What to drink in 2021: Bordeaux


Bordeaux 2021
Photograph: Jason Lowe

Our Cellar Plan Manager, Tom Cave, offers his thoughts on the best Claret for drinking this year.

I hope 2020 provided you with some fine drinking and that Bordeaux featured prominently. It was certainly reassuring to see so many customers withdrawing treasured cases, perhaps earlier than they might have. After all, “‘tis the cask, not the coffer, that holds the true wealth” as Vintners sing after every dinner.

Bordeaux vintages to drink now

Starting with ’00, this once mildly derided millennium vintage has firmly seen off its detractors. It shines as a seriously good year to drink now, and many have a rich future ahead. That is, as any mentioned here, for those châteaux making wines of the calibre to age.

The rewarding ’01s filled in more than competently while ’00 slumbered. These wines remain in a good place, but it’s a year to be getting on with. It’s the same for the ’02s, which in many cases have proved more successful than first mooted.

The writer remains no admirer of ’03, a torrid year of relentless heat. There are always exceptions and some – mostly from St Estèphe where the soil held more hydration – have fared better. Nevertheless, don’t hold on for any longer.

The ’04s were high-yielding. Their lack of ripeness peaks through a little too prominently in many cases; the initial fruit has taken on more savoury notes. There’s no tearing urgency, but you’d best be well into any you might have.

Bordeaux 2005 and beyond

There’s more cheer, thankfully, from ’05. For many of my generation of the trade, this was our first “great” vintage to taste from cask. It will always be close to our hearts. Fifth growths are well into a most agreeable drinking window, as indeed are many classified higher. These aren’t aggressively tannic wines, and many at this grade are crying out for deserved attention and subsequent fulfilment.

The ’06 vintage is more inconsistent. The wines are often plump, if sometimes a little on the rustic side. Best to drink up those other than the higher-grade wines where a little more time is required. The weak ’07s are behind us.

With ’08, there are highs and lows – and generally more highs to be found on the Right Bank, notably St Emilion and Pomerol. A vintage surrounded by more well-regarded years – ’05, ’09 and ’10 – will always throw up challengers. But again, as time rolls on it’ll likely go deeper into the shade compared to its peers. It’s no harm at all to be making a start on most of these.

An excellent duet: 2009 and 2010

That excellent duet, ’09 and ’10, prevail as two of the “greats”. The ’09s are the more approachable, up to second growth level. The sturdier ’10s can be broached up to classified growth standard, but hold any higher than that for now.

Comparing ’09 and ’10 will be an ongoing pleasure. What follows are four less easy-to-assess years. Though, again, it’s worth remembering while less notable vintages will reveal stars, they on the whole make better drinking sooner than later.

Less than ideal: 2011, 2012, 2013

The ’11 vintage saw a return to less-than-ideal conditions. The wines have shown more tannic structure than some care for; more time will tell on those that succeeded. It’s not an easy vintage to judge; these wines can hark back to a time when grippy, gritty vintages like this were more frequent.

Likewise, ’12 suffered from poor weather conditions. Cabernet Sauvignon – the Médoc’s backbone – was hit the hardest. Vintages like this have less of an effect on the châteaux that can afford rigorous selection. Those that couldn’t – those at the more modest end of the scale – will reveal any charm early.

Simply put, ’13 was a poor year. Drink them up while they retain charm; dependable properties will have made attractive wines to be drunk now.

Onwards and upwards

This run of mediocrity finished with ’14. These are shaping up well; you can rest assured of many good bottles to come.

Vintages ’15 and ’16 see us return to two fine years that’ll provide much debate as to which is the preferred. It’s somewhat akin to ’09 and ’10. The ’16s revel in wonderful balance and a mass of deep, dark fruit. This is shaping up to be a genuinely classical Bordeaux vintage – and one I tip with the most confidence of all recent years. Most ’15s are not far behind in quality. Both need more time to evolve.

From a weaker year, the ’17s are ideal candidates for early drinking. In fact, some are downright delicious: go to them.

Heat is the governing issue with ’18, yet winemakers are learning fast to cope with this – and not just in Bordeaux. The wines are on the showy side, their alcohol-by-volume creeping ever higher. They are perhaps more akin to the New rather than Old World, but that’s not to put them down in any way. Time will tell.

The well-priced ’19s are ripe without being too ripe. These are amiable wines, sold En Primeur during lockdown last year to an eager market short on cheer. We can be assured they will provide for us as we look ahead a decade or two.

Earlier this year, Tom offered his recommendations on the best Vintage Port to drink now.