Bordeaux 2023 Vintage Report

Bordeaux 2023 Vintage Report

The firing gun for the Bordeaux 2023 vintage has truly gone off and with the first week of the En Primeur campaign firmly behind us, with releases such as Las Cases, Pontet-Canet & Lafite launching to the tune of 30-40% price cuts, alongside the publication of most critic reports, we now have a much better vantage point from which to view the vintage. 

On Wednesday we were delighted to host our dear friend and owner of Chateau Bauduc Gavin Quinney for our Fireside Chat, whose credibility and experience to give a warts and all opinion of the vintage is most welcome, especially as counter-balance the enthusiasm you will see from merchants (Honest Grapes included). 

It's an encouraging start. Pricing so far has been commendable, and please don't forget we have a special 2% cashback offer for Club Members too. In terms of quality, it is far from homogenous, although the best wines, which we are being rigorous in selecting to offer, are at the same level as 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022. These wines are what Jane Anson describes as "a reminder that what Bordeaux does best is effortless construction and producing well balanced, structured wines that are made to delight over the long term". For Neal Martin, James Suckling and Lisa Perrotti-Brown, 2023 has some truly great wines that will thrill Club Members.

Growing Season

The 2023 vintage growing season posed several major challenges for winemakers, most significantly mildew pressure, though also rain, early bud break - always a concern given the prevalence of April frosts, which thankfully Bordeaux was spared from in 2023 – heatwaves, a worryingly cool summer rescued then by another series of heatwaves.

As always we will share a brief summary of the season and harvest below, though we heartily recommend our good friend Gavin Quinney’s in-depth report for any Bordeaux geeks who want the full picture. 

Bordeaux experienced a cool start to the year in January, leading to an unusually sunny February and warm spring, bringing early bud break. Fortunately there were no April frosts and, despite a wet March, everything was moving nicely into the summer. Such was the generosity of the growing crop that vignerons were de-budding to prevent too many bunches.

Whilst 2023 was overall a warm year, it was also consistently wet. This coupled with high humidity meant there was significant mildew pressure – for Gavin Quinney, the worst he had seen in 25 years. Whilst Bordeaux has experienced mildew several times over the last decade in either the first or latter half of the growing season, in 2023 it occurred in both.

The mildew pressure lasted into September, though was felt strongest in a stormy, humid June, which was one of the warmest on record, almost three degrees above the 10-year average. As alarming as that all sounds – and certainly there were doomsday headlines in mainstream media on both sides of the channel – those chateaux that responded decisively via treatments will have adapted well, and “if you escaped the mildew then it’s a good vintage”, says Gavin.

As Jane Anson notes, there are "big differences between estates. And the widening economic disparity between haves and have-nots in Bordeaux will be once again underlined”. Those top chateaux able to use modern technology and rigorous vineyard management to minimise and even eliminate the impact of mildew were able to ensure only the finest grapes reached the winery.

The wet, humid weather continued into July & August, with two heatwaves in late August and early September. Harvest began in August with the whites, the Merlot following in September and then the Cabernets. The harvest stretched into October, resembling the lengthy 2018 season, and for many estates this was one of the longest on record.

Overall yields are significantly down for Bordeaux Rouge, Superieur and the Cotes, though the opposite is true for the communes of the Medoc & Graves on the Left Bank, and St Emilion & Pomerol on the Right Bank, illustrating how badly the Entre-Deux-Mers and less prestigious estates were affected by mildew. For St Julien, Pauillac & Margaux this is the most generous crop in decades!

The Wines

So, how have the wines fared? Have they succumbed to the challenges of the growing season or risen above them?

It’s a mixed picture. Vinous’ Neal Martin characterises 2023 as the Dalmatian vintage, with “spots of astounding quality” where chateaux produced wines surpassing 2016, 2020 & 2022, yet notable for their contrast to “all manner of shortcomings, including some of its more famous names”. Similarly the Wine Advocate’s William Kelley reports that “the best 2023s are just as exciting as the best 2022s”, whilst for Antonio Galloni “plenty of wines merit serious attention”.

Looking back to the growing season, temperatures & rainfall in 2023 were not out of kilter with annual averages, and are the hallmarks of a “classic” Bordelais vintage, in the best possible sense. If you were able to escape the mildew, whether by fortune, finance or fortitude (or a combination of the three), all the conditions are there for making great, age-worthy Bordeaux. Certainly the points & scores from top critics for 2023 suggest an excellent vintage. Is this due to score inflation or are the wines genuinely that good?

The honest answer is, a bit of both. Many of the wines we’ve tasted so far have been excellent, with impressive phenolic ripeness, lower alcohols, structured tannins supporting rich, expressive fruit and freshness driven by the acidity. There are even some utterly magnificent wines, of the kind that will prove near immortal. However, for every swing in 2023 there are also misses, and this a vintage where selection is absolutely critical.


