2022 Bordeaux Vintage Report

2022 Bordeaux Vintage Report

Bordeaux 2022 is not what I expected. It is not a generalised success, in reality, few vintages are, but where there are high points, and there are a good number, the results are spectacular. I find myself writing ‘surely one of the best ever vintages I have tasted from this estate, if not the finest’ on more than one occasion, and I remain hopeful that a number of these will remain attainable when prices are released. The best examples show a very rare combination of richness, balance and freshness – in fact a sense of harmony that renders them appealing to taste as young, unfinished wines. Tasting 60 different samples with a négociant one afternoon was far from the arduous task that I recall from earlier in my career. Finding harmony in young wines bodes well for future development and I will be fascinated to see how the best of the class of 2022 age.

Much has already been written about the fact that the Châteaux situated on the great terroirs have excelled. By contrast, those in less fortunate locations haven’t been able to deliver the same quality, with their wines sometimes revealing some jamminess, astringency or overly apparent alcoholic warmth. In this respect, it can probably be considered a vintage of the 'haves and have nots’ – have the right location, have the right winemaking facilities and have the right philosophy. It was a very dry vintage, but fortunately the preceding winter provided adequate soil water reserves. One Château owner commented that, were the same conditions to replicate themselves in 2023, the outcome would be markedly different as the winter was dry and has not replenished soil water reserves. Terroir is key in a very dry vintage – the location, exposition and, most significantly of all, the soil structure all shape the ability to succeed. If your vineyards are situated on terroirs that benefit from a soil composition that can retain moisture at depth, you have a clear advantage. If the grape varieties grown were expertly matched to the terroir, you had another clear advantage and if the vines were planted on a drought tolerant rootstock, you once more had an advantage. Additionally, if your approach to viticulture and vinification had adapted to suit the conditions that have become prevalent in modern-day Bordeaux, you were sitting pretty.

It was remarkable to taste the resultant wines, conscious of the fact that the region experienced significant heatwaves across the summer months with temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius. The wines in general do not bear a similarity to previous hot vintages like 2003, where the extremes of the vintage are revealed more clearly in the glass, namely low acidity and jammy fruit. Commentators like William Kelley at robertparker.com have talked of how the vines in 2022 had to adjust from the outset – spring was dry, and the vine’s vegetative vigour adjusted, meaning it lost less moisture by transpiration via the leaves. Timing of harvest was also a key factor – across Bordeaux winemakers have by and large learned their lessons well. As Marielle Cazaux at high-flying Château La Conseillante commented, ‘it was the experiences of previous hot vintages that made the successes in 2022 possible.’ If I consider the changes we have witnessed in Bordeaux over recent years, the one that is perhaps most striking is the investment that has been made in state of the art cellars, enabling winemakers to ferment the fruit from different plots, or even sub plots, separately. This has pushed quality higher as winemakers are able to determine the right moment to harvest each plot, or in some cases partial plot. Vinifying the wine separately then allows the winemaker to consider if the wine from a specific parcel of vines benefits the final wine. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Château Troplong-Mondot, the recipient of considerable investment itself. In 2022, they made less Grand Vin by percentage than the norm on account of stricter selection. This was made possible by the outstanding winemaking facilities now at their disposal. Here, it comes back to the 'haves and have nots' once more, as the facilities at most top Châteaux allow for the greatest flexibility in winemaking, but of course, not all Châteaux benefit from the same scale of investment. Frankly, the focus on detail at the leading Châteaux today is nothing short of incredible.

The other area that has changed in recent years relates to the topic of extraction. With the richness of the fruit in recent, warmer vintages, extractions have become much gentler. In fact, the word that tends to dominate conversations on extraction today is ‘infusion’, the gentlest method of all, where very few pump overs are carried out. In years like 2022 which produced small berries and thereby a low juice to skin ratio, this approach was ideally suited. The resultant wines certainly do not lack tannin, though courtesy of this approach and cooler fermentation temperatures, the wines do not taste overtly tannic. The warm, dry conditions of 2022 meant that the tannins had the chance to fully ripen, with various winemakers commenting that the pips turned brown (a sign of ripeness) much earlier than normal. I think that is one of the most surprising characteristics of the 2022s; their precision and finely expressed tannins. Of course, there were some wines that tasted a bit four-square on account of a more active approach to extraction but, by and large, the finesse of the tannins impresses in the 2022s. Winemaking in Bordeaux has certainly adapted to drier conditions, and it seems the vine itself is revealing incredible resilience, but so much came down to location and approach.

So, what to expect? Certainly, it isn’t a vintage of success upon success. There are exciting wines to be found across both banks, and in all communes, but it is a vintage in which to be selective. If there was one area to single out for special attention, it might be Saint-Emilion (with Pomerol close behind), where we found a host of notable successes including a truly stunning Figeac, just when you thought the bar couldn’t easily be lifted further. Canon and Troplong-Mondot were both staggeringly good too, as were Beau-Séjour Bécot and Clos Fourtet to name just a few. And, as elsewhere, wines that aren’t so much in the limelight also shone such as the resurgent Châteaux Soutard and Berliquet. The same could be said of Margaux, where we expected to be impressed by Brane-Cantenac and Cantenac-Brown for example, and were not disappointed, but also found a rare appeal in the wine of Château Kirwan, a property I have never championed before. This appears to be the pattern across Bordeaux, making 2022 a fascinating vintage to taste. It was intellectually stimulating as an exercise and I am convinced that possibly as many as a dozen wines have the opportunity to be considered among the best ever made at their respective Châteaux. As you know from my previous vintage reports, I am not prone to hyperbole.
As ever, our hitlist is likely to shrink as we judge the release prices and value on offer before contacting you. I feel sure we will see some Châteaux push prices this year, but there is a sense that it may not be an 'across the board' increase. It was good to see Soutard actually reduce their price a touch on the preceding year when they released yesterday, though I doubt this attitude will catch on widely. Conversely Cheval-Blanc increased their release price substantially over the 2021 release. Perhaps we will see a far less homogenous pricing policy across Bordeaux this year, who knows.
The team at Atlas will highlight specific wines in our regular offers that we feel are worth consideration. If there are specific Châteaux in which you are interested, please feel free to send through your wishlists and we will do our best to assist. We do have far greater access than the range of wines we offer by email, and you will be able to view all notable releases and availability by following this link. Unlike other merchants, we do not send out every release, preferring to focus on those that we are happy to endorse, but we are able to supply wines outside of this range. If you would prefer not to receive our en primeur releases, please contact one of the team.

I look forward to bringing you some interesting releases over the coming weeks.
Please let us know of your interest.
All the best,

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