Bordeaux 2021: top en primeur picks by value
Colin Hay gives his top picks of this year’s en primeur campaign in terms of value for money, appellation-by-appellation.
In the first half of his analysis of what offers value for the 2021 Bordeaux vintage, Colin Hay argued that “while Bordeaux 2021 may not provide fabulous value for money in relative terms, nor are there are plenty of bargains to be found”, now may well turn out to be the cheapest time to purchase this vintage using sterling.
But if you’re looking for wines that have performed well above their price point in the context of the vintage, here are full tasting notes of his top picks, listed by appellation.
- Beaumont (Haut-Médoc; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; Eric Boissenot is the consultant here; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Very Beychevelle in style and at this price you have to love that. Soft, naturally slightly sweet, creamy and complex, with a lovely suggestion of cedar and graphite. Floral, softly textured and with fine-grained tannins this is really impressive at this level. Gentle, quite long and slowly tapering on the finish. Fabulous value and rather stylish. 89-91.
- Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of a deeply impressive 50 hl/ha; tasted at the property with Laure Canu and then at the UGC with similar notes). Limpid, glossy and impressively viscous in the glass for the vintage. A very pure and beautiful nose – you might guess La Lagune more than Cantemerle – that is exquisitely perfumed, with cassis, bramble and raspberry, cedar and freshly picked wild herbs. Svelte and very measured on the attack, this is long and finely structured with a nice sense of grip from the chewy fine-grained tannins. There’s a good balance and harmony to this and the acidity is seamlessly integrated. One imagines that the selection was quite strict. The progress here is palpable (and likely to be continued). 90-92+.
- Ferrière (Margaux; 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; tasted at Durfort-Vivens). Cool, refined and pure, with a nice touch of graphite and a lovely minerality alongside the bright and brilliant fruit – cassis, redcurrant, cranberry, but also raspberry purée and mulberry. Super-soft on the entry, and with the racy acidity brilliantly incorporated and distributed across the palate, this builds to a lovely and intensely sapid crescendo. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the star here and that gives a superb fresh cassis signature to the fantail finish. Likely to be excellent value. 92-94.
- Marquis d’Alesme (Margaux; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; tasted at the new offices of Taittinger in Paris immediately after en primeur). Around 5 hectares was lost here due to the frost, but there was little further loss from mildew. Very much that cool vintage Cabernet signature on the nose which reinforces the Margaux florality. Cassis and a touch of sour red cherry, redcurrant and cedar with a nicely moderated if exotic spice from the oak – primarily Szechuan peppercorns and cloves. Full, rich, quite lifted with a pleasing tenderness and quite a sinuous and sapid mid-palate. There is a good tension between the fruit which seems to want to break through the shackles of the frame and tannins which want to strap it back to the spine. The tannins win, for now. That allows a nice pinch before an impressive fantail on the finish. Very attractive. 92-94.
- Monbrison (Margaux; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). This has lovely Margaux typicity and significantly exceeds my expectations. Intensely floral and reminiscent of a bunch of spring flowers freshly picked from the wild pasture and hedgerow; there’s a lovely cedar element too; and that very dark crunchy briary berry fruit. Overall, there is a superb natural freshness to this and I am no less impressed by the very refined precise and granular tannins. The attack is bright, there is a palpable sense of energy through the mid-palate and the finish – all chewy grape-skins – is natural and composed. Remarkably good. Un coup de coeur. 91-93+.
- Siran (Margaux; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 11% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; 13% alcohol; a final yield of an impressive 51 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Smoky, tender and bright on the nose. Beeswax, patchouli and a lovely concentrated wild raspberry note. Austere and quite serious – and seriously classy too when you consider its likely price point. Super-soft and, again, that wonderful pure and precise, focussed and croquant raspberry fruit; a little blueberry too. Cool, supremely focussed – and very linear – with a lovely compact core. A great success in the vintage; a wine from a grand terroir that deserved to be classified in 1855 that continues to produce wine of classed growth quality. 91-93.
