2022 Primeurs

France, Bordeaux

2022 Primeurs

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

– William Shakespeare

Heaven & Earth

I’ve decided that if the Bordeaux 2022 Primeurs campaign were a play by Shakespeare, it would be Hamlet. A lot of Château owners would love me to say it’s because Hamlet was Shakespeare’s best work EVER. And yes, it was Shakespeare’s best writing, but that’s not it. First, it’s because the play opens with the ghost of the former king beseeching his son, Hamlet, to avenge his death. See, that’s the spirit of the last greatest vintage ever (er, 2021, wasn’t it?) wanting 2022 to avenge its early demise. Then there’s a lot of family politics, deceit, storytelling, a play-within-a-play, feigned madness, real madness, and finally, an adversarial duel that does not end well for either party. (This all happens in Hamlet too.) I have ideas about the final duel involving a fellow wine critic and a famous Bordeaux wine consultant. Long story short—if hubris and short-sightedness prevail over common sense when it comes to the 2022 release prices, leading players and middlemen could well be headed for a Hamlet-like ending to the campaign. (Spoiler alert, it’s a tragedy.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The 2022 wines are a happy ending to a nail-biting growing season that was not without its dramas. The remarkable consistency of quality is just one surprise to come out of this vintage of extremes. The other is the styles. There is a luminosity to many of the wines from 2022 that defies what we thought we knew about Bordeaux varieties grown in hot climates. It whispers previously untold truths about the potential of the region’s terroirs and vines in the face of our changing world.

The undeniable brightness of the 2022s reminds us that it is arrogant to think we understand all the mysteries that occur between budburst and bottling line.

So, if the 2022 Growing Season were one of Shakespeare’s plays, I’ve concluded it would be Measure for Measure. Purposely ambiguous as to whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy, one of the play’s central themes is the dichotomy between purity and corruption—a recurring debate in modern-day winemaking. The title, believed to allude to a biblical line, is about retributive balance, which is a nice segue into a brief discussion of climate change.

An Inconvenient Wine Truth

Our climate is changing. We don’t want to hear this, least of all because we love classic Bordeaux wine, and we don’t want it to change. But wine is inextricably linked to climate; therefore, it is changing too. As growing season weather is increasingly hit by unpredictable periods of extremes—frost, hail, rain, drought, and heat—winemakers battle to moderate the impact of these extremes to maintain a “sense of place” in the wines. But a place is not just the land. It is also the climate. We can hope and wish to return to the styles forged fifty years ago. Still, without spadefuls of manipulation, the style of Bordeaux must change with the climate or deny its purpose to communicate the purest, most honest account of time and place. 

Some vintages, such as 2021, will continue to struggle to produce high-quality, age-worthy wines. And yet, cold, wet, dreary vintages like these can make us sigh, wistful for the good old days when this type of growing season was more common than not. All the while, we marvel at what is possible now thanks to modern viticulture and winemaking. Then the climate snaps back with a record-breaking vintage like 2022—a sustained period of heat, drought, and sunlight that surpasses anything in recorded history. We think the vines will stumble or even perish under the stress. We imagine harvest bins full of raisins and predict the wines with be undrinkable underripe/overripe monsters. 

Twist ending: The top wines of the 2022 Bordeaux vintage are bright, multilayered, and luminous. And there are a lot of them. This a classic, great Bordeaux vintage. 

How?

Twist ending: The top wines of the 2022 Bordeaux vintage are bright, multilayered, and luminous. And there are a lot of them. This a classic, great Bordeaux vintage.

How?

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The 2022 Growing Season

I won’t go into too much detail recounting all the well-known facts about the vintage, which have been repeated over and over. So, here’s just a brief replay:

