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Bordeaux 2021 tasting notes: Left Bank Part I

By Simon Field MW |  June 15 2022

Bordeaux 2021 Left Bank Part I
Photography by iStock / Getty Images Plus

Simon Field MW’s tasting notes from the Bordeaux 2021 en primeur tastings begin with wines from St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, and Margaux.

ST-ESTÈPHE

Château Le Boscq Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel

(50% CS, 42% M, 6% PV, 2% CF)

SF | Located on a small gravelly outcrop close to Calon-Ségur, Le Bosq has excelled itself in 2021, the cooler conditions lending yet more focus and rigor to a wine that already fulfills all the hallmarks of fine St-Estèphe, namely definition of fruit, usually of a darker hue, and all-enveloping tannins which are both assertive and rigorous, but in no way undermining the overall structure and the direction of travel; the road ahead looks both clear and promising. 88-90

Château Cos d’Estournel 2ème Cru

(64% CS, 30% M, 4% CF, 2% PV) 

SF | Technical director Dominique Arangoits advises that the winemaker is like a sculptor with a block of marble; it is up to him to shape the wine, à la Michelangelo, although Dominique did not presume to such a precise comparison. Sculpture comes to mind when tasting this wine, however; the power of the construction is evident but not obtrusive; life-affirming and inspiring. As great wines from St-Estèphe should be. Cabernet Sauvignon takes immediate charge, not least aromatically. Wafts of black pepper and incense, maybe Indian spice, although that description may have been inspired by the actual architecture of the building, by turns bizarre and spellbinding. Nothing bizarre about this wine, however; the (natural) alcohol is a shade beneath 13%, modest therefore, belying intense concentration, both the aromatic lift and the tannic weave reinforcing a perception of power; quiet, measured power, however, with a lot more still to give. 94-96

Les Pagodes de Cos

(60% M, 36% CS, 3% CF, 1% PV)

SF | This comes from cleary defined plots with (marginally) younger vines and a little more clay in the soil. Merlot once again in the ascendant; a classy, well-balanced attack, the main battalions of tannin and acidity lending sturdy support, then hints of smoke and chocolate behind the damson skins and cherry. An aromatic intimation of iris and/or juniper lends complexity. An attractive, if relatively traditional, Pagodes. 91-93

Cos d’Estournel Blanc

(71% SB, 29% SM)

SF | Each of the 200 barrels, comments Dominique, is unique and has to be treated differently; a labor of love, then, with commensurate rewards for the skilled and the patient. Dominique clearly possesses both qualities in spades; smoke, lime, frangipane, lanolin; a litany of descriptors spill from the taster’s pen… the Semillon layers the wine with pumice stone and  citric foundations; Sauvignon then descants, the highest and most difficult notes proving easy to reach in this excellent (white wine) vintage. 93-95

Les Pagodes de Cos Blanc

(85% SB, 15% SM)

SF | Now in its 17th year, Les Pagodes Blanc is a very successful, beautifully aromatic wine, both refreshing and textured. Notes of verbena and kumquat, spring flowers, and guava; complex and simple at the same time, the latter adjective to be taken in its least pejorative sense. Approachable, in other words. 90-92

Château Le Crock Cru Bourgeois

(58% CS, 25% M, 10% CF, 7% PV)

SF | With vineyards on the Plateau de Marbuzet, some of them abutting Château Cos d’Estournel, Le Crock has impressed in 2021, with the quality of its chalky tannins beautifully integrated with a generous dark fruit personality, its structure somewhat linear but still generous enough on the mid-palate. 89-91

Château Lafon-Rochet 4ème Cru

(69% CS, 26% M, 4% CF, 1% PV) 

SF | An impressive effort to welcome Christophe Congé from neighboring Château Lafite…the scents of raspberry compote and violets vie with bass notes of gravel and charcuterie; quintessential St-Estèphe, then, but with a warmth, even a creaminess, beneath. Hints of black tea, licorice, and bitter dark chocolate complete the picture; the tannins are sturdy but far from stentorian. 90-92

Château Lilian Ladouys Cru Bourgeois

(53% CS, 40% M, 6% PV, 1% CF) 

SF | One of the new leaders of the revitalized Cru Bourgeois Exceptional category (come back all you others!) Lilian Ladouys has a complex aroma of wild raspberry, incense and bitter chocolate; the palate has classic St-Estèphe tannic grip, a solid core of fruit and a refreshing eucalypt lift on the finish. 89-91

Château Montrose 2ème Cru

(62% CS, 31% M, 6% CF, 1% PV) 

SF | Graphite, crushed rock, and smoke; an elemental vigor, vital and almost plangent, such is its call to attention; the fruit, when one finally notices it, is rich and persuasive, dark rather than red; the tannins more velvet than silk, with added nuances of mint and licorice. Complex and memorable. As an after-thought I am left wondering why all four walls of the tasting room are adorned by large framed hand-written verses from Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal. Something to do with synesthesia? 93-95

La Dame de Montrose

(53% M, 38% CS, 3% CF, 6% PV)

