2021 vintage – a tricky growing season with low volumes but good quality
The buyers’ reports highlight the fact that every year brings different challenges and opportunities to wine regions. After all, grape-growing is farming, with weather playing a crucial role. Significant frosts during spring impacted most of France, which has meant yields are down, especially for white wines.
In Burgundy, the combination of smaller volumes and growing demand has unavoidably led to price increases. As a result, the 2021 Society’s White Burgundy is increasing in price from £9.95 to £12.95. This week, I have tasted the finished blend and the quality is excellent. We saw this coming and took action early in 2021 and am pleased to say we have come up with an alternative and delicious chardonnay called Le Stopgap (£8.50), a blend that Marcel has created from fruit grown in southern France and some from Burgundy’s Mâconnais.
New wines, new discoveries
2022 is the year we will make up for lost time visiting vineyards and wineries across the world. There is no better way to discover new wines, exclusive blends or innovative styles by spending time exploring and tasting directly with winemakers. Expect to hear more from The Society about these discoveries.
In the meantime, we will be launching a new white wine under The Society’s label, our first Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc. The Society’s French Dry White has been tweaked to include a vat of vermentino which has bolstered its flavour. The Society’s Beaujolais now comes from the much-vaunted Pierres Dorées region to the south of Beaujolais and is scented and appealing. From Spain, look out for the new Exhibition Ribera del Duero which comes from Bohórquez.
From Burgundy, Toby has discovered two new ‘entry-level’ reds (below £26 is entry level in this part of the world!) – read his report to find out more. From Champagne, look out for more releases from the 2012 vintage, as well as the excellent 2015s. And from our members’ favourite area, Bordeaux, we have picked up some fantastic parcels of 2012 which will be offered later this year.
Director of Wine
2021 was a great vintage in Austria, with winemakers very happy with both quality and quantity. Stylistically, it sits between the outstanding but very warm 2019 vintage and the cooler, wetter 2020, but seemingly demonstrates the best qualities of both.
Early tastings have shown wines with mouthwatering ripe fruit and very high acidity, which stand the top wines in good stead for many years of ageing. It also means the entry-level wines are deliciously refreshing but with more upfront fruit and a little more opulence than their 2020 counterparts. The harvest wasn’t too early and there are reports from Kremstal and Kamptal only having to pause harvest very briefly for a tiny amount of rain, otherwise conditions were perfect.
Personally, as much as 2019 was a very special vintage, what I have tasted so far from 2021 has been very exciting and the wines are very ‘complete’, the best of which will reward drinkers for years to come. Riesling is a real star in higher-acidity vintages such as this, however grüner veltliner from Lamm, Käferberg and Dechant vineyards in the Kamptal are outstanding based on early tastings this February. The most telling sign of all is the excitement of the winemakers who have been so keen to show off the wines; none of those with whom we work regularly have disappointed. If you pick and choose your vintages, this is not one to miss out on.
This marks a second year, where due to Omicron’s winter peak, and a French lockdown, I was unable to taste the 2021 vin clair in the cellars of Reims and Epernay. Instead, yet again, I was opening beer-bottle-sized samples at home to taste these still wines from around the region.
2021, unlike the previous three vintages, was a year where there was too much water rather than too little. Unfortunately, too much of this fell in heavy downpours, hail, or as frost. There is no cushioning it: 2021 in Champagne was a tough vintage.
A mild spring that led to early vegetative growth from March meant that the vines were incredibly vulnerable when late-spring frosts occurred on 12 nights between 6th April and 3rd May. This will have devastated the potential yields for some vineyards losing more than others, but with an estimated region-wide loss at around 30%. A mild May led to storms through June, triggering mildew problems that viticultural teams had to carefully manage. An especially hard year for those organic producers or any in conversion.
Harvest started on 6th September and the risk of botrytis was high, so grapes were brought in quickly, with some of the best results coming from those plots left towards the end of the month, perhaps especially from the cru of the Côte des Blancs where the quality of the chardonnay towards the end of the season was starting to cheer winemakers who otherwise will already be looking to 2022.
