Bordeaux En Primeur 2023: Triumph over adversity? – By Callum Gardener

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The mood this week in Bordeaux was one of cautious optimism, with the quality of many wines clearly very high. More importantly, however was the cacophony regarding prices and the urgent need for considerable reductions. Will this be a year the Chateaux choose to reinvigorate the Bordeaux wine market and help save its historic En Primeur system, or will it prove to be another nail in its coffin?

The Growing Season

The 2023 growing season can be described as complex. It began with a cool and wet winter followed by a warm and wet spring and early summer. Bud break was fortunately triggered after the spring frosts of early April and good flowering & a positive fruit set followed promising high potential yields. Despite the straightforward start a high water table from winter rain and further damp weather prevented the initiation of hydric stress and crucially promoted the threat of fierce mildew.

If not controlled mildew can be disastrous – even more so for those practicing organic and bio-dynamic viticulture, as permitted treatments are limited. Jean-Basile Roland (Commercial Director, Rauzan-Segla) informed us that Rauzan-Segla experienced significant losses due to mildew, with volume down to 30hl/ha (the norm being around 40hl/ha).

Persistent rain and humid conditions continued into the summer resulting in the threat of swollen fruit which has the tendency to prevent sugar ripeness in a grape, leading to dilution affecting concentration in a wine.

Winemakers prayed for an Indian Summer which duly arrived in September, allowing for full phenolic and sugar ripeness in the grapes. The Merlots were harvested first in September, with the Cabernets harvested in early October, both in sweltering heat. This resulted in shrivelled grapes for some, placing a clear emphasis on sorting.

For many estates 2023 marks one of if not the longest growing season on record. This is very interesting as a longer growing season (without the occurrence of extremities such as in 2023) is synonymous with high quality. It is said that the more time a vine has to gently achieve full physiological and sugar ripeness, the more balanced the fruit and thus the wine will be. Alfred Tesseron of Ch. Pontet Canet explained that 2023 culminated in the longest harvest (34 days) of his entire 48 vintage tenure, a sentiment shared by Sebastien Menuts, Export Director at Ch. Palmer “this was the longest harvest, at least for the past 10 years”. To summarise, those that won the battle against the threat of mildew were enormously relieved and ultimately very happy with the quality and for the most part quantity of the fruit harvested.

Soils & Terroirs

The finest soils and terroirs of the region allow their vines to mitigate the challenges posed by its maritime climate. In 2023 the challenges were water, a lack of hydric stress and mildew. Properties on the left bank with large gravels and clay, which absorb heat and regulate water consumption and properties on the right bank with high limestone and clay content which again regulate water intake and impart a vibrancy and brightness, were able to allay these concerns and produce extremely high quality fruit.

In the Winery

New wineries, technological advancements meticulous sorting and sheer precision in wine making processes have commenced a new epoch of quality in Bordeaux. In 2023 those that were blessed with prime terroir and picked at the correct times were rewarded with exceptional phenolic and sugar ripeness in the grapes. Those that picked too early or indeed too late risked greenness or dilution. In the main, berries were large and juicy, with the press wine used in many cases (a sign of heathy fruit). Successful extractions were done in cool temperatures and very gently. The precision at this stage is a far cry from years gone by. “A few pump overs at the start of fermentation were sufficient” Mathieu Bessonnet, Technical Director – Ch. Pontet Canet. The skins emitted high IPT levels (Indices de Polyphenols Totaux), pH’s were usual and alcohols moderate. “The quality of the tannins are very high and beautifully ripe similar to our 2022…” Noemie Durantou, Managing Director – Ch. L’Eglise Clinet

Style & Quality

It is important to know that 2023 is not a great Bordeaux vintage, yet it is a vintage that has produced great wines. A tricky growing season resulted in heterogeneity across the region, creating considerable peaks and troughs in quality.

In our view 2023 can neither be categorised a ‘classic’ or ‘solar’ vintage, but a terroir specific vintage that at its best combines the qualities of both. The finest wines show freshness and density with ample structure and balance to age. The perfumed aromatics are also worth noting, offering a great deal of energy and charm. Despite this, there are wines to avoid. These wines come from the properties that were unable to control mildew, dilution (due to picking too early) or those that pushed extraction too far leaving spiky tannins.

