Few things are more exciting than the arrival of a new Burgundy vintage, and after our trip in November, we’re thrilled (and pleasantly surprised) with the upcoming 2021s. This vintage defies easy comparison and different growers identify similarities in myriad ways to previous years.
This was a challenging year in the vineyards, with a tough, almost macabre start when devastating spring frosts swept through Burgundy in April, decimating yields, yet the wines have been a real surprise for all. The whites are magnificent and up there with the greatest vintages in recent memory. The reds in their best examples are utterly thrilling, proper Burgundies that recall the beautifully perfumed vintages of yesteryear.
This makes 2021 especially tantalising in the context of 2018, 2019 & 2020 - all warm, solar vintages that produced unquestionably great wines, yet 2021 is a welcome reminder as to why many of us fell in love with Burgundy in the first place. These wines have impressive tannic structures for long-term aging yet will remain very approachable in the short to medium-term, so this is a vintage you are absolutely going to want in the cellar, and on the dining table… if you can get hold of the wines that is!
The year started on the right track, with a mild autumn and winter followed by an unseasonably warm March, with the mercury hitting up to 25 degrees in the Cote d’Or. Budbreak followed suite, and by the first days of April the vines were bursting with verdant colour. Everything was shaping up nicely, until a few days later temperatures plummeted down to as low as -6 to -8 degrees over three successive days. This was no ordinary spring frost either – locals call this the infamous black frost, affecting not just the colder low ground (traditionally regional or village plots), but also those sites further up the hill that receive more sunlight – the 1er and even grands crus. That this happened after budbreak is especially devasting for Chardonnay, which only buds once. Whilst growers did everything they could to save their crop, yields are reportedly down by as much as 50-80% across Burgundy, with entire plots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lost to the devastating frost.
Challenging conditions continued into June, with hail in the Cote de Nuits, the Cote Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. July and August were wet and cloudy, throwing extra mildew pressure into the mix – fortunately September was largely warm and sunny, with just over a week of rain in the middle. Those with nerves of steel who picked after the rain were rewarded with gorgeously ripe fruit, richly deserved from a growing season that very much kept growers on their toes.
Had growers contended with a season like this twenty years ago the vintage would have been a write-off, so it is a testament to winemakers today that the fruit picked at the end of September was fleshy and fully ripe, with impressive levels of tannin & acidity. When characterising the wines, Laurent Delaunay hits the nail on the head when he notes the “pure expression of the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay, and above all, 2021 is a vintage where we really see the difference of the terroirs, where nothing is hidden by a kind of over ripeness that we may have experienced in previous vintages.”
Romain Taupenot on Burgundy 2021
Jasper Morris is similarly enthused with the vintage, finding “much to enjoy, especially for those who have been longing for lighter, fresher, more fragrant wines after the recent hot and dry vintages”, whilst Matthew Hayes (writing for Jancis Robinson) contends that he is “increasingly convinced that 2021 has great merit, above all that its interest far outlies expectations.”
For reds the freshness and transparency to individual terroirs recalls 2017, although there seems to be greater substance and density here. They have more focus and vibrancy than recent solar vintages but are not as angular as with cooler 2013s or 2008s. "They're very red fruit driven rather than black fruit-driven, balanced and light, with a floral touch, elegant and fresh, with a kind of sweetness on the end” opines Romain Taupenot, who has produced another dazzling set of wines, whilst Jane Eyre praises 2021 as “a great Pinot vintage”, declaring “I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised and really like the wines”. Jasper Morris agrees, noting how the vintage “delivers a welcome lightness of touch with a classical pinot flavour”, whilst Matthew Hayes writes effusively that “this vintage will appeal to real cognoscenti of Burgundian Pinot Noir, to the absolute devotees of fragrance, limpidity and soft, ethereal tannins – that gossamer touch that normally speaking should take decades to evolve.”
