Bordeaux 2021 Primeurs: Pessac-Léognan, Red

In the 2021 vintage the true joy in the Pessac-Léognan appellation is to be found in the white wines, which are shimmering jewels, rich in fruit, texture, sometimes minerality but almost always good acidity, giving them drive and a sense of balance which has been missing from the whites of this region for too long.

The reds, meanwhile, and this is true across the entire Bordeaux region in this vintage, are much more of a mixed bag. That does not mean, however, they should be summarily disregarded, without a moment’s thought. Far from it. There are many good and very good wines in this vintage, but there are also any number of more average wines, as well as a few vinous pitfalls into which the unwary buyers could stumble. The level of success here is much more variable, and any purchases made require much more careful selection.

Bordeaux 2021

So on with my report on the red wines of Pessac-Léognan. I visited a good number of the estates in this appellation, squeezing in as many appointments as I could, including a flying visit to Château La Mission Haut-Brion after a long tasting with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, an early morning appointment at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion (thanks to Guillaume Pouthier for being there at 8am to greet me), and of course my usual trek through the region calling in at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Château Haut-Bailly, Château Latour-Martillac and Domaine de Chevalier, among others.[/am4show]

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In the 2021 vintage the aforementioned Guillaume Pouthier made one of the very best reds of the appellation, and indeed of the entire Bordeaux region, at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion. “We had no frost damage, and no mildew”, he told me, and while the urban location presumably helps stave off frost, I am sure this simple statement reflects a huge amount of work protecting the vines against these two maladies, using wind turbines and candles for the former, hand-spraying when required against the latter. Even so, what remained of the season brought only more complications; Guillaume reported a span of four weeks between the first berry changing colour from green to red, and the last, a long véraison which naturally introduces heterogeneity in the ripening process.

His response was to carry out sequential pickings through the vines. “You have to wait for the heterogeneity to go with the ripening”, he told me, “so you have to wait for the botrytis to come, then pick and select out any rotten berries. I did this to get a good maturity without chaptalisation. It is easy when you pick in tries, and we had 13.8% alcohol on the first tri, 13.4% on the second, and 13.9% on the third. In the end we have a good yield, and technical analyses which are similar to 2018, 2019 and 2020, with no saignée, no chaptalisation and no reverse osmosis”. One sign of Guillaume’s confidence in his fruit is his decision to continue with his preference for partial whole-bunch fermentations, obviously using carefully selected bunches with ripe stems. The real proof of the pudding, however, is to be found in the glass, and his wine is one of a small handful in the region that seems to transcend the character of the vintage.

Down at Château Haut-Bailly, Véronique Sanders gave her characteristically informative review of the vintage. “The buds broke early, so we bought three new wind turbines – we have five now – to protect against the frost. We had lots of rain during the flowering, a warm and wet June with high mildew pressure, and a late véraison. August and September were drier here than elsewhere – data from our own weather station confirms that – and we started picking on September 27th, finishing October 11th”.

Here winemaker Gabriel Vialard was able to make full use of the estate’s new cellars to make not only this property’s wine but also that of Château Le Pape. “We did a little chaptalisation”, Véronique confirmed, “on the final Cabernets to be picked, just one or two vats, but we did no saignée. We did a lighter extraction, although we have never been a big extractor, and the press wine was useful, as we included the first press wine into the blend”. It is the usual story here, one of measured extraction, and building the wine up with press wine, 10% of the total in this case, once content with its quality.

At Domaine de Chevalier Olivier Bernard was also candid about the difficulties of the 2021 vintage. “We lost 15% to the frosts, and 10% to the mildew”, he opined, “but the real challenge of 2021 was ripening the Cabernets, and as our red vineyard is 65% Cabernet we really needed it to ripen. Some people picked Cabernet at the end of September when it simply wasn’t ripe – that is the timing for a vintage like 2003, warm and advanced, but in a vintage such as 2021 you have to take a risk. We were picking our Cabernets up to October 15th. In the end we did no saignée, but we still did a little chaptalisation on the reds”. In the end Olivier brought in 28 hl/ha, when 40 hl/ha is more typical, and in terms of quality, the wines (and my notes) can speak for themselves.