- Branas Grand Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc; 60% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Petit Verdot – the same blend as the 2020; tasted first from a sent sample, then at the property with Arjen Pen, with consistent notes; 13.5% alcohol). It’s no great surprise that this is good; and it is, but it’s rather different that other recent vintages. Very dark hued in the glass with an ambitious level of extraction that gives you just a little pause for concern. But all is well, though this has certainly been taken all the way to the limit (and in this vintage there is an element of risk in that). It takes a little while to open aromatically (never a bad thing); when it does the fruit is predictably dark – mulberries and sloes but raspberries too – with dried herbs, a little smoke and a hint of lavender too. The oak is super well integrated. In the mouth, the fine-grained tannins serve to slow the evolution of the wine across the palate. It builds gently at first; but there is no mistaking the amplitude and breadth of the mid-palate – nor the ambition that this reflects. For me it’s possibly pushed just a little too far – the finish doesn’t quite coalesce and the dry lavender note becomes almost overpowering – though less so in the sample tasted at the property. I’ll be keen to reassess this. It is ambitious in the context of the vintage and that just about pays off. 91-93.
- 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+.
- 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+.
- Phélan-Ségur (St Estèphe; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Not difficult to pick as Phélan-Ségur and, frankly, very good in the context of this challenging vintage. Spicy and bonfire-smoky, with super use of the oak. There are gamey and charcuterie notes too, assorted cracked Asiatic spices and punnets of plump blackcurrant fruit, pulling all of this together. A great expression of its terroir, this is limpid, lithe and elegantly crafted, with impressive concentration and yet more sinuous than linear. All and more than you can expect from a top St Estèphe terroir in this vintage. 92-94.
- Tronquoy Lalande (St Estèphe; 48% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 12% Petit Verdot; tasted at Chateau Montrose). This wine amazes me each vintage; and in 2021 it’s difficult to think of a stronger wine in the appellation with this much Merlot in the final blend. Sweet and spicy on the nose, with lovely notes of cloves, cinnamon, cinnamon toast, pain d’épice and dark, plump and fleshy berry fruit. This has oodles of St Estèphe spiciness without the heaviness one sometimes associates with that. Bright and vibrant, with lots of interest and a lovely sense of tension and energy to it, this is lithe, vivid and engaging. 91-93+.
- Gloria (St Julien; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 13.1% alcohol; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting and again at Lagrange with consistent notes). Famously, from a vineyard every parcel of which was classified at some part in its history but, of course, none of which is classified today. In excelsis Gloria! The oak is a little more noticeable than in most of the leading grands vins of the appellation, but that is part of its style and its charm. There are nice cedar elements accompanying the cassis and bramble purée fruit. Tender, lithe and very pure, with a pleasingly concentrated dark berry fruit. This has a good substantial mid-palate, providing a nice fresh and sapid mouthful. Likely, once again, to provide excellent value. 91-93.
- Lagrange (St Julien; 84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 34.9 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting and at the property with reassuringly consistent notes). Great progress is being made here and the selection is evidently very strict now (it is not without some suffering that one gets to 84% Cabernet Sauvignon here – consider that nearly 30% of the vineyard is planted with Merlot). Slightly closed on the nose at first . Lavender and violets alongside dark fruits of the forest and cassis, with a little suggestion of graphite too. Soft, svelte tannins and a dense and nicely compact mid-palate; the grain of the tannins here is a little coarser than the very finest the appellation has to offer and the fruit is not quite as precise or detailed. But this is nonetheless a very impressive wine that continues the recent upward progression. 91-93+.
- Sarget de Gruaud Larose (St Julien; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot; tasted, hastily, at the property with Arnaud Frédéric). Like Le Petit Lion, this is a very fine genuine second wine in a vintage in which they are few and far between. Pure, precise, crunchy cassis fruit on the nose and, again, on the palate. This is impressively constructed for a second wine in a difficult vintage. The quality of the tannin management is particularly notable, imparting a lovely svelte texture despite the not inconsiderable density. Brilliantly fresh and nicely balanced on the finish. Bravo. 90-92+.