In terms of style, James Suckling notes that “the best reds show balance and freshness with deep center palates of ripe fruit and a complement of polished tannins. In many ways, I like them better than many of the highly touted 2022s because they are so Bordeaux in their nature, with more tensioned mouthfeels, transparency and energetic finishes."

Meanwhile Neal Martin declares “the 2023s are relatively more tannic than we’ve become accustomed to, more linear and vertical, though endowed with greater fruit concentration than the 2021s. That appeals to my predilection. The best wines embrace these traits while maintaining sufficient fruit and grip, occasionally harking back to the kind of barrel samples encountered in the early days of my career, and I mean that in a good sense.

That sense of classicism is key to understanding 2023, though this isn’t a vintage that fits into the mould of 2021, 2017 or 2014 as there’s more ripeness, and therefore more fruit. William Kelley comments that "the best 2023s exhibit the fully ripe tannins and suave, seamless mouthfeels of a sunny vintage such as 2019; yet their vibrant aromas and flavors, evocative of fresh fruits and flowers, are more indicative of a cooler year... Above all, however, the vintage tended to amplify the voice of each estate and terroir, producing extremely characterful wines.

That sense of terroir is very welcome too, especially in contrast to hot years such as 2022, which, whilst a slam dunk across the board, were generally rich, voluptuous & hedonic, showing less distinction between commune and even classification. Jane Anson prefers “this return to a more nuanced, terroir and estate-driven feel to the wines”, and this means as a Club Member you should definitely consider 2023s from estates you typically follow, providing of course that they made good wine.

When terroir really shines, inevitably “there is an enjoyable Left Bank-Right Bank distinction”, as Jane Anson notes. Mildew generally poses more problems for Merlot than Cabernet, which also ripens later and typically performs better where there is a longer or Indian summer. That might make you think that the Left Bank performed better in 2023. James Suckling certainly implies as much, opining that "Right Bank en primeur wines from 2023 are better than many of the highly touted 2022s...My top-scoring wines so far are all from the Right Bank, particularly St. Emilion".

The reality is that there are plenty of excellent wines on both banks of the Gironde and, by the same token, some patchy ones too. Neal Martin also eschews any generalisations about the vintage favouring one bank or the other, suggesting instead that “the vintage is one when you must assess each château as a separate entity. Human decisions were critical throughout”.

Anyway, enough about the reds – what about the whites? "Unequivocally, it is a great vintage for dry whites" claims Neal, whilst for Galloni “this is an epic vintage for Sauternes and Barsac in which many wines overachieve. The 2023 Sauternes are dynamic, mesmerizing wines. It’s a shame modern tastes seem to leave little for Sauternes given that the best examples are so compelling.”

Gavin Quinney, during our Fireside Chat, also commented on the quality of the whites, both dry and sweet, which quirkily seem to perform consistently well in odd vintages (2023, 2021, 2017 and so on). Neal Martin clearly agrees noting "unequivocally, it is a great vintage for dry whites" and "Sauternes brims with golden greats in 2023". Particular stand-outs in Sauternes include Suduiraut with a potentially perfect score from Galloni, whilst in Pessac unsurprisingly Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Smith Haut-Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier have all produced distinguished dry whites, as have one of our top value picks Malartic Lagraviere, and over on the Right Bank, Jonathan Maltus’ exotic Le Nardian.

The Market

It’s no secret that the nascent 2023s are taking their first steps at a time when the whole primeur system is under closer scrutiny than ever, and macro-economic factors are clearly forcing a re-assessment of Bordeaux prices generally, despite there being a number of excellent wines on offer this campaign. This year, with the fine wine market currently looking flat, it's clear that we need a reason, not just an excuse to buy: a compelling price, not just a great wine.

The en primeur system was always predicated on a bilateral relationship between winery and collector: the former releases a significant tranche of the vintage early at a modestly reduced price so that the chateau can re-coup some of the costs of production, and the latter gets a good deal. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.

The last few years of en primeur haven’t felt that way. During April the media noise around Bordeaux pricing reached fever pitch. The chateau would argue that people have always complained about prices (as attested by a recent Liv-Ex article where back in the early 70s there were complaints about “seemingly endless escalation of price rises”), and more importantly that their costs have gone up.


In any case, given the availability of back vintages, on behalf of Club Members we have been encouraging the Bordelais to price sensitively to the market, as they did in 2019. How would the Bordelais respond?