The vintage also took its toll at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, run by technical director Fabien Teitgen, where it was predominantly mildew that brought the yields down to just 22 hl/ha. He bought a Densibaie sorting machine, which sorts harvested and destemmed fruit by densitometry, but rather than filling the machine with a sugar solution to sort on ripeness, he filled it with water so its purpose was purely to sort out the shrivelled, mildew-stricken berries. After that he sorted by hand, as usual. In the end, quality here is very good, although the white grand vin outclasses the red this year.

My findings at Château La Mission Haut-Brion, where I also tasted the wines of Château Haut-Brion, were similar, the whites here showing a level of quality which is well ahead of the reds. Jean-Philippe Delmas reported little frost damage here – “maybe a few vines were hit” – but mildew was a bigger problem. “We had one of the wettest Julys ever, a record-breaking volume of water”, I was told, nevertheless it seems he won the fight against this malady, as the eventual yield here was 48 hl/ha.

Drastic action was taken by Jean-Philippe, not just leaf-plucking but also thinning of the Merlot crop, nevertheless there was still work to do in the cellar here. “We did a saignée on the Merlots, removing about 10% of the volume, and nothing else as the potential alcohols here were over 13%. The Cabernets, however, ranged from 12% to 13%, so we chaptalised those at the lower end, bringing them up to 12.5%. Then we continued with a lighter extraction”. In both cases the reds take just 40% of the crop, with the second wines taking just 30% or 40%, the rest sold off.

So I can heartily recommend some of these wines, starting with the 2021 Château Haut-Brion, impressing with its crushed mineral elements, as well as the 2021 Château La Mission Haut-Brion, all crushed blackberries and currants. The 2021 Château Haut-Bailly, 2021 Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and the 2021 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion all tasted very good. Other wines worth looking out for and not already mentioned include the 2021 Château Pape-Clément (where there has been a huge shift in style, something I noted when tasting the 2019 vintage from bottle) and 2021 Château Brown. I also include some tasting notes from Graves at the foot of the page, although I have to say I didn’t find any wines offering comparable levels of excitement here (although the whites are certainly worth a look). (22/5/22)

Tasting Notes

The following notes were made in Bordeaux in April 2022. Click to locate stockists.

Pessac-Léognan, Red Wines

Château Bouscaut (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This barrel sample is 47% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Malbec, and the yield transmits the difficulties of the vintage, coming in at just 20 hl/ha. It presents a nose of dark fruit, fresh leafy blackcurrant, although it has a rather sweet and focused feel to it. The palate is supple, gently polished, finessed, with an open texture, filled with rather leafy and curranty fruits. This delicate nature carries it forward, with a slowly building extraction of soft and powdery tannins, strident acidity and just a light blanket of cranberry and red cherry fruit draped over the top. The finish is lightly grained with powdery grip, nevertheless this is a good effort in this vintage. The alcohol is 13.3%. 88-90/100

Château Brown (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: From Jean-Christophe Mau, this barrel sample has a good concentration in the glass, with aromatics that suggest dark and vibrant berry fruits, with touches of black cherry, tinged with dark chocolate and violets. There follows a gently creamed start to the palate, with dark blackberry and violet fruits, dusted with soot and pepper, and a sinewy texture, all wrapped up in a rich frame of confidently extracted but well-knit tannins. Richly composed, with piles of tannic structure, and the fine, pointed, central spindle of acidity that defines the vintage, this certainly has cellar potential. 91-93/100

Château Cantelys (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend of Cantelys in 2021 is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The nose presents an array of dark fruits, crushed berries with some toasted notes, and a touch of leafy sage. The palate starts off with some focus, lithe and linear, revealing in the middle a rich and lightly peppery grip. The lightly toasted fruit is supported by finely grained and polished tannins, all set within a light substance and a taut frame. Fresh, with a dry and sinewy drive, culminating in a slightly sappy finish, this should evolve nicely. 86-88/100

Château Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend here is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot, picked at a rather handsome yield of 40 hl/ha. I find a fresh and leafy style of fruit on the nose, all smoked raspberry with notes of mint and rosemary. This holds together quite well on the palate, with a rather gentle texture at the start, more sinewy in the middle, carrying some lightly desiccated dark fruits, with notes of white peach, orange peel and sage. The palate slowly reveals the powdery style of tannins in this vintage, less eagerly than some perhaps, which is an admirable feature of this barrel sample, while the acidity feels a little punchy. It finishes all wrapped up in dry, peppery and grippy tannins. The alcohol is about 13.5%. 89-91/100

