12 December 2022
The Burgundy market and the 2021 vintage
Soaring prices set the stage for release of the low volume 2021s
The release of the 2021 Burgundy vintage comes on the heels of another stellar year for the regional market. We wrote a year ago about the boom times in Burgundy, and the region’s wines continued to fetch ever higher prices in 2022.
The annual Hospices de Beaune auction on 20 November set records left, right and centre – the EUR31 million raised was roughly double the previous total and marked the highest figure for any charity wine auction ever. The Pièce des Présidents, sold in memory of the late-Louis-Fabrice Latour, sold for EUR810,000, also a new record.
However, not everything comes easy for top Burgundy producers; the new 2021 vintage conjures up memories of a challenging growing season. Some of the Cult Wines’ team recently visited Burgundy, tasting the new wines and meeting with producers. Here, we summarise their views.
Winery of Domaine Louis Jadot
Views on the 2021 vintage
True Burgundy devotees will appreciate the charm of a vintage like 2021. You’re likely to hear 2021 referred to as ‘traditional’ or ‘classic’, terms that can cover a wide range of views. In this case, ‘traditional’ references the pure Burgundian nature of the 2021 vintage, when cooler temperatures and variable weather recalled decades past rather than the hot, dry summers in 2019 and 2020 (and again in 2022).
Traditional can also reference Burgundy’s calling card – the patchwork of unique micro terroirs and vineyard parcels. 2021 tested the skills of winemakers and magnified the strengths (and weaknesses) of individual terroirs. The multitude of expressions that emerge from 2021 will delight Burgundy fans who seek out its nuances even if the vintage as a whole is not as crowd pleasing as its warmer predecessors.
But not satisfied with simply labelling the vintage ‘traditional’, our team reported back the following details about Burgundy’s 2021s:
Frosts, hail and disease cut crops by 50% - 80% in some areas. Some producers have said they will not release certain 2021 vintage Premier and Grand Crus. This scarcity factor should exert upward price pressure on the new and back vintage wines alike.
Reds – Better than expected
The Côte de Nuits fared better than the Côte de Beaune overall, which points to more consistency in the 2021 reds than the whites. Compared to 2020, the new 2021s are more approachable in youth but the best sites still offer impressive complexity and polish.
“I tasted many 2021s earlier this year in barrel and again recently. They’ve improved remarkably over the year with a surprising level of definition and nuance across the best sites,” said Andrea Marino, Cult Wines Senior Buyer.
Whites – Highs and lows
The best 2021 whites are what Bourgogne Blanc is truly meant to be. The cooler temperatures meant slower ripening, allowing for full flavour development alongside bright acidity and freshness. However, the Côte de Beaune suffered the worst from the weather variations, meaning Chardonnay volumes took the biggest hits. There are also some disappointments in quality when the acidity was too high, resulting in overdone malolactic conversion flavours.
2021 growing season
The trials of the growing season began with devastating frosts in early April which brought dramatic pictures of candles and torches burning in the vineyards to the world’s media. Frosts are not unusual, but a warm winter and spring triggered early budburst, meaning the frosts killed many of the nascent grapes. Chardonnay vines, which bud earlier than Pinot Noir, experienced greater losses.
Cooler, wetter weather remained for much of the summer and spots of hail caused some damage in Gevrey-Chambertin. The damp conditions brought risk of disease, but astute growers responded by pruning leaves to open up airflow and increase sun exposure.
Location made a big impact throughout the year. Many hillside Premier and Grand Crus emerged relatively unscathed from the frosts and the sunnier sites enjoyed more consistent ripening and less disease pressure. Selection of the grapes was also vital; winemakers could often maintain high standards of their top wines if they accepted large volumes declines.
August and September fortunately brought a much-needed string of sunny, dry conditions to allow for a healthy final stage of ripening. Reports suggest harvesting took place roughly a month later than in 2020.
Cult Wine Investment's approach and outlook:
The scarcity of the new 2021 releases into a market that already featured a supply-demand imbalance suggests Burgundy prices could continue to trend higher. However, higher release prices are expected, as many producers will look to compensate for the low quantities by capitalising on the surging prices in recent years.
Therefore, buyers should also remain selective, especially due to the variable quality. Indeed, back vintages for some wines may represent better quality and/or value, and we expect more back vintages releases than usual. Many producers have held back stock in recent years and could supplement the low supply of the 2021s with prior years.
Some of the 2021 success stories
One of the brightest stars in Gevrey-Chambertin, Pierre Duroché has produced some top-flight Grand Crus in 2021. While volumes may be down, quality is high, especially in the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze and Latricières-Chambertin, which display all the power, depth and finesse one wants in the Grand Cru.
Faiveley’s wines have really hit their stride after the completion of the new winery in 2018. The 2021 range of Premier Cru and Grand Cru reds displayed the level of precision, tannin and concentration of a great vintage. The Nuits-St-Georges Les Saint Georges Premier Cru really stood out. Among the whites, Batard Montrachet, as expected, was a delight.
Our team found successes among both the Maison Joseph Drouhin reds and whites. The reds were some of the most classic, well-rounded expressions of the various Premier and Grand Crus. The Drouhin 2021 whites are some of the standouts of the vintage, including Premier Crus Meursault Perrieres and Chassagne-Morgeot, which were both full-boded, well-structured expressions of the terroirs. The Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru also lived up to its potential.
Here, we found a perfect example of the 2021 vintage – low volumes but fantastic quality with distinctive terroir expressions. The Premier and Grand Crus radiated purity and nuance with the Morey-Saint-Denis Les Genavrieres and Clos des Ormes Premier Crus particular highlights. Tawse’s village level wines stood out as well as some of the best at that level in 2021.
A very impressive showing for this producer on the rise. Olivier seems to know how to get the best character out of each vintage and each parcel. His 2021s are a touch lighter than the 2020s with less tannins, but the incredible balance and precision captures the different terroirs just right. His Bonnes-Mares and Mazis-Chambertin offer incredible complexity and nuance.