- C de Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 13.5% alcohol without chaptalisation and after 20% whole bunch fermentation; a final yield of 41 hl/ha; vinified separately in Martillac and an entirely separate wine from Les Carmes Haut-Brion itself; aging in a combination of foudres, barriques and amphorae; tasted at the property). Note: Patience will be required here as this will not be released until it is bottled. Another amazingly accomplished wine from the talented Guillaume Pouthier. He always seems a step ahead of what nature throws at him – here, for instance, spraying talc on his vines to absorb moisture and reduce the threat and damage of mildew – to very good effect, judging by the impressive overall yield. It seems obvious when you think about it; and the point is that he thinks about it – a lot! This is very true to itself – with characteristic saline notes, walnut oil, a bright croquant berry fruit and wild spring flowers. In the mouth, this is lithe, glossy and limpid. The whole-bunch fermentation, as well as reducing the alcohol (here to a level others only seem to attain with chaptalisation!), reinforces the natural salinity of the terroir. The pure and precise blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit is accompanied by cracked green peppercorns, a sprinkling of fleur de sel and – as ever – a touch of iron oxide accompanying the lovely graphite and stony minerality. This has a pleasing natural sweetness to the fruit and lovely chewy, crumbly but perfectly ripe tannins that grip nicely to help structure the glorious long fantail finish. 92-94.
- Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 10% Petit Verdot; 13.5% alcohol; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). This continues the recent rich vein of form here, even in a rather more challenging vintage. On the nose, this is floral (with wild hedgerow flowers) and nutty, too with a dark, plump and pulpy damson, sloe and blueberry fruit accompanied by a saline and ferrous minerality. The favourable impressions continue on the palate, which is lithe and sinuous, generously structured but at the same time soft and elegant. The tannins grip nicely and there is a pleasingly luminous, almost radiant, quality to the mid-palate. A great result for the vintage. Very fine, classic, refined and yet delicate too with a fine sense of harmony. 92-94.
- Picque Caillou (Pessac-Léognan; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 10% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Walnut shell and a very cool, dark damson and plum fruit; a little cherry skin too. Lovely skin-notes again feature on the palate; it’s like chewing a fresh ripe grape or a black cherry skin. This is very bright with a lovely compact and concentrated mid-palate. A great success in this vintage and likely, as ever, to represent excellent value. 91-93.
- Couhins Lurton blanc (Pessac-Léognan; 100% Sauvignon Blanc; tasted at the UGCB press tasting and at the property with Jacques Lurton; small production, alas, due to considerable frost damage).This was picked in successive tries in the vineyard to optimise ripeness and, appropriately enough, seems almost exotically Sauternes-esque in its fruit profile. Grapefruit, gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf, passionfruit and passionflower, jasmine and citron pressé notes vie for one’s attention. There is great vertical lift here and impressive dynamism. This is bright, aerial, tight and electric – charged by its exciting, explosive freshness. There’s almost a popping candy element which brings fabulous precision and pixilated brilliance to the mid-palate. I love it. Best ever from here. 92-94.
- De Fieuzal blanc (Pessac-Léognan; 65% Sauvignon Blanc; 35% Sémillon; 12.8% alcohol; a final yield greatly reduced by frost; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Classy. Crystalline in appearance with enticing green highlights. Quite austere in a way – and less oak on the nose than in recent vintages; though it builds. White flowers and the sensation of being in a garden. Crunchy apple skin and 50 shades of citrus; quince; and a striking flinty minerality. Lovely wild herbal elements too. Bright and racy, the wood adding a touch of spice that is very pleasant. A light and lovely natural sweetness that is very ‘de Fieuzal’ and that works very well with the bright acidity. Racy, fresh and with lots of tension, this is brilliant in both senses of the term. I love the long slender finish. 92-94.
- Latour Martillac blanc (Pessac-Léognan; 57% Sauvignon Blanc; 43% Sémillon; a final yield reduced by significant frost damage; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Pronounced green highlights and still a little cloudy at this nascent stage. Floral and herbal on the nose, with lime zest and juice alongside wild herbs – thyme – and white spring flowers. Tender; delicate; juicy; lovely. There is a brilliant pick-up on the attack and this is charged with brightness, vibrancy and energy. Yet at the same time, it is subtle and refined, the citrus notes building and seemingly concentrating towards a high and lifted fresh and intensely sapid crescendo. Very nicely done. Long. This almost hints at tartness – and plays with that – but stays all the while just the right side of the wire. Lots of tension. Super! 92-94.