Ripeness at harvest, given it was a very late one, in mostly favourable conditions, has not eluded most growers and even the leaner wines show attractive herbal sweetness, with all cuvées developing greater aromatic complexity and putting on flesh in the months since fermentation. This is a red vintage that will delight purists and those who long to taste the racy, refreshing style of Burgundy more common two decades ago. Writing for Decanter, Charles Curtis MW ”found many delicious wines with more classic Burgundian levels of colour, tannin and acid that nonetheless show charming fruit and do not lack intensity.” Meanwhile for Philippe Pacalet 2021 is “classic, full of depth, fresh and sexy”, and it’s quite possible that those connoisseurs who treasure the delicacy and perfume that used to distinguish red burgundy will find 2021 particularly to their liking. The Whites 2021 whites (when you can find them) are simply terrific with an intensity and drive that puts many of them on par with the best of recent years. The fly in the ointment is the yields which were considerably reduced by spring frosts that swept through Burgundy and the threat of mildew later in the summer. What we have been left with is one of the shortest vintages in history, though our wonderful growers “escaped the worst” and brought in 50-60% of a normal harvest.
Domaine de Montille's strength across both reds and whites was especially noticeable again in 2021
These are a fabulous set of wines, which for Jancis Robinson “seem to have managed to be blessed by both fruit and refreshment, even if they are available in tiny quantities…” Charles Curtis notes that “in the better premier and grand crus of the Côte de Beaune, the best wines are lively and fresh, with firm acidity, bright, lemony fruit and noticeable minerality. Wines of substance and depth will reward ageing for at least a decade.” Collectors will have to react quickly to make sure they get some 2021s safely into the cellar, as whites in particular will be exceptionally rare birds. We recommend buying what you’re offered and then top up with 2020, 2019, 2017 & 2014, as there simply isn’t enough.
Overall, is 2021 a vintage to miss? Absolutely not, and you would be missing a lot if you did. In terms of comparisons, the wines have a strong tannic core that will take time to resolve. This means you need to choose carefully, though the good 2021s will benefit patience and resolve later than 2018 or 2019.
We also recommend trading down, a sentiment shared by Jasper Morris who encourages collectors to pay special attention to “village wines and the value 1ers Crus in 2021”. It’s a longstanding theme that producers were able to make great wines, but prices have gone up, and what was a great premier cru even ten years ago is now on par with a good lieu dit today, so don’t feel you have to buy for the name. By the same token this is a year to experiment with new producers and find new discovers. We certainly enjoyed visiting a few new domaines this year, some of which (like the wonderful Pierre Meurgey) were absolutely superb, offering a lot of juice for the money!
Pierre Meurgey produced a fabulous set of wines this vintage
Cotes de Nuits Village & Hautes Cotes de Nuits are top buys for the money – the vintage favoured these areas, and the wines have great vivacity. Humble names, but wines that were made very well. We were also blown away by Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru, and uniformly the NSG appellation showed robustness, vivacity, depth, plenty of excitement and very strong differentiation by producer. We slightly favoured Morey St Denis over Chambolle (though both produced excellent wines), and your favourite wines from Gevrey and Vosne will also be impressive.
Looking south to Beaune, Savigny & Corey le Beaune did very well, as did Volnay & Pommard. Corton is also a real-stand out (especially Corton-Charlemagne if you can find any), especially at the more affordable end of the Grand Cru range.
Early scores are out and we are delighted that our growers have all performed extremely well, with Matthew Hayes giving special praise to “Henri Magnien and Christian Clerget [who] offer good value and a good array of cleanly made wines”. Here are a few wines we think are especially worth following in 2021.
Top Value Picks
- Pierre Muergey, Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits 2021
- De Montille, Monthelie Les Duresses 1er Cru 2021
- Taupenot-Merme, Chambolle Corme d’Orveau 2021
- Jean Tardy, Cote de Nuits Villages 2021
- Delaunay, Santenay Beauregard 1er Cru 2021
- Delaunay, Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Argillas 1er Cru 2021
- Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanee 2021
- Jane Eyre, Savigny-les-Beaune Vergelesses 1er Cru 2021