Bordeaux 2023 prices tumble”, the laconic headline of Jancis Robinson’s newsletter following the first week of primeurs, the earliest since 2008 and likely to one of the fastest, most visceral campaigns yet. The tone for the campaign was clearly set by Leoville Las Cases & Pontet-Canet on Tuesday 30th April, the former releasing at a discount of more than 40%, the latter by almost 30%. Both excellent wines with significant, headline-grabbing price cuts (are they enough is another question).

Then on Thursday we saw the release of the Lafite stable, with the First Growth offered at a 31% discount at £2,460/6, the lowest priced vintage on the market. Now that’s more like it!

There is no guarantee that the campaign will continue in this way, and we’ve seen previous primeurs fail to deliver on their early promise. But we are hopeful. In any case, we can expect an extremely busy few weeks ahead and as always, we do not offer every wine, not even close to a quarter of available cuvees, but navigate our way around a hectic set of releases to focus in on the best; be it a combination of history, score and price. Further below you will find a list of our favourites for Club Members this year.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, 2023 is a vintage that is so far defying our expectations. Many of the wines are turning out to be much better than we had anticipated, the best defined by their energy and intensity and a balance of concentration and precision that has broad appeal. Whilst the overall quality is not on a par with 2016, 2019 or 2022, there are a judicious selection of wines performing at that level. Moreover it’s a vintage that we as collectors want in the cellar, with that glorious elegance and classicism that made us fall in love with Bordeaux in the first place.

Pricing was always going to be the big talking point, and whilst we are writing this after just the first week of primeurs, we have to give credit to the Bordelais for a promising start. Will it be enough to restore faith in futures and the En Primeur system more generally? Time will tell, though this is a vintage we are wholeheartedly happy to recommend to Club Members, and we are looking forward to sharing more of these wines in the weeks to come.


Our Recommended Wines

St Estephe
Montrose (99-100 JS, 97-100 WA, 98 JA)

Lafite (98-100 JA, 98-100 GH, 97-99 WA)
Mouton Rothschild (98-100 JA, 98-99 JS, 96-98 NM)
Pichon Baron (97 GH, 95-97 WA, 95-97 AG, 96-97 JS)
Pichon Lalande (98-99 JS, 97-99 WA, 98 JA, 98 GH, 95-98 AG, 96-98 NM)
Pontet Canet (98-100 JA, 96-98 WA, 97-98 JS)

St Julien
Ducru Beaucaillou (97 GH, 95-97 AG, 96-97 JS, 96 JA)
Leoville Barton (97 JA, 96-97 JS, 94-96 WA)
Leoville Las Cases (98 JA, 97-98 JS, 95-97 NM)

Brane Cantenac (96 JA, 94-96 AG, 93-95 NM, 93-95 WA)
Giscours (96-98 AG, 94-96 WA)
Margaux (99-100 JS, 98-100 JA)
Palmer (98-100 AG, 97-98 JS)
Rauzan Segla (97-98 JS, 96-98 AG)

Carmes Haut Brion (97-99 WA, 98-99 JS)
Haut Brion (98-100 JA, 98-99 JS, 96-98 NM)
La Mission Haut Brion (97-98 JS, 96 JA)
Pape Clement (97-98 JS, 95-97 AG)
Smith Haut Lafitte (98-99 JS, 95-97 AG, 96 JA)

St Emilion
Beausejour JDL (98 GH, 98 JA, 96-98 WA)
Canon (98 GH, 99-100 JS, 96-98 WA)
Cheval Blanc (98-100 WA, 98-99 JS)
Figeac (98 GH, 98 JA, 97-98 JS)
Gaffeliere (94-96 NM, 93-96 AG)
Le Dome (94-97 AG, 94-96 NM, 95-96 JS, )
Pavie (99-100 JS)
Troplong Mondot (97-98 JS, 95-98 AG, 97 JA, 97 GH, 95-97 NM, 95-97 WA)

Conseillante (98-100 WA, 98 GH, 96-98 NM, 97 JA)
Vieux Château Certan (98 GH, 96-98 AG, 97-98 JS)

Haut Brion Blanc (98 JA, 97-98 JS)
Le Nardian (95 JS, 94 AG)
Malartic Lagraviere Blanc (92-94 NM, 92-94 AG)
Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc (98-99 JS, 95-97 AG, 96 JA)

Value Picks
Batailley (96 JA, 93-95 NM)
Branaire Ducru (95-96 JS, 93-94 WA, 92-94 NM)
Grand Puy Lacoste (93-95 NM, 93-95 WA)
Haut Bages Liberal (94-96 AG, 93-95 WA)
Lafon-Rochet (93-95 AG)
Langoa Barton (94-95 JS, 93-95 WA, 94 JA)
Laroque (94-96 AG, 94-96 NM)
Malartic Lagraviere (95-96 JS, 95 JA)
Phelan Segur (96-97 JS, 92-94 AG, 92-94 NM)
Tronquoy (93-95 NM)

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