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This is from the Les Carmes vineyards (the second wine comes from more distant parcels), this site being warmer and usually earlier-picked. The blend is 40% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, with 45% whole bunches in the mix, and the yield was a handsome 42 hl/ha. The aging will be in barrels, foudres and amphorae. A quite beautiful nose here, of currants, dried cranberries, dark chocolate, toast and praline. A rather more supple style than Le C des Carmes on the palate, with a more polished start and middle, a touch more weight to the substance, grained with dark chocolate, currants, boysenberry and tobacco oak, with savoury and salty elements. A touch of silky cream here, with a bright core of acidity and a grip of powdered, composed tannins, this is really impressive for the vintage, the finish showcasing its polished and savoury style. The alcohol is about 13.5%. 93-95/100

Le C des Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: Guillaume Pouthier sees this not as the second wine, but a separate cuvée with its own cellars, he says “more like Léoville-Las-Cases and Clos du Marquis” than anything else. It is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, picked between September 30th and October 14th, with 20% whole bunches in the vinification. An interesting nose, of dried cherry skins, dark chocolate and currants, it feels convincing and ripe but in a dry and reserved style. The palate is distinctive, immediately charged and energetic, saline and gripped, with a tight grain of tannins wrapped around it. A lively style, honest, nicely composed, savoury with saline, chocolate and grilled berry notes, leaning a little into degradation, but it holds up well thanks to that salty character and the wines strident acidity. Nicely composed and correct, with a dry, gripped finish. A very good second wine. The alcohol is about 13.5%. 89-91/100

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend of the grand vin is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, picked from October 6th to the 15th, 10% Merlot, picked on the last few days of September, and 5% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, picked October 1st and 9th respectively. The yield was a very modest 28 hl/ha. Aromatically this feels very fresh and beautifully perfumed, with rather wild curranty notes, touched with blackcurrant leaf, dried curranty fruits, damp forest floor and autumnal wood-smoke. It has a supple presence at the start of the palate, more than a hint of sweetness to the texture, which feels lightly grained but it holds up extremely well through the middle. Beneath it sits the rather firm and powdery tannins which give the midpalate such fine grip. This feels lithe and sinewy, taut and restrained, and the grip on the finish is dry and extracted. Nevertheless there is such aromatic joy here, and such rich fruit and texture, that this will surely come together given time. The alcohol is about 13%. Tasted twice, although I have to say the sample tasted at the domaine was well ahead of that presented by the UGC tasting. 92-94/100

L’Esprit de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This second wine is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, picked at a yield of 30 hl/ha, between September 28th and October 15th. A wonderfully dense expression on the nose, feeling ripe with cassis, black cherry and sooty elements. This impressive depth and richness comes across very well on the palate, with dark and savoury elements, dried berries and currants, with a rich and sinewy style, wrapped in a tightly knit ribbon of tannins. This is very impressive, with a long finish, grained with structure. This has charm but also depth and texture. What a very fine result. The alcohol is about 13.5%. 89-91/100

Château Couhins (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This barrel sample presents a nose of raspberry and violet cream, dusted with vanilla and a little soot. The palate has a harmonious composition, with a little cottony-silky edge to the texture at the start. It has a medium-bodied weight in the middle, infused with a pile of rich, dry and somewhat grained tannins as well as rather pointed central acidity. The finish is loaded with sappy grip, the tannins lingering long and dry here. This feels rather worked. 87-89/100

Château Couhins-Lurton (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: From Jacques Lurton and team, this presents a rather sweet nose of blueberry ripple ice cream threaded with vanilla, white peach and some subtly perfumed oak. The palate begins with a rather gentle textural substance, which builds to a little touch of creamed blackberry in the middle, thoroughly infused with sooty tannins, which wrap themselves around the middle of the wine, squeezing out the texture. There is bright and lively acidity here too. All in all this has a charming style, despite being richly structured, the finish well wrapped up in tannin. Some nice potential here. 88-90/100

