08th May 2023
08th May 2023
“Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.”
– William Shakespeare
Our major report and close to a thousand reviews will be published next week. Meanwhile, we hope this article helps you with your purchase decisions as the initial 2022 Primeur offers start rolling through.
While I am still busy putting together my major vintage report on the 2022 Primeurs—based on two weeks in Bordeaux in September 2022 observing the harvest and three weeks in April and May this year tasting over 1000 wines and conducting more than 100 interviews—I wanted to bring forward coverage on the major early releases of the campaign to help our readers with their buying decisions. Therefore, here are reviews of the top forty recommended and/or well-known wines that were either released last week or are scheduled to be released over the forthcoming two week.
2022 was a faith-affirming vintage for Bordeaux growers. The extreme periods of unprecedented drought and the summer’s triple heatwave whammy put producers’ belief in their traditional grape varieties and terroirs to the ultimate test. The added pressure from frost, nearby wildfires, and hail the size of baseballs compounded the stress. Yet, for the most part, the vines and the winemakers overcame these challenges by adapting. Not every vine nor every winemaker came through the 2022 summer with flying colors, but surprisingly, a lot did.
The consistency of quality is just one surprise to come out of this vintage of extremes. The other amazing twist is the styles. There is a luminosity to many of the wines from 2022 that defies what we thought we knew about Bordeaux varieties. It whispers previously untold truths about the potential of the region’s terroirs and vines in the face of climate change. A relatively dry winter and spring and the subsequent smaller vine canopies from the get-go can go some way to explaining the differences between the number of effortless beauties in 2022 vs the number of monsters in 2003. But the undeniable brightness of 2022’s wines remind us that it is arrogant to think we understand all the mysteries that happen beneath the ground or the extent of the coping mechanisms of vines.
Impervious to globalization, grape vines are among the last surviving crafters of unadulterated local culture and honest history. And thus, at the pinnacles of wine greatness, and there are many in 2022, this vintage uniquely reveals Bordeaux culture in its myriad of earthy, nuanced, soft-spoken, shimmery expressions. For this reason, this is a vintage that Bordeaux fans and serious collectors will want to seek out.
Of course, 2022 was not all made in the vineyard. Winemakers, too, have grown wise to the pitfalls of hot, dry vintages. The faith to do nothing when nothing was required, as well as practicing earlier harvest dates, harvest speed, gentle extraction techniques, and judicious use of press wines, were significant factors in success or failure this year, which will all be analyzed in greater detail in my forthcoming full report.
On Wednesday, 21st of September 2022, I visited Angélus and spent some time in the vineyards with Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal and her father, Hubert de Boüard. Their Merlot had already been harvested at this stage, and the Cabernet Franc, a critical 40% component of the final blend in most years, was still hanging. Given the summer’s heat and lack of rain, I expected to see at least some yellowing of leaves and dehydration of berries. Nope. Their old Franc vines (planted in 1957) on clay were vibrant green, laden with plump little berries.
“Much cultivation work has been done over the past few decades, especially with vegetation crops,” said Stéphanie. “We plant grasses between the vines, so the roots must go deeper and deeper. This pushes the vines further down, where we have clay and limestone. Our 60-year Cabernet Franc was incredible this year—we have never seen them like this. They were green, and the grapes were plump. We now have five foudres, allowing us to maintain the purity we’ve sought. Also, this year, we have incorporated 3.5 hectares of Merlot vines from Château Bellevue (their neighboring estate, which was recently reclassified), that are now part of Angélus. These vines are contiguous to Angélus but on the limestone slopes above the vineyard. In 2022, they bring a lot of energy into the blend.”
“The main goal this year was to keep the vine going,” commented technical director Benjamin Laforêt, “to have the Merlot keep some juice while managing the amount of sugar. When we began tasting the berries, we noticed there were thick skins and floral notes. We wanted to keep these floral notes—that abundance of perfume. We don’t even do an analysis of sugar until after we have picked. We pick on the ripeness of skins and flavors, and then check the sugar after picking. In the cellar, it was long, cool macerations, long infusions. We wanted to extract the color without the presence of alcohol. So, it became more like soaking the berries. The maximum temperature for fermentation was 22 degrees Celsius.”
The result? Pure magic.
I tasted twice at Cheval Blanc. There was a characteristic that I picked up in the first tasting that I could not quite put my finger on until I tasted it again. It was the tannins.
“From the beginning, the vines knew it was going to be a marathon,” said technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet during my first visit. “The vines did it themselves. They grew very slowly. When we look only at the temperature and rain figures, we could think this is bad news for Bordeaux. And if we had lots of water at the start of 2022, we would have had big vines, and we would have been finished. The vines would not have had enough water to support large canopies.”
Upon tasting, I commented on the vibrant red berry characters in the wine, which lends a brightness apart from acidity.
