Ch. Beychevelle: down to the river

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Château Beychevelle’s striking façade. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Comparisons to Versailles abound, but Château Beychevelle is a lot more than just a pretty façade. We meet Romain Ducolomb, the estate’s Technical Director, to understand just what makes this such a special vineyard.

There’s an old Médocain saying that the best vineyards overlook the river. But sometimes, the river looks back. At least, that’s how the story goes at Château Beychevelle in St Julien.

Beychevelle derives both its name and its iconic label from a local legend: in the 16th century, passing boats would lower their sails towards the property to pay homage to its then-owner, the Duc d’Epernon. In Gascon dialect, this act was known as bêcha vêla (or baisse voile in modern French), which became “Beychevelle”.

Old stories and famous labels

But Beychevelle is a lot more than old stories and famous labels. First and foremost, it is one of the best-situated vineyards in the region, says Romain Ducolomb, the estate’s Technical Director. “You can be the best winemaker, you can have the most money, you can have the best technology,” he argues, “but everything is based on the terroir.” This is a potentially slippery concept, but for Romain it’s quite straightforward: “The best terroir on the Left Bank is deep gravel soil overhanging the river. It’s as simple as that.”

One of the fishing huts that line the banks of the Gironde near to the deep, gravel soils of Beychevelle

Beychevelle has a unique microclimate, Romain says. The Gironde is Europe’s largest estuary, and it has a moderating effect on the temperature of adjacent vineyards, like Beychevelle: winters are a little warmer than elsewhere; summers are a little cooler, with more wind. “It’s almost intangible,” Romain explains.

“You can’t really feel it compared to a vineyard five kilometres inland. But it’s essential.” This has been a boon in recent years, like 2021 and 2017, when spring frost has hit European vineyards hard. These frosts devastated some of their near-neighbours, but Beychevelle “wasn’t impacted at all”.

Higher definition

If the quality of the terroir is somewhat timeless, the thinking here is far from static. Romain has made wine in Bordeaux for over 15 years, and at Beychevelle for the last 10. Before that, he studied and worked in his native Burgundy, as well as stints in California, New Zealand and Tokaj.

In the New World, he found that winemakers take French wines to be the benchmark – Bordeaux for Cabernet-based blends, Burgundy for Pinot Noir, Champagne for sparkling – but they don’t blindly follow. “They ask simple questions,” he says. “If they don’t understand why they should do something, they don’t do it. They don’t just repeat a recipe.”

The new cellar at Beychevelle, completed in 2016

When visiting (or even driving past) Beychevelle, you can’t help but notice the ultra-modern cellar building. Designed by architect Arnaud Boulain, construction was completed in 2016. Despite it being an architectural feat in its own right, the new cellar can be boiled down to one simple idea, says Romain: “one tank, one plot.”

With almost 100 separate tanks, the team here have the tools and the space to vinify plot by plot – allowing Romain to get ever more precise with his raw materials for blending. “We’re still playing with the same terroir,” he says. “It’s like if you’re watching a movie. In the past it was in black-and-white; now it’s 4K TV, high definition. It’s the same movie, but the definition is much higher.”

Learning from Burgundy

Romain has brought a dose of healthy scepticism to the proceedings here. “I’m not a Bordeaux native. I’m open-minded. There are great wines made all over the world. And there are interesting things to take from other regions,” he says. While he doesn’t strive to make Vosne-Romanée in St Julien, the influence of his home region is clear. “I like the finesse and delicacy of Pinot Noir,” he says.

And at Beychevelle, “the idea is not to make just a big wine, but one with finesse. I learned that from Burgundy.” It was in Burgundy that Romain fell in love with the method of pigeage or punching down. As a wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation, the solid particles (the grape skins, pips and so on) rise to the top of the tank, forming a layer known as the cap. Punching down is a method of breaking up the cap to extract more colours, flavours and tannins into the liquid.

