25th May 2022
FRANCE, BORDEAUX, Sauternes
25th May 2022
Cut to the chase; while the 2021 growing season was brutal in Sauternes and Barsac, quality is very high. Those looking for something from this vintage to put in their cellars and who love this style of wine shouldn't hesitate to buy. Considering the enormous effort that goes into producing every bottle and the amount of intellectual and hedonic pleasure these wines can give over many years, no table wine can touch these unctuous beauties in terms of value for money.
The biggest problem in this area of Bordeaux in 2021 was the frost.
Some producers, such as Château Climens in Barsac, lost everything to the frost.
Yields were also impacted by hail in June and mildew in July. But on the plus side, it was a cool and humid vintage, ideal conditions for the slow, measured development of botrytis.
The 2021 harvest took place mainly in three passes. The first was before the rains in early October, and the second occurred in mid-October, during dry conditions, providing the core for the wines. The last pass took place at the end of October.
The results are complex, multi-layered wines that possess impressive botrytis signatures, and they are rich yet well-balanced by laser-fine backbones of acidity. The best wines' tightly wound profiles and solid structures promise thirty years or more of cellaring potential.
According to Douane (French customs), average yields for Sauternes from 2015-to 2020 were 24,695 hectoliters per year. Yields in 2021 were 5,381 hectoliters. Average yields for Barsac over that same period were 5,459 hectoliters. In 2021, yields were less than a tenth of that: 543 hectoliters. As you can imagine, many producers of this style are under enormous financial strain. This information does not impact my reviews, but I put it out there to make you aware that some growers here are near breaking point.
Should you have problems finding any 2021 sweets (understandable, given the yields), check out my report on the 2019s, another outstanding vintage for Sauternes and Barsac. Yields were also below average in 2019 but certainly better than in 2021.
Apart from yields, diminished sales of sweet wines have been an all too real problem for growers in Sauternes and Barsac. Therefore, they have been looking to develop new dry white wines from their vineyards in Sauternes, but because the AC is only for sweet wines, they must label the wines as "Bordeaux." Some growers are trying to develop a new dry Sauternes AC, such as Sauternes Sec. There has been some pushback on this, but I think it is an excellent idea because it highlights where the grapes are grown and indicates the style. I find that the best dry whites from this area possess signatures unique from, say, Pessac-Leognan, with Sauternes delivering a more mineral-driven and precise, citrusy style. Suduiraut has just launched a new dry range, which is reviewed here. Alternatively, I am seriously taken with the style of Domaine de L'Alliance's "Déclinaison" label, which is a 100% Sémillon dry white made from botrytized grapes—well worth checking out.
Happy Sauternes Hunting!
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photos by Johan Berglund
Our thanks to Bill Blatch for organizing a tasting of the 2021 Sauternes in Bordeaux and his valuable comments on the growing season.
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