenges with incredible grace and gusto and, against all odds, produced some spectacular wine. This bears witness to the astonishing technological advances in the past decade – had such difficult meteorological conditions happened even just 10 years ago, producers would have had to wipe out their entire vintage, whereas at least some of 2021’s yield has been saved.
Did investors buy Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur wine?
That is not to say that 2021 was a sellout year. Critics universally agree that 2021 was, at best, an uneven year. And this showed in the figures once the campaign had ended. Naturally, trade was naturally far, far lower than in previous years, with Liv-ex branding it “one of the least successful in recent times”. Both volume and sales were vastly decreased, even by up to 60% in some cases. Even sales of big hitter wines plummeted with investors hatching the increasingly prevalent view that this is a vintage to be avoided.
As conditions shaped the secondary market considerably, chateaux overheads skyrocketed, and prices regrettably followed suit. This was a vintage that needed careful micro-management in the vineyard, as well as increased manpower (almost doubling the headcount in some cases) in the fields. Covid’s annee terrible of 2020 had depleted the local labour force, so help had to be brought in, adding insult to injury costwise for producers.
As if difficult meteorological conditions and astronomical costs weren’t enough, the 2021 yield was 14% below 2020. Some well-resourced estates may have achieved vintage averages, but others reported the lowest yields in 30 years. Suffice it to say – it was an expensive year for producers. Those that had deep pockets could cover their losses, but many others had to resort to hiking prices up to unrealistic heights.
You might be thinking a bad, expensive vintage does not make good investment sense. And in some cases, you’d be right. But in others… Good investors always do their homework, so if EP is still tickling your investor fancy, we suggest doing a little digging, and you might find a few lucrative surprises.
Which were the best wines from the 2021 campaign?
First growths were naturally the best performers in this painful year. Chateau Margaux produced a 97-pointer with a dark nose, exceptional balance and energy and is definitely one of the most thrilling wines of the vintage, hence why we’ve placed it on the top of our ones-to-watch list. Haut-Brion was another standout wine and possessed an intensity that was unrivalled by the other wines of the vintage. Think firm, robust tannins that will translate into a firm robust ageing appeal and hopefully, substantial ROI in time.
The unclassified estate Chateau Lafleur produced an exceptional vintage, impressing even Decanter’s notoriously difficult Georgie Hindle with its 97-points, who also called it “surely one of the best wines of the vintage”. Calon Ségur was on point as per expectations and showed off Vincent Millet’s 15-year-long transformative programme with aplomb. Les Carmes Haut Brion was another seductive number, the Cabernet Franc (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and Merlot (25%) melange earning it 95-97 point from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Finally, Cheval Blanc continued its stellar run of vintages and in our mind one of the most obvious buys of the En-Primeur season. The wine scored 96 points from Decanter at its initial early tasting, a number which will undoubtedly rise as the wine matures.
What were the Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur prices compared to 2020?
The general consensus was that red wines were generally released in 2021 at the same price as their 2020 counterparts, despite the estates taking heavy hits. “The average release prices of the 2021s were 1% less than what the 2020s had been – and many 2020 wines remain available at their release price,” Liv-ex stated. “Yet the average score of the 2021s was two points lower than the 2020s on average (92 points versus 94 points). Some wines – such as Cheval Blanc got away with small rises thanks to their unparalleled market performance. Liv-ex also said the release price was around 28% lower than current prices for the top vintages of 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2015.
However, there were of course some exceptions. Château Léoville Las Cases reduced their prices by almost 15% compared to last year’s release, while Clos du Marquis went the other way and had the biggest price rise of almost 13%.
The story was not quite so simple with white wines. Tiny volumes and high critical acclaim drove demand, meaning most producers hiked up their prices by a huge margin.
How big was the 2021 En Primeur vintage?
There is no denying that 2021 was a small year for Bordeaux. Most producers reported losses of 20-30% (more in some cases) than previous years and even those that didn’t suffer from mildew problems et al chose to restrict their yields anyway.
To invest or not to invest is the question. Our answer is a big bold yes, as long as it’s the right wine. Low yields mean high demand when the wine enters its drinking window, so precocious (but cautious) venture capitalists should not throw 2021’s excellence out with its proverbial bathwater. The top producers have given us confident wines that are traditional and classical, packed with sensitivity and balance. What’s more, alcohol levels are across the board lower (between 12.5% and 13.5%) meaning these wines will be easier to drink when the time comes. Robust tannins however mean that 2021 should not be considered a vintage just for early consumption: the finest wines undoubtedly have excellent ageing potential.