Vintage 2023


Letter of 26 April 2024. General information

As a future vintage gets underway in early spring, we are delighted to share with you our first general impressions of the expected quality of the 2023 Bordeaux vintage, ahead of the first en primeur sales starting on 29 April.

The 2023 campaign will be fast-paced and dynamic right through to early June. We'll be coming back to you every Saturday morning with a newsletter that will give you our impressions of the quality and prices of the new vintages released over the past week, the opinions of the journalists we follow and all the information you need to get the most out of this new 2023 vintage, which, like all vintages, is unlike any other.


Bordeaux 2023: the weather

The weather during the months of the vine's vegetative cycle (March-October) in 2023 was very similar to that in 2022, which was almost perfect:

- as in 2022, the dry, hot weather at the end of May allowed flowering to take place in a few days, evenly and without coulure or millerandage,
- as in 2022, June was both warmer (Tx=27.9°C, i.e. 2.9°C above average) and very wet (102.2mm of rain, i.e. 45% above average), ideal conditions for heavy downy mildew pressure,
- as in 2022, July and August were markedly dry (21.9mm in July, i.e. a 55% shortfall, and 33.6mm in August, i.e. a 41% shortfall).

However, there were two major differences between the summer of 2023 and the summer of 2022:

July and August 2023 were relatively cool, whereas July and August were so warm in 2022:
   - July 2023: Tx=27.6°C, just 0.5°C above average (Tx=31.0°C in 2022),
   - August 2023: Tx=28.6°C, just 1.0°C above average (Tx=31.8°C in 2022),

• an exceptionally hot and sunny end to the summer:
   - the hottest September on record: Tx=28.6°C, 4.4°C above average,
   - the second hottest October on record in 2023: Tx=23.2°C, 3.6°C above average.

A number of lessons can be learnt from these particular weather conditions:

- in the absence of spring frosts and except in the case of devastating mildew, the volumes harvested in 2023 were satisfactory for both dry white and red wines (excluding sweet),

- The summer, with no excessive temperatures, preserved the acidity of the grapes, producing some great dry white wines and classic Bordeaux reds, ripe and fresh,

- The fine autumn weather, typical of the 'Indian summer' that is usual in Aquitaine, ensured a stress-free harvest for the reds, and favourable conditions for botrytis in the Sauternes area.


Bordeaux 2023: a mainly heterogeneous vintage

Before examining the quality of the 2023s in detail, it is important to remember that this is a particularly heterogeneous vintage, and that none of its fundamental characteristics are necessarily the same and applicable to all the châteaux, even if they are immediate neighbours.

This heterogeneity, evident from our first tastings, is as often the case multifactorial (and independent of the qualitative will and know-how of each château):

• the quantitative impact of mildew attacks, mainly on the Merlot. This impact, negligible in some cases but devastating in others, forced a number of crus to significantly alter their usual proportions of blends between the different grape varieties,

• the rainy spells in July and August were stormy upsurges from the Iberian peninsula, with totally erratic watering, sometimes to within 100 metres. This chaotic water regime led to significant variations in veraison (colouring of the red grapes), blocked ripening in the young vines and the most draining terroirs (sand), and significant swelling of the berries in the vineyards that received the most rain.

• the staggering of the harvest dates, as it was more difficult than usual to determine the optimum harvest dates in 2023 and, after two months of a rather cool summer, to imagine that September and October would be just as warm and would allow the grapes to reach perfect ripeness.

• the good negotiation of two rainy spells in the middle of the harvest: on 12 September (34.7mm, i.e. 34.7 litres of water per vine planted at 10,000 plants/ha) at the end of the whites/beginning of the Merlots, and on 21 September (23.9mm) at the end of the Merlots/beginning of the Cabernets.

As a result of this heterogeneity, 2023 included wines at all levels and in all appellations, some that were just decent, others that were excellent and a few that were truly exceptional.