SF | Merlot dominates the aromatic here; blue fruits and wild raspberry; it also dominates the texture, which is ripe and fleshy; the tannic robe is silky and comfortable, the acidity bright and supportive, building all the time and underlining the mid-palate concentration, which could almost be overlooked, such is the allure of the attack. 90-92

Château Ormes de Pez Cru Bourgeois

(40% CS, 49% M, 6% CF, 5% PV)

SF | Jean-Charles Cazes opines that the northern Cabernet vineyards were successful in 2021, a little less challenged by the caprice of the seasons. This is borne out by an attractive Ormes de Pez, its generous fruit and characteristically lapidary tannins all pleasingly synchronized. The 2021 has been aged in 45% new barrels. 89-91

Château de Pez Cru Bourgeois

(62% CS, 36% M, 2% CF) 

SF | “The acidity reveals the quality of the extraction,” so says Nicolas Glumineau, maybe a little cryptically, but one is certainly aware of both the framework of acidity and the gently persuasive tannins. Dark of hue and with a nose dominated by blackcurrant leaf and bitter chocolate, this is a powerful wine, perhaps more so at the front of the palate in terms of fruit concentration, but with textural integrity and impressive length. 90-92

Château Tronquoy Lalande Cru Bourgeois

(48% CS, 40% M, 12% PV) 

SF | Acquired in 2006 by the Bouygues family, Tronquoy Lalande has enjoyed a similar injection of love and financial attention as its big brother, Montrose. The wine is rich and lively, plums and raspberries providing the core of fruit, velvety tannins in support, the ensemble more generous and open than one may have expected from St-Estèphe, and well worth encountering during the course of the next few years. 90-92

 PAUILLAC

Château d’Armailhac 5ème Cru

(63% CS, 22% M, 13% CF, 2% PV)

SF | An elegant cool-fruit nose, juniper and rose petals and then blueberries and plum, then a tight-grained, composed palate, bags of energy and (everyone’s favorite word for 2021) plenty of sapidité on the finish. “Mouthwatering” is an inadequate translation. Not that it isn’t, of course! 92-94

Château Clerc Milon 5ème Cru

(59% CS, 28% M, 19% CF, 1.5% CARM, 1.5% PV)

SF | Indubitably complex and with unassailable pedigree (the parcel of Carmenère dates from 1947); quite austere, especially aromatically, but with a little time in the glass it unfurls gracefully. Firm acidity and tannins keep pace with each other, and the fruit, dark and quietly brooding now, alludes quality and elegance. Just a touch reticent at the moment. 92-94

Château Duhart-Milon 4ème Cru

(81% CS, 19% M)

SF | A very upright and serious Pauillac which reminds me of the Duhart of old, but with a little more polish. The higher than usual proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon has contributed to this sentiment; one is more than satisfied with the dark fruit and sturdy but not domineering tannins, by the seriousness of intent and its finely mannered delivery. 90-92

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 5ème Cru

(85% CS, 15% M)

SF | Described by the Research Director, Christel Spinner, as “classic chic,” this wine is indeed beautifully tailored—seamless, one might say… The nose is refined and subtle, almost St-Julien in its elegance, with hints of cigar box and incense beyond the more familiar fruit descriptors. The fruit itself is ripe and confident, the structure becoming and finely manicured. Fifty-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon weaves its magic here. 92-94

Château Haut-Bages Libéral5ème Cru

(90% CS, 10% M)

SF | “A triumph of patience and perseverance,” says Technical Director Thomas Bontemps. A triumph indeed, the tannin management especially successful; chalky and firm but entirely in keeping with the structural backdrop. Blue and black fruits predominate, then herbs and a hint of smoke; there is gravitas here, for sure, and, as with all of Claire’s wines an almost elemental energy which is hard to gainsay, let alone to resist…  92-94

Château Haut-Batailley 5ème Cru

(70% CS, 30% M)

SF | Haut-Batailley offers an interesting counterpoint to the Cazes’ better-known Lynch-Bages… more cerebral maybe, certainly a little less opulent. The restraint suits the “Atlantic” vintage nicely; hints of woodsmoke and bracken; a pleasing mid-palate glide of fruit and a solid, bright finish. Luncheon claret par excellence. In a few years’ time! 91-93

Château Lafite 1er Cru

(96% CS, 3% M, 1% PV)

SF | The gravel soils of the plateau of Lafite have notched up a singular triumph for Cabernet Sauvignon, to the virtual exclusion of everything else. An energetic, lively Cabernet Sauvignon, its tannic cloak borne with ease, its backbone of acidity effortlessly integrated. The sine qua non of Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon in 2021? Maybe, and Eric Kohler compares it to 1996, such is the innate classicism of structure. Behind the exuberance, welcome in itself, are the roots of knowledge, the sturdy foundations of experience. It is almost as if we are privileged to espy the three (or more) ages of Lafite in this, its youngest manifestation. No mewling infant this, however! 95-97

Carruades de Lafite

(55% CS, 36% M, 4% PV, 5% CF)