However, it is easy to forget that tricky vintages in Champagne are the historic norm. It is the root of why the region’s major export is non-vintage blends, which I am sure is why once in the cellar, those suppliers focused on quality will be able to work their magic.
This year, look out for more releases from the 2012 vintage which are on point, as well as the 2015s, which are looking very strong.
Sarah Knowles MW
Due to Italy’s long and varied geography, it is hard to make generic statements about any vintage, but in 2021 it really was a complex story. Another year of reasonably tough lockdown measures meant another year where winemakers and owners were able to focus all their energy in the vineyards and react to weather change. This will have made the difference for some of our suppliers.
Great news came from the Veneto, where prosecco producers were quick to state that the glera harvest in 2021 was of ‘exceptional’ quality, producing ripe, balanced and healthy grapes. This was echoed through September and October by neighbouring producers across Veneto and Friuli that despite challenges from extreme weather episodes such as frost, the quality coming into the winery was cause for celebration. Yields were a little down across the region by about 10%, but the samples of pinot grigio, corvina and garganega I am now tasting look superb. It will be exciting to see how the ripassos and amarones fare, but optimism is high. These are definitely wines to look out for and enjoy this year.
The combination of spring frosts (you may remember the torchlit vineyard images coming out of France last year) and a dry growing season has impacted yields in 2021. Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi explained that weather conditions, coupled with the lockdown pause on local culling, meant that pest pressure was also higher in 2021, with wild boar and deer consuming more than their fair share of water-rich grapes. Final yields look to be around 25-30% down, confirming that 2021 was a challenging vintage. However, on a visit in November, many winemakers were feeling quietly reassured by the quality they were seeing in tank, even if not all barrels were filled, so we will have to wait and see how the 2021s develop.
Meanwhile, there are still a few 2016 riservas being released which are showing beautifully and should be snapped up. The concentration and structure of 2017 is now in balance and the elegance and charm of the 2018s are really looking good.
Excitingly, the 2019s are also coming into stock, which looks set to be a very strong vintage for sangiovese, with the best wines showing great cellar potential.
Total yields are down again in Piedmont by around 10%, mostly due to spring frosts, however a dry, warm-to-hot season relied upon good diurnal variation, allowing the grapes time to ripen. It’s too soon to tell, but the winemakers we work with are holding their breath on this challenging but potentially good-quality year.
Elsewhere, 2019s from the Langhe and Barbaresco are coming to market and are increasing the anticipation that this will be a particularly strong vintage. Barolos from 2018 have just been released and have great elegance and balance, offering charm and drinkability rarely seen with young nebbiolo. The 2017s still have firm structures and intense fruit cores from the warmer conditions so may need further time, but look out for any 2010s which are really hitting their stride.
South and Islands
The lack of rain in Puglia is starting to impact growers, and yields were down by 5% in 2021, whereas in Basilicata and Campania, rain in June offered some relief to the warm vintage, and in Calabria good water-table levels meant that 2021 from the south should have some very good wines for members.
Sicily was one of the only regions with a higher-than-average yield, with the west of the island having a particularly strong year.
Sarah Knowles MW
2021 is a much fresher vintage in Alsace, quite different from the run of recent vintages. It is the result of a long harvest, waiting for the grapes to reach maturity, after a wet and sometimes tricky season, particularly further south. It should favour the pinot blancs, rieslings and sylvaner in particular. Alsace was not hit as hard by frost as some regions of France but there were losses in the vineyards nevertheless, particularly of the three pinot varieties.
Harvest continued well into October, even for crémants (which could be very good), and it looks as if there will be some exceptional wines, but less consistency than we’ve seen in recent years. It is early days, and the strong acidity will mean wines are likely to need time, so we will look forward to tasting more to assess the wines’ full potential in due course.