  • Autumn 2021 was relatively dry, but rainfall in December was higher than average.
  • January and February 2022 were unusually warm and dry. (I was in Bordeaux from the 16th of January until the 6th of February, and it was like springtime in Napa!)
  • March 2022 cooled to just slightly warmer than average, with a little more rain. Ultimately, the winter rainfall came in just below the 20-year average, but not alarmingly so.
  • The cool, wet March thankfully delayed bud break somewhat because the first half of April brought a couple of severe frost episodes. There was notable damage where bud break had occurred early, but the impact was not as widespread nor nearly to the extent of 2017. Laboratoire Rolland et AssociĂ©s made a good point in their annual vintage report, “This frost occurred quite early in the season, and the secondary buds developed rapidly. Even if these secondary buds were less fertile, resulting in lower production volume, and the growth cycle started late, it was favored by the fine weather at the end of the growing season.” This factor is hardly mentioned elsewhere but is important—not because it had a huge impact on the consistency of quality in 2022 but because it may have contributed to the wide variation in styles coming out of this vintage, which will be discussed later.
  • The frost episodes in early April briefly slowed vine development until temperatures spiked again during the latter half of the month, and vine growth sped back up.
  • According to the annual vintage report by Laurence Geny, Elodie Guittard, Dr. ValĂ©rie Lavigne, and Axel Marchal of Bordeaux University, mid-flowering occurred on the 23rd of May, which is the earliest in the last 20 years apart from 2011 (the 17th of May). Mid-vĂ©raison happened on the 28th of July, again the earliest over this period, with the exception of 2011 (the 21st of July). The important point to be made here is that the vintage was tracking very early because of the heat episodes that happened up until this time. This will be an essential factor when we come to consider some of the shockingly early harvest dates.
  • June was the fourth hottest June since 1947, as pointed out in the report by Geny et al.
  • Rain fell after the first heatwave in the third week of June. There were also localized hail episodes on the 18th of June in Pessac-LĂ©ognan. Then Fronsac and the northern MĂ©doc (parts of Saint-Éstephe and Saint-Julien) took a real pummeling on the 20th of June. This accounts for the uncommon styles of wines such as PhĂ©lan SĂ©gur, which is mainly Merlot this year because much of the Cabernet Sauvignon was lost to the hail.
  • Many areas received some rain after the heat event in June, which was to become a saving grace. “In June, we had over 100 mm of rain, which was important because there was very little rain after this,” said Dominique ArangoĂŻts from Cos d’Estournel. Indeed, Saint-Éstephe and Pauillac received more rain during this period than areas to the south and considerably more than the right bank, with producers in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion reporting just 18-20 mm. The abundance of rain at this time does help to explain how older vines with deep roots on gravel soils in the northern MĂ©doc were able to find enough water to successfully see the vintage through and, in many cases, produce spectacular wines.

After this, there were two more significant heat events to come, but I’ll pause here for a brief discussion of how the heat spikes were mitigated to the greatest effect.

Winemakers have learned since 2003 not to de-leaf too strictly, too early. Furthermore, the spring had been drier than average, so the canopies were naturally smaller, requiring less water and less of the vine’s energy to maintain. As June came in hot, many growers were super-careful with de-leafing and not trimming the laterals, preserving the vine’s own canopy to help shade bunches if needed (and it was). Clever management of cover crops was used to help protect precious little moisture in the soils. Biodynamic producers such as Pontet-Canet and Smith Haut Lafitte sprayed chamomile infusions on leaves to help cool the vines and offer respite. Meanwhile, La Conseillante, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, and Pontet-Canet reported spraying a “sunscreen” made from a naturally existing clay or talc on the leaves and berries at key intervals during the hottest periods.

  • July was hot and dry. The second heatwave of the growing season took place in mid-July, triggering the first signs of hydric stress in vines on free-draining soils such as deep gravel and sand. “The berries stopped growing at this stage, which partially explains their small size at harvest,” mention Geny et al. in their annual vintage report. “VĂ©raison began on the 20th of July, getting off to a slow start before accelerating towards the end of the month. It was largely dependent on June rainfall and varied significantly from one sector to the next.”
  • VĂ©raison was mostly finished by mid-August, around the time the third heatwave hit. From this period through to the end of September, the weather was warm to very hot, and, apart from a bit of rain in mid-August (around 10-12 mm), it was dry. With no deluge in sight, producers could afford to wait for ripeness where there was a need and a benefit, depending on whether the vines had anything left to give.
  • White varieties for dry wines were pretty much all in by the end of August. Merlot harvests were the earliest ever for a number of producers, some even starting the Merlots before the end of August, while it turned out to be a waiting game for the Cabernets.

Earliest Harvest EVER

During my Primeurs visits, the line “earliest harvest ever” was like a broken record.

