The Full Report: Bordeaux En Primeur 2022, a Tale of Drama and Resilience
Robert Mathias, Senior Fine Wine Buyer
4 May 2023
Senior Fine Wine Buyer, Robert Mathias, talks us through the Bordeaux 2022 Vintage after returning from a busy week of tasting.
After a week of visiting properties and tasting hundreds of wines, it is clear that Bordeaux 2022 has produced some truly remarkable wines which defy expectations of such a warm and dry vintage. In truth, both the growing conditions and the wines themselves have more than a touch of drama. Far from a tragedy – in many cases – this vintage is something of an epic. Like any good drama, the story of this vintage develops what came before: the 2022 vintage would not have been possible without the story of preceding vintages.
A Marathon, not a Sprint:
What sets 2022 apart from other recent warm vintages is the earliness of the dry conditions. Rather than having rain at the start of the season and then a dramatic shift to summer drought, vines had to adapt to dryness from the start of the season. Omri Ram, cellar master of Château Lafleur, spoke of how vines had to autoregulate their canopies while producing fewer bunches per vine. This meant the vines needed to become something like marathon runners, carefully regulating themselves to make it to the end of the season.
Many growers were surprised at quite how green the vines remained even after harvest, which was quite unlike a vintage such as 2020. Guillaume Thienpont of Château Vieux Château Certan mentioned how important the 2021 was to precede a dry vintage like ’22. In 2021 the vines benefitted from good volumes of precipitation while the cold winter also allowed them to rest before confronting the extended dry conditions the 2022 growing season brought. Equally the warmer vintages of 18, 19 & 20 helped to establish a new normal, encouraging vines to adapt to the challenges of sustained heat and drought.
The Agronomic Evolution:
The style of wines across the vintage is far from homogenous and this comes down to management in the vineyard, picking date and extraction. In the vineyard, the best producers are focused on nurturing living soils with more organic matter rich in mycelium. Cover crops are now a common sight to encourage better soil structure and reduce transpiration. Some producers are also experimenting with kaolin clay to protect berries from sunburn: this is something Marielle Cazaux at La Conseillante employed in this vintage, with excellent results.
Harvest dates were some of the earliest ever recorded in the region but due to the good weather, could be carried out at leisure. Justine Tesseron of Pontet Canet said their harvest from 8th to 28th September was both their earliest and their longest on record. For most estates, harvest was over before the month of October.
Less is More:
The dry vintage yielded small berries with high potential tannin, often at the level or higher than the 2010s. This required delicate extraction to avoid creating austere, drying wines. 2022 is a vintage where the tannin texture and feel are so important to the success of the final wine. The best are meltingly caressing and have weightless structure, while others are more muscular and mouthcoating, with many shades in between. Success varied from estate to estate, even if the common chorus among all was the imperative for restraint and delicacy. Depending on the vision and decisions of the winemaking team, styles of wines can vary considerably within a commune. Some have a chiselled, focused profile while there are definitely wines that show a touch of sucrosity and hedonism.
Another feature of the vintage is higher pH levels in the wines with some estates at 3.8 with more moderate levels of acidity which required vigilance from winemakers to ensure microbiological stability. This, of course, varied between estates - Aurelien Valence of Château Margaux said the estate’s Grand Vin had a pH of a cool vintage, at 3.61. Still, in many wines there is the sensation of freshness or acidity that does not correspond to the numbers on the technical analysis. A marker of some of the best wines of the vintage is salinity which also helps to maintain this impression on the palate.
Due to such a high level of quality, many estates are producing less second wine, often with most plots making it into the Grand Vin. There will be no Petit Cheval made in 2022, whilst at Figeac, Frederic Faye wanted to put all the grapes into the Grand Vin but was forced to make a second wine by the Manoncourt family – needless to say this will be one to look out for!
Bordeaux 2022 Wines:
It is difficult to draw generalisations about the style of wines across the vintage. It was possible to create wines of great finesse, concentration and drama in this vintage. But it was also possible to create very rich wines, with drying tannins, which fall more on the side of excess. 2022 is a vintage with huge potential that demonstrates how far estates have come both in the vineyard and the cellar. Drawing comparisons with other vintages is always a difficult exercise but the best of the 2022 wines have some of the vivacity of the 2020s but with a little more theatre; some of the seductiveness of the 2018s but with a little more restraint; and in some cases the structure and depth of the '10s, '16s & '19s. There are some truly exceptional wines from this vintage that will number among the best wines ever produced at certain estates. What was also reassuring was that the wines tended to be enjoyable to taste even at this early stage which signals the transformation over recent years to the mantra of drinkability first: the great wines of Bordeaux can be enjoyed over a much larger drinking window than ever before.
The warm, dry conditions of 2022 make this a more challenging vintage for dry whites. In general, the whites can have a richer more tropical profile with some textural weight on the palate. Producers harvested early to try to preserve freshness, and there are definitely a number of wines which defy the heat of the vintage: notable the whites from Lafleur, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Lafitte. For sweet wines, it was a long season that required a lot of patience before botrytis finally set in with some rains in early October. For those who waited the resulting wines are incredibly dense, rich, and expressive.
What remains to be seen is the quantity that will be released by properties En Primeur, and the price. As is always the case, the new releases will no doubt shine light on the relative value of some physical stock. At the same time, for the best wines, this is a chance to buy a piece of vinous history in the making.
Market Insights: Matthew O'Connell, LiveTrade CEO and Head of Investment at Bordeaux Index
The 2022 vintage has clearly produced some outstanding wines particularly at the top end making it likely that it will be considered a “benchmark” vintage. We think there is potential, though not yet certainty, that some of the top wines will come to be considered “top tier” reference points in the model of 2016 and 2009/2010 before that. This has some significance relating to whether prices in the market can break through levels commanded by the acclaimed trio of 2018-2019-2020 (and especially 2019 within that set).
The Bordeaux market was up around 7-8% in 2022, though most of this was in the first three quarters of the year, such that the market has seen relative inactivity and flat prices in the last 6-9 months. Our broad house view is positive on Bordeaux prices, for two reasons: i) the positive impact of China’s re-opening and the re-catalysing of Asian trade should benefit the region significantly as pent up demand is fulfilled; and ii) looking across regions, we believe that ultimately top Bordeaux has come to look cheap in a wider context and that this cannot remain the case. The current juncture is an unusual one, with a static market combined with concrete reasons to expect a strong trajectory over the short to medium term.
We think that for the most part producers see their wines in this “top tier” reference mould, and it is therefore likely that release prices will see meaningful advances on the 2021 release prices. All the more so given the sharp increase in input costs (labour, glass etc.) which, although a modest part of the total price mix, play a significant contextual role. The exact market context for each wine will vary, but the obvious reference points will be the 2018/19/20 trio plus the – usually – higher priced 2016. Given the positivity around 2018/19/20, one might think even that new reference point vintage should come in below extant pricing for those vintages; that would ideally be the case, but we wonder if it may transpire that the price positioning sits between 2018/19/20 and 2016, just given what a material premium to 2021 pricing implies. Each buyer’s perception of an appropriate En Primeur discount will be different – the perspective to have here is that if the pricing does sit at the aforementioned levels, it will in the future look to have been attractive if the vintage is perceived to be comparable to, or perhaps better than, 2016 and perhaps less compelling if it sits alongside 2018/19/20.
There are without doubt a significant number of “must own” wines for collectors in this vintage. For those with a more investment-based mindset, the campaign may be more nuanced and it will be interesting to see how it progresses from this aspect.