2020 was a much easier vintage all round, and the wines are looking accessible quite early. 2019 was a year marked by drought and even heatwaves, but the wines have a refreshing acidity and balance and more of these wines will be released over the coming year. 2018s, 2017s and 2016s are already accessible; 2015s are powerful but starting to open up. 2010 remains the standout drinking vintage of the past two decades.
Despite recent short harvests, Alsace has the benefit of reserve stocks, so will still be able to offer white wines when other regions risk running short.
Joanna Locke MW
The Loire was one of the regions of France hit hard by consecutive spring frosts in 2021. Harvest was late, after a cool summer and challenging early season. Losses vary across the valley, even within appellation, but volumes of chardonnay, pinot noir, muscadet and sauvignon blanc are down severely in some places.
In Muscadet, the impact of the frost was worse than in 2016, 2017 or 2019. Chenin blanc was also hit, but there could be some great wines for those with the patience and attention to detail in the vineyards that allowed them to wait for full ripeness. The run of short harvests, shortage of reserve stocks, and such a dramatic 2021 mean that producers are having to put their prices up this year, which we will help to moderate as much as possible.
There is good news from the 2021 vintage, however. The white wines are pure and precise, with marked acidity, in contrast to the run of riper vintages of the past few years: a more classic vintage, but with none of the faults of old. There are sure to be some great wines made, but they may need a little time to open up. It was a trickier vintage for the reds. Crop management, picking dates and careful handling in the cellar will be critical to achieve a good end result.
Growers have been missing the steady flow of UK visitors, and especially Society members, so will be delighted to see anyone keen to get back out to the Loire. This year, go for 2018 and 2021 vintages for a fresher Loire style, 2019 and 2020 for more concentration. Young 2020 and 2019 reds are delicious, and the more classical 2017 and 2014 vintages are now coming out of their shell.
Joanna Locke MW
There was something of a north/south divide in Portugal in 2021, in some ways a return to a more normal (mixed) pattern than has been the case in the climate change-affected vintages of the past few years. In the fine central belt of Bairrada and Dão, white grapes had an easier time than reds. Generally, there is an overall fresher feel to the wines – a particular advantage to the typically drier, hotter areas of the Alentejo, Setúbal and Tejo in the southern half of the country.
The north was more affected by sporadic, sometimes heavy, rains, including during harvest itself in the Douro valley, but with vineyards in good shape, and the will and ability to wait for the vineyards to recover, some excellent wines have been made. Charles Symington has commented on the tremendous colour in the port musts, with a freshness common to their DOC wines in the Alentejo and Douro, as well as ports.
Summer was cool by Portugal’s standards, but cool nights were a positive for longer, slower ripening and acid retention in the grapes, particularly in the Atlantic-influenced Lisboa region, and alcohols will tend to be lower, even in the usually low-alcohol Vinho Verde wines.
This year, look out for characterful and invigorating 2021 whites, and continue to enjoy the run of generous red vintages. Indulge in your vintage ports from 2000, 1994, 1985, 1960 and 1963 if you are lucky enough still to have them. And continue to enjoy the wood-aged ports and madeiras which are a treat any time of the year.
At the time of writing, there is no word yet on whether any 2020 vintage ports will be released, nor indeed whether the Fladgate Partnership will release any 2019s, which they opted not to do when others declared last year.
Joanna Locke MW
Spain is moving into a new era for its winemaking and grape-growing as it consolidates its strengths as a world-class source of wine. There is a new generation of winemakers who are skilfully modernising their approaches while retaining the historic attributes of the country’s vineyards. New is meeting old and the results are better than the sum of both these parts. This is the case for all wine styles: whites, reds, rosados and sparkling.
Rioja is a hotbed of brilliance, where it is more important than ever to follow the bodega, as each has a philosophy that translates into wine style, whether traditional, contemporary or somewhere in between.
The 2021 season is proving a tricky one to classify – the weather was volatile throughout spring and summer, and picking date was critical to quality. With oak ageing such a significant part of the Rioja formula, it is too early for me to assess. 2020 is good, 2019 excellent (look out for the next Contino 939 en primeur which I have just blended – it’s full, ripe and impressive).