Romain Ducolomb is crystal clear on what makes Beychevelle’s terroir so special

Romain likens it to a chef, “always smelling, touching, observing what he’s doing. That’s pretty much the idea of punching down. You’re obliged to see, touch, smell.” Compared with the alternative method of pumping-over, pigeage requires the winemaker to get up close and personal with the wine. “You have a closer relationship with your tanks, your grapes and your wine,” Romain says. In the past, the team here would carry out one hour of pumping-over in the morning, and a second in the afternoon.

With pigeage today, they’ve increased the frequency and decreased the intensity: “We work basically 24 hours a day, but with very small actions,” Romain explains. Again, this allows Romain to work more precisely, making small adjustments here and there to get a little bit more, or less, extraction in a particular lot.

Beychevelle 2021

The 2021 vintage was a “pretty tricky” one to manage, concedes Romain. Winter was “too warm and too dry”, he says. This meant less water for the vines to keep in reserve and led to an early start to the growing season – leaving vines prone to spring frost. When the frost came, Beychevelle’s microclimate meant it avoided the fate of many less-fortunate estates. Yet “vine growth stopped a little bit” all the same, Romain acknowledges. And mildew was a present threat throughout May and June.

He takes pains to point out that the team did a great job, comparing it to the sort of pressure faced during harvest – “they were very focused, ready to take action in the vineyard, seven days a week, if necessary,” he says. “Without them, we wouldn’t have made this wine.”

Tireless efforts in the vineyard notwithstanding, Romain’s hopes for 2021 were not high. A brief reprieve came before harvest, when a forecasted storm never came. But the outlook wasn’t good. “This was the first time in a long period that we were quite worried about the quality of the vintage,” he admits. He’s an accomplished winemaker working with an experienced team; they know what to look out for. “Usually we don’t get it wrong” when it comes to assessing a given vintage, he says. He recalls that in 2016 and 2018, it was clear from early on that they had top vintages on their hands. But for 2021, “we were quite worried.”

“The greatest surprise”

It wasn’t until the grapes were brought in and the cellar team got to work that they realised just what sort of vintage they were facing. “It’s probably the greatest surprise I’ve had in my career in Bordeaux,” he says, “We had to wait until the last scene of the movie to realise there was a happy ending. In the glass, it has a dark colour, fresh fruit, nice acidity. We got everything we expect for a great Bordeaux wine: balance, harmony, power, sweetness of the tannins.”

Romain draws a sample of 2021 Beychevelle, “probably the greatest surprise” of his career

A glass of Beychevelle is “like a good friend you can always count on,” says Romain. Though he has adapted the style somewhat in his time here, the core identity remains the same. “Even if it’s a great wine, built to age for decades, it’s now very approachable early on. It can be summarised in a few words: balance, harmony, elegance and power, but not rustic, not astringent. You can always count on Beychevelle; you’ll never be disappointed.”

Find out more about Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

What is biodynamic winemaking?

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Hands holding crumbly, light soil in the vineyard at Ch. Palmer
Photograph by Olivier-Metzger, courtesy of Ch. Palmer

Barbara Drew MW explains what biodynamic winemaking is, why it’s practised and what to expect from biodynamic wines.

Burying cows’ horns in the vineyard. Fermenting flower heads in a stag’s bladder. Harvesting grapes when the moon is in front of a fire constellation. It is easy to see how biodynamic farming has been misunderstood and even
mocked. Despite this, some of the most delicious wines I have tasted have been biodynamic, and some of the finest, most sought-after wines happen to be the result of this approach. So what does this form of farming actually involve? Is it a more sustainable approach? And what are the results?

The evolution of biodynamic Biodynamics as a concept originated from eight lectures given by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924. His belief was that a holistic approach to agriculture (amongst other things) would generate the best results, in terms of the health of the soil, and
quality of produce. His ideas, which were part of a much broader philosophical argument, have evolved and been applied to vineyards, resulting in an extreme form of organic viticulture with the aim of stimulating the health of the vine and vineyard so pests and diseases are no longer a problem.

