2021: an exceptional vintage

The vintage of 2021 has been described as one of the best for Australian wine in decades. The peak body for the industry, Wine Australia, declared 2021 a ‘unicorn’ year for Aussie wine. Rachel Triggs, Wine Australia’s General Manager of Corporate Affairs and Regulation, said “good fruit set, plenty of water at the right time, lack of heat waves, low disease pressure and favourable harvest conditions lead us to coin the term ‘unicorn’.”

Years like 2021 are incredibly rare. “We had near-perfect growing and ripening conditions across most of the states,” says Katie Spain, winemaker and drinks writer for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Good Food section. “In non-technical terms, I call it a ‘humdinger.’ The quality was outstanding.”

After several years of hot and dry summers, drought, frosts and fires, welcome rains soaked the earth and delivered much-needed moisture at just the right time. This meant ample water for the vines to grow and the fruit to develop and ripen, but not the humidity that can lead to plant diseases such as powdery mildew. Wine Australia’s annual report stated that the record 2021 crop was 2.03 million tonnes, and the crush was 31 percent higher than the 2020 vintage and 19 percent above the 2019 vintage. It was way above the 10-year average of 1.74 million tonnes.

Down in McLaren Vale, 40 kilometres south of Adelaide, the winemakers reported that vineyards were generally more productive, producing higher yields at harvest, compared to recent seasons. Most importantly for Australian wine lovers, the increase in grape yields was combined with excellent quality, which allowed the region’s winemakers excellent base material to make exceptional wines. Winemakers in the region, including Serafino and Haselgrove, were thrilled with the vintage. “Grape picking took 8 weeks to complete starting at full pace in the first week of March and ending in the second week of April,” says a representative. “Wine quality [is] good, with winemaking made easier by cool weather and gentle ripening.”

Up in the Adelaide Hills, there was a similar story. “It was so pleasing to see such a wonderful vintage after the devastation of 2019/20,” says Lachlan Allen, winemaker from Barristers Block. His family vineyards are up in the rolling hills near Woodside. “If we had put an order in for a perfect season, we could not have done better,” says the young winemaker. “Good soil moisture and long warm days over summer saw the fruit ripen perfectly, producing wines of exceptional quality.” For example, the Barristers Block 2021 Sauvignon Blanc is a wine showing aromatic tropical fruit notes and fresh zesty, elegant balance with intense grassy and herbaceous characteristics displayed on the mid-palate. It is a wine perfect for fish and light pasta dishes and with seafood entrées. The 2021 Pinot Gris is a wine made for dining and, with its luxurious rich texture, it sits well with chicken dishes, charcuterie, and vegetable and cheese dishes. It has the classic characteristics of this Italian varietal with gentle acidity pulling nashi pear, blossom and apple scents. This wine fills the mouth with flavour and intensity. “Sadly, we lost our tempranillo vineyard in the 2019 fires,” says Lachlan. “Luckily, we had a friend in McLaren Vale from whom we were able to source some fruit.” Due to this, Lachlan and his team produced the very enjoyable 2021 Tempranillo Rosé. It is refreshingly dry with flavours of red fruits, apple and a whiff of Turkish delight. It is perfect for pouring as a dry autumn aperitif.

Katie Spain says to keep an eye out for the 2021 reds as they are released. “In 2021, shiraz production was up (nationwide) by 41 percent to a record 538,402 tonnes,” she says. The other 2021 reds to watch for are mataro, malbec, pinot noir and durif. With such a great vintage, 2021 offers a great opportunity to tell customers about the affordable quality they can get in a glass when they order Australian wine from last year’s vintage. By buying wines from the 2021 vintage, you’re keeping it local, supporting Australian winemakers and offering customers a great experience, great value and an exceptional story. How often do you get to tell your customers that the drink they have in their hand came from what has been officially deemed a “unicorn vintage”?

As seen in autumn 2022

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