- Picque Caillou blanc (Pessac-Léognan; 90% Sauvignon Blanc; 10% Sémillon; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; tasted at the UGCB press tasting). Very fresh on the nose, with confit melon, lemon and white grapefruit signalling the intensity of each on the palate. This is, in turn, pure, precise, focussed and crystalline. Bright and texturally very energetic; not perhaps the most complex or layered but this is a lovely very authentic expression of its terroir. I love the minerality which is very present on the finish. Reliably brilliant value and highly recommended. 91-93+.
Lalande de Pomerol
- Canon Chaigneau (Lalande de Pomerol; 93% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 2% Malbec; 13% alcohol; a final vineyard yield of 23.7 hl/ha). A step up in quality from the Cuve 8a Beton variant, with softer tannins, above all on the attack. There is more layering and detail in the mid-palate too. We have the same sense of purity and focussed precision, though the wood tannins bring just the slightest hint of dryness to the otherwise impressive, long and tapering finish. The ferrous minerality that is very evident in the Beton cuvee is more restrained and better incorporated here, allowing the crunchy red berry and stone fruit to take the spotlight. This should age graciously. 89-91.
- Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol; 65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 13.5%; 50% new oak). Much darker-fruited than La Chenade and very Cabernet-dominated – with lovely dark herbal notes. The ferrous minerality that is often very marked here is more tender and subtle and there is a nice crushed stone minerality too. Ambitious in terms of the level of extraction, but without any dryness to the tannins or any loss of detail. Impressive mid-palate density too and the fruit covers the frame with quite a lot to spare. Not perhaps the finest grained of tannins, but a gift at anything close to its usual price and quite a step up from La Chenade in this vintage. 90-92.
- Grand Village rouge (Bordeaux Supérieur; 75% Merlot; 25% Bouchet). Limpid. Glossy. Cool. Classy. Cedar wood liberally wrapped around the fruit: blueberry and raspberry, redcurrant and redcurrant leaf, blackberries too. Crushed petals. Gloriously pure textured, with a pleasing density and concentration, yet light, lifted and with lots of mid-palate clarity. Very fine grained tannins. Plush and plump with great crunchy fruit. Spherical, sinuous and luminous in its purity. Fresh but with no elevated acidity. Great value. 92-94.
- Grand Village blanc (Bordeaux Supérieur). Very fresh, bright and energetic; lithe, but with good concentration and decent substance too. Lime, linden and jasmine. Blackcurrant leaf; Granny smith apple skin; white peach; confit grapefruit, white melon; nettles. A little hint of spice and a twist of white pepper. Super density and concentration; truly excellent. So vibrant, with lots of lift, and a lovely crystalline texture. Charged with tension. Texturally quite exciting, with fireworks from the plumes of freshness. The weight is broken up by the energy. So pure. Density without weight. Saline finish. Utterly brilliant value especially in this vintage. 93-95.
- Pagodes de Cos blanc (Bordeaux blanc; 85% Sauvignon Blanc; 15% Sémillon; just 12% alcohol; pH 3.09; aging in oak barrels 8% of which are new). Smokey. Very salty – with the tell-tale iodine sea-spray of the Northern Médoc. Confit melon, grapefruit flesh and pith, intense white flower elements as well as the more gentle jasmine component; a little fresh ginger. White peach skin and lime pressé too. Lovely texture; deep and rich; great tension. Exciting. Vertical. Big and bold and fabulously fresh and sapid. 90-92.
Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
- Clos Puy Arnaud (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; 50% Cabernet Franc; 45% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.5% alcohol; pH 3.36; cultivated biodynamically for 16 years from parcels on the clay-limestone plateau). Lovely purity and with a zingy freshness. The fruit is dark and bright and crisp – blackberries, brambles and blueberries with black cherry skin. But even more impressive is the sumptuously glossy texture; this has ultra-fine grained crumbly limestone tannins. I love the Cabernet Franc here which is deep, dark, rich and herbal in that cool summer expression of the vintage. A super wine. Lovely harmony; exquisite balance and a pleasingly dense and compact core without any loss of precision (often the risk in this vintage). 90-92.
- Montlandrie (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% natural; new oak at 50%). Chewy, big, punchy and defined by its calcaire terroir, with lovely crumbly chalky tannins. Blueberry, bramble and black berry fruit, with more cassis appearing with aeration in the glass as, indeed, with aeration in the mouth. Dense, compact with good ripe tannins. A nice touch of dark grated chocolate. This could easily be mistaken for one of the chunkier plateau St Emilions at twice the price (or more). 91-93.
- Le Rey Rocheuses (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux). Unlike Le Rey Les Argileuses, this sees a little new oak to temper the calcaire tannins. Smoky. Fresh. Bright and dynamic. Cassis. Black cherry. Supremely sapid and dynamic, a little more weight in the mouth and density and a little longer than Les Argileuses. The length here seems to come as much from the freshness than the tannins per se. Super. A nice hint of graphite too. 90-92+.
- Bourgneuf (Pomerol; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; tasted at JP Moueix in Libourne and then again from a sample sent to Paris). Aromatically intense with lots of lift, the ferrous minerality subtly expressed. On the nose, we find fruits of the forest, blueberry and a touch of black cherry skin, almond and a touch of graphite that builds with aeration. Lovely, soft and refined tannins. This is both elegant and nicely compact with a small-diameter core. The tannins grip nicely, helping to build a beautiful ultra-sapid and quite saline finish. This is very impressive and almost seems to build in concentration across the palate. Very focussed with lovely chewy tannins on the pure bramble finish. 91-93.
- Clos du Clocher (Pomerol; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; pH 3.6; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the property). It is no surprise that this is excellent, coming as it does from three prime parcels on the plateau, including Merlot planted at 37 metres on blue-clay and a bloc of Cabernet Franc next to Trotanoy. But it remains a wine that is less well known than it should be given its quality. Lovely, plump, rich and ripe blueberry and black cherry fruit with an impressive natural sweetness to it. Sumptuous on the palate, with a cool-vintage Cabernet Franc signature and the sensation of squeezing fresh dark berries between one’s teeth. A trace of graphite too and a brilliantly racy and energetic finish. The Cabernet Franc was harvested at 14% and it is the key to understanding this wine and its success in this vintage. 92-94.
- Mazeyres (Pomerol; around 25% Cabernet Franc with a little Petit Verdot too; tasted in Paris from a sample sent by the property; certified organic and biodynamic). This is excellent and deserves to be better known. Quite rich, succulent and full, with fresh, pure cassis and blueberry fruit and fresh picked wild thyme. One of those wines which you taste and immediately ask whether the property is farmed biodynamically – needless to say, it is! It reminds me a little of Fonplégade in St Emilion – pure, bright, dynamic in the mid-palate and somehow more vivid and vibrant than most. Highly recommended and likely to prove excellent value. 90-92+.
- La Petite Eglise (Pomerol; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol; 7000 bottles; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; tasted with Noëmie Durantou at the property). This has a lovely cool-vintage Pomerol nose with intense cassis and blueberry notes. Here the Merlot feels like it becomes a vehicle to express the Cabernet Franc – a little like the chorus in the opera. It brings balance and harmony but doesn’t steel the limelight. Bravo! This is sinuous and finely-textured, with lots of mid-palate interest and detail. It is likely to prove excellent value, as ever. 92-94.