A biodynamic approach to viticulture is not simply practical, but can border on the spiritual – as such there are elements of Steiner’s teachings that some winemakers pick, and other aspects that they choose to drop. Just as a religious group can encompass the devout through to those who only celebrate the chocolate-themed holidays, so an assembly of biodynamic winemakers will cover a spectrum of evangelical adherents, to those who are more pragmatic, doing what they believe will have the greatest visible impact on their vines.

The basics of biodynamics

At the most fundamental level, all biodynamic producers agree that good wine starts with good soil. Producers need to return to the soil any nutrients
they remove through grape-growing. Plenty of the more common vineyard treatments are not allowed in biodynamic vineyards, including most
commercial fungicides, pesticides and herbicides. Instead, vignerons have at their disposal a suite of nine biodynamic preparations, which range from manure, to fermented flower heads or ground-up quartz. These are either added to the vineyard’s compost heap, or diluted with water and sprayed in the vineyard. Each preparation offers a different benefit. Oak bark, for example, can be added to the compost heap, with the tannins in the bark helping to prevent fungal diseases in the vineyard. These preparations bolster the compost produced on the property, which in turn revitalises the soil and supports the health of the vines.

Those vineyards which need additional support against pests or fungal attacks can go further. Copper and sulphur sprays are permitted to protect against common fungi such as powdery mildew. However, the quantities allowed under various certification schemes are relatively small; copper can inhibit the activity of earthworms in the soil.

The importance of water in biodynamics

A number of biodynamic preparations need to be diluted with water before being sprayed on the vines. Using water straight from the tap isn’t an option: instead, it must be dynamised. This process involves stirring the water rapidly in one direction, then the other, for around half an hour. Some argue the benefit of this is to firmly “transmit the message” of
the preparation through to the water. Others say the movement of the water mimics a natural flowing stream or river. While it is possible to purchase water dynamisers that will stir your water for you, some
producers still prefer to do this by hand – a time-consuming, not to mention exhausting process.

Biodynamic winemaking and the moon

Many who work according to biodynamics also follow the lunar calendar. This is not obligatory and, for example, does not form part of most certification systems. Nonetheless, many vignerons will choose when to prune their vines or harvest based on the moon. It is recommended that one prunes under a waning moon. The ideal time for picking, according
to biodynamic calendars, is when the moon is in front of a fire constellation – Leo, Sagittarius or Aries (also known as a “fruit day”). Indeed, some producers will even argue that their wines taste better on certain days of the lunar calendar, a claim strongly disputed by Monty Waldin – who, quite literally, wrote the book on biodynamic wine. He states simply that: “tasting by the moon doesn’t change the quality of your wine, people have proved that”. However, if your vineyard and winery decisions are made according to the moon, it seems to me only sensible that the final step, drinking the wine, follows the same path.

Biodynamics and technology

While pruning and making wine according to the moon may seem extreme, some adherents take biodynamics further still. For these producers, it’s essential to avoid any manmade influences on their vineyards which may
adversely affect the grapes. For example, Nicolas Joly, a winemaker (or “nature assistant”, as he prefers) in the Loire, is lauded as a leader in the field of biodynamic viticulture. He believes that even electrical objects can interfere with vines and winemaking. In his view, something as commonplace as electric lighting in a cellar may damage the fermenting and maturing wine.

Voices such as Joly’s, combined with bans on chemical intervention, mean that there is often a misconception that the only way to practice biodynamic viticulture is to step back in time. Nigel Greening, of Felton Road winery in Central Otago, New Zealand, is keen to demonstrate that this is not the case. In 2018, Felton Road installed a huge area of solar panels at the vineyard. The 120-panel array generates significantly more power than they use, taking the biodynamic concept of putting back what you take out to a more literal end.

