Pre-Tasting Report: Bordeaux En Primeur 2022
Robert Mathias, Senior Fine Wine Buyer
24 April 2023
Ahead of our team going to Bordeaux, Senior Fine Wine Buyer, Robert Mathias, outlines what we can expect from the Bordeaux 2022 vintage and why this vintage is “firmly in the category of solar vintages.”
En Primeur 2022
The vintage 2022 in Bordeaux is perhaps the best surprise that winegrowers could have asked for. The excitement around the vintage is palpable and the smiles on the faces of vignerons are broad. By all accounts so far, the best wines from Bordeaux 2022 are surely set to join the catalogue of exalted vintages with comparisons already being made to 2020, 1982 and 1961.
This vintage falls firmly into the category of solar vintages, with the warmest and driest summer since 2003. At the same time, a lot has changed since 2003 both in terms of expertise in the vineyard and in the cellar – so much is obvious from the various impressive new chais across the Medoc. There has been a high level of attention and investment by many top properties in the past two decades which is really paying dividends now.
In most cases yields are low with a high skin to juice ratio which means high potential of tannins. Early reports suggest old vine Cabernet was extremely successful. We can expect ripe, supple wines from this vintage yet what has surprised many producers about the wines is both the freshness and the moderate levels of alcohol. We look forward to an intense week of tastings and lively discussions to fully immerse ourselves in the details of this vintage.
Vintage Conditions Bordeaux 2022
On paper, the vintage reads like a challenging one with frosts, fires, storms, hail, heat & drought. It is true that it was the coldest winter seen in Bordeaux in the past 10 years with relatively modest levels of rainfall. From February until harvest, temperatures tracked 1-3C above the 30yr average; this was a consistently warmer year than average. Budbreak took place from the end of March and frosts hit on the 3rd and 4th of April in certain localised areas but damage was minimal, if at all, on grands terroirs.
A warm dry Spring led to rapid growth of vegetal material, with minimal disease pressure, and good conditions for even flowering about 8-10 days ahead of normal. June brought the first wave of heat accumulation and water deficit with some record-breaking temperatures touching 40C. The end of June brought intense storms and torrential rain with 100mm of rainfall recorded compared to the 30yr average of 70mm. This was important – some might say decisive - in restoring water reserves after months of very limited rainfall. During these storms on the 20th June localised hail storms hit in some parts of the northern and southern Medoc and on the northern part of the right bank causing important damage in those affected plots.
The beginning of July saw the second heatwave and lack of rain with the driest July on record with just 3mm of rainfall. This led to a very early veraison which started in the middle of July, to the astonishment of many. August was another very warm and dry month which started to slow down and even block the progress of veraison and ripening. It was the young vines that suffered the most, and the quality in certain of these plots was written off by mid-August. Some rain from 13-25th of August helped to relieve some of this stress and allow for the continued development and ripening of the berries. The long period of warm dry weather helped greatly with the accumulation and ripening of polyphenols in the berries – extraction of tannins in 2022 will need to have been careful and delicate because there is big potential in the berries. The average temperature in July and August was 32C making this the warmest summer since 2003. There were fires which caught in the south of Bordeaux on the 12th July and 14th August but with no damage to vineyards, and no reported impact on any wine quality.
Bordeaux 2022: A Warm Vintage
A key difference between 2022 and 2003 - if we continue the comparison of these warm vintages - is the shift in diurnal temperatures with nights remaining cool despite the warm daytime temperatures. A further key feature of the vintage is the consistency of the water deficit and the heat, this allowed the vines to adapt at an early stage which led to smaller berry weight, a higher skin to juice ratio and ultimately lower yields. What is clear is that properties have gained a huge amount of experience since a vintage like 2003, both in terms of vineyard management as well as practices in the cellar.
Altogether, it seems like 2022 could have given rise to some of the finest wines in many years – a full report will follow after a week of tasting and discussion with winemakers.