- Porte-Chic (Pomerol; 70% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; around 12000 bottles were produced; 13,5% alcohol). This comes from a tiny vineyard of around 2 hectares on what used to be the horse racing track very close to the village of Pomerol itself; it was acquired in 2010 and is produced by Benoit & Jean-Louis Trocard – better known for Clos Dubreuil (in St Emilion) and Clos de la Vieille Eglise (in Pomerol). I was looking forward to tasting this (having followed the impressive evolution here since 2018). I am not disappointed. A property to watch. Lighter in extract and hue it seems than Clos de la Vieille Eglise, this has a lovely, extremely open and expressive, violet, heather and lavender-scented nose that shouts Pomerol. The tannins are luxuriant, with the fine granularity bringing pixilation and definition to the elegant and stylish mid-palate. There’s a certain austerity to this, very characteristic of the vintage, which brings nice tension to a wine that is usually just a little more immediately seductive and enticing. I rather like that. Tense, taut and quite intellectual. 92-94.
- De Sales (Pomerol; 82% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, just 17% of which are new; tasted from a samples sent to Paris). A lovely, classically Pomerol nose of violets and rose petals around ripe plum, damson and mulberry fruit; a hint of truffle and cedar too. There’s a gentle natural sweetness to this, very soft tannins and an attractive, open-textured mid palate. The acidity gathers and builds a little towards the finish, almost hinting at dryness (but no more). Finely balanced, nicely constructed and very refreshing on the finish. Another success from de Sales in the context of a more difficult vintage. 90-92+.
- Berliquet (St Emilion; 61% Merlot; 39% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30hl/ha; pH 3.41; 13.5% alcohol; tasted first at the UGCB press tasting and then again at Chateau Canon). A great success in the vintage and I wine I almost prefer to Canon itself. That it not to say that’s it’s a better wine, but I do think that it’s an even finer expression of its terroir in this vintage. On the nose, this is very lifted and vertical, with a deep, dark, concentrated damson, cherry, sloe and blackcurrant fruit. There’s lots of graphite too and a little whiff of acacia wood. It is naturally sweet on the attack and initially quite broad-shouldered. But that breadth is immediately reined in by the calcaire tannins which are incredibly suave and soft and yet very tightly and precisely structuring of the flow of the fruit across the palate. Rich and intense, long and accessible already but with a super precise long fresh tapering finish – the mouth former into the shape of whistle. Cool, refined and very expressive of its terroir. 92-94+.
- Couvent des Jacobins (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 23%Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the Association des Grands Crus Classés de St Emilion’s tasting at Chateau Dassault and at the property with Xavier Jean; Thomas Duclos is the consultant). I’ve been following the impressive recent progress here now for a number of vintages. It continues in 2021. Raspberry purée and fresh raspberries, newly hulled. There’s a nice purity and precision to this and it has an intriguing, quite complex, saline and ferrous, earthy and crushed rock minerality. The fruit is quite plump and juicy and the Petit Verdot brings cracked black and green peppercorns; there’s a little spice from the oak which is nicely incorporated. Overall, this has a fine balance to it, some energy and plenty of lift. The tannins are also very finely textured and, even when it was less well made, this is a wine that has always aged gracefully. 91-93.
- L’Etampe (St Emilion; a vineyard of 1.5 hectares between Figeac and Montlabert and with vines between 40 and 50 years of ages; 54% Merlot; 46% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels of one previous use; just 3600 bottles; biodynamic wine-making since 2017; from the excellent Vignobles Jade). Very little of this wine was produced this year, around a third less than in 2020. There’s more Cabernet Franc in the final blend as a consequence and that is immediately noticeable, with this lovely, distinct and very intense Provençale lavender scent, alongside the wild thyme, blueberries, cassis and mulberries; there’s a touch of sandalwood too, especially with a little more air. The tannins are incredibly soft and caressing and there’s a gentle natural sweetness too. The acidity is also better integrated (than, say, in Fontfleurie), but this still has the same laser-liker precision. Very impressive, if somewhat cool and austere, with a fabulously long, tight and tense, bright and lifted finish. 91-93.
- Fleur Cardinale (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 22 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol; tasted first from a sample sent to Paris and then at the Association des Grands Crus Classés de St Emilion’s tasting at Chateau Dassault with convergent notes). Blackberry and red cherry; grated cinnamon bark; liquorice root and grated black chocolate – just a sprinkle. Lithe and limpid and quite open-textured but this also displays good density and compactness. Linear, precise, focussed and with no evident wood, other than the trace of gentle sweet spices – all nicely incorporated. This is finely detailed, bright, energetic and luminous. Very much a success, with a lovely sense of balance; it has not been pushed too far. 91-93+.