SF | The Rothschild stable have decided this year, in lieu of the more traditional fiches techniques, to supply us with a small pack of cards, which resemble Tarot cards, complete with a quasi-mythological illustration on the back of each one. On the front we have a description of the wine, which for Les Carruades de Lafite is entitled “Nothing to Hide,” in itself somewhat cryptic. The message is one of honesty in the face of adversity, which is dutifully echoed in the wine itself; red fruit to the fore, its message sown of purity and precision. The mouthfeel is one of exuberance, the tannins softly deferential to an exhortation to maximize pleasure, and as soon as possible. The rubric attributes this character to a high proportion of young vines… “it’s the talent for concealing that ardent youth entirely lacks,” to borrow from Pushkin. Joie de vivre dutifully abounds here. 92-94

Château Latour 1er Cru

(96% CS, 4% M)

SF | Temperamentally ascetic of inclination, Latour is theoretically well-suited to a vintage such as this, which one would be loath to describe as generous. Generosity takes many forms, however, and need not be bestowed instantaneously. Instead, with such bright acidity, such powerful grippy tannins and such a solid core of Cabernet Sauvignon, one must contemplate what is to come. The fruit is dark but concentrated, cool, and reserved, the pulse of acidity notwithstanding. Of all the wines tasted from 2021, this is possibly the one which needs to be revisited time and time again. Herein lies its allure. I am confident that those who succumb to such joyful recidivism will be richly rewarded! 95-97

Forts de Latour

(61% CS, 33% M, 6% PV)

SF | Latent power is writ into the fabric of Latour, and that goes for Les Forts, too. We encounter blackcurrant skin, smoke, and wildflowers, the quality of tannins and purity of the acidity underpinning the edifice. Sinuous but not stretched, this is a noble effort and will be appreciated by those who are not intimidated by quiet power. 92-94

Château Lynch-Bages 5ème Cru

(67% CS, 25% M, 3% CF, 5% PV)

SF | Rich, elegant, and very Lynch-Bages, even if a little less flamboyant than the last trio of vintages. How much flamboyance does one need? Jean-Charles Cazes compares it to 2008 or maybe a 2014 with a little more intensity. The smoky oak is quite persuasive, aromatically at least, but on the palate the concentration and sheer quality of the fruit is such as to lend harmony to the wine and, in turn, pleasure to the taster, and, presumably, even more pleasure to the drinker! The secret of tackling the challenges of 2021? Low yields are fundamental, says Jean-Charles; they prompt ultimate concentration and allow the harvest to take place at the most opportune moment. 93-95

Blanc de Lynch-Bages (79% SB, 15% SM, 6% MUS)

SF | Elevage on lees for six months. The result is a typically generous wine from a vintage which was almost perfect for the white grapes, including this pleasing dash of Muscadelle, which adds scents of the orange grove to the core of greengage and citrus. Creamy and plush, but with hints of briary and salinity at the end; all most successfully rendered. 92-94

Château Mouton Rothschild 1er Cru

(89% CS, 10% M, 1% CF)

SF | This is the first Mouton with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at the helm for its entirety. And this wine, appropriately enough, has been a success story from start to finish; magnificently composed and elegantly proportioned; Chippendale elegance, without too much wood, Canaletto detail, without excessive varnish (why hasn’t he contributed a label?!), Wagner power, without any unsavory undertones… Terrific, in other words. Cassis and cedar then black tea, soft herbs, with hints of dark chocolate and truffle; very fine tannins and a real presence on the back of the palate. Neoclassicism par excellence, with a rococo flourish to let you know not to take it too, too seriously. This is wine, after all. 94-96

Petit Mouton

(77% CS, 19.5% M, 3% CF, 0.5% PV)

SF | Often the favorite of the first-growth second wines, le Petit Mouton is on particularly fine form in 2021. The nose is benchmark; gravel, cassis, plum, and cigar box; the bench is marked once more on the palate which is generous and broad; finely hewn tannins, firm supporting acidity, glorious concentration on the mid-palate, and a refined, peacock’s tail of a finish. Highly successful, in other words. 92-94

Aile d’Argent

(64% SB, 36% SM)

SF | Jean-Emmanuel advises that a third of the listed Sauvignon Blanc here is in fact Sauvignon Gris, lending texture maybe. The wine has undergone a partial malolactic fermentation (15%) and the proportion of new barrels is 45%. Significant numbers these, as they betray the aspiration not to overwhelm the wine, to ensure that the beauty of this cool season, ideal for white grapes, is captured in the glass. This has been achieved; the weave of fruit and extract, aromatic and acidity, is perfectly poised. The immediate tension from citric and chalky notes is assuaged by a dash of gentle exoticism, then a deeply satisfying finish, refreshing yet plush at the same time. A delight!  93-95

Château Pédesclaux 5ème Cru

(64% CS, 27% M, 3% PV, 6% CF)