Château de Cruzeau (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This property, part of Vignobles Andre Lurton, kicks off with some rather light and crystalline fruits on the nose, the profile redolent of redcurrant and cranberry, with a little suggestion of peppery energy. The palate is lightly dried, with gently creamed redcurrant and vanilla, rather precisely composed, with a firm grip of tannins. It has a rather juicy but also peppery style, before it concludes with a finish of sappy and tannic grip, with a lightly bitter edge. This will make attractive short-term drinking. 84-86/100

Château d’Eck (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This starts with a nose of sweet and lightly leafy cherry, in a fresh and open style, with suggestions of delicately sugared roses and peonies. It continues with a gently sinewy substance on the palate, modestly textured, with the middle of the palate completely filled out by a tight ball of tannins and some slightly peppery acidity. This concludes with a bold and rather drying grip of tannins at the end, with a sappy finish. It will make decent mid-term drinking. 86-88/100

Château de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This is 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. It has a rather sweet style of fruit on the nose, with some lightly confected redcurrants, raspberry leaf, sweet cranberry and a little wrapping of caramelised oak. This style translates onto the palate, which presents a rather smudged layer of raspberry and redcurrant fruits, wrapped in more oak, all tobacco, caramel and spirity vanillin lactones. The tannins are fairly prominent, and there is the acidity of the vintage here too, nevertheless it is the gritty tannic structure which become most prominent, through to a gradually drying vintage. Plenty of extraction here, leaving the length puckered. A modern style. The alcohol is about 13%. Tasted twice. 85-87/100

Château de France (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, with a low yield of just 22 hl/ha a marker of the vintage, this opens with a nose of lightly smouldering, leafy and autumnal elements, with a layer of sweet red cherry underneath, and this was the same on several samples tasted. This is followed by a rather light and supple texture on the palate, with a firm grip of tannins which appear through the middle and run to the end, to lace the finish. One sample seemed to spiral into tannic discontent here, but the other two showed much more harmony in the finish. Nevertheless this is marked by drying tannins at the end, the palate ending puckered with muted fruit and bold oak. It feels a touch overdone to me. The alcohol is about 13%. 86-88/100

Château La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A nose of sweet blackcurrants and black cherry here, with a light perfume of violets, dark chocolate and soot. The palate is fresh, modestly polished, with a little cottony texture to it, prior to a softly polished midpalate filled with crushed cherries and more dark chocolate, all underpinned by a fine grain of tannins and fresh acidity. In a difficult vintage, this is a strong effort from this Dourthe estate. 89-91/100

Château Hannetot (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This barrel sample has a nose of rather crystalline red cherry fruits, with a light definition. The palate seems in keeping with this, being grained with toast and leathery notes, along with a light presence of fruit, and a firm grip of grainy and drying tannins. All in all this feels rather juicy, certainly tart, and I feel it also lacks a little freshness. 81-83/100

Château Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The grand vin is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, all picked between September 27th and October 11th. It takes 50% of the crop. It was of course vinified in the estate’s beautiful new cellars. The aromatic profile moves on from the delicate red fruits of the second wine to show more concentration, with darker red fruits smoked with traces of leather and toasted tobacco. The palate is supple, nicely polished, with a medium-bodied elegance, a lightly silky and sinewy substance, very precisely delineated, with a supple blanket of red cherry and perfumed red fruits. This feels quite classically poised, with more tension and elegance than many of its peers display in this vintage. Long, lightly toasted, and charming. The alcohol is 12.96%. 92-94/100

Haut-Bailly II (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend of the second wine is 70% Merlot (more Cabernet went into the grand vin, so the percentage of Merlot here is higher), with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, picked between September 27th and October 11th. This took 30% of the crop, with 20% downgraded. An attractive style on the nose, with a little suggestion of density, with sweet raspberry and toasted red cherry fruits. Beautifully polished and precise, this is a huge step up from Le Pape which I tasted alongside, with very defined precision, a silky texture and a dry and savoury stance, underpinned by beautifully knit tannins which feel dense, composed and correct. The finish is wrapped in tannin but the quality is good and overall this works. A strong second wine which feels like a true reflection of the grand vin and the terroir. The alcohol is 12.89%. 89-91/100

