Bordeaux 2021 Primeurs: Sauternes & Barsac

As is customary in my primeurs report, before I present my tasting notes and scores for the wines of Sauternes, Barsac and the other sweet wines of Bordeaux, I will first return to the story of the growing season with particular relevance to the production of sweet wines.

The divergence in how the weather drives quality in sweet wines as opposed to the red wines really comes in the run-up to harvest, when those tending vineyards planted to the red varieties cross their fingers and hope for warm and dry conditions to aid further ripening and to maintain the healthy botrytis-free condition of the crop, while those in Sauternes and Barsac do the exact opposite, praying instead for showers of rain to kick start the development of noble rot in the vineyard.

In 2021, however, it is worth looking back a little earlier in the growing season to pick out how this impacted the sweet wine harvest this year.

Bordeaux 2021

Following the mild winter weather, budbreak in Sauternes and Barsac was just as early here as it was across the entire region. As a consequence, the white vines were in a vulnerable position when the frosts arrived in early April. The local topography did not ameliorate the situation, as although many of the vineyards lie close to the Garonne, this is not an expansive body of water, a mere minnow compared to the broad expanse of the Gironde which protects the Médoc vineyards to the north. As a consequence it offered little protection as cold air ran off the higher ground of Cadillac and the Entre-Deux-Mers to settle over this region’s low-lying vineyards. The resulting frost damage in Barsac, and to a slightly lesser extent in Sauternes, was absolutely devastating, more like 80% (or higher) than the regional average of 30%, and it was the first step in reducing the eventual yields to extraordinarily low levels this year.

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