SF | A truly impressive Pédesclaux this, from a property less well known than some of its grand neighbors, despite its cru classé heritage, but really reaping the rewards of extensive investment (the owner, entrepreneur Jacky Lorenzetti also owns 50% of d’Issan) and a vinification that plays to the strengths of an unusually heterogeneous terroir. Whatever it is, 2021 is terrific; the purity of fruit is outstanding; equally so the weave of the tannins, softly captivating, with perfumed spice and white flowers as a backdrop. 92-94

Château Pibran Cru Bourgeois

(63% CS, 37% M)

SF | Episcopal purple, with a heady aromatic, muscular and sturdy. Cassis and loganberry, a hint of bitter chocolate and violets; both broad and long, but far from ponderous. An articulate statement of the possible in a cooler year. 90-92

Château Pichon Baron 2ème Cru

(88% CS, 12% M)

SF | Before 2004 there was some Cabernet Franc in the blend; such is the magnificence of the Cabernet Sauvignon on this gravel, however, that it seemed illogical to deny it supremacy, the fleshier Merlot maintained, albeit modestly, to add rondeur and a dash of red fruit. The 2021 has an eloquent gravelly nose, so much so that one can almost sense the long-term developments—tobacco, leather, game, truffle, and the rest of it. The joys of anticipation! Magnificent chalky tannins, persuasive but not mouthcoating, the fruit/acid interplay holding court, any intimation of austerity challenged immediately by the cushion of fruit. A generous structure then, everything expertly aligned and full of promise… A suitably impressive swan song for the retiring technical director Jean-René Matignon, some 37 vintages on! 94-96

Les Griffons de Pichon Baron

(45% CS, 44% M, 11% PV)

SF | In 2012 it was decided to split sites, thereby to introduce Les Griffons to accompany Les Tourelles. Les Griffons is marked out by the spicy, perfumed notes of the Petit Verdot; there is mint and eucalypt behind the blueberry and cassis-stained fruit. The proportion of new barrels has been reduced to ensure balance and harmony; the marked acidity redoubles the effort. A muscular and magisterial wine, which merits extensive cellaring. 91-93

Les Tourelles de Longueville

(66% M, 28% CS, 6% CF)

SF | The fruit for the Tourelles is mainly sourced from gravelly plots, some a little younger, to the west of the famous turrets. Here there is iron ore in the subsoil and Merlot, fast to ripen, flourishes. The house style is immediately obvious, robust without being foursquare, meaty without being coarse (the French word “charnu” is hard to translate). Blackberry, damson, sous-bois, and graphite, and behind that the recollection of licorice and laurel from the kitchen garden. These are fruit tannins, says Pierre Montégut, the new technical director, and will soften in their own time. The finish is refined and long. 90-92

Château Pichon Lalande 2ème Cru

(88% CS, 10% CF, 2% M)

SF | Far more reserved than the Réserve, monumental Cabernet Sauvignon building slowly and remorselessly… gravel and cassis, blueberries and plum, hints of tobacco leaf and earth. Brucknerian revelation comes finally, and with it a softer, silkier cadenza, very Comtesse, very becoming, if slightly hesitant… almost as if the Comtesse is trying on her new Cabernet robe and wondering whether or not it suits her. It does.  93-95

Réserve de la Comtesse

(56% CS, 36% M, 8% PV)

SF | Here the younger Merlot, brought up biodynamically, has fared marginally better in 2021 and therefore features more in the Réserve wine this year. The wine is generous, fleshy, and enticing, the tannins “fondus,” a ludic note, almost creamy at the end, teasing with an alluring accessibility. 92-94

Château Pontet-Canet 5ème Cru

(58% CS, 32% M, 4% CF, 6% PV)

SF | Alfred Tesseron (whom I would love to address as Alfred Lord Tesseron, out of respect and nothing but respect) advises that 2021 is not a vin de garde; as he says this, he is decanting the sample, so one wonders to what extent it is true… maybe up to a point, Lord Copper. Anyway, this wine is a delight; we get all that we would expect: cassis, smoke, depth of flavor, and an earthy gravitas. All that we would expect and more; an almost savory, dried-fruit, almost pithy core, which takes us to the heart of the matter, which makes us understand the attention to detail of the biodynamic preparation, which makes us love the ten white horses (half in the stable, half working the vines when I visit) even more. Without the merest hint of rusticity, this wine glories in artisan dedication; there is something of the same spirit to be found at Tertre Roteboeuf, even if the wines are not especially alike. To be cherished, both. 92-94

ST-JULIEN

Château Beychevelle 4ème Cru

(57% CS, 38% M, 3% PV, 2% CF)

SF | Veteran MD and winemaker Philippe Blanc describes the grand vin in 2021 as “a very good surprise.” Everyone had to work extremely hard, he says, and the French 35-hour working week was quietly ignored for a while. For longer than 35 hours, for sure. The results surely vindicate such claims; a big bold color, plenty of Beychevelle plush, but thereafter, not least structurally, a pleasant surprise indeed; fresh acidity to the fore, the 12.9% ABV impressive in its ampleur, and the tannins finely etched. Roses and cassis with a velvety texture, unforced. 92-94

