Article - Burgundy - 24. March 2023

2021 Burgundy - Rarity Is A Given

How is the 2021 vintage from Burgundy doing? Find the answers in this article, where you can also read about challenges and price trends

“Some wines magically transcend the season […] there are gems to find’. ‘It’s just that you might not be able to buy them, and if you can, you might have to remortgage the house.”

- Neal Martin, Vinous

The above quote very accurately summarises the 2021 vintage in Burgundy. Back in late summer 2021, the French Ministry of Agriculture announced the worst agricultural disaster of the 21st century - especially in wine regions like Burgundy and Champagne. First came a dry winter, which was immediately followed by the sun's arrival in March and April, resulting in the first vine plants making their first buds - just as they usually do.

Then, at the end of April, the spring frosts came unexpectedly and destroyed much of what the sun had already made grow. And then came the rain. And lots of it. Even the sparse summer sun could not correct the reduction of grapes that was already a reality. The high humidity had even brought mildew with it, which certainly did not diminish the disaster.

In the wine world, the 2021 vintage will be remembered for 2021, which can be characterised as a year of multiple challenges, kick-started by the frost, and ended by even more rain at the end of the season. The only ray of hope was the dry and warm weather at the end of August, which gave the grapes what they needed to ripen.

But what is the status of the 2021 vintage in Burgundy?

First Come, First Served: With The 2021 Vintage, Rarity Is A Given

Small allocations are not a novelty in Burgundy, but the volumes in the 2021 vintage are significantly smaller than usual. Quantities are reduced in both Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, although producers in Côte de Beaune have reported losses of up to 80 per cent - particularly for Chardonnay.

According to Liv-ex, the UK's equivalent of a wine exchange, low yields are forcing producers to push up prices to cover their costs. This results in release prices approaching +25% on average. The top names are said to be released later than usual, giving producers more time to decide on distribution and pricing. While Burgundy's best wines are rare in themselves, the 2021 vintage remains a privilege for only a few.

Emil Ledet is the head buyer at RareWine and he addresses the issue of the very reduced quantities and the greatly increased release prices in the 2021 vintage. Because the quantities are so scarce, there are of course fewer people who can enjoy the vintage. And according to Emil Ledet, the price means that RareWine is seeking older Burgundy vintages, where the price is still at a lower level. At the same time, he also says that producers in Burgundy are unlikely to reduce the release prices of future vintages. As long as there are buyers, why would they do that?

The Absence Of White Wine

The 2021 vintage in Burgundy will be much more a vintage for red wine than white wine. Even in vintages where the harvest yields are normal, the production of Grand Cru white wine is significantly lower than red wine - it is therefore a disaster that the 2021 vintage presents a massive absence of the already underrepresented wines.

Many of the yields on the white wines could sneak up to a single-digit volume per hectare. Typical yields for a full harvest in Burgundy are between 40 and 64 hectoliters per hectare. However, both producers and tasters agree that the quality of Chardonnay in 2021 was good, even if the supply was ridiculously low.

Wine lovers should therefore be prepared to act quickly and act expensively if they are to secure white Burgundy from the 2021 vintage.

The Wines: Blooming Deliciously

There are a lot of wines and a lot of producers who have suffered major losses with the 2021 vintage - both in terms of quantity and quality. But according to wine critic Neal Martin of Vinous, despite the challenges of the vintage, there is plenty of quality to be found. He said:

"But tell me one thing: Given everything thrown at vineyards and winemakers in 2021, how come so many of the wines are blooming deliciously?"

Neal Martin also provides the answer. He says that the correlation between growing season and wine quality is not that strict. Terrible seasons can be packed with gems, and great seasons can disappoint. Neal Martin says that the superior quality is not just in the Grand Cru wines, but that many factors have confounded the hierarchy in the 2021 vintage. Consumers should not be surprised, however, if a domain's usually most prized parcel plays second fiddle to formidable Premier Crus.

The 2021 wines are described by many as a return to normality - a return to the classic Burgundies of the 1980s. And that is not a bad thing. However, he also says that there is a lot of variation from region to region and from producer to producer - but that there are some truly great wines among them.

William Kelley of Wine Advocate agrees. He says that the white Burgundy wines of 2021 are much more successful than those produced in 2016, when the frost also became a defining element. Furthermore, he says it is not a homogenous vintage. However, William Kelley has visited over 200 producers and tasted more than 1,000 wines, and concludes that very few wines have failed:

"Witnessing the harvest firsthand, I freely admit that I didn't expect such a positive result", he says.

What Is A Good Burgundy? A Breath Of Fresh Air

William Kelley mentions that the vintage is reminiscent of Burgundy wines of the past. Kelley questions what a good vintage actually is. He says that in the late 19th century, the 20th century and the early 21st century, there was broad agreement that the definition of a great red Burgundy vintage was:

"Powerful wines, of comparatively elevated ripeness, laden with structure and extract to carry them through time."

To this he says that such vintages have never been as numerous as they are today. That in 2018, 2019 and 2020 we were blessed with great vintages by the above definition.

He says that great vintages have become a commonplace, not just a once-in-a-decade occurrence, and that producers and consumers are drawn to sensual, perfumed wines with melting tannins - wines that in the past were criticized for lacking density and structure. So, what exactly is a good vintage?

Some producers say the vintage is not one to be hyped. But Bertrand Dugat, who runs the renowned domaine Dugat-Py, says the vintage "was like a breath of fresh air; it woke me up and gave me renewed energy". And Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, who is behind Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, which has superb and enviable parcels in Burgundy, says: "these are the wines I want to drink".

So, there is no consensus on what constitutes good Burgundy. However, there is agreement that the wines of the 2021 vintage may not be able to be aged for a hundred years, but that, like the 2000 vintage, they can easily be aged elegantly for two decades – and probably more.

2021 Bourgogne - Quantity Has Been Hit. Quality Has Not. Or What?

Charles Curtis of the wine media Decanter writes in his Burgundy 2021 en primeur report that excellent wines can be found in the vintage - both red and white: "Buyers who choose carefully will be delighted by the classic style of this vintage”, he notes.

In conclusion, the 2021 vintage in Burgundy is being defined as the vintage with the extremely low yields - especially for white wines. It is a vintage where the quality seems to deviate from the last three vintages. But the vintage has also produced wines that impress wine critics. It is a vintage whose pricing will be higher than anything seen before, and the consumer will pay the price - the price of rarity. 

"Burgundy is a little bit totally stupid", said a well-known winemaker from Cöte de Beaune in the middle of a tasting. And Neal Martin replies: "We still love it, though".

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