Château Haut-Bergey (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A really quite herbaceous nose to this barrel sample, which is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. No yields were quoted but I suspect they were low, this property being entirely biodynamic, and the blend looks a little short on Merlot. The aromatics continue with some minty and peach notes, although the first of two samples also showed some reductive notes lending it a little touch of pencil eraser and brassica. The palate continues with this theme, with bitter leafy notes following the aromatic lead, a grained texture of rather rustic tannins, and a correspondingly grainy grip in the sappy finish. This one leaves me wanting. The alcohol is about 12.5%. 81-83/100

Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The grand vin from Jean-Philippe Delmas and team is a blend of 50% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc. This takes 40% of the crop. The aromatics here are restrained, very focused, introverted even, with lightly crushed and powdered chalk, dusted over softly simmering summer fruits. The palate is focused, sweetly polished, certainly charming, fresh with a supple midpalate. It feels seamless and bright, with a central core of firm, tightly knit but dominant tannins, which also completely control the finish of the palate. This is tense, quite strict, with a confident structure which will demand many years in the cellar before it comes around. It is very good indeed. All the Domaine Clarence Dillon reds are between 13.2% and 13.8% alcohol this year. 93-95/100

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This second wine of Haut-Brion is 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc. This takes 40% of the crop, the remaining 20% sold off. This is darker, brooding and a little less open than the nose of La Chapelle, the second wine of La Mission Haut-Brion, with dark, smoky and dried black fruits on the nose, with little nuances of black tea and rosehips. The palate is elegantly poised, fresh, pure and bright, with a nicely polished sinewy grip, and good energy. There is a firm tannic backbone to it, poised, quite grippy, in a compact style, in keeping with the character of the vintage, but without the bitter traces some wines show. Firm, savoury and gripped in the finish, this is a very good second wine, but it will need longer than La Chapelle to come around. All the Domaine Clarence Dillon reds are between 13.2% and 13.8% alcohol this year. 89-91/100

Château Haut-Lagrange (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The latest vintage from Château Haut-Lagrange opens with a rather leafy and herbaceous nose, laid over a core of delicately expressed and lightly dried fruits. The palate follows this aromatic lead, with a rather vegetal character mirroring the nose, with some rather bitter and leafy fruits. This all leads into a finish full of sappy tannins and sour fruit. This does not feel like my cup of tea. 80-82/100

Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: An unusual blend indicating the trials endured by Merlot this year, as this is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc. The overall yield was just 29 hl/ha. This feels rather dark and smoky on the nose, with notes of charcoal and toasted oak. The palate is a melange of crushed berries, raspberry leaf, mint and sage, with a delicately juicy texture running through the middle, and a lightly grained grip of tannins persisting through the finish. A sappy style, a little austere, with a minty profile and powdery grip, leading into an understated finish. It feels a little low key, nevertheless, it is an interesting cuvée for its distinctive blend. The alcohol is 12.9%. Tasted twice. 86-88/100

Château Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, picked at 38 hl/ha, this has a rather sweet nose, with some lightly confected fruits, reminiscent of blackcurrant with notes of vanilla and mint. The palate does carry some of these elements quite confidently, dark curranty fruits lifted by notes of raspberry leaf, charcoal, vanilla and mint, set in a light-to-medium-bodied texture, underpinned by rather finely grained tannins. These seem to sit within the wine rather well, taking into account the vintage, showing a powdery presence, but never dominating, allowing the dark and peppery fruits to roll on through the middle and end. It finishes warm and pulls up rather quickly, nevertheless this is one of the more charming successes of the vintage. The alcohol is about 13.5%. Tasted twice. 89-91/100

Château Lespault-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This is a blend of 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, picked from September 29th until October 14th, with a yield of 30 hl/ha. The nose has a huge, fruit-rich expression, remarkable for the appellation and the vintage, with perfumed black cherry showing a little suggestion of plushness, as well as curranty concentration. A lightly creamed start to the palate, with a fresh, plush presence of dark fruit, with a rich and tightly grained ribbon of tannins, and fresh acidity. This is very stylish, and while it is packed with tannins they feel tight-knit and the fruit holds up well. Rather dry and gripped in the finish, but this is set up to give pleasure. All in all an impressive showing from this estate. The alcohol is about 13.5%. 89-91/100