Our releases this year for members to look out for are 2015, a brilliant vintage. The 2010s continue to age well, in particular the gran reservas. Rioja’s whites continue to be underrated and I have plans to extend our range this year with some new wines.
Ribera del Duero continues to fine-tune its style. The wines are less excessive, finer and more harmonious, and at last oak is being used carefully to enhance rather than dominate. We will release a new Exhibition Ribera del Duero this year which was created with this in mind.
Across Spain, reds are being crafted that are brighter and fresher from a host of local grapes. Garnacha continues to impress at all levels, as does monastrell. Mencía is exciting and shows Spain’s ability to make refined cool-climate reds in the country’s north-west.
Lebanon is facing a political, economic and social crisis with inflation at record levels. Despite these challenges it is nothing short of heroic that wine continues to be made with every vintage. We will release the new 2016 from Chateau Musar this year and continue to be impressed by the wines for Faouzi Issa from Domaine des Tourelles.
Early vintage reports on Burgundy can be misleading so we wait a year to give a more accurate appraisal. However, it is worth noting at this early stage that volumes in 2021 were tiny across the region, especially for the whites, due to a combination of frost, hail and mildew during the growing season.
Supply-and-demand pressures inevitably lead to price increases, in particular on the bulk wine market, and as a result the 2021 Society’s White Burgundy, our bestselling wine, has unfortunately seen a sizeable price rise, from £9.95 to £12.95 a bottle. Thankfully, the quality of this year’s blend is excellent.
2020 – ripe yet fresh in character, excellent in quality
A very warm dry year with no frost produced beautifully ripe grapes, which nevertheless retained good levels of acidity given the maturity level.
Overall, the white wines are consistently excellent, and in some cases possibly great. Despite the warm year, yields and alcohols were at near-normal levels and the wines have a classic balance to them. It is difficult to explain why. There is none of the over-ripeness one can find in 2003, 2015 and 2016. It’s the best year since 2017 and possibly 2014. It’s difficult to go wrong in 2020. I highly recommend it.
There are some great wines in 2020, but quality is less homogenous than the whites. Record levels of colour and tannins were registered, and for the most part the tannin character is ripe and sweet. Also, the acidity levels have remained high for the level of ripeness, most below pH4.5. This gives ripe yet balanced wines with great ripeness and depth of flavour while retaining freshness. There is a lot more use of whole-bunch fermentation, which reduces extraction and promotes perceived freshness. There are virtually no figgy or jammy wines.
The variability in character and quality of the reds is often due to the picking date. In red wines, sugar levels (and thus alcohol levels post-fermentation), are largely proportional to photosynthesis which is determined by mainly heat and light. But tannin maturity often needs a certain amount of time and is much less related to weather conditions. In warm years, one often gets grapes with ideal sugar ripeness of, say, 13-13.5% but tannins may be green or slightly unripe.
The dilemma is either to pick at ideal alcohol levels and have slightly unripe tannins, or wait until full tannin ripeness but with alcohols a little higher than desired, perhaps 14-14.5%. There are successes at both extremes, and between them. Personal preference may determine which you prefer.
What to drink now
Wines under £20 a bottle from vintages 2018/2019/2020 will already be drinking well. These are ripe, forward vintages. 2020 tastes like a cool vintage and while these wines will be approachable young, they will also keep well. For wines above £20, snap up any remaining 2017 vintage wines which are balanced and fine flavoured.
Finding good entry-level red Burgundy (below £26 is entry level in Burgundy!) is like searching for the Holy Grail. It is all but impossible. So, imagine my surprise when I found a superb wine from Caroline Bellavoine. Her 2020 pinot from the Couchois is £17.50, and Gautier Desvignes has taken over the family domaine and is making lovely village Givry 2019 for £20. Domaine Changarnier are producing fine-boned 2019 Monthélie for £26. For wines above £50, 2011 is tasting well, as are some 2013s. Some lesser 2010s, a wonderful cool year, are just starting to emerge. 2015 is a great year but still closed at this level. Give them more time.
