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Bordeaux 2021 by appellation: Sauternes ‘utterly brilliant’ but tiny quantities

The vintage 2021 will surely live long in the collective nightmares of the wine-makers of Bordeaux. But nowhere will it live longer or summon more painful bouts of insomnia than in Sauternes and Barsac.


Here every conceivable climatic challenge and every conceivably source of pestilence was present – and in great abundance.

The result is that there is very, very little Sauternes in the 2021 vintage and even less Barsac – with the average vineyard yields for each appellation, respectively, at 4 hl/ha and 1.5 hl/ha. Even in Sauternes, that is around 20% the ten year average.

In the 2021 vintage, then, there will, tragically, be no Climens, no Doisy-Dubroca, no Doisy-Védrines, no Filhot, no Guiraud, no de Malle, no de Myrat, no Nairac and no Rabaud-Promis. And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It is incredibly sad to think of the wines each could have produced in this vintage.

For, both miraculously and yet even more poignantly in a way, the wines themselves – where there is one – are utterly brilliant. They have been produced in incredibly tiny quantities, but they are in their way undoubtedly the wines of this vintage.

Suduiraut is a perfect example. It is an utterly sublime bottle of wine and almost certainly the best en primeur sample from the estate that I have ever tasted. But, from a vineyard of 80 hectares, only 6000 bottles were produced, with a vineyard yield of a tear-jerking 0.9 hl/ha. It is a similar story at de Fargues, with each plant producing after strict selection only the equivalent of a quarter of a glass.

The quality of the wines themselves arises from the incredibly rare, if not entirely unique, combination of a long and very fresh growing season and the very late arrival of botrytis on perfectly ripe grapes. The result is a sparkling combination of the vintage’s characteristic searingly bright and almost electric acidity with the richness, opulence and concentration that came from the very noblest of noble rots.

And what is, for me, perhaps the most wonderful character of this vintage is that each of the premiers grands crus tastes exactly like itself – the conditions of the vintage seem to have brilliantly reinforced both stylistic and terroir-specificity.

So, the brilliant Sauternes trio of de Rayne Vigneau, Sigalas Rabaud and Suduiraut are worlds apart stylistically, but each is utterly sublime in its own distinct way. Exactly the same can be said of Coutet and Doisy-Daëne in Barsac.

De Fargues is, for me, the wine of the entire vintage. It was the final wine I tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin and it nearly had me in tears. Only once before has an en primeur Sauternes sample made such an impression on me – that was Yquem 2015.

But it is important also to signal out Bastor Lamontagne. It was the first wine in the Sauternes and Barsac flight at the UGCB press tasting and it brought an almost palpable and collective sense of awe and acclaim from some of the world’s greatest palates. It is one wine that would be very difficult to pick out in a blind tasting. For it is so good that you’d have to imagine it were a premier grand cru classé. Needless to say it is my value pick of the entire vintage.

Even if you have decided that 2021 Bordeaux is not for you, please don’t overlook these fabulous wines.

Rieussec and Yquem were both made and will be released post en primeur; I have tasted neither at this stage.

Highlights in 2021

Wine of the vintage:    

  • de Fargues (97-99)

Truly great: 

  • Rayne Vigneau (95-97)
  • Sigalas Rabaud (95-97+)
  • Suduiraut (96-98)

Value pick of the vintage: 

  • Bastor Lamontagne (92-94+)

For full tasting notes, see here.

See here for db’s en primeur vintage report, with appellation-by-appellation reviews on MargauxSt JulienPessac-Leognan & Graves, St Estephe & Haut-Medoc, Pauillac, Pomerol, St Emilion and Sauternes.

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