I spent two weeks in Bordeaux in mid-September to observe the harvest. The Merlots had mostly all come in on both banks, and everyone was waiting for the Cabernets. For many, it was a prolonged, drawn-out harvest that required careful strategy.

“We had 11 mm of rain in August, which wasn’t much, but it helped the vines a lot,” Mathieu Bessonnet, winemaker at Pontet-Canet in Pauillac, told me. “A couple of blocks struggled, so we dropped about 50% of their fruit in early September. We sent our team out to drop all the fruit that was shriveling and kept only the good fruit for three more weeks. We know the vineyard much better now, so we know to wait for certain parcels. The average age of our vines is around 55 years now on the 81-hectare vineyard, making us around the oldest in the region for a vineyard of this size. Our old vines seem to buffer these extreme conditions. But it was a long harvest.”

“The vintage was hardest for the Cabernet Sauvignon on the deep gravel,” said Eric Kohler from Château Lafite. “We had to make a first harvest of the dehydrated berries and those of struggling vines, which was about 10% of the total production of Lafite. This did not go into the grand vin. We also did this in 2016. We can call this the suffering selection. When we did this in 2016, the wine was undrinkable. This year, it was actually pretty good. We used a little in the Carruades. This is what we picked at the end of August. Then we picked young vines on the 1st and 2nd of September. The great Merlot we began to pick on the 5th of September. We began the Cabernet Sauvignon for Lafite on the 13th of September and finished on the 23rd of September.”

Dropping compromised/shriveled fruit in the run-up to harvest was a tactic used by quite a few wineries, which seemed to pay off. Much of the Cabernet I saw hanging in mid-September was in excellent condition, although I could see a lot of dropped fruit between rows. Berries were itty-bitty, most winemakers reporting the Cabernet Sauvignon to be around 0.75 to 0.8 of a gram, and Merlot on the right bank was around 1 gram or slightly more per berry.

“We started harvest on the 8th of September, but we are taking our time,” said Pichon-Baron’s winemaker, Pierre Montégut, in mid-September. “It is just the beginning of the fermentation of the best parts of Merlot. We taste every Cabernet Sauvignon plot every week. We will try to wait as long as possible. Maybe we can have some rain this weekend?”

Everyone in the MĂ©doc prayed for a little September rain for the Cabernet Sauvignon. It was just wishful thinking. 

Meanwhile, over on the right bank, in some places, the harvest had already begun for the Merlots before the end of August.

When I arrived at Château Canon on the 19th of September, all the Merlot had been in vats for at least a week, and the Cabernet Franc harvest was well underway. Harvest had started on the 30th of August (yep, earliest vintage EVER). I tasted the fermenting Merlot, which was as bright and fresh as the final blend I tasted a couple of weeks ago (on four separate occasions).

“We started harvesting on the 29th of August,” said Aymeric de Gironde of Troplong Mondot. “We now have a giant cold room so that we can keep the fruit in there for a day. It was a savior because, on the 29th of August, it was 31 degrees Celsius. Then we moved to a cold maceration for 10 to 14 days. We didn’t pump over every day. After fermentation was finished, we did this every other day. We had to be extremely careful. We lowered the use of new oak from 60% to 55% with more foudres this year.”

But not everyone was so quick to pull the trigger on harvest. “We made a very drastic selection on the crest,” said Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse from Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse. “Then we waited. And waited into mid-September. Everyone else was picking all around us on the plateau. What some people forget is that you have to pick ripe. Not over-ripe, but not under-ripe either. I think strategy is very important. The most important tool is your mouth. We ate lots of fruit! When we found some vines to be ripe, we picked, and then we continued to wait for the rest.”

Tertre Roteboeuf waited even longer, not harvesting until the 1st of October. “Fruit that’s dynamic never loses its freshness,” said Francois Mitjavile’s son, Louis. “We saw that the leaves were still green, and the vine wasn’t suffering. We did analysis and thought that we could continue to wait a little more because the fruit was still dynamic. Some think we harvested late, but for us, this was early. Our fruit is ripe, and the tannins are more aromatic and smoother.”

I mention these producers because they all went on to produce spectacular wines, meaning there was no one ideal harvest date. It varied enormously from site to site. The story’s moral is that looking at harvest dates in isolation is misleading, particularly in 2022. Whether or not there was any advantage to leaving bunches to hang longer depended on 1) whether the berries had achieved phenolic and flavor ripeness and 2) if the vine had anything left to give. Come mid-September, there were a lot of vines around Bordeaux that were simply finished for the season and had no wherewithal to continue the ripening process. Others remained vibrant green and energetic and continued ripening right until the end.

