A Very Good Year: 2021 Vintage Wines
After challenging seasons blighted by fires and drought, there’s good news from the 2021 vintage.
Wine Australia has called it a ‘unicorn vintage’. They’re not just talking about quantity, but quality. The National Vintage Report for 2021 says that as well as being the largest grape harvest ever recorded in this country, the industry benefited from “near perfect growing and ripening conditions across most states and regions.” Fewer heatwaves and good rain at the right time allowed grapes to ripen optimally, leading to high natural acidity and well-developed flavours. The prolonged picking season also reduced bottlenecks at wineries so wine-makers could focus on getting the most from the fruit.
The total crush recorded for 2021 was 2.03 million tonnes, a figure that was up 31 per cent on the figure for 2020 and well above the average for the last ten years. In South Australia, the 2021 figure was 44 per cent above last year’s and, unsurprisingly, accounted for the largest share of grapes crushed.
Reds on the up
The biggest growth was in the quantity of red grapes crushed. According to the report it was the largest red crush for at least 15 years and reflects the shift in popularity towards reds in recent years. While the top red varieties remain Shiraz and Cabernet, the varieties with the biggest increases this year (at least in percentage terms) were Mataro/Mourvèdre and Malbec, with Durif also growing strongly.
Among the whites, Prosecco (Glera) showed the largest percentage growth, more than doubling the 2020 output. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, as big Prosecco growing areas like the King Valley were badly affected by fire and smoke in 2019-20. However, Chardonnay remains the dominant white variety, with 385,114 tonnes crushed this year.
Not all plain sailing
While most regions enjoyed almost ideal conditions from Spring through to vintage there were some challenges. Of course, there were the COVID-related labour shortages. In Orange, October snow around the time of budburst was followed by a cold, wet spring. In Margaret River, February rain and high humidity had growers on edge, then, as cyclone Seroja approached in early April, there was a rush to complete picking. Nevertheless, both regions reported some standout wines this year. Look for the Margaret River Sauvignon Blancs in particular.
What wine-makers say
From the Barossa to the Yarra Valley, from the Hunter to Rutherglen, most wine-makers are feeling bullish about the quality of this year’s wines. Alex McKay of Collector Wines in the Canberra Region called it a stellar season for flavour development, acid retention, fruit purity and typicity.
“Vintage ’21 presented a long, cool season with plenty of well-spaced rain events across the Canberra, Hilltops, Gundagai and Tumbarumba wine regions,” he said. “Normally when you make a picking decision you have a narrow window in which to act, but in this season the window was wider. The march to ripeness was slow and steady – we could smoke a pipe while we waited.”
Rewards of patience
“Rain in late March came just before the Shiraz was properly ripe,” Alex said. “But holding our nerve paid dividends – the result on the vine a week to ten days later was spectacular. The wines going into barrel looked fantastic: beautiful ripeness, red and dark fruits, subtle spice, supple but driving tannins, all balanced by a great natural acidity.”
For your cellar
Yes, you’ll find many wines from 2021 that are very drinkable as young wines. However, there are signs that this will be a vintage of note. That means there will be wines well worth ageing. With great fruit and high acidity particular features of this year’s wines, it might be time to pop a case or two away for enjoying down the track.