Pierre-Olivier agreed. “The berries were very small, and the skins were thick, so there was no possibility for the juice to be oxidized. Black fruit characters in wines are just red fruits oxidized, and yet we still have some red fruits in our wine. In one week, we picked all the Merlot, starting on the 29th of August. It was the first time we started the harvest in August! There was this homogenization of the vineyard by the vintage—everything was ripe in the same week, regardless of soil type or rootstock. This is the largest quantity of tannins we’ve seen in the wines since 2010 but with less alcohol this year. We have 72 IPT (a measurement of tannin level) for the blended wine, which is 68 for the Merlot alone, the heart. The Cabernet Franc provides the backbone with 78 IPT. The Cabernet Franc had slightly higher alcohol as it was picked on the 12th of September.”
The final blend is 53% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. The alcohol is 13.9%, and the pH is 3.86, similar to the 2009.
As in 2015, Cheval Blanc did not make a second wine—Petit Cheval—this year. All the Merlot made it into the blend, and a little of the Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The Cabernet Sauvignon are mainly young vines,” said Pierre-Olivier. “So, some did not fare so well.”
Upon this first taste of the 2022 Cheval Blanc, I was surprised by how the tannins seemed to melt into the fruit. That melting creaminess of the tannins, given the high IPT number, was uncommon among the many 2022s I was tasting. Therefore, I made a second appointment to go back, taste again, and ask a few more questions.
“The selection of plots for Petit Cheval is generally our young vines, and these wines were a bit green,” said the estate’s president, Pierre Lurton, when I asked him on this second visit about the decision not to make a second wine. “I think it is more important to play with the complexity here for Cheval. The crop for Cheval is normal this year, around 85,000 bottles.”
“Of the 43 plots in production,” Pierre-Olivier said during my second round of tasting and questions with him, “41 plots are in the 2022 Cheval Blanc, and two were sold for bulk. These were the very young Cabernet Franc, which suffered from the heat. Cheval Blanc is 78% of the total production, and bulk is 22%, which are the two plots of young vines and all the press wine.”
Press wine. A lot of winemakers in 2022 were commenting about the high proportion and quality of their press wines. Generally, more of it was used in the winemaking in 2022.
“You didn’t use any press wine?”
“No,” replied Pierre-Olivier. “We didn’t use press wine this year. In fact, we never use the press wine. Press wine can bulk up the mid-palate during barrel tasting, but this advantage usually goes away with fining. The Cabernet Franc press wine can oxidize and can be quite rustic. Also, when you pick while the berries are still bright, the seeds can be green, and the tannins are not so fine.”
With this information, one of the major pieces of this 2022 vintage puzzle fell into place.
“Our new cuverie was finished for the 2021 vintage,” commented Damien Barton during our tasting. “It’s a real revolution! With our new winery, we are now able to separate the plots. Langoa was mainly affected by this because it has lots of smaller plots. Before, we had 18 vats of 200 hectoliters. These were very big vessels to use and not always that convenient. Now we have just 10 vats of 200 hectoliters, four of 150 hl, and a collection of smaller vats of 120 hl and 80 hl. The smaller vats are useful for putting the difficult plots aside. We also have so much more precision with the press, which is important since we tend to use a lot of press juice.”
This extra level of precision was clear when tasting the 2022 Langoa Barton and Léoville Barton. These come highly recommended. But the real surprise was the Mauvesin Barton, coming from their property in Moulis.
“Mauvesin has a lot of limestone with clay on top, so it did not struggle as much in 2022. We think the 2018 Mauvesin is stunning, but I believe this 2022 is a step above.”
I agree. The 2022 is bright, intense, and ripe without being in the least bit over-ripe. Promising a good 15-year+ drinking window, this is a hot tip for bargain hunters.
After tasting, I had some spare time to check out the new winery and then hop in the jeep with Damien to inspect the Saint-Julien vineyards. One of the most telling stops was in a plot of young vines that had only been planted in the spring of 2022.
Standing there, gazing over all the green shoots bursting miraculously from the tiny vines, Damien said, “We expected we would have to replant this plot entirely, given the heat and drought conditions of 2022. But amazingly, we will only need to replace a few vines here and there. Just goes to show, huh?”
The first releases from Sauternes have not been included here as they will be in a dedicated report, which merits its own in-depth analysis. Meanwhile, I can say that although this nail-biting vintage was even more challenging for the Sauternais, there are many good, sweet wines and a few extraordinary achievements from that neck of the woods. As for dry whites, a knee-jerk reaction to write them all off as uninspiring because it was such a hot vintage would be foolish. There are some true bright sparks from some of the coolest sites that are well worth seeking out, including a couple of the well-priced Nicolas Thienpont wines reviewed here: Puygueraud Blanc and Les Charmes-Godard. And the 2022 Du Tertre Blanc, made from Chardonnay, Viognier, and Gros Manseng, is as downright delicious as it is unique!
I have included the alcohol levels for many of these wines, which, in most cases, are not excessive compared to most 2018s and some 2019s. One of the unique attributes of our database is that wines are filterable by alcohol, major grape variety, and body level, which I hope will help readers dial-in their preferred Bordeaux style.
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Johan Berglund
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