Our immediate assessment of Bordeaux 2022 following the UGC and Châteaux tastings conducted during the week of 24th April.
Mirror, Mirror, on the wall..
The simplistic explanation of a mirror is that it perfectly reflects what it sees. Step back and consider for a moment however, and you can see that, whilst it is a reflection of what is visible, the image is in reality reversed; hence stand in front of a mirror, raise your left hand to your nose and in the mirror it appears to be your right hand that touches your nose.
This (convoluted) explanation perfectly sums up the comparison between the 2021 and the 2022 vintages in Bordeaux.
2021 saw a tumultuous growing season combining continual struggles with climatic and vineyard problems - cooler than normal temperatures, haphazard flowering, too much rain, then Mildew followed by lack of photosynthesis etc. 2021 was a year when Cabernet Sauvignon reigned supreme, especially on free draining gravel, and the resultant wines were lower in alcohol, fresher and the tannins and colour much reduced. What saved the vintage was a period of warmth toward the end of the season, which allowed many grapes to ripen sufficiently to make classic, elegant, fresher wines.
2022, in contrast, saw unprecedented temperatures, combined with almost drought-like conditions throughout the ripening season. There was very little disease and a preference for clay-dominated soils where Merlot showed its ability to continue ripening even when temperatures at Merignac airport hit 41.9C! Two bands of hail in June affected some areas, especially in the Haut-Medoc and upper St Estèphe and in isolated cases proved disastrous. The yields were generally down, especially on the left bank, but here many Chateaux were able to offset smaller crops by reducing the amount of wine classified into 2nd and 3rd wines. The wines produced in 2022 are a true testament to the advances in farming over the last twenty years, along with the better understanding of climate change and the viticultural developments associated with this.
Throughout our exhaustive tastings at the UGC and Châteaux in Bordeaux during the last week in April, the dominating factors of 2022 were dark colours, high levels of extract, alcohols and tannins. Just as many Château owners started to fear that the wines of 2022 would be dense, jammy and over-blown in a style akin to the hot 2003 vintage, the wines were saved by cooler nights when the temperatures dropped considerably, allowing the grapes to cool and retain vital acidity. In addition, many vineyard owners spoke of their vines’ growing resilience to higher temperatures and lack of water in recent years; this, in partnership with the higher levels of water reserves that had been built up by an overly wet winter helped the vines maintain a thick canopy of foliage in late summer 2022, thereby protecting the grape bunches from the worst of the direct sun.
So, was 2022 a miracle, near perfect year across the whole region, resulting in a smaller quantity of powerful and balanced wines? Alas, no.
A singular dominating factor resulting from the heat and dry conditions across the ripening season of 2022 was the extraction levels. Thicker skins and smaller berries gave higher levels of colour, as well as increased level of sugars and tannins, thereby pulling some wines back from achieving sheer brilliance. Those winemakers who managed lighter extractions have made wines that will be near perfect – others have gripping tannins and increased alcohols that may, in the longer term, be unbalanced.
In summary, whilst the 2021 saw wine writers faintly cautious in both praise and scores, 2022 has already been heralded (again) as a ‘vintage of the century’ – with many wine writers and Château owners describing it as a miracle vintage. Others are a little more cautious, pointing to a minority of unbalanced wines with high extraction of tannin and alcohol levels and lack of freshness. Time, as always, will be the judge on those wines.
Overall, we rate this an excellent vintage, with wines that have richness, power, sweet dense fruit, brooding tannins and, in most cases, a balanced freshness. Where light extraction was managed and acidity maintained, great wines have been made that will cellar extremely well in the long term. 2022 has produced muscular and attractively opulent wines on both the left and right bank. On the right bank both St Emilion and Pomerol produced fabulously rich and moreish wines, particularly at Châteaux that enjoy the benefit of deep rooted old vines. On the left bank impressive wines can be found across all the famous appellations with Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux all performing well, although it is difficult to pick out any of them as the star performer – more a case of individual Château selection.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all…?
Only time will tell whether 2022 proves to be a truly ‘great’ vintage!
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