It is not just electricity that can be contentious though. Anything deemed too far removed from the natural world is generally not permitted. For example, wineries certified as biodynamic may not use plastic or fibreglass tanks in their winery, utilising wood, concrete or steel instead. They should ideally use natural yeast (found on the skins of grapes and in the air in the winery), or, if buying in yeast to kick-start fermentation, it must be certified biodynamic yeast from a specialist supplier. Sulphur is permitted in the wine, though at lower levels than for non-biodynamic wines. And, according to Demeter – one of the certifying bodies – any winery seeking biodynamic accreditation must ensure that the winemaking process is free from GMOs, ascorbic acid and synthetic fining agents such as PVPP. Animal products such as isinglass or gelatine are also not allowed.

A return to old-fashioned winemaking?

On the surface at least, biodynamics may seem like a return to a simpler form of agriculture. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this translates to lower costs than conventional modern farming, but this tends not to be the case. In fact, the cost of being fully biodynamic can be onerous – from additional manpower for hand harvesting and applying preparations, to purchasing specialist equipment such as a water dynamiser. There are, on top of those costs, fees for inspection and certification, as well as royalties for logos on bottles.

As an example, Demeter, which is one of the most widely used certification bodies, will charge a winery approximately 2% of its revenues to be certified. For some wineries, that cost is enough to persuade them not to pursue official accreditation.

This makes it especially challenging for the customer: if it’s not certified, the wine shop cannot sell wine as biodynamic, even if it’s made according to
the rules. Even when bottles do carry the certification symbol, usually from Demeter or Biodyvin, this only confirms the winery adheres to basic standards (using biodynamic preparations on the soil, not using
synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or fungicides, not using banned additions in the winery). Such logos do little to explain to a consumer the real philosophy behind a wine. They won’t distinguish between those producers who harvest according to the lunar calendar and those that don’t. Nor can they point to producers who choose not to be certified, but follow all the main requirements – and more – in the pursuit of the perfect bottle of wine.

The biodynamic winemaking philosophy

So why do producers adhere to biodynamics, especially if they can’t (or won’t) shout about it on the label? Quite simply, most believe that this method of viticulture results in better wine and a healthier vineyard. In
some areas, yields drop as a result of this approach, but the fruit quality improves. Typically, this might mean that the grapes show a better balance between sugar and acidity. As a result, many biodynamic wines have
an intensity of flavour, and poise that sets them apart from conventional wines. Such characteristics are hard to quantify though.

What is easier to quantify is soil activity, and many studies have shown increased microbiological activity in biodynamic vineyards. This bodes well for the resilience and long-term future of such vineyards. Perhaps surprisingly, there haven’t yet been any large-scale, peer-reviewed studies carried out on this form of viticulture. Without the reassurance of data and
science, this style of farming has been left to develop a rather esoteric image.

Despite this, interest in biodynamic wines is steadily increasing as awareness around pesticides and soil health grows. The number of wines which are certified biodynamic increases year on year, and even those producers without certification are choosing to adopt certain aspects of this philosophy – taking what suits, leaving the rest, as has been happening with
Steiner’s ideas for nearly a century.

What does this mean for the consumer? If you are interested in trying biodynamic wines, certification logos are still a good place to start. However, they don’t represent the limits of this category of wines. Talk to
wine merchants, ask about what producers are doing. And if you find me waiting until the next fruit day to open my best wines, you’ll know why.

Discover more about sustainable winemaking here.

Category: Miscellaneous

Ch. Haut-Batailley: in the pink

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Jean-Charles Cazes has brought more than a lick of paint to Château Haut-Batailley. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Classified Growths in Pauillac don’t change hands often, so when they do it’s worth taking note. Five years ago, the Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages acquired Château Haut-Batailley: there are bold changes afoot.