My first overseas buying trip since the pandemic was in October, just as the top Bordeaux châteaux were picking the last of their 2021 grapes. My overall impression from the visit was that 2021 marks a return to a more traditional style of wines, with lower alcohol levels and less richness than the previous three vintages.
It was also clear that there is considerable variation in both overall quality and yields from one vineyard to another. It will be vital for me to conduct extensive tastings this spring when I visit the region for the 2021 en primeur tastings to pick out the best of the crop for our en primeur offers.
Henri Lurton, the owner of Château Brane Cantenac, described 2021 as ‘a pretty vintage – more classic than the three that preceded it’. I was lucky enough to taste from several tanks that had finished their alcoholic fermentation with Henri in his cellar. The overall impression that I got was of perfumed, clean-cut fruit with no hint of greenness or unripeness. It will be interesting to see how the 2021s have evolved when I return to Bordeaux. Keep a look out for my vintage report following my tastings and as we launch our primeurs campaign.
During my October visit to Bordeaux, I also did extensive tastings of what the Bordeaux négociants call livrables, which simply means wines immediately available in bottle, as opposed to young wines in barrel or tank. Our sales of Bordeaux over the past two years have increased rapidly, and so our stocks of mature and maturing claret have dwindled. One of my primary tasks was, therefore, to start replenishing and rebuilding stocks to make sure we have plenty of delicious wines for the coming months and years. The good news is that there is still plenty of good wine to be found.
Bordeaux has been blessed with a series of very fine vintages in recent years, so I have been buying heavily in vintages such as 2019, 2018 and 2016. I have also managed to pick up some parcels of interesting wines from 2012, now 10 years old, which we will be offering this year.
In the sub-£10 price category, I firmly believe that Bordeaux offers tremendous value for money. The good news is that we still have stock of delicious petit château clarets from the excellent 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages which we will continue to offer throughout this year.
Finally, for those with wines in storage in Stevenage or at home, here are some vintages for more premium Bordeaux that are drinking particularly well now.
Starting to drink: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2005.
Drinking now: 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2004, 2001, 2000.
Like much of France, Beaujolais experienced tricky weather conditions throughout much of the growing season in 2021. A combination of frost and mildew has led to tiny yields and this, combined with growing demand for Beaujolais, has put considerable pressure on prices.
Unlike regions such as Bordeaux, where there are normally stocks of several older vintages available to smooth out the impact of smaller crops from a particular year, Beaujolais producers basically only have one vintage in their cellars – the latest one – so there is little scope for moderating the effects of a small crop.
The awkward weather conditions in 2021 has meant a return to more traditionally lightweight and perfumed style of Beaujolais. The vineyards of Beaujolais-Villages suffered more than most in 2021, and as a consequence we will be launching a Beaujolais (as opposed to Beaujolais-Villages) under The Society’s label. The wine is from the much vaunted Pierres Dorées region to the south of Beaujolais and is scented and appealing. I have also recently bought a few parcels of good 2020s that I have been able to find at attractive prices.
The so-called cru wines of Beaujolais, the best-known of which are Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon and Brouilly, fared better in 2021. The wines are less rich than in the past three vintages, and perhaps more typical of what one expects from the gamay grape. Alcohol levels, which had edged up in 2018, 2019 and 2020, are now back down to around 12.5%. At cru level we will be offering many members’ favourite wines from the 2020 vintage, including selections from Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie and Jean-Marc Burgaud in Morgon.
It never ceases to surprise me how well cru Beaujolais keeps. Over time, the wines take on almost Burgundian, pinot noir character and I would urge members to try squirrelling away a few bottles or cases to see how nicely they develop. Anyone lucky enough to have 2016s in their cellars will find them to be a joy today, and 2017 to 2020 all have the capacity to age further.
2021 was a difficult year across much of the UK. While spring frosts were lesser than in 2020, a cool, wet summer delayed ripening significantly. A warm September regained some time, regular rainfall and humidity promoted rot across much of England and Wales, exacerbated by a severe labour shortage, meaning spray plans and harvest timings were heavily disrupted.
