Artwork Bordeaux

It’s that time of year again when Bordeaux dusts down the Big Top and invites merchants, sommeliers, journalists, and anyone’s cousin twice removed to come and sample the soon to be released vintage. The circus was well and truly in town last week, at Château Palmer they had 1,500 visitors across three weeks in 2022, compared to that number in 5 days in 2023. We saw and heard many different nationalities and accents in our short trip which, given the COVID hiatus, was an unusually welcome experience. The reason for this buzz and renewed interest is more complex than one headline. For sure the increasing prices of other regions, a COVID backlash and a desire simply to taste again were all factors, but the major draw were the whispers of a really excellent vintage.

To put some context to this, the 2022 growing season can be defined quite simply as hot and dry. The Bordeaux region recorded higher than average temperatures for June (21°C), July (23 °C) and August (24°C). There were also prolonged spikes over of 40 degrees in both July and August. Alongside this, rainfall was very low, the 30-year average for July and August is 107mm, in 2022 for the same two months the region received just 30mm of rain. Going further, the May-September 30yr average is 329mm vs 2022’s 185mm. For vines not accustomed to such extremes these conditions would normally result in serious problems. Drought can cause hydric stress; the vine shuts down the growth in an effort to protect itself (blocking as it’s often referred as). The last vintage which had similar issues (although not as prolonged) was 2003 which produced some wines that were overblown with low acidity. The paradox however with 2022 is the words that kept coming up in tasting notes were ‘freshness’ ‘salinity’ and ‘balance’.

Not all managed to get it right, there are examples of clumsy wines with chewy tannins where producers had tried to extract too much. However, in the most part and particularly in reference to the top 50 Château, this is an excellent vintage. Although there is definitely freshness, there is also great concentration and structure in the best examples. Alcohol levels were around 14-14.5% but the wines can cope with this and very few felt out of balance. Merlot, which had been all but written off as not the long-term solution for the new climate, was perhaps the most successful grape, showing silky tannins that had beautiful balance and were concentrated but fresh. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc produced concentrated small berries which were ripe, well balanced and with fresh acidity. When asked, no one could really tell us why the vines coped where many thought they would not. The ‘Miracle’ vintage as one Château owner put it. If you were to drive through the region in late August just before harvest, you would have seen green vineyards full of leaf and would be forgiven for thinking it had just rained.

Those vineyards with clay soils and better water retention were best placed to perform well in this vintage, as were those with old vines. But light touch winemaking, new irrigation allowances, and huge strides in technology also played a big part. If we think back to 2003, winemakers did not have the technological advances, funds or experience of extreme vintages that they have today. Winemaking in 2022 is precise, guided by data both in the vineyard and cellar. The challenges that were once immovable hurdles are now just problems to overcome. Micro decisions happen daily, all of which help the winemaking team to navigate the challenges and produce the best version they can. Nature, as always, will play its hand. The cooler nights and heavier rainfall in June perhaps helped to save the vines. There is also a theory that the difficult growing season in 2021 meant that the vines were more fertile and thus coped better in 2022. These variables we do not know, but what we do know is that the wines are delicious, vibrant and exciting which collectors will want to own and drink.

Prices and Market

Given the drought, yields are down on average (but slightly up on 2021) and add to this the percentage that Château will hold back and there will be not much 2022 to go around. This means that prices will inevitably be up on last year, and for GBP based clients who have seen a 5% currency slide, the increase is likely to be considerable.

So, should you buy them? Each year we travel and evaluate the vintage to try and offer our clients the best advice both about quality and value. Commercially speaking, to sell lots of Bordeaux is good for our business, however, client loyalty is also very important, and we only retain that by offering honest advice based on our significant experience in this market. We are not a behemoth with tens of thousands of clients which must sell En Primeur in order for the ship not to sink, we have the luxury of being more agile with the ability and desire to give you our honest advice.

Only as small number of wines had been released at the time of writing. But when they are we will be sending out offers only on those we believe are good enough to be included in your cellars, whether that be a £20 Médoc to go with a Sunday roast or a £500 1st Growth. As we have said, prices will be higher than we would like but that is sadly the same for many things in the current inflationary period we are going through. In our emails we will try to put in context these prices rises and give some feeling as to whether we believe the wines offer value as well as quality.

Our view is that 2022 is unlikely to be a vintage for the speculator looking to make a quick profit. However, it is a vintage for the wine lover and collector who is looking for some fabulous and unique Bordeaux to drink in the years to come. Continuity and selecting your preference of bottle size and format are once again compelling reasons. As are those with birthyears or landmarks to celebrate from 2022.

There is also sadly no question that the wines will be significantly more expensive when they are fully mature (even with inflation taken into account). We can think of only a few examples of where this has not occurred in a good or great vintage. In the context of other regions, particularly Burgundy, California and in some cases Piedmont, Bordeaux looks cheap. A bottle of Château Pichon Lalande 1996 (a truly wonderful wine) is around £375/btl now, and I am not certain you can be guaranteed as much joy from a similarly priced wine from any other region.

So, if you want to ensure access to wines from this fascinating vintage and also be 100% confident of their provenance then there will certainly be some wines at all levels which we can honestly recommend. If there are particular things you are after then do let us know in advance. We have listed our favourites below. We look forward hearing your thoughts and we hope you enjoy receiving our offers and our views.

The Wines

Our top picks of the vintage from a quality perspective are as follows in order of preference:

Ch. Figeac, Saint-Emilion

Ch. Montrose, Saint Estèphe

Ch. Pichon Lalande, Pauillac

Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol

Ch. Palmer, Margaux

Ch. Canon, Saint-Emillion

Ch. Eglise Clinet, Pomerol

Ch Brane Cantenac, Margaux (highly recommended)

Ch. Pichon Baron, Pauillac

Ch. La Conseillante, Pomerol

Ch. Tertre Rôteboeuf, Saint Emilion

Ch. Léoville Poyferre, Saint Julien

Ch. Lynch Bages, Pauillac

Ch. Calon-Ségur, Saint Estèphe

Ch. Léoville Barton, Saint-Julien

Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

Ch. Pontet Canet, Pauillac

Ch. Branaire-Ducru, Saint Julien

Ch. Clerc Milon, Pauillac

Ch. Duhart Milon, Pauillac

Ch. Haut Batailley, Pauillac

Ch. Batailley, Pauillac

Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan

And the following will deserve high consideration at a medium to lower price point:

Dame de Montrose, Saint Estèphe (Second wine of Montrose)

Alter Ego de Palmer, Margaux (Second wine of Palmer) – only 4000 cases made

Reserve De Comtessé, Pauillac (Second wine of Pichon Lalande)

Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg (from the Mitjavile familly of Tertre Rôteboeuf)

Ch. Phelan Segur, Saint Estèphe

Ch. Tronquoy Lalande, Saint Estèphe (Team at Montrose)

Ch. Capbern, Saint Estèphe (Team at Calon)

Ch. Ormes De Pez, Saine Estèphe (Team at Lynch Bages)

Ch. Pibran, Pauillac

Ch. La Croix De Gay, Pomerol

Ch. Les Cruzelles, Lalande de Pomerol (Durantou family of Eglise Clinet)

Ch. Montlandrie, Côtes de Castillon (Durantou family of Eglise Clinet)

Ch. Quinalt L’Enclos, Saint-Emillon (Team at Cheval Blanc)

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