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Bordeaux 2023 En Primeur

We will be in Bordeaux next week for our annual en primeur tasting trip, tasting several hundred wines from the 2023 vintage and visiting key châteaux, including great names like Cheval Blanc, Le Pin, VCC, Angelus, Ausone, Tertre Roteboeuf, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and many more.  This is always a privilege but it's also a critical time in our business year when we have to make tough decisions about which wines to buy as they are released over the coming weeks. 

The headline for the 2023 growing season is a heterogeneous vintage, with the best wines featuring plenty of ripe fruit but even more freshness than in recent great years like 2022 or 2020.  Mildew and scattered rainfall affected some estates severely, and others hardly at all, so tasting to identify hits or misses will be even more important than usual.  You can read our summary of the 2023 Growing Season below.

We will taste wines from the very top 200-300 châteaux out of some 6000 estates in Bordeaux, to select around 60-100 wines.  The ones we then offer will be determined by their value relative to quality, once prices are released. It looks like the releases will be very early this year, with some big names due out in late April and many others in May. 

The 2023 Growing Season in Bordeaux

Our summary of the growing season in 2023 is taken from an excellent report prepared by the Oenology Research Unit of the University of Bordeaux[i] for the UGC. 

  1. Winter 2022/3 was cool, with low sunshine and adequate rainfall, but lower than in previous hot years like 2022 and ’20.
  2. The cool winter meant bud break was not too early, preventing frost damage.
  3. A humid spring led to widespread mildew, a major challenge, especially for Merlot; but the impact on both left and right banks varied, from major to negligible, causing a disparity in yields between different estates.
  4. May was sunny, warm, and dry, with good vine growth and a very even flowering. Estates not hit by mildew had the promise of very good yields.
  5. June to mid-August was slightly warmer than average but a bit dull; dry but with regular storms.
  6. Period to 15 August full of contrasts - slightly warmer than average, a bit dull, dry, but with regular storms
  7. From 16 August, a heatwave arrived. Unusually, the vines responded by stopping their vegetative growth (conserving moisture and nutrients) and put their energy into fruit ripening.  Ripening conditions were excellent, with the exception of young vines on well-drained soils or grapes over-exposed to sunshine.
  8. Merlot harvest began in the first week of September. Heavy rain on 20 September - brought forward the Cabernet harvest at some estates.  Other estates chose to wait until after the rain (which was less heavy than forecast).
  9. An "Indian summer" gave plenty of time to pick the last red grapes without fear of rot.
  10. The white wine harvest was excellent for both dry and sweet white wines. The cooler start to the summer produced excellent acidity levels.  In Sauternes, alternating wet/dry spells were ideal for botrytis, which developed earlier than in previous vintages.  Warm dry weather in October allowed for repeated ‘tries’ in the vineyard.

We are hoping for some excellent reds, with plenty of ripeness, but with fresher acidity levels than in 2022 and 2020.  It will be interesting to see how properties affected by mildew or with reduced quantities of Merlot have adapted.  We are also looking forward to some exceptional dry whites and Sauternes.

[i] Prof. Laurence Geny, Elodie Guittard, Dr. Valérie Lavigne and Prof. Axel Marchal Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenology Research Unit, ‘The 2023 vintage in Bordeaux’

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