- Fleur de Lisse (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 8.65 hectares with vines aged between 40 and 50 years on the foot of the limestone slopes of Saint-Etienne de Lisse; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; biodynamic wine-making since 2017; aging in oak foudres, barriques and in amphora; Jean-Claude & Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants here; from the excellent Vignobles Jade). Another wine from Vignobles Jade with a lot more Cabernet Franc in the final blend than in 2020. Austere and a little firm and reclusive on the nose at first – with sandalwood, saffron and wild hedgerow flowers accompanying the fresh brambles, mulberries and blueberries – loganberries too, especially as this inhales and finally starts to exhale. A wonderfully tense and taut attack that I really love texturally, with both incredibly soft and fine-grained limestone tannins (with just a little crumble to them) and also a vivid sense of bright acidity that is seamlessly integrated into the structure and texture of the wine from the moment it touches the palate. Vibrant and energetic. Yet very delicate and elegant too and with decent substance and concentration. The balance is exquisite. Glorious florality and minerality on the finish. 91-93+.
- Fonplégade (St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; organic and in conversion to biodynamic viticulture since 2017; tasted at the Association des Grands Crus Classés de St Emilion’s tasting at Chateau Dassault). A spectacular wine in the context of the vintage and something of a revelation for me – I have been impressed by this before, but it seems to attained another level in this vintage. Aromatically expressive, intense and engaging on the nose, with a vibrant, wild, fresh berry fruit and a very lifted and vertical presentation. There’s a little twist of the pencil-sharpener that emerges with aeration and notes of wild thyme too, but this is really all about the pure fruit. Bright, energetic and lithe on the palate too, with the dynamism that so often comes with biodynamic viticulture (I tasted that first before recalling that this property was in biodynamic conversion). Lots of detail and definition. A great success. 92-94.
- Fonroque (St Emilion; 69% Merlot; 31% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 27 hl/ha; tasted at the Association des Grands Crus Classés de St Emilion’s tasting at Chateau Dassault). Floral – with violets and chocolate-coated violet; cassis and brambles, damsons and sloes, plump black cherries too; and graphite, with more cedary notes on the palate. On the palate this is tense and tender. One of the relatively few wines of the appellation to have lots of interest and layering in the mid-palate, with the crystalline crunchy berry fruit the star attraction. Not massive but all in harmony; eloquent and precise with a lovely sense of drive and focus. 92-94.
- Grand Corbin Despagne (St Emilion; 75% Merlot; 24% Cabernet Franc; 1% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of just 19 hl/ha (around half the normal); 13.4% alcohol; pH 3.58; tasted at the Association des Grands Crus Classés de St Emilion’s tasting at Chateau Dassault). Rich dark berry and cherry fruit; hibiscus flowers, with a hint of saffron too; and walnut shell and oil. Quite intense and aromatically very expressive. Good ripe fruit, but charged with energy and freshness too. Nice pinch from the crumbly tannins which structure this into two waves, the second very sapid and juicy and refreshing. Not as great as the 2016 or 2019, but a lovely wine nonetheless and very much in the style of recent vintages. Lots of tension, finesse and yet quite an impressive sense of structure and concentration too. Likely, as ever, to prove excellent value. 92-94.