Château La Louvière (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, picked at a yield of 35 hl/ha, this feels rather inexpressive on the nose, although there are certainly smoky and leafy elements to it, as well as some toasted oak. A second sample feels lightly reductive as well. The palate similarly feels rather flat, and the grip of tannins found here are a little out of kilter with the substance of the wine, although it hangs together much better than a number of its grander peers. Indeed the endpalate, while dry and lightly gripped, maintains some sense of harmony and composure, and it is just in the finish the bitter grip of the grainy tannins show through. In that regard, this is a good result for the vintage. The alcohol is about 13%. Tasted twice. 88-90/100

Château Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: I find a fresh and lightly perfumed style to this blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, picked at a respectable yield of 42.25 hl/ha; there are raspberry and redcurrant fruits, wrapped up in a little sweet caramelised oak. The palate combines the rather light and sweet red fruit profile of the nose with notes of charcoal and soot, in a delicately juicy substance, with a dry grip of grained tannins beneath. The finish holds together fairly well, the grippy tannins showing here, slightly incongruous when set against the light and juicy substance. This is a wine of herby delicacy, with a rather sappy finish lightly tinged with a bitter streak. Tasted twice with consistent findings. The alcohol is 12.8%. 87-89/100

Clos Marsalette (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, picked from September 22nd to October 10th, with a yield of 45 hl/ha. A dark and aromatic nose of sweet cranberry fruits, redcurrants, rose petals and rosemary, wrapped up in lightly toasted oak. The palate shows some charming texture, wrapping up the crunchy red fruits in a grip of powdery tannins, with bright acidity, and a little modest textural weight. Peppery, straightforward, with a sappy finish that doesn’t hang around for too long. It will probably evolve nicely in the short-term. The alcohol is about 13%. 86-88/100

Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: These barrel samples were tasted at the estate, with Jean-Philippe Delmas. The blend here is 48% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. This takes 40% of the crop. The nose is all crushed blackberries and currants, and the texture on the palate is just delightful, polished, sinewy, taut and direct, with a rich wrapping of drying tannins. These do dominate the palate somewhat, taking over from the initially rather charming fruit. Nevertheless this is elegantly poised, with a rather restrained substance and texture, despite the ripe flavour profile, and its quite remarkable surging core of tannins. It finishes gripped and long. The substance here should outlast those tannins, but it will take time. All the Domaine Clarence Dillon reds are between 13.2% and 13.8% alcohol this year. 92-94/100

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The second wine of La Mission Haut-Brion is is 51% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Cabernet Franc. This takes 30% of the crop, the remaining 30% sold in bulk. It has a bright nose, vibrant with dried berry skins, blackberry and currant, even a little raspberry coulis sweetness, with suggestions of liquorice and black pepper. The palate is quite plush, textural, but sinewy and confined, with vibrant blackberry and raspberry flavours mirroring the nose. For a second wine in this vintage this has no shortage of energy and drive, but also a lovely ripe fruit profile, and the tannins are nicely knit together. Charming, but with grip and potential. All the Domaine Clarence Dillon reds are between 13.2% and 13.8% alcohol this year. 89-91/100

Château Olivier (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, the Merlot under-represented compared to the vineyard. The yield was a decent one though, at 40 hl/ha. The aromatics here are led by a little caramelised oak, with crystalline red cherry, cherry leaf and sage. The palate feels immediately juicy, with plump dark red cherry and cranberry fruits, set in a light-to-medium-bodied texture, swirled in dry caramelised oak, with a fairly firm wrapping of grained tannins underneath it all. It has the pointed, almost bitter acidity of the vintage. This is delicately composed, with a long, dry and sappy grip. It pulls up short, but with a flourish of dry grip and peppery tannins. The alcohol is 13.1%. Tasted twice. 86-88/100

Château Le Pape (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: From the same team as Haut-Bailly, this is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, as usual, picked October 1st to the 6th for the former, and October 12th for the latter. A very classic Le Pape nose, with dried red cherries and red berries, with touches of leather and a floral, red pepper, peony perfume. The palate is dry, medium-bodied, lightly textured, with a rich grip of tannins through the middle, underneath the rather croquant style of fruit. This has charm and delicate appeal, with fresh acidity. This is made at Haut-Bailly (as it always has been since the purchase) which means it comes from that estate’s brand new cellars. A charming style which should evolve well over the next few years. The alcohol is 12.9%. 87-89/100