Selective harvesting was essential, and those who spread their weight across multiple regions were rewarded. Despite this, the quality of grapes entering wineries was exceptional, but for many regions, there just wasn’t enough of it. For still wines, expect acid-driven wines with lovely aromatics and light alcohol levels. For sparkling wines, time will tell, but vintage wines may be few and far between. However, having already blended the next batch of our Exhibition English Sparkling at Ridgeview, I’m excited about what we have to come.
Many producers won’t be producing rosé or red wines this year due to the lateness of the harvest, which meant red varieties were harder hit by mildew (some were still picking well into November), and pressures on yields and increase in costs of dry goods means prices are up considerably. But the wines that do appear from 2021 will be light in alcohol, aromatic and very moreish.
For older vintages, the more serious chardonnays and pinot noirs from 2020 are starting to come out of their shell. 2018 still provides outstanding drinking and a testament to how good English still wines can be. For sparkling wines, Nyetimber’s 2014 Blanc de Blancs continues to offer unbelievable value, and the 2018 base vintages from Hampshire are really exciting.
2021 was a warm year across much of Greece. From early tastes, the whites, especially from the Peloponnese such as The Society’s Greek White 2021, are richer in fruit and a touch higher in alcohol compared with 2020, giving a rounder, more generous mouthfeel. The Cretan whites are showing power and concentration, but some of the finest I’ve tasted have been from the higher-altitude vineyards such as at Tetramythos winery with their malagousia and roditis. Heatwaves on Santorini, where there was no rain since April, mean yields will be low and, as a result, prices are likely to skyrocket.
For reds the agiorgitiko from Nemea is rich and juicy, showing great power and concentration. In Naoussa, the warmer years tend to produce wines with extra tannins, so it will be interesting to see how producers have managed the naturally tannic xinomavro grape in this warm year. The Greek wine writer Yiannis Karakasis MW has described 2021 as ‘the year of the oenologist’, and I’d have to agree.
Early murmurings are a similar song across much of Hungary, with cold weather during flowering and a dry summer leading to millerandage and lower yields for many. To complicate things further, many experienced an extremely narrow harvest period, making decisions as to what to prioritise essential. While still early, the consensus is that wines show impressive concentration and weight, especially the reds, with the whites providing great complexity thanks to longer hangtimes while maintaining acidity. Managing alcohol levels will be essential.
April 7th and 8th were two days to remember, not just for the Rhône but pretty much the whole of France. After high temperatures that marked the end of winter, colder weather followed with the risk of frost a constant danger as vines, tempted by the warm winter, were full of life and creating buds.
The frosts were devastating though mercifully uneven in their impact. On average, growers lost about 30% of their potential crop. At Domaine Gerin, that loss was nearer 90%.
Of the 2021 vintage, it is a little too soon to assess quality. The whites are likely to be very good but in short supply. The reds will go back to a style not seen for some time with more modest alcohol levels. Richard Maby is absolutely thrilled with the quality of both his Tavel and white Lirac (‘The best Tavel I have made’, he told me).
Remarkable is the quality of all recent vintages, with 2020 likely to top the lot. The wines have elegance and poise but also generosity and concentration. Of the other vintages, the 2018s seem ready to enjoy now with the exception of some of the top northern Rhônes. 2019s, so powerful and concentrated, are beginning to close up a bit. 2017 and 2015 remain tight and closed but for the simpler wines, which are lovely. 2016 has the potential to be the great vintages – the best wines should be left alone.
On a sadder note, the Rhône lost one of its great figures recently. He was Philippe Cambie, a larger-than-life oenologist and consultant and behind the success of many estates such as Domaine Maby, who through his wise counsel have been able to raise the bar.
The island of Corsica, which is far closer to Tuscany than it is to anywhere on the French mainland, was spared the calamities of the 2021 vintage. There was no frost and more-or-less no rain from spring to autumn. 2021 is likely to be a great vintage – it certainly is for the pinks.