Amiral de Beychevelle

(62% CS, 38% M)

SF | Beychevelle’s proximity to the Gironde Estuary has meant that 2021 was relatively frost-free; the same cannot be said of the rain and mildew which splattered the vines thereafter; it was a case of selection and sorting, sorting and selection. The Admiral has braved the storm, his young-vine midshipmen putting in a sterling performance: bright acidity, forward fleshy fruit, and a solid, honest structure. 90-92

Château Branaire-Ducru 4ème Cru

(66% CS, 22% M, 5% PV, 7% CF)

SF | Jean-Dominique Videau is happy to admit that Merlot was a challenge in 2021; in addition to 0.5% ABV added by chaptalization, he bled the grapes (saignée) to give a little more concentration; as a result, the Merlot is down by one third from its normal share in the blend. The result is commendable, the higher than usual Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc elements making themselves felt, especially at the back of the palate. Further forward, the attack is robust, brimming with potential. Notes of black tea and wet stone complement off the red-fruit character nicely. 91-93

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2ème Cru

(98% CS, 2% M)

SF | Most definitely “an ode to Cabernet Sauvignon,” this one, with its highest-ever proportion in the final blend. The wine delights from start to finish and shows off all that is best in St-Julien: breeding, politesse, and gentle persistence. Bruno Borie advises that all of the Cabernet was picked in one day, lending consistency and rigor over the palate, which is also marked by the delicate quality of its fruit, also by hints of spice and graphite. The tannins assure with a cashmere-like quality, supremely versatile and discreet yet most definitely present in times of need. Rather less “flamboyant” than some of the recent wines from this house and, in all probability, the better for it. Bravo! 94-96

La Croix de Beaucaillou

(64% CS, 32% M, 4% PV) 

SF | Cassis, brambles, and black cherry on the nose: very Cabernet, very St-Julien. Bruno Borie describes his two senior wines as “an ode to Cabernet Sauvignon”; beyond the blackcurrant there is gravel and cigar box, very St-Julien, too, and a fresh close-grained profile, which closes down fairly quickly at the moment. 90-92

Château Gloria Cru Bourgeois

(61% CS, 19% M, 6% CF, 14% PV)

SF | A testing vintage to undergo the first year of organic conversion, but a test that has not proved detrimental to the quality of the wine here. There are sweet berries on the nose, with raspberry and cherry to the fore, then a gently spicy backdrop, courtesy of the generous quota of Petit Verdot. The ensemble is exuberant and relatively unchallenging, in the best sense of the word, by which one may well infer an invitation to uncomplicated drinking pleasure. 91-93

Château Gruaud Larose 2ème Cru

(84% CS, 12% M, 4% CF) 

SF | To describe something as an iron fist within a velvet glove may not be entirely original but seems to work nicely for this splendid Gruaud. Relatively new plots of Cabernet Sauvignon debut in the senior wine and add vitality and zip to the edifice; purity of fruit and authority on the finish are key here. 93-95

Sarget de Gruaud Larose

(52% CS, 40% M, 2% CF, 6% PV) 

SF | The Sarget is an increasingly dependable second wine, taking the lion’s share of overall production at Gruaud-Larose this year (60%). The fruit is ripe and crunchy, generous and vital, with cassis and cherry to the fore, a solid architectural integrity and an elegantly tapered finish. 90-92

Château Lagrange 3ème Cru

(84% CS, 14% M, 2% PV) 

SF | Lagrange is not the only property in the Médoc to break a house record for Cabernet Sauvignon in its senior wine. It has fashioned a characteristically elegant St-Julien, with ripe but nuanced red and black fruit rubbing shoulders with sandalwood, blond tobacco, and summer flowers. A little reticent at the moment, however, with even the Cabernet Sauvignon yet to find its full voice. The combination of a deft tannic architecture and firm supporting acidity are well set, however, to see it through to the next staging post of a long evolution. 92-94

Les Fiefs de Lagrange

(52% M, 40% CS, 8% PV)

SF | Winemaker Matthieu Bordes advises that 61% of the production went into the second wine, a little higher than usual in what is a “true” second wine rather than one made in separately delineated parcels. Younger vines (although not that young) and a small majority of Merlot, relatively rare in this vintage. The result is attractive, generous, and ripe, silky tannins perfectly resolved and upholding a generous fruit basket of flavor with gentle dignity. 89-91

Château Langoa Barton 3ème Cru

(61% CS, 36% M, 3% CF)

SF | The 200th vintage of Langoa is labeled with celebratory aplomb and has been made in a smart new winery to boot. The quintessence of a friendly St-Julien; red fruit aplenty, a generous embonpoint, and then, just to remind us exactly where we are, sandalwood and tobacco leaf… light on its feet, beautifully harmonious. More serious than it first appears.  91-93

Château Léoville Barton 2ème Cru

(83% CS, 11% M, 3% CF)

