En primeur: The 2021 vintage for Rhône

After 2018, 2019 and 2020, what of 2021? What did 2021 bring and why do I find it such an exciting vintage? The general impression of this vintage is one of a cooler and wetter year, a throwback to vintages of years past.

2021 Rhône en primeur

The whites were close to perfection: graceful with precision and food-friendly ‘grip.’ The reds had to wait a little longer for finer weather to return in September. Like the whites, the reds are fragrant and fruity, and without the alcoholic excess of recent years. And that makes it an exciting vintage.

The weather

One climatic event stands out in this vintage: frost. Temperatures plummeted during the nights of 7th and 8th of April. This came after spells of warm weather in February and March, with the vines in full growth, and with devastating consequences with crop loss estimated at around 30% but far worse for some.

As it turned out, this was a blessing in disguise as the smaller crop was better able to resist the cool, wet summer that was to follow. Drier weather did return. The harvest, which ran into October, was fine. Much of the crop, at least on estates that controlled yields and showed patience, was picked ripe, even if sugar levels in the grapes were rather more modest than in previous vintages.

Rhône 2021

North or south?

The short answer is, in a way, both. Grenache and mourvèdre need sunshine and certain warmth. In 2021, roughly 300mm of rain fell during the growing season and temperatures did hit the mid-to-high 30s. Syrah has different needs where the goal is finesse rather than power. 700mm of rain fell during the same period and it was noticeably cooler. Steep slopes in Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Hermitage helped run off any surplus water. It was very much like a vintage of 20 or 30 years ago. The resultant wines have bright fruit flavours and are round and very appealing. They will be ready soon, probably before the 2019s that are beginning to close up. And as mentioned, the whites are stunning: the roussanne grape was one of the big winners in 2021.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Society Buyer

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel has been with The Society since 1986. He buys The Society's Rhône, Southern and regional French wines and Germany.

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