Provence, on the other hand, bore the full impact of the frosts, so quantities will be down everywhere. Quality will be excellent, however, with just a little more freshness to highlight the flavours of summer fruit.
Generally, 2021 is a great vintage throughout Languedoc-Roussillon. Frost damage was a feature, but not everywhere. Worse affected was central Languedoc, where production of Picpoul, sauvignon and chardonnay were slashed.
My story comes from Domaine du Bosc, just south of Pezenas, and not more than a couple of miles from the sea. Frost took an almost unnatural grip of the vineyard and over the course of those two fatalistic nights, burnt the buds of several acres of vineyard.
The estate was founded by Pierre Besinet, whose life story deserves a chapter in itself. Today, Pierre is struggling with illness so that important decisions are in the hands of his daughter and a very capable team. Domaine du Bosc provides The Society’s French Dry White, which typically is a sauvignon-based blend but in 2021, there is not much sauvignon. Anticipating this, well before the harvest, a vat of vermentino was reserved and hey presto, there is a new French Dry white that is absolutely delicious. I recommend you try it!
No frost in Germany but uncertain summer weather (rather like here in England), made 2021 a challenging vintage that will no doubt benefit such a hardy grape as riesling. But there is plenty to enjoy about German wine in recent vintages, and not just riesling. Indeed, some of the greatest wines from Germany have been red and from pinot noir. We have been offering more of these recently and members have responded positively and so we will be buying more and from new sources.
If Germany was frost free, parts of the Rhine were devastated by floods which caused the deaths of dozens of people. There was water in the streets of Trier but far worse was felt in the tiny Ahr Valley near Bonn. Cellars were flooded; barrels of wine floated down the street and at Jean Stodden, people only just escaped with their lives.
Riesling remains the dominant force and produces the greatest wines. These often need keeping, and so we were delighted to be able to release a 2015 Kabinett from the splendid Von Othegraven estate. The wine comes from the village of Wawern in the Saar and from Herrenberg vineyard, and is perfect drunk on a warm summer’s day.
South-west France is a region of astonishing diversity. Widely scattered vineyards, often with deep historical significance, are splashed across a varied landscape that roughly connects the Massif Central to the Pyrenees with Bordeaux and Toulouse as the two focal points.
It is a little too soon to talk about vintage, especially for the reds. The whites and pinks are deliciously fruity and fresh, more vibrant than either 2020 or 2019. With permission to travel again, I can’t wait to get back and visit for the first time since 2018.
Wine is all about people, of course, and I am very exciting by what is happening at Tour de Gendres in Bergerac. New generations of the De Conti family are taking over and the estate is being split in two. But rather than creating rival enterprises, the two estates are travelling in two almost opposite directions, with one maintaining what was done before and the other creating new wines from different grape varieties that even includes chenin! Watch this space…
We can all breath a small sigh of relief as across California in 2021 they more-or-less experienced a trouble-free harvest. In 2021 spring began early, and the drought conditions had to be managed, however winemakers I am speaking to feel optimistic from Santa Barbara to Sonoma when tasting their wines from vat. Early whites that I am seeing are showing promise, even if volumes are down due to a smaller general yield.
Stocks of 2019 Zins are now really coming into their drinking windows and looking very good. We have fortunately gone long on a few of our favourites from this vintage, to enable cherry picking from fire troubled 2020.
Cabernets and Zinfandels from 2018s continue to offer real pleasure showing good ripeness yet elegance and balance, and the 2017s and 2016s still listed are drinking beautifully too with no need to rush.
The sideways story continues, with pinots from Oregon and California consistently outperforming in tastings, led by our Exhibition Sonoma Coast Pinot which is a firm house favourite of mine. Look out for new additions to our chardonnay range too, where I have brought in some wines that offer a little more richness and fruit weight, while also seeking out the beautifully poised elegant chardonnays given the possible shortages, we might experience from Europe’s traditional regions following such small harvests recently.
Sarah Knowles MW