SF | More power and gravitas than its Langoa sibling, this is a definitive statement of St-Julien Cabernet Sauvignon from deep gravelly soils. Texturally magnificent (the new winery no doubt playing its part) this one is long and richly authoritative, cassis, plums, and spice to the fore; cedarwood and a hint of pepper bringing up the rear, all seamlessly entwined. An extremely and fittingly successful Léoville Barton. 93-95

Château Léoville-Las-Cases 2ème Cru

(80% CS, 15% CF, 5% M)

SF | Powerful and intense, so Pauillac-like that one often forgets that we are in St-Julien here. Violets and iris, smoke and tree bark; a complex, somewhat uncompromising nose. The palate maintains the theme; it is broad and long and resourceful, incontrovertibly complex and unassailably precocious… We are advised that this one will develop like the 1988. 94-96

Le Petit Lion

(57% M, 40% CS, 3% CF)

SF | Clos du Marquis is an autonomous vineyard in its own right, Le Petit Lion being the Las-Cases second wine “proper,” with Merlot taking center stage as is the case for so many of its ilk. The wine has a cool fruit harmony, with graphite and a whiff of menthol to invigorate the ripe fruit; hints of herb and iodine, too. I shall resist the temptation, however true, to describe this as a roaring success! 92-94

Clos du Marquis

(67% CS, 19% M, 14% CF)

SF | Silky and sapid, with the Cabernet Franc enlivening the aromatic and adding tension to the back of the mouth; a hedgerow aromatic, with cedar and spice behind; lovely poise on the palate, chalky tannins, and an especially impressive finish to underline (as if it needed underlining!) the quality here. 91-93

La Petite Marquise

(55% CS, 38% M, 7% CF)

SF | Young vines get older all the time. This is the fifth outing of the Petite Marquise; a deceptively creamy aroma belies the fact that there has been no new oak at all during the élevage; the impressive concentration is partly as a result of the proportion of first wine press juice “added back.” Very persistent and satisfying. 91-93

Château Léoville Poyferré 2ème Cru

(60% CS, 26% M, 9% CF, 5% PV)

SF | With a deep onyx color, the wine is aromatically generous and richly textured. The complex nose boasts damson preserve, cassis, tar and roses, and then a whiff of pepper. Complexity is rejoined on the palate, but in a more restrained, almost minor key, the fine-grained tannins and plump fruit harnessed by the undertow of keenly felt, but far from overbearing, acidity. 92-94

Château Moulin Riche

(54% CS, 27% M, 19% PV)

SF | A sister to, rather than a second wine of, Léoville Poyferré, and now with its very own second wine, M de Moulin Riche, the senior wine is sourced from the eponymous sector behind Talbot and a little farther from the Estuary. The 19% of Petit Verdot certainly makes itself felt, with a chocolatey, spicy texture and then a sinewy, slightly clumsy structure. There is distinctive damson and myrtle fruit also playing its part, fascinating, but not quite knit together at the moment. 89-91

Château St-Pierre 4ème Cru

(70% CS, 14% M, 9% CF, 7% PV)

SF | Far more sturdy and powerful than its sibling, Château Gloria, St-Pierre glories in smoky oak, firm and authoritative tannins, and a hitherto uncompromising grip on the finish. Structurally it is finely drawn, however, and the old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon from the gravelly plateau is perfectly entitled to make us wait a little for its apotheosis.  90-92

Château Talbot 4ème Cru

(71% CS, 24% M, 5% PV)

SF | Jean-Michel Laporte is reassuringly honest when he says that organic viticulture can be too difficult in a region such as Bordeaux in a year such as 2021. Rather, for him the pragmatism of lutte raisonnée, when faced with nature’s broader challenges… the irony being that in such years he would spray far fewer times (12 or 13, say) than some of his organic neighbors, some of whom performed the task up to 30 times—a strange paradox. Be that as it may, Talbot has seen an increase in its Cabernet component over the past ten years, with 76% in 2020 and now in 2021, 71% There is something reassuringly effortless about the wine, which has an intangible almost ethereal character, born surely out of the quality of the tannins, but also the supremely elegant fruit character. Tight-grained yet generous, the wine has a core of sweetness which sits well with trademark calling card notes of blond tobacco and cedar. 91-93

MARGAUX

Château Angludet

(54% CS, 24% M, 22% PV)

SF | With 40% of Merlot lost on this part of the plateau of Margaux, there was ample opportunity for the thicker-skinned varieties to shine. As indeed they do, but not entirely as one may have expected, as this is a soft and forward, red berries almost recalling summer puddings, then blue berries and spring flowers. “Amphorae” have been employed here for 50% of the wine, which, along with a gentle extraction regime, leaves us with a delicious and accessible wine… Not for the long term, for sure, but why wait? 88-90

Château Brane-Cantenac 2ème Cru

(74% CS, 22% M, 2% CF, 1% CARM, 1% PV) 

