I am now back from a week’s tasting of the 2022 Bordeaux vintage, and it’s definitely a fascinating one. I’ve tried a lot of wine from both banks of the Gironde, and visited a lot of very relieved proprietors who have managed to pull out some excellent wines from a wholly unusual vintage.
In summary, if you don’t want to read through all my musings below:
- A very hot summer has led to wines of great richness & power, yet with surprisingly good freshness, ripe tannins and balance in the main.
- Not necessarily a success at every property, but a large number of very good, great and sometimes extraordinary wines.
- Prices will almost certainly be going up. Important to bear 2019 & 2020 in mind when considering purchases.
- Notwithstanding the traditional Bordeaux PR machine, it’s clearly a vintage where there will absolutely be quite a lot of wines to consider buying (and some to ignore!)
2022 was a hot year – a relatively cool, dry winter rolled into a warm spring, early budbreak & flowering in May, and a good chunk of rainfall in early June. This prepared the vines nicely for the series of heatwaves that followed. Harvest started early in August and was done and dusted by the end of September.
Tasting through all the different styles, several things stand out. Firstly, there is a very surprising freshness to the wines. It’s not often you go to Bordeaux and get the answer ‘I don’t know’, but I heard that more than once – they are not sure exactly why the grapes had such lovely acidity levels, but they are very happy that’s how it turned out!
Secondly, there is a clear definition, not only between appellations, but between different chateaux within an appellation. In some vintages (1990 & 2018 immediately spring to mind), the wines taste more like the year than St Julien, for example. This is not the case in 2022 – the best wines have a great energy and balance to them, lovely concentration and fruit, with substantial yet very fine and soft tannins and fantastic freshness.
There are a lot of magnificent wines, but there are also some disappointments – in some cases over-extraction leading to a rustic quality in the tannins and a jamminess in the fruit. There are also a few wines where they are perfectly good, but you feel like they have underachieved somewhat.
It is not a vintage where you can buy up and down the board almost without looking, like 2019 or 2005, but one where a little care and attention will lead to great rewards.
Is it like 2003?
In short, no, it is not. Without going into a lot of detail, the bare bones of it are that Bordeaux suffered a series of heatwaves through the summer, with temperatures in Bordeaux touching 41C on a number of occasions. However, I’ve seen plenty of pictures of healthy looking vineyards in late August and early September, seemingly suffering little from the drought.
And there is one key point that I think the whole vintage hinges on. The 2003 vintage was marked by a short period of intense heat that ripened grapes at an incredible speed, but sometimes unevenly. A lot of people had deleafed the vines, so they had overripe grapes very quickly, but also didn’t necessarily have ripe pips and tannins when they harvested (often earlier than they would have wanted). This is why you can taste 2003s with seemingly jammy, overripe, fruit but that also have a green note in them. Viticultural practices have also changed massively – for the better. If you have a spare 5 minutes it is well worth digesting William Kelley’s free-to-read article here.
2003 also had very warm nights, giving the vines no time to recover, whereas 2022 had (relatively) cool nights and a significant diurnal shift allowing for acidity levels to stay higher.
2022 is completely different from 2003 – and here I must thank Nicolas Audebert of Canon / Rauzan Segla for the most beautifully concise explanation of the heat conditions. He said that the best analogy was if you were inside an office all of August with air-conditioning and then suddenly went outside, you’d be profusely sweating immediately. Whereas if you spent all summer working outside, you’d be completely used to it. So instead of a short, sharp burst of intense heat which shocked the vines, instead they had a prolonged period of time to get used to the conditions, and push the root system deep down to find water. Somewhat like getting a ‘base tan’ before you go on holiday! (thanks to MH for that one…)
The surprising freshness I believe largely comes from the aforementioned cooler nighttime temperatures and the early picking, which was in the main the earliest harvest date since 2003. They also have lovely ripe tannins, and combined with the concentration has provided for a lot of really very good wines.
What about the alcohol levels?
I’m not going to lie, this is not a low alcohol vintage. With a few notable exceptions (Carmes Haut Brion 13.5%, Lafite 13.7%, Gloria 13.7%, Pichon Lalande 13.6%, Lagrange 13.7%, Gruaud Larose 13.6% are examples) a lot of wines are at the 14% or 14.5% mark. There are even a few that go over that - I’m looking at you, La Gaffeliere, with your 15.1% alcohol… In the main, the wines are very nicely balanced but there are a few where it doesn’t work for me and I will highlight these as we go through the campaign. I will also make sure to mention the alcohol for each wine as I offer them.
Wine of the Vintage?
Cheval Blanc. It’s the vinous equivalent of a cashmere scarf. Captivating, silky, incredibly pure, with great nuance yet a lovely structure holding it all together. The quintessential Cheval Blanc, in short. My notes say ‘I must buy this!’ underlined several times, so it’s fair to say I’m a bit of a fan. Running it a close second were Lafite, Montrose & Vieux Ch Certan.
Best value buys?
I am not sure this is the vintage to be buying too low down the scale – with a handful of exceptions, if you want cru bourgeois wines like Lanessan, you’re better off going back to 2019 and 2020. But (price dependent, obviously) there will be a lot of great wine to buy and I’ll be advising accordingly as we go through the campaign. I have some personal favourites in each appellation, but without a price to go with it, it’s a moot point. There are some wines like Brane Cantenac, Lagrange, Gloria & Leoville Barton where they will almost certainly be a buy.
Is it a great vintage? What would you compare it to?
I’ve been tasting en primeur in Bordeaux since the 2005s (a pretty good way to start), and that vintage, as well as 2016 (I only got a handful of 2019 samples due to COVID) remain my benchmarks. In both of those vintages I walked out of chateau after chateau with a big grin on my face as the wines were just jaw-droppingly good up and down the scale. That is not the case in 2022. There are a lot of really exceptional wines, and a few jaw-droppers too, but there are also a few that are unbalanced with either too much alcohol, too much extraction, or both.
That being said, 2022 is clearly a very, very good vintage, perhaps on the border of being great when the wines are in bottle. 2010 with better winemaking, less extraction and more freshness? It is so unusual to have this ripeness and acidity together that it is almost unique! I did hear one comparison to 1870 but that falls somewhat outside of my experience…
Are prices going up?
That’s pretty much a given I am afraid. As to how much, I suspect 20-25% in a lot of cases, although this will obviously vary wildly property by property. There are obviously global macro-economic issues to consider, but the rise in interest rates means that negociants can longer borrow money at virtually no cost to finance a stock position. This MAY temper the rises somewhat but it is a certainty that some chateaux will get their prices wrong, some perhaps quite spectacularly.
With each significant release that comes out I will provide my opinion, as well as some analysis as to how this release sits compared to back vintages.
How will the campaign work?
It’s going to start pretty quickly. Beychevelle is pencilled in for the 10th May, with Leoville & Langoa Barton for the 11th. What also complicates matters is a series of French bank holidays, and then Vinexpo Singapore at the end of May. I suspect there will be a flurry of releases before Vinexpo and then June will basically be just complete mayhem.
I will be focusing mainly on the wines I liked the most and want to buy myself (which I will be doing) although will be offering most things unless I really, really didn’t like the wine.
In addition to the usual bottles, I will be also offering halves, magnums, individual double mags and imperials. I am also going to try and offer cases of 3x75cl where I can. En primeur is absolutely the best time to buy formats – in fact I tend to buy a lot of my personal stuff in half bottles & magnums because they’re quite difficult to find later on.
I am of course available if you have any questions, want specific recommendations or just some general advice. If you have specific wines that you are interested in, please do let me know.