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Pre-Tasting Report: Bordeaux En Primeur 2023

Robert Mathias MW and Bordeaux Buyer

24 April 2024

Bordeaux En Primeur 2023: Take Your Marks

The starting pistol is set to fire early on the campaign this year, with the first chateaux out of the blocks immediately after the week the wine trade descend on the Medoc. This is telling in itself. Normally we see a gap of a couple of weeks after tasting for the wine trade and critics to pen their thoughts, reports and scores to be released, and due preparation to be made. After a drawn out and less than perfect campaign last year, it demonstrates an important potential shift in approach. The expectation is that prices will drop, and in some cases considerably, which could make this campaign an important downbeat to help reset the fine wine market. We believe this is down to a number of factors:

Bordeaux Index En Primeur 2023 Pre-Report
The Bordeaux Index team in Bordeaux this week
  • In the past 18 months, the global fine market in general has softened, with both prices and number of trades falling back. This means that both properties and negociants have both more stock to sell, and also a need for the liquidity and cash flow that en primeur brings.
  • Similar to the lead up to the 2019 campaign (which was the Covid release), the 2023 will be launched into the market which is in the eye of the storm. Multiple conflicts, softening global wine markets, lukewarm Chinese interest, a year of many elections especially in the US, and increasing cost of capital. There is a high degree of instability with markets that had previously been strong buyers, and they are not buying in the same quantity.
  • The previous two campaigns, which took place in a more buoyant market, did not deliver the financial success that many merchants were hoping for. This has created a degree of cynicism in the market - unless the prices are right, negociants will not be inclined to buy stocks.
  • 2023 is a vintage of larger yields compared to 2019, 2020, or 2021 for most Grand Cru Classé properties – the cost of production is lower, and the need to sell higher.
  • Quality and savoir-faire improve year after year. Investments in vineyard management and new cellars have well and truly ushered in a new era of quality in Bordeaux – the role of the critic is perhaps becoming more diffuse.

In terms of the quality of the vintage and the resulting wines, these will be tasted comprehensively next week and a full report will follow. For now, a brief summary of the vintage conditions and what impact this might have had on the wines.

Bordeaux Index En Primeur 2023 Pre-Report

Bordeaux 2023 Vintage Conditions

In general, 2023 can be characterised as a very warm vintage but with average rainfall. Temperatures during the growing season averaged 19.4C making this the second warmest year in the past decade behind only 2022. Rainfall, by contrast, during the growing season averaged 428mm (compared to just 278mm in 2022).

The winter was wet and cold, providing relief to the vines before temperatures began to rise in March with a significant amount of rain. Budbreak was early, beginning towards the end of the month. With both warmth and moisture in April, vine growth was quite vigorous, as was the threat of mildew and rot. The month of June saw the greatest mildew pressure for many growers, with careful attention required, particularly for organic and biodynamic producers.

Bordeaux Index En Primeur 2023 Pre-Report

Flowering, in general, was completed successfully with high potential crops due to warm temperatures and windy conditions. There was an abundance of water in the soils, and further rainfall particularly in late June which saw berries swell, and an absence of hydric stress. July brought warm and dry weather with less rain than average which helped to move forward the ripening and concentration of fruit. Véraison began around the second week of July and lasted a full month. The first half of August began cooler than average and further rain caused concerns of both dilution and full ripeness. However, the second half of August turned bright and sunny with temperatures +2C above average. This warmer weather brought the risk of sunburn and some shrivelled berries in some cases. Those allowed dry whites to reach full ripeness, and harvest for these wines began from the third week of August.

Temperatures peaked again in the early September but were followed by a period of rain between September 10-12th with the subsequent threat of mildew and dilution. This caused a pause in the harvest of some of the younger Merlots on early ripening terroirs. Temperatures stayed warm and dry from the middle of September until the middle of October – a so-called Bordeaux ‘Indian Summer’ – which allowed for gradual ripening of the Cabernets in particular. It is likely we might see more Cabernet in blends compared to previous vintages.

It is clear that this is not a vintage without difficulty. Mildew pressure was felt keenly during June in particular, as well as sunburn and shrivelled berries a risk during the August and early September heatwaves. Equally, early harvested Merlot had the risk of dilution following the mid—September rains. Strict selection and optical sorting, though, is commonplace in Cru Classé properties these days.

Bordeaux Index En Primeur 2023 Pre-Report

In Summary

At first glance, the 2023 is likely to be heterogenous depending on the ability and means of the chateaux to react to these various pressures. Depending on terroir, exposition, and vine and viticultural management, we can expect differences across and within communes. For example, the north of the Médoc saw less summer rain compared with the south of the Médoc, while within the commune of Margaux, yields can vary significantly. With alcohols said to be around 13-13.5% for the reds, this is likely to be a refreshing, well-structured vintage, showing both fruit and tannin ripeness and aromatic intensity.

With a more detailed report to follow, the 2023 campaign is one to keep a close eye on. As ever, there will be winners and losers. It is a campaign that is likely to be shaped by price, just as much as quality.

Bordeaux Index En Primeur 2023 Pre-Report

Sources:

Bordeaux 2023 weather and crop report | Gavin Quinney

Derenoncourt Consultants 2023 Vintage report

Yields and Vintage Overview 2023 - Jane Anson - Inside Bordeaux

Bordeaux 2023 vintage report: Quality and quantity together, for once – Colin Hay, The Drinks Business

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