SF | 60-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, tight and authoritative, sets the agenda for this impressive Brane-Cantenac. Henri Lurton advises that for the past three years all of the fruit has been sourced from the Margaux plateau; everything else goes into the Baron. This one unfurls slowly, deliberately, impressively, the sheer quality of the tannins all-enveloping but never overbearing. The modish R Pulse extraction technique has ensured elegance and focus, a satin embrace, but the Cabernet will not let us off quite so easily; it stays with us right through to the bitter—or rather, saline—end. All very impressive. 92-94

Baron de Brane

(46% CS, 3% CF, 50% M, 1% PV)

SF | A sartorially impressive Baron; neatly packaged and elegantly constructed; length rather than breadth here and a pleasing juxtaposition of the herbs and fruit, the latter dominated by loganberry and cassis; hints of tobacco leaf and briary on the finish. 89-91

Château Cantenac Brown3ème Cru

(73% CS, 27% M)

SF | A very accomplished wine, Cabernet Sauvignon writ large with purity, the tannins etched with lapidary charm; cassis and brambles, violet and peonies, a pitch-perfect palate with an ethereal, beguilingly delicate personality and a long and resourceful finish. Exciting times, evidently, at Cantenac Brown, with a dramatic renovation of the sprawling ancient Château well under way. Any inferred symbolism would be highly appropriate. 91-93

Brio de Cantenac Brown

(29% CS, 60% M, 11% CF)

SF | A very accomplished Brio, sitting in perfect counterpoint to the senior wine, this one with Merlot in the ascendant and offering proof that Merlot from the plateau of Cantenac, albeit from some of the younger vines, can achieve a great deal, even if in a forward fashion. There is no shortage of ripe juicy fruit here, its concentration aided by the addition of 10% press wine; plenty of charm, plenty of elegance; plenty of Brio! 89-91

Château Durfort-Vivens 2ème Cru

(97% CS, 3% M)

SF | Durfort has one of the highest proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon in the region, and 2021 was highly successful for Cabernet Sauvignon… So says Gonzague Lurton, with a twinkle in his eye. And so says the wine, too; a dark pool of purity; aromatically allusive, floral as great Margaux should be, but not shutting out the fruit; black cherry, cassis, and myrtle… the quality of the tannins, which almost dance on the palate, such is their elegance, is outstanding. A truly uplifting finish, too! A great success, which reminds Gonzague of his 1986. 92-94

Château Ferrière 3ème Cru

(81% CS, 13% M, 5% PV, 1% CF)

SF | In a potentially difficult year, vines such as these which have already been treated biodynamically for several years (Demeter accreditation five years ago) are seemingly more resourceful and resilient; thus for this very successful Ferrière, its symphonic fruit descriptors beautifully pure and engaging. Peonies, roses then blackberries and redcurrants; firm acidity and a silky embrace of tannins; almost diaphanous, whilst still, beguilingly, somewhat earthy and urgent. 92-94

Château La Gurgue

(54% CS, 27% M, 19% PV)

SF | Claire Villars-Lurton describes her Cabernet Sauvignon as the Rolls Royce of the Médoc; while not offering another automobile to describe her Petit Verdot, it is clear that the latter is also significant in the blend, lending a firm mid-palate and a clasp of acidity. All well and good, the more so since the quality of the fruit is high; beneath the cassis carapace there are complex notes of black pepper and thyme; one is transported to the vineyards and their deep, loamy gravels. 89-91

Château d’Issan 3ème Cru

(65% CS, 30% M, 2% CF, 2% MAL, 1% PV)

SF | D’Issan entitles its 2021 brochure “Out of the shadows and into the light,” a poetic and not inaccurate reading of the vintage, which became gradually easier as the season progressed. Might this be the only Grand Cru Classé in the Médoc to include Malbec in its grand vin? The wine is complex, for sure; cerebral, one may say, the slightly firm mid-palate yielding graciously over time and allowing a deft build to the finish. The fruit character is elegant (blue as well as black fruit) and there is a little woodsmoke at the back of the palate; graphite comes though impressively too bringing the Margaux signature into a glorious and sunny focus. 90-92

Blason d’Issan

(46% CS, 52% M, 2% PV)

SF | Eric Boissenot’s father Jacques identified plots that he felt were better suited to a second wine and the Blason was born… this as long ago as 1994. Merlot takes the lead here, just as Cabernet does with the senior wine; the house style is evident, however, albeit a little less convincing with the Blason, which is a touch lean at the finish and slightly hollow in the middle; a little more to do… and in a more favorable vintage, I’m sure it will be done. 88-90

Château Lascombes 2ème Cru

(50% CS, 40% M, 5% PV) 

SF | A new cuverie for Lascombes, enabling more parcellaire definition and a refinement of the extraction techniques; for all that the style has changed little; a seductive floral perfume, with spice and licorice behind, then dark cherries, plum, and fruits of the forest. 60% of new oak does not protrude, but the house style majors on concentration, gravitas, and the bestowing of the gift of longevity; it will be fascinating to see how this evolves; everything is in place for a successful dénouement, and elements that may be deemed to be foursquare in their youth look set to unravel gracefully. 90-92

Château Malescot St-Exupéry 3ème Cru

(49% CS, 38% M, 8% CF, 5% PV) 