Sorting, Gentle Extraction, Acid Sleight of Hand, & Other Pressing Matters

Sorting was a necessary evil in 2022. I say “evil” because, although this was a must-do for quality, it’s also where the yields took a real hit. In this vintage, the sorting was mainly to eliminate dried, shriveled, and over-ripe berries, as well as under-ripe berries, due to vine blockage. This is where sorting by density (a densimetric sorter) worked very well, but it was not the only good method. For details of how a densimetric sorter works and a video of one in action, readers can go to my Instagram post shot a Château Gazin during their 2022 harvest.

 

Apart from selection, the one winemaking technique most agreed upon in 2022 was super-gentle extraction.

With higher potential alcohols coming in and tannin index measurements through the roof, not to mention tiny berries with lower skin-to-juice ratios, winemakers were wise to the fact that if they over-extracted, they’d make monsters.

 

“As soon as we got 10% alcohol,” said Nicolas Glumineau, technical director at Pichon-Lalande, “we decreased the extraction—the number of pump-overs. From the beginning, we had everything in hand to make a monster wine, so let’s avoid it.”

 

Common techniques to extract slowly and gently included chilling down grapes before fermentations, cooler fermentation temperatures, less pumping-over, and, in some cases, pressing before fermentation was complete. Of this less-is-more approach, there was very little controversy.

 

Apart from sorting and extraction methods, winemaking techniques across Bordeaux were more varied and even more divisive in 2022 than most other vintages, which partly accounts for the many different styles coming out of this year. The two I’d like to hone in on are possible acidification and the use of press wine.

 

One advantage of visiting wineries during the harvest is that winemakers haven’t yet prepared their marketing propaganda about the vintage, nor have they started to filter out certain bits of information.

On the 15th of September 2022, I was tasting my way through a vertical at Château Branas Grand Poujeaux in Moulis when owner Arjen Pen happened to glance down at a message on his phone.

 

“Ah,” he said. “It looks like we’ll be allowed to acidify in 2022.”

 

To be perfectly clear, I do not think that the 2022 Branas Grand Poujeaux has been acidified. In fact, I did not even give Arjen’s comment a second thought until I sat down for my first largescale tasting of the vintage. (These larger tastings are great, BTW, for spotting vintage trends and getting a sweeping overview.) It wasn’t until I began tasting wines en masse that I began to pick up a few of the tell-tale signs of tartaric acid—a tart, gripping sensation at the back of the palate. (Don’t forget, I cut my teeth as a critic at The Wine Advocate tasting Australian wines. I know what tartaric acid tastes like.)

 

When skillfully done, there is nothing wrong with tartaric acid additions. After all, it is the primary acid present in ripe grapes. However, if I can pick it out by taste, and it distracts on the palate, then that’s a flaw, which will undoubtedly result in a lower score. Would the wine have got a lower score anyway because it lacked acid and was lifeless/flabby? Hard to say, but the point is that nothing is gained unless the amelioration is done well.

 

How common was acidification in 2022?

Well, I asked a dozen winemakers about the possible use of tartaric acid this vintage, but they didn’t seem to know anything about it. I even tried asking a winemaker I was pretty sure did not use tartaric acid about the possible use by his neighbor, who I did think used it. He wouldn’t snitch on his neighbor (although he had in previous years about other techniques). It seems admitting that acid additions might be necessary in hot vintage in Bordeaux is a real taboo—even worse than the topic of irrigation (which was used in Pomerol in 2022, but not to significant effect, I hasten to add).

 

Nonetheless, I believe a minority of wines were acidified in 2022, although probably less than 10% of the wines I tasted. Most of these seemed to come from the right bank. There are a few wines where the effect is clumsy, and there is a disjointed tartness. If something’s tart, I’ve pointed it out in my tasting notes and scored it accordingly. I also tasted some wines that, inexplicably, have surprisingly low pHs for their ripeness level. This commonly occurs naturally in wines from vines grown on abundant limestone. Otherwise, I suspect some acidification at play, but if it was skillfully done, I didn’t consider it an issue worth mentioning.