Bordeaux 2023: a really great vintage for dry whites

The summer of 2023 was particularly favourable for the ripening of the white grape varieties, with moderate heat and sunshine in July and August, ensuring smooth ripening and preserved acidity, while the persistent drought protected the health of the grapes and their aromatic purity.

The bulk of the dry white harvest took place between 21 August and 8 September in dry weather (before the first shower of rain on 12 September), with the Sauvignon and Semillon grapes ripening and picked almost simultaneously. The white grapes had all the characteristics and aromatic potential of the greatest vintages.

The Sauvignon grapes had a lovely aromatic sparkle, fresh and elegant as expected, with a depth of flesh that is unusual for this grape variety. Clearly, the Sauvignons benefited greatly from the heat at the end of August (the week from 21 to 27 was the hottest in August) to concentrate their juice and acquire a rare aromatic density without losing any of their liveliness.

For their part, the Semillons have just as much freshness and aromatic power, with the extra fat and mellowness that is their hallmark. They are never heavy or clumsy, thanks to the tension inherent in the vintage.

These great 2023 whites, which are livelier than the 2022s, will nevertheless quickly become expressive and enjoyable, starting in 2027 for the vast majority of them. They will have an excellent capacity for ageing, up to 20 years for the greatest Pessac-Léognan wines.

In the hierarchy of recent Bordeaux dry white vintages, we place 2023 at the top, comparable to 2021 but ahead of all other recent vintages.


Bordeaux 2023: a great vintage for sweet white wines

As mentioned above, obtaining healthy, ripe white grapes in early September was easy in 2023. Unfortunately, this was not the case for everyone, such as Climens, which produced (organically) 4,000 bottles from its 13 ha of vineyards, giving a total yield of just 2.3 hl/ha.

The two Atlantic disturbances on 12 and 21 September, with their abundant rainfall (80mm in 10 days), arrived just in time to mark the end of the dry season and kick-start a rapid and even botrytisation.

Thanks to the return of the anticyclone from 23 September until 17 October, the Sauternes producers were able to organise their harvest with complete peace of mind over a period of almost 4 weeks. In general, two or three selections were enough to bring in perfectly botrytised grapes, with no trace of acetic pitting or parasitic rot.

From 18 October onwards, continuous autumn rain meant the end of the harvest for everyone, with an average yield of 12.5 hectolitres per hectare for the Sauternes area.

The wines are pure, with a savoury openness of flavour and a high sugar content, higher than that of the 2022s, but perfectly balanced by the natural acidity of the vintage. Among recent vintages, the most comparable to 2023 would be 2016.

As the Bordeaux School of Oenology (I.S.V.V.), unsuspecting of complacency, wrote: "Very aromatic, with notes of candied fruit worthy of the best years, the sweet whites are powerful and deep, while retaining great freshness. The purity of their expression, their balance and their density place 2023 in the line of the great vintages of sweet wines".


Bordeaux 2023: reds in varying quantities

Harvesting of the Merlot began in the early days of September, and that of the Cabernets from 18 September, the main challenge being to avoid as much as possible the rains of 12 and 21 September and their consequences (dilution of the juice).

Picking the Merlot in the middle of the two rainy spells was the most disruptive, with producers having to choose between picking grapes that were concentrated but not fully ripe, or a few days later grapes that were more ripe but swollen by the rain.

Conversely, the later Cabernets were mainly harvested after 21 September, i.e. after the rain. What's more, the Cabernets benefited from the warm, calm weather of the ensuing anticyclone to perfect their ripeness without haste.

The quantities harvested reflected the virulence of the downy mildew attacks in the spring, which in turn depended on the quality of the terroirs. A large terroir, with better ventilation and drainage, is always less susceptible to fungal diseases.

In 2023, the great terroirs were able to combine quality and quantity. Whereas 2022 had reduced the differences in quality between the crus, 2023 increased them.