In short this is a good to very good vintage that will give enormous pleasure, but being scrupulous is key, and this is where the experienced N&P team can help and guide you like no other merchant.

“Where 2021 and 2022 were studies in contrast – the first being a largely cool and wet vintage with low alcohols and some dilution, and 2022 being an extremely hot vintage with concentration, depth and sometimes extreme flavours – we can expect 2023 to be somewhere in between.” Jane Anson – Inside Bordeaux

“The 2023 is really classic, I am very confident. It is really Bordeaux.” Eric Kohler, Technical Director – Chateau Lafite Rothschild

“2023 is a classic wine for a vintage that is not so classic… We talk about vintages of the 1980s and 1990s when we make a comparison. But there is more concentration and more tannins with the 2023.” Philippe Bascaules, Technical Director – Ch. Margaux

“It isn’t a classic vintage, but neither is it an opulent one. It’s a fine, well-balanced, very good vintage, like we used to make in times gone by, like the 2005.” Marielle Cazaux, Managing Director – Ch. La Conseillante

“There’s no doubt in my mind that 2023 is better than 2021, 2017, 2014 and 2012. I wouldn’t however describe it as an outstanding year, such as 2020 or 2022.” Frederic Faye, Managing Director – Ch. Figeac

“The 2023 is pure, elegant and long. We are very happy.” Alfred Tesseron, Owner – Ch. Pontet Canet

“There’s something in the 2023 for every type of wine drinker, and it manages to maintain its Bordeaux identity through its temperate character.” Guillaume Thienpont, Technical Director – Vieux Chateau Certan

“2023 Chateau Palmer reminds more of the 2019 vintage, stylistically.” Oriane Heuillet, Technical Assistant – Ch. Palmer

“The quality of the tannins are very high and beautifully ripe similar to our 2022, but this wine has more precision”. Noemie Durantou, Managing Director – L’Eglise Clinet

The Critics

The majority of the world’s leading wine critics are yet to release their analysis and scores, however influential wine publication Wine Advocate (headed up by William Kelley) published their report yesterday afternoon. Wine Advocate’s commentary is positive, with both William Kelley and Yohan Castaing explaining that that the 2023 vintage is just as good as 2022 in parts, awarding some remarkable score, including; four potential perfect scores, four 97-99 scores and five 96-98 scores. “At their best they possess the depth, density and ripe tannins of a sunny vintage but also vibrant, expressive aromas and flavours of a more traditionally “Atlantic” season. The best 2023’s are just as exciting as the best 2022’s”. William Kelley – Wine Advocate

The Market

“During my tastings, word in Bordeaux was that the 2023s would be released at significantly lower prices than the region’s last three vintages. If that is so, consumers will have the opportunity to acquire exceptional wines for an attractive price.” William Kelley – Wine Advocate

The fine wine market has softened considerably over the past 18 months. Inflation, high interest rates and global economic uncertainty have all played their part in undermining demand for the world’s finest wines.

Positively we are informed that the Bordeaux Chateaux are acutely aware of the wider economic reality and that drastic measures will be taken to encourage participation in the 2023 vintage campaign. Should the necessary price reductions be delivered then 2023 could be remembered as a pivotal vintage for the Bordeaux region and the future of its historic En Primeur system.

On a final note, ordinarily we see a gap of around two weeks after the En Primeur tastings for the trade and press to pen and release their thoughts. This year, however there will be an expeditious start to the campaign and a rapid pace throughout, with the first major releases expected on Tuesday 30th April. A change in tact from the Bordelais.

Will’s Highlights

La Conseillante          95-97

Good deep ruby, eggplant colour, this is very impressive aromatically, touch of grilled toast, wood ashes, earthy, beautifully perfumed, black tea, tar, blueberries, a complex and sensational aromatic profile, is followed with a silken textured palate, dark brooding fruit, there is solid extraction, the mid palate is cool adding to the freshness, super ripe tannins, this is very fine for the estate, spicy tension, touch of aniseed. Very fine here. No shrinking violet. Happy days, 95-97/100 / Drink 2032-2050+