The final winemaking point worth discussing is the use of press wine in 2022s and the subsequent texture of the tannins in many of these wines.

 

“We used a lot of press wine—the maximum we ever used,” said Eric Kohler from Château Lafite. “15% for Duhart Milon, 16% for Carruades, 17.5% press juice for Lafite—it’s a record.”

 

A lot of winemakers used their highest proportion ever of press wines in 2022.

Why? Many winemakers claimed, as Kohler did, it’s because the quality of the press wine this year was exceptional. And that is certainly an important factor. The other important factor is a financial one—most winemakers reported a much greater proportion of press wine to free-run juice this year than is typical. Yields were already low this year due to the tiny berries and some dehydration.

 

The use of press wine was cleverly done for the most part and to the benefit of the wines. However, it was again when I was doing the largescale tastings that I started to detect a ruggedness to the tannins of some of the wines that was very different from under-ripe skin tannins. It took me a while to work out what it was. If you’ve ever tasted press wines, you’ll know there is often a mouth-puckering, rustic texture to them that comes from the seed tannins. Once I’d locked in on this, I could start to pick it out in wines that had over-done the use of less-than-great press wine and those where I couldn’t detect any. Cheval Blanc was an example of the latter:

 

“We didn’t use press wine this year,” said technical director Pierre-Olivier Couet. “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.”

 

Another wine that stood out texturally was Les Carmes Haut-Brion:

 

“This vintage, there is a lot of heterogeneity about the place,” said winemaker Guillaume Pouthier, “because there are many takes on the vintage. This year, we used 70% whole bunches in the fermentation. Only 40% of our wine was free-run juice. 60% of it was press juice! So, all the press juice is in the wine. The tannin levels are very high—almost 100 IPT.”

 

Guillaume’s comments surprised me because there is no coarseness in the 2022 Les Carmes Haut-Brion. So, where are the seed tannins?

 

“Ah,” Guillaume smiled knowingly. “This is the beauty of whole bunch. When you de-vat, the berries are still pretty much intact, and when you press, if you only use one bar, you don’t get the contact with the pips.”

 

With this, Guillaume pulled out his phone and scrolled through his harvest photos, finding a photo of the “marc” after de-vatting, which was largely whole, intact berries.

 

To put it into perspective, this slight ruggedness to some of the tannins this year is a relatively minor quibble. Fining will likely give some polish to the wines, but fining is not selective about tannin type, and there is always a trade-off.

Elevage & Stability

Just a small mention about the future rearing of the 2022 Bordeaux wines in barrel: a number of winemakers were non-committal about anticipated time in barrel, and I believe this was a good thing. Generally, pHs are high this year. This puts the wines at increased microbial risk. Many of the barrel samples I tasted fell over after only a day; most were obviously volatile. This was not the case with the 2019 barrel samples, which were amazingly stable and generally had naturally lower pHs.   

“Our volatile acidity level after fermentation was three times what it normally is, which is always very low, and still is, but it is worth noting,” a top winemaker told me confidentially. “Winemakers will need to be very careful this vintage about brett and VA during the elevage.”

Consistency of Quality & Styles

Given the extreme growing season temperatures and dryness and the potential to make under-ripe/over-ripe monsters, the temptation to fearmonger about inconsistent quality in 2022 is out there. But I was surprised by how consistent I found the wines to be from top to bottom. There are a lot of expressive, downright delicious wines, many of which promise great aging potential—even at the value end. Cooler areas usually considered marginal such as the very north of the Médoc, Listrac-Moulis, and Entre-Deux-Mers, performed exceptionally well this year and without throwing a lot of mitigating resources (that they often don’t have) at the vineyards. Meanwhile, the hotter, more free-draining top terroirs did have the resources to counter the challenges and did so very well.

The major challenge is conveying the range of styles coming out of this vintage and matching those styles to meet consumers’ expectations of “great wine.”

While quality is generally consistent across much of Bordeaux in 2022, a critical factor for consumer decision-making is that styles are all over the show this year. The wide variety of paths—naturally caused (frost, hail, terroir responses, vine age) and man-made (managing the heat, drought, harvest decisions, and winemaking choices)—has resulted in one of the most heterogeneous vintages in terms of style that I’ve tasted.

