Bordeaux En Primeur 2023: Pre-Report

Bordeaux, En Primeur, 2023

The Bordeaux En Primeur season is upon us and two of our team have just returned from the UGC tastings and a series of independent chateau visits. On Monday, three more of us head out to taste – this time focusing largely on the Right Bank.
Our Vintage Report will follow shortly, but it suffices to say that 2023 has the makings of very good vintage. Recent Bordeaux vintages may be showing a progression towards hot and dry conditions, but 2023 was a vintage where the growing season received regular intervals of rain, and not in dramatic amounts. This has boosted berry size and thereby eased concentration back from the 2022 level, where rich wines were more the norm, with relatively significant alcohol levels. Conversely, the best of 2023 show fine balance, good freshness, and more moderate levels of alcohol. Winemakers were able to carry out lengthier macerations as the juice to skin ratio was higher on account of a larger berry size – when the vines are subject to increased hydric stress clearly resultant berry size is smaller. With lower alcohol and more juice, winemakers did not have quite the same concerns about over-extracting as they had last year. Despite vastly different vintage conditions to back in the day, it is more of a throwback vintage, more classically styled than the heat summation data might lead you to believe. It begs the question that, if conditions are moving towards the hot and dry end of the spectrum in general, how many such years where the season is punctuated by adequate rainfall are we likely to witness in a decade? One could be forgiven for thinking that such years are likely to prove to be the anomaly as opposed to the norm.  
Our impression of the 2023s, largely based on our sampling of the Left Bank, leads us to believe there are a range of impressive, appealing Cabernet dominant wines that show good volume of fruit and fine natures, with good balancing acidities. The big question concerns price – 2023 could be a successful vintage for the region, if release prices are well-judged. All in all, 2023 maybe a welcome surprise, even if it does not register as one of thee more dramatic vintages of recent times. 
As ever, we will make our recommendations to you, based on quality and value, in our stream of regular offers.  Atlas has always remained selective in its approach to Bordeaux en primeur, rather than opting to offer every single release far and wide as most of the trade does. We do however have availability of more wines than those we choose to endorse; for which you will be able to register your interest.

A word on pricing
The aim of Bordeaux’s En Primeur system is to allow the sale of the wine, on paper, two years before it is bottled. When the system works well it provides beneficial cash flow for the chateaux, a margin for the negociants and their wine merchant clients, and allegedly an appealing price for the end consumer. Release pricing used to be influenced by the negociants and the courtiers (the agents between the negociants and the chateaux), but all that changed in the early 1980s when demand for the wines started to build and the chateaux assumed far greater control, now absolute control, over price setting. Negociants find themselves in a position where they are obliged to buy, even if they don’t agree with the price, as if they opt out one year, they will lose their allocations in the subsequent year.
What does this interesting background have to do with the 2023 Bordeaux en primeur offer? Well, I think it is in the balance this year. 2023 is a good vintage overall, rather than exceptional, though, as always, the generalised view masks the notable successes that push above the average quality. We are told the Bordelais Chateaux owners are aware of the economic backdrop, the fact that en primeur has perhaps lost some of the limelight in recent years, and the fact that the fine wine market is feeling a little flat right now.  We are told we can expect significant reductions on last year’s levels. But what kind of reduction might be required to fully resuscitate the patient? There has been plenty of discussion in the market about reductions in the realm of 30-40% on average. If that were to transpire, I think it would be a good sign that the decision-makers in Bordeaux do not exist in some parallel universe, and it should lead to clients who perhaps have hung back on the sidelines during en primeur season to enter the fray once more. The last time I can recall such a significant reduction in release pricing was the 2008 vintage, which served to re-engage the market and led to a far better campaign than many envisaged at the outset. The sad reality of Bordeaux en primeur is it becomes a discussion of price above almost everything else. The system of selling has led to this as it was supposed to deliver benefit down the chain from chateaux to consumer, but it hasn’t always transpired that way. The hiatus of 2009 and 2010 left many people who purchased high and dry, many still holding stocks that are underwater today. If the Bordelais get the pricing ‘right’, then perhaps the conversation will return to the relative merits of the wines themselves. Either way, we won’t have to wait long as one lesson that appears to have been learned is not to protract the period of releases. We already know that the release schedule will commence in earnest as early as Tuesday or Wednesday next week and expect a quickfire campaign condensed into three to four weeks rather than the usual drawn out affair with the last releases emerging as everyone starts to disappear on summer holidays.

Our Vintage Report will be sent to you next week which will provide further information on forthcoming Bordeaux releases.

Back to Vintage Reports