The wheels for Bordeaux 2022 En Primeur are firmly in motion, and we can safely say that 2022 is set for the record books. After James Suckling’s typically early and ebullient report in which he celebrates “a new benchmark for Bordeaux after my first reference vintage for the region from barrel, 1982”, The Wine Advocate’s William Kelley was the next major critic to publish a write-up and review, confirming “Bordeaux has produced some monumental wines in 2022”. Even the normally phlegmatic Jancis Robinson says “how come the resulting wines have such amazing freshness?” and “the wines are certainly extremely impressive.” More recently, Vinous’ Antonio Galloni & Neal Martin have published their verdicts, the former finding “some of the most compelling young Bordeaux wines I have ever tasted“, whilst the latter titling his report “You’re Unbelievable … because sometimes, the wine’s brilliance was just…unbelievable.”
We always recommend referring to Gavin Quinney's report for the full story, but in summary, drought and heat were the defining characteristics of 2022. Fortunately, this season followed in the footsteps of the cooler, wetter 2021, so by December there had been substantial rainfall, ensuring the vines had adequate water reserves for the subsequent months. Budbreak occurred early, and though the chilly temperatures and frost in early April had less impact than in previous years, dry conditions persisted throughout April.
Flowering began during an unseasonably warm May, at which point intervention in the vineyards was essential. Galloni notes that “One common decision was to remove cover crops early in order to eliminate competition with the vines for water and nutrients”. In June, temperatures reached 40 degrees, resulting in intense hailstorms, reportedly producing hailstones larger than golf balls. Additionally, forest fires occurred, reminiscent of the events in the legendary vintage of 1959. Concerns about smoke taint were prevalent, but fortunately, all appellations appear to have been unaffected. Merlot harvesting commenced in late August, with small and remarkably concentrated grapes, followed by Cabernet in September.
So, how did 2022 not turn out to be another 2003? For one, night-time temperatures remained much cooler, allowing the grapes some much-needed respite from the heatwave, whilst also helping the fruit achieve optimal ripeness and retain their freshness. Growing scientific evidence suggests vines (and plants more generally) are adapting in real-time to these hotter growing seasons that have become the new normal. Most impactful though are the way vignerons deal with these temperatures. Neal Martin points out that compared to 2003, today “there is minimal de-leafing (or de-leafing on one side) to maintain shadow cover, prudent canopy management … and lastly, widespread and assiduous use of cover crops to enhance humidity and replace depleted nitrogen/organic matter in soils”. Two decades is a long-time for technical teams to adapt, and what a miraculous job they have achieved in 2022.
Post-harvest, vignerons were quietly confident with the early results of the vintage. By Primeurs week, it was clear that the wines were going to be superb. Looking at the weather conditions, Kelley’s analytical report asks “How did conditions so extreme deliver wines of such aromatic range and freshness? How can wines of such density and structure exhibit such textural refinement and charm?” On Instagram he commented “The result, in the best hand, are profound wines, some of the most exciting for several decades”.
The Drinks Business Colin Hay says 2022 “was produced in climatic and meteorological conditions much more difficult than, say, 2010 or 2016. But it is at least every bit their equal”. He goes on to affirm “It exceeds, too, at both a general level and undoubtedly at its best, each of the trilogy 2018, 2019, 2020”. Back in his report Kelley similarly notes that “terroirs conventionally thought to be of only modest potential were also capable of delivering brilliant results this year.”
Stylistically, the “best 2022s combine flavor intensity, energy and finesse in a way that I can only describe as magical” opines Antonio Galloni, who then exclaims “the top 2022s are positively riveting. These are some of the most compelling young Bordeaux wines I have ever tasted”. The small size of the berries contributes to an astonishing concentration of fruit, while the thick skins and balanced acidity hold the promise of extended cellaring. Suckling states that the "2022 wines can be flamboyant, fruity, and tannic, yet they possess a freshness and structure that imbue them with energy and vitality."
We were certainly blown away by the quality in our tastings. At the top end the wines are simply magnificent, with gorgeously ripe (mainly black) fruit, strong punchy tannins that bode very well aging, and a degree of freshness and lift that would have been impossible to achieve in such conditions even ten years ago. Outside of the top estates quality can be a little less consistent, though we found some stunning wines from less-vaunted appellations such as Fronsac.
Whilst the reds are future legends – easily some of the best we’ve seen during primeurs – vignerons were unable able to find the same degree of success in the whites. For Neal Martin it’s a “it’s a so-so season” for the dry whites, though “a very good vintage” in Sauternes. Jane Anson is more positive, “noting numerous techniques used” to preserve freshness, “from canopy management that ensures maximum shading of the berries, to rootstock changes, to cover crops intended to retain moisture – as well as, most obviously, early picking dates, with white grapes coming in this year in mid August.” There are some clear success stories in 2022 for fans of white Bordeaux, though far fewer than the reds!
Vinflation & the Market
We had been told to expect price increases in 2022 due to a) reduced volumes (up to 40% less than a usual crop in the top appellations), b) the extraordinary quality of the wines and c) a return to the trajectory anticipated for such a great year using 2018 after the temporary price reset of 2019. Increases have averaged around the 15% mark, although in the past week we’ve seen some punchier pricing of as much as 40%. As collectors ourselves we have been a little disappointed, though with a few exceptions, the wines have been snapped up quickly on release, and chateaux such as Cheval Blanc, Leoville Barton, Branaire Ducru, La Gaffeliere & Les Carmes Haut Brion were all heavily over-subscribed. Demand from collectors has been higher than ever in 2022, and we had almost triple the number of pre-orders from Club Members than last year!
There are of course some total bargains to be had (Malartic Lagraviere and Haut Bages Liberal both spring to mind having been released in the last few days) whilst at the top end, the wines are of such quality and stature in 2022 that it will be thrilling to see their forward development in bottle. It is also worth bearing in mind that most 2022s still show favourably on Liv-Ex’s Fair Value methodology, thanks to consistently high scores from Neal Martin.
This is therefore a vintage we can wholeheartedly commend to you (notwithstanding the odd grumble about pricing). If you love drinking Bordeaux, you will adore 2022!