The Brilliance of Bordeaux: Terroir takes Centre Stage En Primeur 2023 Report

Robert Mathias MW

7 May 2024

The success of the wines in 2023 is a testament to the advances both viticulturally speaking as well as in the cellar. The best 2023s are brilliant - in every sense of the word! At its apogee this is a vintage of terroir transparent wines that privileged the best locations, that rewarded vigilance, and that repaid risk.


Having tasted around 200 wines last week, quality exceeded expectations – there were some truly remarkable wines made in 2023. It is difficult to generalise and pigeonhole this vintage into a previous mould. However, there are some consistent themes to draw out. It could almost be called neo-classical in style. It combines the elegance, freshness, and supple profile of more historic vintages, but brought into greater clarity, focus and intensity than ever before.

A full summary of the vintage conditions can be read in our pre-EP report but it is clear that 2023 was not a simple vintage in the vineyard. For many producers there was an ever present threat of downy mildew in particular from March until June, in addition to no hydric stress that led to significant vegetative growth and the risk of under-ripeness if not carefully managed, given the potentially heavy crop. Furthermore, two small heat events in August and September would punish any vineyard manager who chose to de-leaf too early or too dramatically. It took proactivity, risk management, and as well as intuition and experience to produce some of the best wines this year. For many estates, the success of their wines speak of significant investments in their vineyards and soils, which was simply not the case just a couple of decades ago.

Tasting with Pierre-O at Château Cheval Blanc, Saint-Émilion
Tasting with Pierre-O at Château Cheval Blanc, Saint-Émilion


We found that the best wines had remarkable aromatic precision, combined with fine-grained, athletic tannin structure and a compact intensity. The wines were also remarkably approachable at this early stage, clothed with juicy, al dente fruit and lifted perfumes which suggests the wines will be able to be drunk early. At the same time, the inner energy and intense structure display ample substance for long-term ageing. The very best of both worlds.

Making a comparison against 2022, our Sales Director, David Thomas, neatly summarised, ‘while the 2022 vintage was formed by the sun, the 2023 was formed by the soil’. Tasting the wines this week, we felt this keenly. They count on average around a degree less alcohol than the 2022 vintage, with a more prominent mineral profile which runs alongside bright, but not overbearing, acidity. 2023 can be summarised neither as a solar vintage, nor a cool vintage – in many cases it shows the best of both. It is a style of wines that will delight many traditional claret drinkers.

While the best addresses and top names produced some extremely exciting wines, it is a vintage that does show significant heterogeneity. Among some second wines, for example, we saw a broad range of quality. Owing to delays or a desire not to take risks with both harvest time and vineyard management, some wines show astringency, some over-ripeness, while some others show the tell-tale signs of dilution or an under-ripe tannin profile. 2023 had the capacity to produce excellent wines, but it most certainly favours the producers who had the means and the ability to realise that vision.

Barrel Tastings of the 2023 Vintage at Château Canon, Saint-Émilion
Barrel Tastings of the 2023 Vintage at Château Canon, Saint-Émilion


For many estates the 2023 harvest was one of the longest on record, often taking around a month from start to finish. Indeed, many, such as Emiline Borie of Grand Puy Lacoste, spoke of the Merlot showing the fleshiness and flamboyance of a warm vintage, while the Cabernet showed the drive and structure of a more classical vintage. On the left bank, we found that Cabernet spoke loudly and clearly for the best wines, with a gravelly intensity and direction on the palate which was quintessentially Bordeaux. The north of the Medoc, in general, had a little less rainfall during the summer months and the wines of St Estèphe and Pauillac performed particularly well – Montrose, Pontet-Canet, Lafite, Mouton, and the two Pichons really stood out, to name just a few.

For potential value, Haut-Batailley, Lafon-Rochet, and La Dame de Montrose will be well worth seeking out. The ever-consistent St Julien was just that - beautifully and brilliantly dependable – with Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Barton, and Léoville Las Cases numbering among the best of the appellation. In Margaux, there was a little more variation in quality, although Margaux, Rauzan-Ségla and Palmer all delivered outstanding wines.

EP Tastings at Château Pichon Baron, Pauillac
EP Tastings at Château Pichon Baron, Pauillac


While Cabernet Sauvignon is king on the left bank, the quality of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc in both Pomerol and Saint-Émilion has delivered some of the most exciting wines we can remember tasting en primeur. The limestone plateau of Saint-Émilion has produced remarkably chiselled, focused, 2023s teeming with style and salinity, notably at Châteaux Canon, Troplong-Mondot, and Beau-Séjour-Bécot. Equally, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, and Figeac demonstrate how successful Cabernet Franc could be this year for those who risked waiting to harvest late into September and early October. From Pomerol, one of the real standouts this vintage was l’Eglise Clinet which showed a totally seamless texture and incredible aromatic intensity, while neighbours La Conseillante and Vieux Château Certan are both spectacular iterations from these two benchmark addresses. The memory of the best wines lived long on our palates as we drove away from their respective estates.

2023 was a vintage of plentiful yields in most cases due to the quick and unencumbered flowering at the end of June – many producers spoke of around 40hl/ha, which is larger than many previous vintages. This allowed producers to green harvest and manage yields through the season to ensure enough ripeness and concentration, while only selecting the best grapes for the Grand Vin. Many producers spoke of the necessity of the sorting table; with some estates impacted by downy mildew in June, and others by the August heatwave, selection was key for many.

EP Tastings at Château La Conseillante, Pomerol
EP Tastings at Château La Conseillante, Pomerol


It is a difficult task to make comparisons to past vintages, as 2023 is a vintage whose quality would likely not have been possible in previous decades. At the top end, 2023 is undoubtedly a great vintage, but it is not as consistently successful across appellations as 2022, 2020, 2019 or 2016. Comparisons have been made to vintages such as 2014, 2012, and 2001 but the 2023 wines show much greater intensity and precision. Stylistically the wines from 2023 will please many drinkers, due to their chiselled frame, aromatic purity, and saline freshness.

And last but by no means least, as is always the way before each primeur campaign, much of the talk is about pricing. This year is set to be a significant reduction from the 2022 releases as the properties recognise the challenging market of the past 18 months - If this comes to bear.

This could make the 2023 vintage one of the most interesting en primeur campaigns in recent memory delivering both quality and – hopefully in many cases – value. For drinkers and long term collectors, there is a strong argument that there will never be a point at which these wines can be bought at or lower than these prices – certainly it is Bordeaux Index’s house view that the market has stabilised following the lower activity and price softness across 2023. For more investment or financially focused buyers, the position is potentially more nuanced and likely to vary from wine to wine: the prices of the 2019s and 2020s will be natural reference points in this context, with it being difficult to generalise what a suitable discount to those vintages is in order to make a 2023 wine compelling.

Keep updated with all En Primeur 2023 releases here