Cheval Blanc               95-97

The appearance here is gorgeous, very deep ruby, impressive, beautifully serene aromatics, maybe a touch of reduction toning it down, with fresh fruit salad, lovely red and black berry nuances, touch on marine or even oyster sauce. With swirling it is quite open and complex, the palate has great cool definition and superb tension, good new oak licking the finish, minerality here, very fine mouthfeel, energy, ripe tannins. Another terrific wine in 2023, tis feels like one of the highpoints for sure. 95 -97/100 touch on marine

Haut Brion                   95-97

Very dark purple black colour, again touch of boot polish, black Victoria plums, serious nose, pure and precise, there is a pepperiness possibly from the alcohol, this has an extra richness on the palate, really juicy acidity, wonderful salty minerality on the back keeps you honed in. This is classic stuff, powerful polished. Great energy this is a beautiful confident Haut Brion. 95-97/100 / 2035-55+

Leoville Barton          94-96

Very deep colour, this is promising on the nose, with rich black fruit intermixed with cedar, tobacco, and new oak, creamy, this has a real presence in the mid palate. Very strong and super harmony, very impressive. The tension and powerful framing works in 2023. Definitely set to be one of the best values in 2023. 94-96/100

Leoville Poyferre       94-96

Very deep colour, this is deep and enticing, sage, complex earthy aromatics, the palate is beautifully carved, cool and fresh, fleshy with great cassis and an iron fist, my style of Bordeaux. Long and enchanting, really solid Poyferre in 2023. Forward even a touch flashy but not unserious. 94-96/100

Canon                             94-96

Medium full plum, attractive calm fruit salad nose, warm dried fruit, touch of new oak, this is elegant and poised on the nose, lick of fresh vanilla cream, the palate is tight and precise, keeps you on the hook, all nicely composed, really quite delicious finale here, spice, warm dried fruit again on the finish, this is dreamy, excellent for the appellation and vintage 94-96/100

Pichon Lalande           94-96

Very deep colour, quite savoury here, good restraint, floral notes coming through, ethereal, perfumed, the palate is nicely relaxed, this has nice proportion, harmonious, a really elegant Pichon Lalande. There is an air of superiority here, nonchalant. 94-96/100 / 2032-2050+

Rauzan Segla               93-95

Very low yields this year. Good deep colour, nose is clean and quite tight, nice cedary edge, rose petal, peppercorn, earthy, cool fruit on the palate, solid silk and tension. This has an extra balanced and harmony, leaving a feeling of complexity and authority. Aristocratic. 93-95/100

Pontet Canet                93-95

Decanted sample as usual at Ponet Canet, deep crimson, really lovely aromatics here, sweet and floral, very rich, Californianesque on the nose, lots of bright fresh cassis, cedary, cardboard concentration, the tannin are quite prevalent here even drying on the back of the palate as the structure unfurls. There is generosity and a lovely precision here, but this feels very classic with more tension than in recent vintages. A very happy estate. 93-95/100 / 2035-2050.

Beausejour Becot       92-94

Good deep purple. Full concentration on the nose with plenty of ripe plum, with a savoury note too, sweaty, dark chocolate leather. On the palate this is silky, with dogged fruit, nice calm finish, feels like a success for the vintage. 92-94/100 / 2030-2045

Callum’s Highlights

Cheval Blanc                96-98

Expressive nose with detailed aromas of red plum, black cherry, orange citrus, stem ginger, balsamic, black olive and graphite. Followed by cocoa and perfumed turkish delight. Very complex. The palate is vibrant with an impressive energy and tension at the core. There is concentrated blue and black fruits with a freshness and elegance and a subtle spice coming from the healthy dollop of Cabernet Franc. You can feel the tannic structure but it is not completely covered like some. The finish is long with an anise and mineral freshness persisting. This could be the wine of the vintage.

La Conseillante           96-98

Deep purple in colour, matching La Conseillante branding. The nose offers that signature perfume nose, with violets and lavender unfurling out of the glass, followed by bright elderberry and then blue berry liqueur. The most incredible nose of the tastings yet – such complexity. The palate is super fresh with an impressive tensile strength. Flavours of perfume-laden blue fruit come through, with the tannic structure resting calmly underneath. Vibrancy, power, elegance and togetherness. The finish is very long with a savoury minerality persisting. This is a fantastic La Conseillante. Marielle Cazaux is a genius.

