Bordeaux 2022 Vintage: A year of resilience and finesse
Following our trip to Bordeaux for En Primeur week, visiting châteaux and tasting hundreds of wines, it is clear to conclude that the region has produced some outstanding and remarkable wines, which defy the growing conditions of the 2022 vintage.
The Growing Season
As with all dramatic sagas, the key to understanding and unlocking the door of this extraordinary vintage is the past. As many vignerons mentioned during tastings, this vintage wouldn’t have been a success without its predecessors.
Following the cool, notably wet growing season of 2021, 2022 started with a relatively dry winter. Threats of frosts appeared at the beginning of April, but these were very much localised. A warm spring soon followed, with early budbreak and flowering in mid-May with ideal conditions. This was then the start of the hot dry summer, with temperatures reaching the 30s at the end of May. Many estates commented that the vines started to adapt to the conditions then, producing fewer lateral shoots, smaller leaves and smaller bunches. Smattering rainfall in June allowed the vines some much needed replenishment ahead of the extreme heatwave which latest from mid-June through to August.
New records were hit in the region, with temperatures reaching 41o°c, but thankfully the evenings brought some cool welcome relief to the vines. The lack of water and intense heat meant the vines produced smaller berries, with thicker skins to protect the fruit. Some respite, for both the vines and the winemakers, came in the form of rain showers in mid-August, and the warm conditions meant that harvest began in early August for white wines, and in late August or early September for red wines – for a lot of châteaux this was their earliest harvest on record. Château Figeac mentioned that their biggest question was when to start harvesting, and 1st September is their earliest harvest in the 130-year ownership under the Manoncourt family.
“In my forty years as a winemaker, I have no comparison for this vintage. Though smaller, the quality of our grapes are better than 09 and 10.”
Hubert de Boüard, Château Angelus
The Resilience of the Vines
Given the extreme growing conditions, how has this vintage been such a success? When we first heard of the heat, comparisons began to be made with 2003, but these were quickly dismissed by all. So what was the difference?
“I don’t think this vintage would have been possible 20 years ago,” was a comment echoed by many winemakers. Technical skills in the vineyard, viticulture and technology have vastly improved. At Château Giscours we were shown a birds-eye view of each individual plot, with vines colour-coded by age to allow the winemaking team to work on each plot and harvest each vine on a case-by-case basis.
A reoccurring theme this year when visiting properties across the region was the emphasis the estates are now giving to biodiversity across the vineyard. Cover crops between and surrounding the vines were a common sight, which have encouraged better soil structure, water retention and cooled the temperatures around the vines. We also heard from Marielle Cazaux at La Conseillante and the team at Ponet Canet, who sprayed the berries with clay kaolin soil to act like a sunscreen to protect them from heat damage.
This vintage, the vines were exposed to warm, dry conditions from the beginning. We almost forget that these are Mediterranean plants, and the vines and their roots quickly adapted to the warmer growing season. Many châteaux spoke of the reduced canopies, and the fact that there were less bunches produced per vine. “The vines regulated themselves” commented Arnaud Martin, Sales Director at Cheval Blanc. Equally, the warmer vintages in the recent trilogy of 18,19 and 20 has encouraged the vines to adapt to these challenges of heat and drought with astonishing resilience, meaning there was little hydric stress across the region. The nights in 2022 were also cooler than 2003, allowing the vines some recuperation before the heat of the midday sun.
“This was a great vintage after all – we were more stressed than the vines!”
Guillaume Thienpont, Vieux Château Certan
One remaining factor of the vintage to consider is the terroir, where soils with excellent water holding capacity such as clay, allowed vines, especially older plants with extended root systems to quench their thirst from deep water reserves they held.
When visiting Château Angelus, we were greeted with stunning images of some of their oldest Cabernet Franc vines, adorning the walls of the tasting room. These photographs were taken two days before their harvest began and really showcased how green and healthy the vines were, despite the perceived challenges they faced.
In the cellars
The style of wines across the vintage and the appellations is defined by the small details and decisions from the winemaking teams, which have been crucial. From reactions to the conditions and decisions around minimising soil work, canopy management to picking dates; these methods all needed to be spot on and those with the technical capacity and know-how have been richly rewarded.
With smaller, thicker-skinned berries, tannin management in the vat room was key. Gentle extraction, with hardly any pumping over ensured the wines were not over extracted and they retained the finesse of the tannins. Both Pichon Baron and Château Figeac highlighted the importance of cooler vinification process and a “hands-off approach” in the cellars.
“The wine speaks for itself, there is everything without too much. In 2021 it took us three or four blending sessions before we landed on our final pick. This vintage, I was sat at my desk preparing the annual budget when our cellar master walked in and handed me a glass. My first thought was “holy f*!#” this is in incredible, what is it? When he informed me that it was the blend of all our plots together, I didn’t want to make a second label as I wanted all of that quality going into the grand vin! This was the easiest blend we’ve ever had to do, nothing needed to be removed.”
Marielle Cazaux, La Conseillante
Verdict on the Wines
Christian Seely, CEO of AXA Millésimes, summed up the vintage when we visited Pichon Baron by stating, “This was a paradoxical, counter-intuitive year. The warm vintage means the wines have a higher alcohol levels but this is balanced on taste by the beautiful freshness giving the best of the wines delicacy and finesse. To combine all these things is unique.”
The diversity of wine styles across the vintage is certainly a result of the specific terroir expressions and viticultural decisions of the estates, with exciting potential across of all the appellations.
Given the extreme temperatures in 2022 there are some instances where wines tend towards high alcohol and/or overextraction, however we found these to be in the minority, with excellent wines made right across the appellations that come highly recommended. In terms of style, this will of course be affected by each individual producer’s decisions in winemaking, however the hallmarks of the vintage for reds are dark fruited, concentrated, yet excellently balanced wines that have remarkable freshness.
The best wines on the Left Bank harnessed the power and weight of the vintage, yet balanced it with freshness and finesse, managing the extraction of super ripe tannins beautifully to craft some of the best young wines we can recall tasting at this stage. Wines like Lafite, Mouton and Pichon-Lalande stood out for the extra level of precision they displayed, but for a fraction of the cost Rauzan-Segla, Cantenac-Brown and Pontet-Canet were all sensational.
Merlot really stole the show in 2022 and helped the Right Bank achieve slightly more consistency than the Left. Cheval Blanc was the star and could well be the wine of the vintage in our opinion, however, Canon, Figeac and La Conselliante weren’t too far behind whilst all showcasing very different styles with aplomb. Larcis-Ducasse, Pavie-Macquin and Beau-Sejour Becot will all represent fantastic value and showcase the beautiful purity of fruit, energy and veuve that Merlot dominant blends have in this remarkable vintage.
As you might expect for a great vintage for reds, white varieties that prefer cooler conditions to retain acidity and tension tend to struggle, however there were a surprising amount that had a good amount of freshness, aromatic complexity and will give a lot of drinking pleasure in the near term. The white wines of Pessac-Léognan, as they often do, stood out with Smith-Haut-Lafitte being the pick of the bunch.
Sweet wines showed the power you would expect from such a warm vintage, however there are some excellent examples that balance this with a surprising amount of freshness, as well as clear botrytis character after a quick development of noble rot in the vineyards in October. Suduiraut was excellent this year and as Christian Seely says “It’s delicious for breakfast!”.
The overall picture is hugely positive and there will be some exceptional wines for you to add to your cellar this campaign.