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Bordeaux 2021 tasting notes: Pauillac

Although maybe not the best vintage for Pauillac, there are some great wines – some this vintage’s best – to be found here. However, our Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay notes that this is possibly more of a reflection of the quality of its terroirs and sheer size rather than a particular deftness in handling the challenges of the past growing season. 

A note on the ratings

This year, for the first time, I have decided to provide an indicative rating for each wine alongside the published comment. All such comments and ratings are necessarily subjective (they cannot be anything else, when one thinks about it). I would urge you to look at the two together and, if anything, to privilege the comment over the rating. My aim is more to describe the wine in the context of the vintage, the appellation and recent vintages of the same and similar wines, rather than to judge the wine per se.

The ratings, of course, reflect my subjective relative preferences between wines. Your palate is likely differ from mine. I hope that my comments give you at least enough information to be able to recalibrate my ratings and, in so doing, to align them more closely to your palate. To give an example: if the idea of the ‘new classicism’ leaves you cold, you may well wish to discount the (typically high) ratings I have given to wines described in such terms.

2021 is, of course, a highly heterogenous vintage – and, consequently, my ratings span a considerable range (from the very high to the very low). I see little interest, either for the consumer or the producer, in publishing very low scores. Consequently, I have decided not to publish scores for wines that I have rated below 90 (here the range 89-91). Where no rating is published, the wine would have scored 88-90 or below.

Finally, élevage is likely to be very important in determining the quality in bottle of these wines (rather more so than in recent vintages). I am no soothsayer and cannot predict how that will turn out. All en primeur ratings should be treated with caution and taken with a certain pinch of salt. That is never more true than it is in this vintage.