Pichon Lalande           95-97

Aromas of mochas, pencil shavings and cedar unfurl out of the glass initially, followed by perfumed black fruits, black pepper, cheery drops, sweet tobacco and then anise. All very precise and measured. The palate is silky in texture with excellent tension and togetherness. There is depth and concentration in the mid palate yet it is light on its feet and elegant. Iron fist in a velvet glove. The finish is long with a subtle flavour of sweet toast persisting. Wonderfully balanced. This is a very confident and self-assured Pichon Lalande. Nicolas Glumineau and his team are doing incredible things at this property.

Montrose                      95-97

Vibrant ruby in colour. The nose brings aromas of ripe red plum, black cherry, kirsch, cinnamon, cedar, strawberry and balsamic and then rose perfume. There is a real energy and purity on the nose that reminds me of the outstanding 2019 vintage. The palate like the nose offers energy and purity in abundance that is tightly knit and very precise in its movements. Concentrated flavours of black cherry and red plum flavours are present and work in harmony with the ripe tannins. Excellent balance here. Another superb Ch. Montrose. Technical Vincent Decup is brilliant.

Mission Haut Brion  95-97

Deep and dark in colour, almost black at the core. The nose is also dark with lots of graphite, iron filings, black olive and black pepper coming through followed by black berry, black currant, liquorice and ginger. The palate is full in texture, suave and silky with an impressive energy and tension at the core that is literally buzzing. The mid palate is very together, with the textured vanilla-laden blackberry fruit resting effortlessly on the on the ripe and satin like tannins. The finish is very long, initially savoury and sweet with a delicious mocha note continuing. An excellent La Mission Haut Brion.

Pontet Canet               94-96

Deep purple in colour, with a vibrant and saline minerality leaping out of the glass, followed by delineated aromas of black currant, cassis, black berry, citrus, black pepper, rose petal perfume and a touch of graphite. A classic Pauillac and a classic Pontet Canet nose. The palate is full bodied, super fresh and glossy, with cool but juicy black fruit resting closely on the very present, yet ripe tannic structure. An earthy Cabernet note then comes through followed by a black pepper spice and savoury minerality. A very well balanced wine and an excellent, classic Pontet Canet. Alfred Tesseron was understandably very happy.

Canon                             94-96

Bright ruby colour. The nose is vibrant, electric even with raspberry and blueberry fruits leaping out of the glass, followed by lilac and violet perfumed notes, blue berry liqueur and a sweet spice. An enticing nose that is very precise. Like the nose, the palate is electric, with red and black fruits gliding elegantly across the palate. There is a Burgundian delicacy, even femininity to this wine. Effortlessly balanced and the finest Right Bank wine in this room by a long way.

Rauzan Segla               94-96

Vibrant ruby in colour. The nose is very Margaux with violet covered blue berry and blue plum fruit coming through, followed by cocoa, hazelnut, icing sugar and earth. The palate is bright, with a velvety texture. Similarly to the nose, the palate is perfumed, elegant and very Margaux. There is high level of tension here too which is lacking in some of the wines in this room and real finesse. The finish is long with a saline minerality persisting. This is an excellent Rauzan Segla in a very difficult vintage for the property, with mildew reducing crop size to around half of the norm.

Leoville Poyferre       94-96

The usual deep and dark colour. The nose is open, with aromas of earth, iron, black cherry, black currant, cassis and mocha present. Black forest gateau like. Very measured and delineated. Dark and rich, the Leoville Poyferre signature. The palate is fresh, full in texture with concentrated black fruits leading the way. There is real density here, it’s impressive. The tannic structure is more evident than most in this room, but this is not a criticism, it’s a good thing and they are certainly not under ripe. The finish is long and mineral tinged. A masculine wine as ever. An excellent Leoville Poyferre.

Batailley                        92-94

A classic Pauillac nose: earthy, graphite, pencil shavings, sweet spice, blackcurrant, cassis, walnut skin, clove, cocoa and vanilla. The palate offers textured black berry fruit that is lifted by a cool freshness. Impressive tension and togetherness. The tannins are ripe and add excellent structure to this wine. The finish is very long and savoury. This is quintessential Pauillac and an excellent Batailley. Once again this property punches well above its price tag!

Nickolls & PerksBordeaux En Primeur 2023: Triumph over adversity? – By Callum Gardener

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