“So why did you paint it pink?” we ask Jean-Charles Cazes. We’re standing outside the cellars of Château Haut-Batailley in Pauillac, which Jean-Charles’s family acquired (and promptly repainted) in 2017. “It’s called ‘rouge samba’, like the dancing,” he says. “Before, nobody knew where Haut-Batailley was. It wasn’t noticeable. Now, we don’t even need a sign outside.”

There’s no mistaking Haut-Batailley’s pink exterior, visible here behind La Tour l’Aspic

There’s no mistaking the property’s bright exterior as you enter Pauillac from St Laurent-Médoc in the south. But the new owners have brought considerably more than a lick of paint to the property: in their short time here, they’ve raised its profile considerably. This is very much an estate coming into its own, though things could easily have gone in another direction.

Pauillac is home to some of the most expensive vineyard land in Bordeaux. A hectare or two of even modest vines here are worth a lot to the right buyer. On the rare occasion a fully-fledged Classified Growth goes on the market, it’s snapped up quickly.

So when the Borie family put Haut-Batailley up for sale in 2017, it was very much a seller’s market. This being a well-regarded Fifth Growth on prime terroir, there were many interested parties within Pauillac – many with pockets as deep as the appellation’s gravel soils. Precisely who was in the running to purchase Haut-Batailley remains unknown, though in the end it passed from one local family to another.

The Cazes family have been a staple of life here for four generations. “Pauillac is our centre of gravity,” says Jean-Charles, who heads up the family firm today. His great-grandfather (and namesake) bought Château Lynch-Bages in 1939; his grandfather André Cazes was the mayor of Pauillac for over 40 years; and his father, Jean-Michel Cazes, is an elder statesman of not just the appellation but Bordeaux as a whole.

Their business interests extend well beyond the communal boundaries, but it all comes back to Pauillac. It was thanks in part to their local ties that their bid for Haut-Batailley was successful, Jean-Charles believes. The Borie and Cazes families knew each other well; Pauillac is a small town, after all.

But there was more to it than that. “We told them right away that we would maintain the integrity of the property,” Jean-Charles says. “Other competitors had different projects in mind.” The Cazes family could easily have absorbed some, or all, of the new holdings into Lynch-Bages – and instantly increased the production of their (more expensive) flagship wine. “Economically, it would have made sense to combine them,” Jean-Charles concedes. “An instant return on investment. It would have been a financially good decision in the short term, but not necessarily a good one in the long term. Lynch-Bages is different; we wanted to keep them separate.”

Both estates have vines dotted throughout the appellation, concentrated particularly in the south; some parcels touch each other. It’s because of their proximity that Jean-Charles was already intimately familiar with Haut-Batailley’s terroir – and knew that it had a character all its own. “We knew the sector very well,” he says. “We were confident in what we were buying.”

Old vine material at Haut-Batailley

When the estate came on the market, the Cazes family already had their hands full: they were in the process of building a brand new, state-of-the-art winery facility at Lynch-Bages. Construction started on the new cellar, designed by Chien Chung Pei, in 2016. But the allure of Haut-Batailley was too great. “It was an opportunity we had to seize,” Jean-Charles says. “We had to go back to the bank, knock on the door and say ‘By the way, one more thing…’”

Jean-Charles now finds himself in the enviable position of running two neighbouring Classified Growths in the Left Bank’s most famous commune. “It’s interesting to have two properties in Pauillac with such distinctive styles,” he says. “I don’t want to rank them. There are nuances in the terroir and in the blend that make them different. Lynch-Bages is more opulent, with more tannic structure. It’s very forward. Haut-Batailley is elegant, it’s a more restrained style of Pauillac. Over the years, it will develop more depth and complexity. It has a different appeal; it’s a different spectrum.”