SF | A winning nose of loganberry, thyme, and a hint of bitter chocolate; texture triumphs in the mouth, the reward for gentle extraction and bâtonnage…the tannins are light, dexterous, and pleasing, fully supportive of the fruit, which in turn is nicely delineated and elegantly focused. Medium concentration and a lifted yet delicate finish. 90-92

Château Margaux 1er Cru

(87% CS, 8% M, 3% CF, 2% PV) 

SF | Director Philippe Bascaules compares the winemaking process with the cooking of a fine steak; precision and savoir faire are essential to add to the quintessence of the raw or not-so-raw materials. Nothing meaty here, however; this is an archetype: floral and gently lifted, with real power within. Introvert at first, then blossoming, confident in the integrity of its structural architecture and deferential to the personality of the vintage with clean, arrow-like shafts of acidity and beautifully drawn tannins. Chef, draftsman, and vigneron alike need to nurture what nature has provided, even at a famous address such as this! 95-97

Pavillon Rouge

(73% CS, 18% M, 5% PV, 4% CF)

SF | Le Pavillon makes up 30% of the overall production in 2021, with a little more of the newish (20 years old by now) plantations of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (ultimately destined for the grand vin) making the cut. A friendly, red-berried wine with pleasing lift and soft tannins; there is good concentration here, however, and the finish is long. 90-92

Pavillon Blanc

(100% SB)

SF | One of the best whites in a year that was best for whites. Extraordinary complexity from a variety sometimes not naturally at home with such a concept; pale and fragrant; there is chalk and white pepper behind the quince, acacia, and verbena; a silky texture, confident but not overwhelming acidity, and an immeasurably satisfying finish. Only 11,000 bottles were made, hélas 92-94

Château Palmer 3ème Cru

(56% M, 41% CS, 3% PV)

SF | “Outstanding Merlot on what really should be Cabernet terroir….” An unusual but strangely apposite pitch. For this is Merlot like no other, gravelly and cindery, with incense and loganberries coming to mind rather than plums and plush. The tannins work like the most expensive duvet; discreet when discretion is required, powerful when power is required; versatile in other words, deftly constructed. Old-school tannins, in a sense, yet more than a match for the quota of fruit. Almost diametrically opposed, stylistically, Janus-like, to its well-named Alter Ego… a challenging and ultimately very rewarding Palmer. 93-95

Alter Ego

(60% CS, 32% M, 8% PV) 

SF | Cabernet once again steps up to rescue the frost-damaged Merlot; and does so wonderfully. This is deeply colored, with heady scents of violets, dark chocolate, and crushed berries; smoky and fleshier than one might have expected, given the Cabernet influence, but this only makes it more seductive. The wine is aged for two years, the first in barrique, the second in foudre; this allows Thomas Duroux to show off the quality of the tannin management and to allow the fruit full and exuberant expression. 91-93

Château Rauzan-Ségla 2ème Cru

(75% CS, 25% M) 

SF | As, it seems, is the case with many other châteaux, Rauzan is in its first year of organic certification, the process to be finalized, all being well, in 2024. The less-than-predicable vagaries of the season clearly have not disarmed Nicolas Audebert appreciably, as this is a great effort; Cabernet notes of cassis, violets, and tobacco dominate, the palate repaying the compliment with precise finely etched tannins and plenty of tension, almost saline, on the finish. The ripeness of the Cabernet Sauvignon is key here, as across the Left Bank. In 2021 there was even less margin for error than usual, and the vintage, accordingly, has a broad qualitative tableau engraved upon its reputation. 92-94

Château du Tertre 5ème Cru

(64% CS, 20% CF, 10% M, 6% PV)

SF | Cynthia Capelaire is all too aware of the challenges posed by a property run on strict biodynamic principles in a rainy and humid vintage such as 2021. Frost was less of a problem here than the mildew; the latter combatted by work in vineyard and winery alike; strict selection, gentle extraction, and an usually high proportion of Cabernet Franc in the final blend. The result is pleasingly energetic, a darkly colored wine that boasts a rich palate of fruit and herbs, black and red currants, and a hint of pepper. There is a decisive eucalypt freshness on the finish. 91-93

Château du Tertre Les Hauts du Tertre

(52% CS, 30% M, 18% PV)

SF | A fascinating exhibit from Du Tertre, its significant Petit Verdot component offering an unusual slightly leafy note, a touch foursquare to the palate which has become accustomed to the Cabernet/Merlot duopoly. Not without appeal, for all that; dark fruit, tobacco, and a hint of tar, with a melodious aromatic which evokes, inter alia, orange blossom and chamomile! 90-92

Bordeaux 2021 coverage

Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur Review: Neo-Classic

Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur: Romance and Reality

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Château Figeac

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Vieux Château Certan

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Château Pavie

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Le Dôme

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Domaine de Chevalier

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Sauternes and Barsac

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Pichon Lalande

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Enquiring Minds

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: The Whites Have It

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: In the Cold Light of Day

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