Detailed tasting notes

  • D’Armailhac (Pauillac; 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting and in the new chai of the chateau). This tasted better at the property. Soft on the attack, though the grain of the tannin builds quite quickly on the palate despite the gentle creaminess. This is more refined on the nose with a nice pure blackberry fruit and lots of graphite. The tannins, as ever, are just a little severe but this will soften nicely to produce a very classic, classy Pauillac. There is good density and concentration though this feels further from Clerc Milon in quality in this vintage, having closed the gap in recent vintages. Fine and tender with a long, rolling finish. 90-92.
  • Batailley (Pauillac; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol after a little chaptalisation; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Floral and less oaky than it often is en primeur – violets and the parfumier’s essence of violet, grated very dark chocolate and a hint of the tobacconist’s counter. The fruit is pure and purple, with a nice sense of bite and crunch to it. This is refined, elegant, fresh, bright and long. It is also impressively crystalline through the mid-palate. Reliably good and the oak is more gently incorporated than often at this stage. And there is good tannic density for medium-term ageability. 91-93+.
  • Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; tasted at Lafite-Rothschild). Tasted immediately after Duhart-Milon, this is rather more delicate and a little more closed, the fruit a touch lighter – a combination of raspberry and mulberry. The tannins are supremely soft on the attack and, once again, the classical structure is revealed slowly yet precisely as the presence and granularity of the tannins builds in the mouth. Dense and compact for the vintage, I love the grip and pinch of the tannins that helps to build the sapid fantail finish. Great balance and a lovely sense of harmony. A continuation of the fine progression of recent vintages. 91-93.
  • Clerc Milon (Pauillac; 59% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 1.5% Carmanère; 1.5% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting and in the new chai at Chateau d’Armailhac). Very big, bold and smoky on the nose; brambles and blueberries, black cherries; a hint (no more, as yet) of the graphite to come. Aromatically engaging, rich, dynamic and explosively expressive. There is a broad-shouldered sense of the ambition here, but this is not the burly bruiser it used to be despite the very impressive density and concentration. This is beautifully structured and becomes more and more elegant as the structure is outlined by the fine-grained tannins, with a particularly lovely, light and radiant, aerial finish (which changes somewhat my overall perception of the wine). Nice tension; good purity; and far less stolid than it used to be– though still serious and with good tannic mass. 92-94.
  • Croizet-Bages (Pauillac; 66% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). The acidity is a little invasive here even if the ingredients are essentially very good and better than they used to be. A good dollop of Pauillac cedar! Pure and precise with a nice crunchy berry and cherry fruit; but not as refined or as harmonious as many. Creamy at first but the tannins lose their refinement as they build and there’s a discernible trace of dryness on the finish.
  • Duhart-Milon (Pauillac; 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; tasted at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild). Cool, restrained and glorious, with a gorgeously intense dark berry fruit – brambles, cassis and blackcurrant leaf. There’s a hint of graphite (on the pencil scale this is more of an H or HB than a 4B, perhaps!). A wine that seems to divide opinion in the vintage – but I really like it. It’s sumptuous, soft, svelte and archetypally Duhart – but in a beautifully restrained cool vintage way. The tannins, which are almost imperceptibly soft at first, seem to build in presence and granularity as the wine unfolds over the palate, outlining the bold structure. Chewy, minty, always super-fresh, elegant, composed and sumptuous. With air, that signature Duhart cedar starts to arrive too. Fabulous in the context of the vintage and very expressive of the vintage, which is something I really appreciate. Highly recommended. 92-94+.
  • Echo de Lynch-Bages (Pauillac; 56% Merlot; 44% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.1% alcohol; pH 3.70; IPT 79; aging in oak barrels for 12 months; tasted in the new chai of the Chateau). Pure; big-boned and broad-shouldered; round, succulent and glossy; with big, bold chewy tannins. It has impressive structure and a rich mouthfeel, though the tannins are a little harsh on the finish. The oak is a little more obvious than most of the leading wines of the appellation; but this will surely incorporate well with a little time in bottle. 89-91 (just).
  • Fonbadet (Pauillac; 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot; from 20 hectares in three blocks near Latour, Lynch Bages and Mouton Rothschild and from Domaines Peyronie; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; tasted in Paris from a sample sent by the property). Another lovely and quite classic Pauillac in this vintage – and one that belies its humble cru bourgeois status (it tastes every bit a classed growth in this vintage). Fruits of the forest, notes of acacia wood, sous bois and a lovely loamy earthy note melt together in the nose of this elegant wine. The tannins are soft and there is an impressive density and compactness to the mid-palate – a beautiful graphite minerality too that places this right at the heart of the appellation. Above all, this is a wine of sumptuous harmony that is already very appealing but that will age very gracefully. Excellent, with a lovely aerial plume on the finish. 90-92+.
  • Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32.6 Merlot; 6.4% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; aging in new oak, 70% of which is new; tasted at the property). Tasted after Pauillac de Latour, this is more elegant, darker, nuttier and more floral on the nose. Wild flowers; plum skin; mulberry, a little damson, and damson skin. On the palate, this is pulpy, lithe and quite sinuous though the grains of the tannins grip and stop it being too lithe – seemingly binding the fruit to the spine and controlling a little its natural energy. But that helps structure and build the finish, which has a lovely juicy plume and fantail. Maybe not as complex as in a greater vintage, and ever so slightly destabilised by the acidity on the finish, but impressive nonetheless. 91-93.
  • Grand-Puy Ducasse (Pauillac; 62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; 12.8% alcohol; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; tasted first in Paris and then at the UGCB press tasting with similar notes). This is, so often, a disappoint – but there has been a quiet and steady progression in recent vintages and it continues here even in a challenging vintage. There’s a delicate florality on the nose and a lovely, enticing bramble and blackberry fruit. But on the palate I find this a little sweet-tinged – patchouli and dried rose petals. The fruit also feels a little blended and the tannins are just a touch coarser than the appellations’ finest. That said, this continues in the right direction and that should be headline here. 89-91.
  • Grand-Puy Lacoste (Pauillac; 85% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 40 hl/ha, well above the appellation average; tasted at the property). Dark, glossy, rich and very classical in its archetypal ‘Pauillac claret’ way. Cedar and graphite in abundance, of course. Bright, crunchy red and darker berry fruit – blackberry at first, then a little raspberry and cassis. This is very well composed, with a lovely evident structure, but it is also beautifully softly delineated and constructed. The mid-palate is clear, fluid and dynamic, with a sinuous shape to the fruit flow built around the more linear core. Long, crumbly tannins and growing acidity accentuated the sense of length and composure. Elegant, classic and very impressive. There is excellent aging potential here too and a lovely bright and aerial finish. The acidity is very well managed and just breaks out at the end to aid the fantail lift on the finish. 93-95.
  • Les Griffons (Pauillac; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 11% Petit Verdot; 40% new oak; 13% alcohol; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely and Pierre Montégut). From parcels in the north of the appellation near Pontet Canet. Plump and pulpy, big and juicy, with a crunchy fresh raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Quite big-boned, this broad canvas wine is impressively pure and bright at the same time. Recognisable from its slightly ferrous minerality. 90-92.
  • Haut Batailley (Pauillac; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 13.1% alcohol; pH 3.74; IPT 77; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; tasted in the new chai at Lynch-Bages). Tasted only once and I rather struggled with this – I was expecting to like it more. Big, bold and rather traditional for the vintage. Plum and cassis, raspberry and even a hint of wild strawberry, with a sprinkling of baking spices and quite a pronounced saline-ferrous minerality, this is tender with crumbly and quite considerable tannins. That renders it a little abrasive on the finish at this nascent stage. Strict, a little chunky and lacking natural sweetness I also find the finish a little aggressive. I’ll be interested to re-taste this from bottle as others clearly liked it more than I. 89-91?.
  • Haut-Bages Libéral (Pauillac; 90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Merlot; aging in oak barrels (40% new) and amphora (20%); tasted at Durfort-Vivens with Gonzague Lurton). Another top wine with a record amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend. Smoky, fresh, bright, brilliant and very much a Claire Villars-Lurton wine. This is electric in personality and is charged with energy and lift. The nose reveals intense, crushed and concentrated red berry fruit – raspberries, loganberries, maybe a few mulberries too – with a wild herbal element. On the palate, this is lithe, mobile and dynamic, with a pleasing saline minerality. There’s lots of detail and glorious energy on the finish which builds in purity and juiciness. Very long, pure and laser-like in its precision with a lovely harmony between the senses and a pervasive feeling of natural calm. A wine that seems to capture and express very well the energy and biodiversity of the vineyard. 92-94+.
  •  Lacste Borie (Pauillac; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; tasted at Grand-Puy Lacoste). Creamy and pure, with blackcurrant, touch of redcurrant and redcurrant leaf and almost a suggestion of gooseberry skin. There’s plenty of lift and freshness here but also a little cedar some natural sweetness. Charming and accessible, with nice crumbly tannins reinforced in a way by beads of sapidity that seems to falling vertically from the top of the palate. One of the few very successful second wines in this vintage. 89-91.
  • Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac; 96% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; IPT 70; tasted at Lafite-Rothschild). A candidate for left-bank wine of the vintage. Restrained, tranquil and slightly closed at first, this exudes class, composure and a certain measured confidence. It is very dark fruited – black cherry, blackberry, bramble and mulberry, with a hint of damson – all richly enrobed in liquid graphite (were such a thing possible). Texturally this is sublime. The architectural frame is beautifully crafted with excellent concentration and density and there is an almost glacial evolution over the palate as the impressive gothic edifice is revealed stone by stone. The finish is gorgeous too, with the acidity so well distributed and incorporated that it is wrong to speak of sapidity per se. What we have instead is a lithe, bright, energetic and intense juiciness. This is total wine! The almost pure cool vintage Cabernet Sauvignon is the epitome of calm tranquillity and elegance. A profound and truly captivating wine and, for me at least, the single wine that most fully expresses the vintage. 96-98.
  • Latour (Pauillac; 96% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Merlot; 13.1% alcohol; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; a final yield of just 22.1 hl/ha; tasted at Chateau Latour). Mildew was a significant issue here as the depressing final yield makes clear. This, too, is gorgeously textured and very refined, with a rich, dark, black and red cherry fruit, a little cassis (but no more than a touch) and briary brambles. In the spirit of the vintage, this is very bright and energetic, with the freshness bringing plenty of vertical lift even in the mid-palate. There’s just a little touch of spice from the oak – nutmeg and fennel seeds – and only the slightest hint of graphite at this early stage. Overall, this feels somewhat austere, with a certain cool calmness to it; it is very well-behaved, polite even, but a little closed. But, at the same time, it is bright and energetic with a crunchy (croquant) pure fruit. More of a vin de garde than most of the rest but not in a very classic or conventional way. Vivid, bright and fascinating. 94-96+.
  • Lynch Bages (Pauillac; 67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; 13.1% alcohol; pH 3.72; IPT 90; tasted in the new chai at Lynch Bages). Sumptuous with lots of cedar and graphite and a deep dark berry fruit – brambles, damsons, sloes, mulberries and a little raspberry too. A cool, slightly serious quality that is somehow very Pauillac and very classical in a way and that is reinforced by the characteristics of this cooler summer vintage. I love the purple and pink flowers – wisteria and rose petals. This is soft and voluptuous on the attack, with plenty of amplitude and the fruit density to richly cover the structure with flesh. A deeply impressive wine with ultra-fine grained tannins and a finesse and elegance that disguises the considerable power. A great success in the vintage and a fine tribute to the enhanced precision given by the stunning new wine-making facility in which it was made. 94-96.
  • Lynch Moussas (Pauillac; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Lots of cedar on the nose and a radiant bright and lifted fruit – cassis and fruits of the forest. Lithe and quite energetic, the sapidity well distributed over the entire palate. There is good density and a nice sensation of viscosity to this in the mouth. The good work continues here. There is, however, a slightly sharpness to the acidity just before the more balanced and lifted finish that leads me to lower my rating a notch. 90-92.
  • Moulin de Duhart (Pauillac; 64% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; tasted at Lafite Rothschild). Cool cassis and graphite with lots of lift. Tender, with crumbly but not chewy tannins, this is very well managed. It is perhaps a little austere for a second wine, but the quality of the tannins is impressive and there is a fine sense of balance and harmony here. A rare second wine success story in 2021. 89-91.
  • Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac; 89% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc; tasted in the new chai at Chateau d’Armailhac). Gorgeous pure rich deep dark and expressive cassis fruit, with an enticing suggestion of graphite and cedar in the background – a support group to the star that is the Cabernet Sauvignon here. In the mouth, this is super-svelte but massively bright on the attack, with an energy and vivacity that one does not at first expect. Indeed, it is as if the fresh fruit almost seems to break through the confines of the soft structure. In the process it brings amazing interest, detail, definition and multi-coloured pixilation to the mid-palate. It is like a firework display. Eventually, the fruit is reined in and just about held in check by the tannins that build along the spine. But then, just as one imagines that the show is over, the fruit escapes again, this time, fresher still and more juicy and sapid in a brilliant fantail crescendo on the finish. I love the energy of this. it is very different from Lafite or Latour and probably not what you’re expecting. 95-97.
  • Pastourelle de Clerc Milon (Pauillac; 54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 2% Carmenère; 1% Petit Verdot; tasted in the new chai at Chateau d’Armailhac). A very good second wine in the context of the vintage. This has been judiciously judged and not at all over-extracted. It is tender, fresh, perhaps a little lean, but the product of excellent choices. The acidity reinforces the sense of sapidity with no dryness or excess.
  • Ch. Pauillac (Pauillac; 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot; from 1.5 hectares in the form of a series of very well situated parcels; a final yield of 20 hl/ha; tasted from a sample sent to Paris). I’ve been looking forward to tasting this wine for the first time; it doesn’t disappoint. Smoky on the nose, with a touch of sweet spice and patchouli alongside the predominantly red berry fruit; with aeration, a hint of acacia. Bright, fresh and quite vibrant, the fruit is nicely crunchy and this has not been over-extracted, giving us an open, easy and accessible wine that has no hard edges, nice balance and good harmony. The quality of the tannin management is particularly impressive. 89-91.