However, here are a few generalizations to help guide readers:

  • Alcohols are high on the right bank and in Pessac-LĂ©ognan (14-15%+), yet only slightly higher than average in the MĂ©doc (13-14%).
  • Bodies tend to be hedonically medium to full or full-bodied on the right bank and Pessac-LĂ©ognan and more classically medium-bodied in the MĂ©doc.
  • Tannin levels are high throughout Bordeaux but can seem a little chewy because of the increased use of press wine in a lot of wines, which often contain some seed tannins.
  • The wines have hardly any dried berries, raisiny, or prune-like characters, regardless of commune or grape. If there are, I have noted them in my reviews. This lack of shriveled fruit is a remarkable feature of the vintage, considering the heat and drought conditions.
  • Many of the wines have an impressive amount of red berry and floral nuances, which lend brightness and lift even if the acidity is relatively low, and the pH is rather high.

This last point is one of the signatures of 2022 and what I consider a “classic” signature of Bordeaux, which is a paradox in such an extreme vintage. There has been much discussion among winemakers and experts about the reasons why, but there are two explanations that seem most plausible to be:

1) The tiny, thick-skinned berries provided a solid shield to protect the juice during berry development and prevent it from oxidizing. This theory was thanks to a comment from Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Cheval Blanc. “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.”

2) There was some vine blockage, which is not always bad. “We think that we had some blockage in August—we believe this is why we have slightly lower alcohols than expected,” said Dominique Arangoïts from Cos d’Estournel. “This also happened in 2016 and 2003.” Apart from curtailing the alcohol, the other phenomena I’ve found to come out of slight but not extreme blockage (e.g., a slowing down of the vines rather than a full-stop) is the preservation of some fresher red berry and floral components in some berries, usually as a consequence of a slow or uneven véraison.

The Standout Communes?

Putting Sauternes and Barsac aside for now, in a vintage bereft of rain, it’s less difficult to say that there are communes that are head and shoulders above the rest. In a vintage like 2022, it comes down more to individual vineyards.

 

The most successful terroirs were cooler sites and/or those that provided some access to water. Here is where limestone and clay offer clear, natural advantages. Saint-Émilion’s famous limestone plateau and areas with limestone off this plateau were standouts in the vintage, producing wines with a shimmer, lower pHs, higher acidity, and a lot more freshness and energy. Other places with limestone that shined like a beacon were areas of the Castillon, Fronsac, and Entre-Deux-Mers.

 

Deep clays and clay sub-soils also performed very well in 2022. Where some areas of Pomerol struggled (even some properties on the plateau), a few tried to revive vines with a little irrigation injection, which was authorized too late to do any good. Other sites like Petrus did not waver. When I visited Petrus’ vineyard a few days after their harvest, the vines were still fresh and green. Why? Here is where the blue clay (crasse de fer) behaves a bit like limestone, operating as a water-holding pan beneath the topsoil, keeping the roots on top moistened.

 

Apart from water-giving soils, older vines, with their extensive, far-reaching root systems and extra carbohydrate reserves, were also one of the keys to success, which is why even vineyards on deep gravels in the MĂ©doc were also able to knock it out of the park.

 

I will say this: there are many beautiful wines from the Right Bank and Pessac-LĂ©ognan, but the top wines of the MĂ©doc are astonishingly great in 2022. If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you may want to pay special attention to this vintage because the results, in some cases, are mind-blowing.

How will the 2022s age?

Whenever wines look downright delicious when they are young, the question pops up about how they will age. Can wine be good young and also age? If we consider 1982 and 2009, well, yes. 

Plenty of tannins provide the backbone of this vintage, and there is generous fruit to back it up, but there is a question over the high pHs/low acidities. While these are important factors, low acidity/high pH does not mean a wine cannot age. 1989 Haut-Brion has a pH of 4, which is higher than most 2022s! In fact, Haut-Brion has a relatively high pH most years, yet it ages incredibly well. No one component affects aging potential, but a complex combination. The very best 2022s should cellar for 40 to 50 years or more.

Should you buy 2022 Primeurs?

Firstly, I never recommend buying wine for investment. I know some profit from it, but I won’t tell anyone that wine is a sure bet. It’s not.

 

A lot of consumer/collector Primeurs buying decisions have to do with loyalty to a favorite Château or an overwhelming reason to purchase a particular vintage (your child’s or grandchild’s birthyear). These are valid reasons to get orders in early, in which case the wines are simply worth what you are willing to pay.