Oenologist Nicolas Thienpont's harvest figures bear witness to this: 43 hl/ha and 48 hl/ha at Larcis-Ducasse and Pavie-Macquin, the Saint-Émilion 1er grands crus classés for which he is responsible, and just 23hl/ha at Puyguéraud, his own estate in the Côtes de Francs.

Another example is the Saint-Julien grands crus: 51 hl/ha at Lagrange, 53 hl/ha at Léoville-Poyferré, 54 hl/ha at Talbot, etc. but a more modest 24 hl/ha at du Retout, the excellent cru bourgeois in the neighbouring commune (Cussac-Fort Médoc).


Bordeaux 2023: reds of varying quality

Qualitatively, the oenologists were unable to predict the consequences, positive or negative, of the heatwave (19 days at over 30°C between 16 August and 15 September) which occurred at the end of the vegetative cycle after two temperate months.

This chronology, original and totally unprecedented in the Gironde, was a priori very favourable for Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, grape varieties that ripen later than Merlot. The two Cabernets have always been particularly successful in years with a good late season (= an ‘Indian summer’

Left bank. After 3 months of ageing, the great names of the Left Bank fully confirm the exceptional success of the Cabernet Sauvignon, noted in the I.S.V.V. report: "On the great terroirs, the 2023 Cabernet Sauvignon is remarkable: racy, structured, tasty, with good depth and an expression of black fruit, without any vegetal character".

For these great châteaux of the Médoc and Graves, 2023 succeeds in the tour de force of combining the aromatic freshness and elegance conferred by acidity, with the roundness of texture and even the voluptuousness due to complete maturity. At the same time, the wines were moderately full-bodied and alcoholic (12°5 at Poujeaux, 12°8 at Lafite-Rothschild, 12°9 at Cos d'Estournel, 13°0 at Talbot and Pichon-Comtesse, 13°1 at Margaux, Léoville-Las Cases and Poyferré, 13°2 at Pichon-Baron, etc.), as the 2023s lacked the power and richness of the 2022s.

Overall, we noted more successes in the northern part of the Left Bank (Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and beyond) than in the southern part (Margaux and Pessac-Léognan), which was more affected by mildew. In the second-rate terroirs, or in the case of producers who have not waited for their Cabernet Sauvignon to reach full maturity, the wines have harsh tannins and/or a greenness of flavour that can only be softened somewhat with bottle age.

Right bank. In the Libourne area, the Cabernet Francs, when well matured, are excellent, floral, delicate and finely tannic. They were complemented by the Merlots, which were well-coloured, fruity (red fruit), expressive and full-bodied in the case of those grown on deep soils (clay and clay-limestone).

Otherwise, the Merlots and Cabernets Francs produced, at best, pleasant and easily accessible wines (perfect for the restaurant trade) but lacking the body and length on the palate expected of great wines. Or at worst, wines lacking flesh, with stiff tannins and aromas marked by mildew (mushroom, ivy, dust) as a result of insufficient sorting.

On both banks. Among the best, 2023 reminds us of 2011 for the style and success of the Cabernets, and 2004 for the generosity of the harvest. In the end, there were many decent wines, some truly excellent and a few quite exceptional. Just like 2004!


Bordeaux 2023: red wines with (necessarily) falling prices

In Bordeaux, the price of a new vintage is always the result of two distinct factors:

- 1°) the quality of the vintage compared to previous vintages,
- 2°) the current economic climate.

In this case, it is certain that even if 2023 can be described as a good to very good Bordeaux vintage, it will still be inferior in reputation and notoriety to 2022, an exceptional vintage with countless successes.

As for the current economic context, we would say that it is uncertain, to say the least, with the Chinese, Japanese and European economies at half-mast, the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian and Iranian-Israeli conflicts, US-China geopolitical tensions, fears of the return of Trump taxes, and so on.

For these reasons, operators and consumers around the world are expecting prices to fall significantly (back to more or less the inflation-adjusted prices of ‘Primeurs 2019’). With 'Primeurs 2023' starting next week, we'll soon know whether the message has got through...