- Laroque (St Emilion; 99% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% alcohol; pH 3.49; a final yield of a most impressive 41 hl/ha; tasted with David Suire and the property). This occupies the glass beautifully, with a shocking lilac/purple rim and a luminous limpidity. There was no frost at Laroque and the elevation and associated circulation of the air reduced the mildew pressure – as did the genetic diversity of the old-vine Merlot (as David Suire explained, the vines tend not to suffer all at the same time which allows for a more targeted approach to interventions). This is incredibly fine, incredibly pure and shockingly bright, with a highly expressive, elemental and essential calcaire Merlot personality. Raspberry, blackberry, bramble and cassis fruit, with a hint of walnut shell and a stony/rocky minerality. On the palate this is poised and tender, with perhaps the best Merlot tannins of the entire appellation in this vintage. Wow! Texturally, this is brilliant – so pure, fluid, glistening and crystalline and with a miraculously soft mouthfeel. There is great elegance and finesse, but above all this feels entirely natural. I love the little fountains of fresh fruit juice that periodically refresh and recharge the palate. One of those wines that feels like it comes from a living place. It makes one think that one can judge the quality of the management of the environment from the quality and naturalness of the wine. Really brilliant and has to be tasted to be believed. 93-95.
- Lassègue (St Emilion; 56% Merlot; 36% Cabernet Franc; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; just 70% new oak; 13.5% alcohol; pH 3.64; tasted at the property with Pierre Seillan). Fresh, bright and with a little freshly grated dark chocolate, white pepper and crushed rose petals and lilac alongside the intense blueberries, brambles, black cherries and crushed raspberries. There is a lovely aromatic complexity here and no discernible oak influence other than a little bit of roasted coffee bean. In the mouth we have an impressive limpidity and viscosity. The palate is dominated by the cool tranquillity of the Cabernet Franc which it is lovely to have here at 35%. There’s a touch of graphite too and a wild garrigue herbal element. The tannins are supple and svelte and this has good compactness and density. The finish is long and this exudes balance and harmony. Deeply impressive in the context of this – indeed, any – vintage. 92-94.
- Puyblanquet (St Emilion; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 13.7% alcohol; pH 3.43; tasted at Chateau La Gaffelière). Bought in 2020 by La Gaffelière which is ironic in a way, as it was sold by the Malet-Rocquefort family in 1959 to help them acquire La Gaffelière in the first place. This is well-placed next to de Pressac and Valandraud and we can expect significant investment. There is already more selection and more green harvesting. This is the second vintage and the first (I think) to be presented en primeur. The wine is classy, glossy and tender, with a fresh and pure blueberry and blackberry fruit, a little graphite and nice crumbly tannins. It has lovely texture and is made very much in the pure and precise style of La Gaffelière. There’s a lovely salinity too on the finish. A work in progress, but certainly one to watch. 90-92.
- Saintayme (St Emilion; 100% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are next; tasted at L’Eglise Clinet with Noëmie Durantou). Lovely deep dark cassis and cherry fruit and nice cool climate Merlot. There’s a little new oak and its vanilla and spice but this will integrate nicely with time. Ripe, full, and quite rich for the vintage. Lovely tannins and a pleasing natural sweetness. A good chewy finish too. Likely to be excellent value. 89-91.
- La Tour St Christophe (St Emilion; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 13.6% alcohol; tasted at Bellefont-Belcier). Nicely composed and quite subtle, gentle and serine, with loads of cedar arriving with aeration, enrobing as it does so the ripe, succulent dark berry fruit – raspberries, black raspberries, blueberries and black currant. This is a reposing wine that seems to be choosing somehow what it wishes to express today and what it will leave for another day. It has a lovely calcaire lift to it, plenty of energy and is very well balanced. The well-chiselled structural frame is quite densely packed and this feels dynamic and energetic. There’s a nice trace of graphite and a lovely tapering long and very refreshing finish. 92-94.
- Bastor Lamontagne (Sauternes; 55% Sauvignon Blanc; 45% Sémillon; 13% alcohol; a final yield of 1 hl/ha; tasted twice, on consecutive days, at the UGCB press tasting). The first wine in the Sauternes flight at the UGCB tasting and it had everyone talking. It is exceptionally good, even for the vintage. The best I’ve ever tasted from Bastor Lamontagne. Apricots. Confit lemon. Ginger – grated and crystallised too. Lithe and dynamic in the mouth, with the palpable richness and concentration delightfully broken up by the intermittent release of bright acidity – like fireworks against the dark night sky. Vibrant, energetic, with lovely lemon curd and tarte au citron notes and a little fleur d’oranger on the finish. A brilliant success from this underappreciated property. 92-94+.