The Cazes’ commitment to keep Haut-Batailley intact is especially notable because the acquisition came with 19 hectares of unplanted land entitled to use the Pauillac AOC. The existing vineyard was just 22 hectares; replanting this land would increase the size considerably. Vines once stood here, and the land is well suited to viticulture, but the previous owners had opted not to replant. “The vines were uprooted during times when the wines weren’t selling very well,” Jean-Charles explains.

Then-owner Françoise Des Brest-Borie didn’t personally manage the estate; she lived not in Pauillac, or Bordeaux, but in Paris. She entrusted the running of the property to her nephew François-Xavier Borie, proprietor of nearby Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste. He ran it well, overseeing investment in both the cellar and the winery. But replanting the bare land was, it seems, a step too far, given the circumstances. “There was only so much that François-Xavier could do,” Jean-Charles says.

But with new ownership came a rejuvenated interest in maximising the potential of the terroir here. The new estate came with unplanted land, “no stock and no staff”, says Jean-Charles. “We were sorry not to have old vintages in the cellar, but it let us start drawing on a blank page.”

The new team would be a lot smaller than at Lynch-Bages, with a focus on working across different areas of both the vineyard and the cellar. “We needed them to understand that it’s kind of a start-up project for the vineyard,” says Jean-Charles.

“Usually when you buy a property, you inherit decisions that were made a generation or two ago,” he adds. It was different here. The part of the estate that was in production was in good shape; the unplanted land had lain fallow for so long that it was “completely rested” and ready to be replanted without delay. Extensive soil studies revealed what they were working with, and they have adapted their choice of rootstocks and grape varieties (including massal-selection Petit Verdot from Lynch-Bages) accordingly. “We’ve been able to make decisions that will impact the medium and long term here. We’ve decided the style of the wine for generations to come.”

The new label for Haut-Batailley was introduced in 2017

To produce great wine here on the Batailley plateau is nothing new. But the Cazes’ investment means that this is an estate on the ascent. “We’ve been here for five vintages now,” says Jean-Charles. “We’re seeing a profile. It’s a singular style, different from Lynch-Bages. It’s a more delicate style of Pauillac. Very elegant, leaning a little towards the style of St Julien.”

The fruit from the new plots will take years to fully express itself in the grand vin. “We had a tiny bit of young fruit in 2020 and a little more in 2021,” Jean-Charles says. “In 2022, we’ll see even more. There’s plenty to discover in the years to come. We’ve got high hopes and high expectations.”

Whether it’s the rouge samba on the walls or the developing style in the glass, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice of Haut-Batailley today.

Find out more about Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Jane Anson on Bordeaux 2021

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Inside Bordeaux author Jane Anson at No.3 St James’s Street. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick

Jane Anson is described by Decanter as “the world’s most informed and accomplished expert on the wines of Bordeaux”. Midway through the En Primeur tasting, we caught up with her to discuss the role of the critic and what collectors should be seeking out in the 2021 vintage.

You’ve worked in and with the Bordeaux region for almost two decades – a lot must have changed in that time. What’s the most exciting development?

The move towards a more environmentally conscious vineyard. The first major classified estates to move to organic and biodynamic were in the mid-2000s, with Guiraud and Pontet-Canet. Today, it’s normal that leading properties should be taking these issues seriously, but it was barely on the radar back in 2003 when I moved here.

You’ve been a reporter, a writer and now you’re a critic in Bordeaux: in your view, what’s the role of the critic, and what’s your approach? 

Bordeaux is a vast region, with many thousands of châteaux – and it’s continually evolving. Having an independent voice that can keep track of changes, and point out what’s new and why it matters, is always useful.

In years such as 2021, where the successes are uneven, the value of following a critic becomes even more important. We can highlight where the best wines are found. In my case, I don’t award 100 points at the En Primeur stage, because the wines are unfinished, but I will of course name wines that have done particularly well. Plus, I try to explain why.

It’s said that there’s no such thing as a bad vintage in Bordeaux anymore – but, of course, each vintage has its own character and variations. How would you describe 2021?

