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Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2022

16 May 2023

Tom Jenkins

Anyone who’s had the Bordeaux marketing experience will know that chateaux have a slight obsession with numbers. It’s a statistician’s dream: IPTs, pHs, assemblages, percentage of new oak, hours of sunshine, temperature charts, rainfall. All very impressive, but in 2022, not worth the luxury card they are printed on. We know it was hot – there were forest fires south of Bordeaux and over 2800 heat-related deaths in France, but the ‘22s have little in common with other extreme summers such as 2003.

Yes, these wines have power and concentration, but the overwhelming sensations when tasting are minerality and freshness. Ballasted by a prominent tannic framework, the wines rarely veer into excess; certainly, it’s not a hedonist’s vintage per se – there is a sense of proportion and clarity to the fruit with, if anything, a cooling, wiry line of acidity that completely rebuffs any comparison to the soupier, glossier 2003s.

So, why is 2022 such a paradox? There are several factors that could provide an explanation.

Firstly, the preceding vintage, although not wet, provided regular rainfall, keeping the water table topped up. The winter of 2021/2022 was a proper winter, the first in several years. Cold conditions meant proper dormancy in the vineyards, ensuring a clean bill of health for the plants come the spring. Ten nights of frost protection, as is becoming the norm, passed without issue, before the season began in earnest. From there on out it was warm as well as dry.

Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur is convinced that the dry conditions in early 2022 prepared the vines for what lay ahead. “They self-regulated, growing smaller canopies. Unlike 2018, when the vines were fat and lazy with excessive vegetation early-on, these vines were in training… they were marathon runners. A sensible amount of leaves per vine with no rainfall meant no pressure of mildew or oidium, and energy in reserve.” Born small, the vines were primed and ready for action, verdant and ready for the first heatwave in June.

Aymeric de Gironde at Troplong Mondot describes 2022 as a vintage “made underground not overground”. He’s quite right. Some may obsess about the temperatures and drought, yet it was the vines’ ability to go deep, seeking out water from the beginning of the growing season, that made the difference. In contrast, a rainy spring means excessive vegetation and shallower roots – hard to manage all around. There is no doubt though that vignerons have become more adept at dealing with hot vintages. Global warming is a very real fact in Bordeaux. Farming practices have evolved particularly in relation to canopy and soil management. Omri explained how in 2022 the topsoil was broken carefully to capture what rainfall and dew there was (but not so much that the soil would lose the moisture already in the earth). Minute details matter.

Throughout the growing season and even after the harvest, canopies remained bright and healthy, suggesting that vines sent out deep roots to find water. 2003 was quite the opposite. Bursts of heat after a rainy spring, shocked the vines to such an extent that leaves were dropping and semi-developed grapes shriveled on the vine, sending sugars (and alcohol levels) soaring without proper phenolic ripeness. One thing that all the producers agreed on in 2022 is that, though the grapes were small, the skins were pristine; acidities were present and vibrant; and purity of aroma was intact. Imbued with the power of a summer that broke most records, it is astonishing that the best wines finish with all the sinew, edge, and reverberation of a much cooler year.

Along with canopy management, root formation and the adaptation to drought, several producers explained that 2022 saw fewer days over 35C than 2003 with a much wider diurnal temperature swing. This, as always, helps to retain acidities and alleviates continued stress on the vines. Clearly a critical factor in the resulting style of the vintage. Another consideration, lest we forget, is terroir. As is ever the case, the best terroirs have a significant advantage when it comes to coping with extremes. Wines from the limestone Cote and plateau of St Emilion are sensational. The sponge-like calcaire regulates water, drip-feeding the vines. Here we found some of the most vibrant and mouthwatering wines of the vintage. Who could have guessed that Merlot would shine in conditions as these. Equally, the clays around the Pomerol and St Emilion border and some vineyards with clay subsoils in the Medoc have excelled. Quite a few chateaux commented that 2022 is more marked by terroir than solaire.

In general, the new superstar oenologists favour earlier harvests. Nicolas Audebert and Thomas Duclos started picking Canon in August – even the French summer holiday is at risk from global warming. Many hosts laboured the importance of picking dates. Whilst there was no risk of rain or disease, the window of opportunity was small. This approach to pick perfectly “just ripe” fruit gives wonderful precision to the flavours. It also retains lower pHs. Several technical directors with shiny new wineries told us how they used their cool rooms to chill the fruit prior to vinifications to preserve freshness and enhance aromatics. When fermentations began, the trend was to be gentle, with longer, cooler macerations. Many talked of an “infusion”. Guillaume Pouthier at Carmes Haut Brion insisted on no pump-overs or pigeage. Most vignerons did very gentle pump overs, but no pigeage. High skin to juice ratio has provided vivid, deep colours, huge concentration and wonderful press wines without the need to extract aggressively.

What is so remarkable and impressive is the overall quality. There are fantastic wines from all appellations and at all price points. A selection of second labels are exceptional: Pichon Comtesse Reserve, Dames de Montrose, Lacoste Borie and Croix de Beaucaillou taste like grand vins. Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Cheval Blanc decided not to make Petit Cheval at all (all the fruit went into Cheval Blanc or was sold in bulk). However, some wines will require a lot of patience. Haut Brion is a real vin de garde – a monumental example for sure, but make sure you’ve got a clean bill of health before you buy it… Many wines will give pleasure whilst youthful, thanks to their vibrant, fleshy fruit and caressing tannins, although they will also reward cellaring.

Consumers may well feel rather skeptical or just blasé – another “great” vintage from Bordeaux. Yes, we’ve had quite a few recently: 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020. For sure, 2022 belongs within this cohort. We certainly can’t remember such an enthralling and fascinating en primeurs week. As ever, our sales and buying teams spent four days tasting in cellars.

To view the wines of Bordeaux 2022 click here.