 

But, if you are a collector who simply loves Bordeaux and you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, how do you decide if you should buy the 2022 wines now or wait until they are bottled and physically released?

 

Here are some questions to consider:

 

1) Did this vintage produce a remarkably unique style or an unprecedented quality level of a wine that you think you’ll love?

 

2) If yes, is this wine from a property so small and/or so in demand that you are unlikely to be able to find the wine in the market after it is bottled?

 

3) If yes, is this wine better or more to your taste than another recent great vintage of the same or a similar wine you perhaps bought at a lower price, such as 2018, 2019, or 2020? OR does this wine offer better quality price ratio than other recent great vintages currently available on the market and cheaper?

 

If you answered “no” to any of these scenarios, that’s probably also the answer to your question about purchasing Primeurs this year.

 

The bottom line is 2022 is indeed a great, consistent vintage, but it is not the greatest vintage ever. Bordeaux has had a recent string of outstanding vintages, and most estates produce a lot of wine. I don’t have to be a psychic to see this vintage will be ultra-expensive for the usual la-di-da suspects. The first wave of prices is a harbinger of the forthcoming mushroom cloud of hubris. The simple principle of supply and demand tells us that for many of these wines, you can probably wait until they are available in bottle to buy if the price is right by then. If not, there are plenty of other great recent vintages to pick and choose from.

 

There is an exception to what I have just said above.

 

2022 was a vintage that leveled the playing field. A lot of properties on the peripheries of “great terroir” that usually struggle to ripen because they tend to be cooler blew me away this year. Their wines will likely make jaws drop at their cellaring stamina in 30 or 40+ years when we’re in our twilight years or offspring are inheriting cellars. But we will also get a lot of pleasure from them within 5-10 years after they have been bottled. There’s also likely to be value this year from these estates who, dare I say, still have some humility. Better still, these can be ordered in magnums when buying at the Primeurs stage. Many of these smaller estates are in short supply and get snapped up by restaurants—another reason to buy now if you see an offer.

Here are some of my bargain-hunter wines that fall into this category (some well-known names and a few lesser-known discoveries):

Branas Grand Poujeaux

Cantemerle

Cantenac Brown

Capbern

Clos Cantenac

Clos de Sarpe

Clos du Clocher

Clos Lunelles

Cos Labory

Couhins-Lurton

D’Arce

De Carles Haut Carles

De Pez

Fonroque

Fontenil

Fourcas Hosten

Grand-Puy-Lacoste

Gros Caillou, Le Promenoir

Haut-Bages Monpelou

Haut-Simard

Jean Faure

Kirwan

La Mouline

La Mouline Totem

La Rose Perriere

La Vieille Cure

Lafon-Rochet

Lassegue

Latour-Martillac

Les Trois Croix

L’If

Malescasse

Marjosse

Maucaillou

Mauvesin Barton

Montlandrie

Meyney

Pavillon Rouge (probably not that cheap, but looking particularly good this vintage)

Phélan-Ségur

Poesia

Potensac

Siran

Tour Bayard

Tour Bayard L’Angelot

Tour Saint Christophe

Vermont, Cuvée Prestige

Sauternes & Dry Whites

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.

This Report & the Tastings

This report is based on the two weeks I spent in Bordeaux in September 2022 observing the harvest and three weeks in April and May this year tasting over 1000 different wines and conducting more than 100 interviews. I tasted wines directly at over 100 châteaux. I conducted twelve large-scale tastings with organizations, consultants, and merchants, usually consisting of 100-250 wines each. Yes, it is exhausting to taste so many wines so many times, but it is the only way to get accurate results. Almost all the barrel samples I tasted were tasted at least twice, and some were tasted 4-5 times. I did not review if a sample was clearly tired and/or volatile. The nature of tasting barrel samples is that the wines are fragile, and judging an oxidized barrel sample is unfair.

Accompanying this report are more than 500 initial tasting notes. There are a few hundred more in the pipeline to be added over the next couple of weeks. And as mentioned, I am currently compiling a dedicated report on Sauternes, which will be published within the next few weeks.

I hope readers have found this report to be of value. Happy 2022 Bordeaux Primeurs wine hunting!

–
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Johan Berglund

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