In a word, uneven. October was the sunniest for 30 years, since 1991, and there was a long period of dry weather in August, but one of the key characteristics of the year was a lack of sunshine overall (180 sunshine hours in July, for example, compared to average over 30 years of 250 hours). This has impacted the flavour profile of the wines, so you can expect plenty of cool blue fruits. The best wines have a sappy elegance to them.

What are your first impressions of the wines you’ve tasted?

There are many classic wines in 2021, with lower alcohols than in recent vintages. The challenge was to ensure that lower alcohols didn’t mean thin wines. Winemakers had various ways to get around the problem of large Merlot grapes, for example allowing cover crops to grow between the rows to help create competition and increase concentration. Others ran off excess juice from the vats in the cellar, or chaptalised the wines to ensure a rounder texture.

The wines can be deceptive – they may have the more sculpted flavours and aromatics of a cooler year, but the best also have plenty of tannins, acidity, structure and colour. They also have almost the same analytics as 2020 and will benefit from some bottling ageing.

Which châteaux should collectors be looking out for?

I haven’t finished my tastings yet; I’ll be publishing my scores in mid-May, but I’d already say that Calon Ségur has made an excellent 2021, as has Cheval Blanc. And there will be others!

Your book Inside Bordeaux highlights the nuanced role that terroir has to play in different vintages. In a year such as 2021, are there specific terroirs that have benefitted/performed well?

This is really a vintage where terroir is crucial. The key for 2021 was regulation of water. This doesn’t necessarily mean the best-draining soils – it means the ones that can hold back excess water, with some particular successes on clay-limestone. You’ll find excellent wines on both the Left and Right Bank, where the soils were able to deliver the conditions for water stress, which encouraged concentration in the grapes. When that wasn’t the case, you can find angular tannins and a lack of power through the mid-palate.

Why is Bordeaux En Primeur important for those who want to build a fine wine collection?

En Primeur is a way of focusing on what is happening in the region. Having the wines tasted and discussed during the same few weeks each year by large numbers of trade and critics is not dissimilar to a film festival awarding jury prizes and audience prizes. Yes, it’s part of the build-up and distribution model, but it’s useful all the same – and a great way to gauge the wines you might want to follow.

En Primeur isn’t essential for securing wines with big productions: they’ll be available when in bottle. But there is a value all the same in following the conditions of different years. And there will always be some wines which are worth securing at this early stage: names you really love; wines that are small production; and bottles that mark a significant moment (the last L’Eglise Clinet under Denis Durantou for example).

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a Bordeaux collection?

Buying the best names you can in great vintages is always a good place to start. But remember that it is your cellar, so don’t just think about the icons. Really try to get to know your own tastes and have a mixed approach to styles. It’s useful to have wines you can open in the short term, and then others that you will want to put away for a decade or more. If you’re just getting started, think about buying a few older vintages as well as En Primeur – there’s brilliant value to be had.

With lower volumes expected for the 2021 vintage, do you foresee a turn in the market?

This is going to be a difficult vintage to price. Pricing is always a mix of 1) general quality of a vintage 2) how a specific estate has performed in terms of quality and its own recent market performance and 3) what is happening in the wider market. It’s not an easy thing to get right in any vintage, and now in 2021 there really are several competing issues going on.

There are lower volumes – down 15% on 2020. This is compounded by small vintages in other key regions too. Burgundy prices have been going up and up, making collectors (and sommeliers) turn to Bordeaux. Then there are price pressures on everything in the supply chain, from corks to transport. All of that suggests prices will rise.

But it’s a difficult moment internationally in terms of politics and economics. Plus the style of the vintage is complicated. Put all those things together and it’s tough to call.

You can follow Jane and her reporting on Bordeaux 2021 through her website, Jane Anson Inside Bordeaux. Berry Bros. & Rudd customers can save 10% off their first-year subscription with code BERBROSAVE10.

Category: Bordeaux Wine