Château Pape-Clément (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend here remains strong on Merlot, against the trend in this vintage, at 60%, with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. This shows a thin vein of fruit, hiding behind an overlying matchsticky and reductive character, with notes of lightly smoked currant, red cherry and leather-laced fruits, although the second and third samples I encountered felt a little less reduced, with fruit and toasted oak intertwined. The palate holds up well at the start, with a supple texture, albeit bold and confident, wrapping up the medium-bodied cottony substance of the midpalate with a rich frame of grippy and powdery tannins. These dominate in the finish, with a supple grip at the very end, the tannins and savoury fruit working quite well together here. Bold, with a little warm and spirity oak, long and gripped in the end, the tannins dry and lingering, this is a good result in the context of the vintage, especially looking at the second and third samples. The style has certainly evolved here now that Julien Viaud, rather than Michel Rolland, is consulting. Tasted three times. 91-93/100

Château Picque-Caillou (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend here is about half Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder mostly Merlot, with Petit Verdot bringing up the rear. The yield was good, at 38 hl/ha. It has a nose of lightly confected blackcurrant fruits, which at least show some sense of definition, while the palate of both samples tasted were completely awash with spirity vanillin oak, which leaves the fruit struggling to make an appearance. Underneath it all there is a layer of grained and extracted tannins, which dominate where the oak leaves off. It gives the end of the palate a rather dry, sappy and grained finish. The alcohol is about 13%. Tasted twice with fairly consistent findings. 82-84/100

Château de Rochemorin (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: From a Vignobles Andre Lurton estate, the nose here is composed of lightly smoked fruits, with a sour and sappy character. It then presents a delicately juicy and sappy style on the palate, which feels quite dried with some bold and grippy tannins. This is the style that pervades the entire palate, the middle and end also displaying juicy and simple fruit, firmly gripped, with a sappy and tannin-infused length. Lightly bitter and gripped in the finish. Tasted twice. 84-86/100

Château Rouillac (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The 2021 from the team at Rouillac commences with a rather sweet and fragrant character on the nose, all cranberry, redcurrant and pomegranate. The palate feels quite open and relaxed, understated even, with a rather juicy core of grenadine and strawberry fruits, set within a rather firm and austere frame. The structure is built around a ribbon of modestly grained tannin which persists though the end, so that the finish feels dry and gripped with dense tannin. 83-85/100

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The grand vin is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. A very finely perfumed nose here, dried red cherry and currants, with a little floral note reminiscent of peony, and nuances of toast, praline and soot. It is delightfully textured on the palate, restrained, refined, infused with polished tobacco-toasted oak, giving its gentle substance a fine grip, with a real sense of drive thanks to its central core of acids, but also its rather salty minerality. Dense and gripped on the finish, charming and bright, this is a classically styled Smith-Haut-Lafitte this year, which holds its structure in check through the middle and into the length, which is infused with a gentle polish of tobacco-toast and tannins. It will need time though. The alcohol is about 13.5%. Tasted three times, more charming and composed on the second and third occasions, but with a convincing showing each time. 92-94/100

Les Hauts de Smith (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: In this vintage Les Hauts is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a rather perfumed nose, with a light vein of reduction on the first sample, a matchsticky wrapping around dried berry skins, less so on the second sample. Underneath there is red cherry, redcurrant and rose petal. The palate feels delicately poised at the start, but it carries a sense of composure, with dark fruit laced with tobacco, toasted oak, and cigar box. A more dried and grippy style of Les Hauts this year, with a rich and dense finish. It is built from nicely managed tannins, albeit perhaps a little drying, with rather peppery acidity. This will need some time to soften in barrel and surely in bottle too. The alcohol will be about 13%. Tasted twice. 86-88/100

Le Petit Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: This blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. A completely different aromatic profile to Les Hauts de Smith, this is perfumed and expressive, with crushed chalk, blackberries and white peach, and layers of toast, dark chocolate and tobacco. The palate follows this more open style with more generosity from the start, with a finely polished grip, wrapped up in toasted tobacco-infused oak, and an integrated core of tannins, tightly knit, with fresh acidity. This feels very complete, much more so than Les Hauts, Cantelys or Le Thil. Chapeau! The alcohol is about 13%. Tasted twice. 89-91/100