  • Pauillac de Latour (Pauillac; 60.9% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 11.1% Petit Verdot; , 12.9% alcohol; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; tasted at Chateau Latour). Pure and saline, fresh and fruity. This has a pleasing hedgerow florality, also a hint of spring flowers and a nice bright cassis fruit. Its frame is restricted with the fruit stretched but intact (a little like a taut clingfilm sheet – it’s thin but an effective covering). The acidity builds towards the finish and there is no great length, but the tannins are very fine.
  • Pedesclaux (Pauillac; 64% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Cool, dark, rich and quite compact and deep on the attack with a pronounced dark berry fruit – primarily blackberries and brambles. Sapid, juicy, fresh and bright, with plenty of vertical lift. Nice texturally too and the best, stylistically, from here in a long time. The structure, above all, is impressive. We have, in effect, two waves – the first svelte, and building in roundness; the second, announced by the grip of the tannins, is ultra-fresh and sapid. There is, however, a slightly jarring level of acidity towards the finish– not exactly tart, but somewhat elevated nonetheless and not really incorporated into the structure of the wine. But there is much to commend here. 91-93.
  • Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19.5% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 0.5% Petit Verdot; tasted at Mouton Rothschild). Deep, dark, pure and concentrated with the accent on the black cherry and graphite notes, this still (just about) carries off the award for the very best of the first growth second wines (though there used to be less competition). There are lovely dark cedary notes here and a gentle wild earthy, loamy, character to this too that I really like. Bold structure, broad shoulders and sumptuous in texture with great amplitude and yet without the loss of the glossy, creamy, refined, velour that is the heart and soul of Le Petit Mouton. Serious and seriously good. 91-93+.
  • Pibran (Pauillac; 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; IPT 62; tasted at Pichon Baron). Lovely bright, vibrant raspberry fruit, blackcurrant too, with a touch of walnut. Very crunchy and pulpy and fresh. Pure and limpid and sinuous and really excellent. A super wine for its price-point with fine-grained tannins and a limpid and lithe bright mid-palate. Excellent value. 89-91.
  • Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 13% alcohol; a final yield of just 22 hl/ha; IPT 66; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely and Pierre Montégut). This is excellent, whether placed in the context of the vintage or not – and it expresses the character of the vintage very well indeed. There is a lovely limpidity in the mouth here that is unusual for Pichon Baron (though it’s there in the 2019 too). The tannins are super soft and the fruit glides and glistens in the sumptuous mid-palate in a way that is almost more reminiscent of the ‘other Pichon’ (you know the one!) across the D2. This is finely textured, not too massive and showing excellent restraint in the gentleness of the extraction. As a consequence, the wine is a little more delicate, more refined and more elegant at this stage than it often is en primeur. And that in turn helps illuminate the impressive detail in the mid-palate. But don’t be mistaken. For there is plenty of depth, concentration and density here too (the IPT is over 80). A beautifully balanced wine and a triumph for Jean-René Matignon in his final vintage as technical director. 94-96.
  • Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac; 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; 2% Merlot; 13% alcohol; a final yield, tragically, of just 15 hl/ha; tasted at Pichon Comtesse de Lalande overlooking the river). Lovely violets and cedar wrapped around the black cherry fruit, with subtle cassis notes peaking though. This is quite closed at first, but it opens beautifully in the glass. It has that gloriously sumptuous texture that is the very essence of Pichon Comtesse de Lalande – present really in all recent vintages. It is, as ever, luminous, with lots of finely-pixilated detail and with that lovely sinuous, gliding, glossy crystalline limpid mid-palate. There is also an impressive sensation of density, structure and compactness. Superb, but not quite at the level of the miraculous 2018-2020 trilogy. But what a glorious finish all the same, with all those floral elements from the nose present once again. 94-96.
  • Pontet Canet (Pauillac; 58% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 6% Petit Verdot; 12.7% alcohol aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; decanted and tasted at the property). Intense and aromatically expressive, this is bright and crunchily textured with a gentle, natural raspberry fruit at first. With aeration the fruit turns a little darker (with more cassis coming through), bringing out the graphite with it. There’s the discernible presence of cracked black pepper from the Petit Verdot too as well as a little smokiness, some grated chocolate and a distinct walnut shell element. As on the nose, aeration in the mouth reveals more cassis. There is impressive breadth here and a nice gently outlined structure with a chewy mid-palate, good density and fine detail. Overall, this is bright and energetic, especially on the dynamic finish. The tannins are quite chewy but the acidity well-incorporated. There is a nice sense of harmony and a pleasing florality on the long and tapering finish. 92-94.

Read more:

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

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