Château Le Thil Comte Clary (Pessac-Léognan) 2021: The blend here is 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. A rather lifted and fragrant nose, perfumed with blackberry laced with crushed chalk, dark chocolate and white peach. The palate starts off in quite a cool fashion, with finely grained tannins a little prominent here, although the middle feels more integrated, with a lithe and sinewy intertwining of substance and grip. More importantly it has a rather fresh, punchy acidity at its heart. A charming style, the richness of the clay soils coming through here, with some firm and lightly grained grip in the finish too. This is going to need time. The alcohol is about 13.5%. Tasted twice. 88-90/100

Graves, Red Wines

Château de Chantegrive (Graves) 2021: A shift in the blend to Cabernet dominance here, in keeping with the style of the vintage, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. This has immediate appeal on the nose, with fresh black cherry, blackcurrant and vanilla, along with some sooty liquorice. This aromatic profile is surprising for the vintage, and the palate also impresses, with an immediately ripe and plump texture, although this gives way in the middle to a core of gritty and grained tannins which dominate the midpalate. The character of the vintage comes though in the finish, where the tannins rear up. The fruit profile here seems quite delightful, the grip of the tannins less so, leading to a lightly puckered finish, but this has potential. It will be interesting to revisit this after bottling. 85-87/100

Château Ferrande (Graves) 2021: The blend of Ferrande in this vintage is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. It has a nose of blackcurrants, with white peach and crushed mint too. The palate is a melange of lightly desiccated and curranty fruits, redcurrant and blackcurrant, with layers of vanillin oak, nuanced with orange, white peach and mint. This all sits within a light-to-medium-bodied texture and underpinned by a layer of grainy tannins, before it finishes with a twist of coffee bean and a lightly bitter grip. 84-86/100

Clos Floridène (Graves) 2021: In 2021 the red incarnation of this popular wine from the Dubourdieu family presents a nose of lightly dried summer berries, rather smothered by some toasted and matchsticky notes. The palate feels supple at first, but there lurks beneath a bold grip to it. Overall this has a light texture, underpinned by a delicately dry structure, while it is dark, sappy and lightly framed by tannin at the end. This will be best drunk younger rather than older. 85-87/100

Château Haura (Graves) 2021: A barrel sample from this Dubourdieu estate feels dry, smoky and matchsticky on the nose, fragranced with nuances of pomegranate and peony. The palate has an attractive and savoury confidence, with a lightly polished texture which holds together well through the middle, supported by some nicely knit tannins, a peppery and smoky oak influence, and the fresh acidity of the vintage. With a short finish, but no sign of over-extracted tannins, this seems to work well within the confines of the vintage, and it will give attractive short-term drinking. I may well end up ranking it above Clos Floridène this year. 85-87/100

Château de Portets (Graves) 2021: The barrel sample of the red from this Graves estate opens with a fresh and aromatic nose, touched with sweet raspberry and cranberry notes. The palate has a modest precision particularly through the middle, with a soft and supple texture, and a light concentration of grained fruits mirroring the nose. It all runs together into a dry and sappy finish with a touch of bitterness. I think this will be one for drinking young. 82-84/100

Château Rahoul (Graves) 2021: This barrel sample is 67% Merlot, with 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Petit Verdot. An unusual nose here, dark and smoky, although the fruit feels subdued, and instead we have tobacco and hints of toasted almond from the oak. The palate feels gently composed, with a supple and rather lightly textured middle, and a firm grip of tannins which fell modestly knit together at first, although the acidity is firm and it shows strongly in the middle and end. The grip shows most in the finish, and the length is certainly tart and puckered. This seems to me to be missing a little fruit, although it has all the bright acidity of the vintage. 84-86/100

Château de Respide Callipyge (Graves) 2021: Aromatically this barrel sample begins with a core of crunchy fruit dressed with mint and sage on the nose. It continues with a soft and plump texture to the palate; it has some slightly smudged berry fruit flavours, which I feel are missing some definition, as well as a rich grip of chewy tannins. The build here feels a little rustic, especially when the structure tends towards drying out the finish. 83-85/100 [/am4show]

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