BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR 2023 REPORT

BY GILES COOPER, BUYING DIRECTOR

En primeur 2023 is well and truly underway as the great and the good of the world’s wine trade descend upon Bordeaux with notebooks and tasting glasses poised, ready to discover more about the new vintage before a flurry of releases over the coming weeks. Our Buying Director and resident Bordeaux-phile Giles Cooper was amongst them, and shares his thoughts on the vintage and top tips for the upcoming campaign.

Having just returned from a flying visit to Bordeaux to taste as many high-quality 2023s as possible, I’ve been reflecting and gathering my thoughts about the vintage and the world into which it arrives. At CV we’re relatively circumspect on en primeur, believing that the right wines at the right prices are worth owning from new, especially if you intend to keep them to drink. We’re not beholden to it as a concept … but as a business with a growing reputation, especially within the Bordeaux world, we’re increasingly confident of the level of allocations we can obtain and will be sharing our favourites with you in a timely fashion. It’s worth noting that this campaign should be fast, albeit hopefully not furious, with the first releases coming as early as next week .

The Vintage

“2022 is about what happened above ground… 2023 is about what happens below ground.” My own clumsy but well-intentioned summary to Noëmie Durantou at L’Eglise Clinet

A winter of abundant rainfall was followed by precociously early bud break (a cycle that is becoming more typical with the general rising temperatures) and things were going quite swimmingly into May with uniform bud growth and flowering laying the groundwork for a vintage of potential quality and quantity. In early June, things started to change a little for the worse as positively tropical weather set in. A combination of above-average temperatures and considerable rainfall led to significant mildew pressure, which specifically affects volume, not quality, and required much back-breaking work to counteract it. It is worth observing that, based on the yield statistics, most top estates were successful in these endeavours, eventually delivering 40-50hl/ha in many cases. July and August saw the reverse of June, with below average temperatures and rainfall allowing the mildew pressure to lessen. It was cloudy, though, and limited sunshine hours led to slow, but eventually complete, véraison (colour change in the grapes). Occasional showers through September kept things fresh and pleasantly warm daytime temperatures continuing into October enabled fruit to gently reach full phenolic ripeness whilst retaining vibrant acidity and classical alcohol levels, in addition to some of the highest IPT (tannin) levels ever seen. However, tannin management is a far more exact science than it once was and, by and large, the wines’ structures are positively architectural, with soaring verticality matching seamless texture thanks to skilfully concealed pillars of tannin.

The Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide

The Wines

“Even when received wisdom was that 2000 was superior, I stuck my neck out and praised the 2001s’ freshness and vitality, how the wines articulated their respective terroirs with more clarity, and their greater focus and tension.” Neal Martin in his Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide: 150 Years From 1870-2020.

My gut feeling when tasting the 2023s was how similar they were to 2001s, although I must confess, I am too tender in years to have tasted ’01 from barrel … so I checked in with this increasingly essential book when I got home to see if the vintage conditions were comparable. The similarities are uncanny and captured perfectly by the above quote. Not only this, 2001 had its ‘yin/yang’ partner in 2000, a vintage of bombastic, sunny delights, just as 2023 has 2022, a vintage much more like 2000, replete with ripe hedonistic fruit and joyful abandon. For clarity, Neal does say of the 2000 vs 2001 debate: “It’s not a total victory. There are plenty of cases in which the 2000 is better”. Clearly, there are very high peaks within both 2022 and 2023, and I for one am not interested in playing favourites. All I will say is that if any of us had the chance again to buy more 2001s at their opening price, having seen how good they were going to become, we would have done so in a heartbeat.

Whether Merlot on limestone or blue clay, or Cabernets on gravel, the best wines deliver haunting expressions of the land. I can’t say what your preference will be, but I think I might be marginally more on the side of the Cabernet camp. The riverside wines of the Médoc’s gravel-beds are a wonder to behold, as are the ballerina-like Margaux.

There are a few words which come up repeatedly in my 2023 notes: density, purity, weightlessness, florality, tension, sapidity, energy. These are wines without fat, but with serious bones and muscularity, with the purity for early-ish enjoyment and the structure to age gracefully in the cellar … the magic of modern Bordeaux. We all have a good friend who makes us laugh, smile, and brings great memories – that’s 2022 – and some of us are lucky enough to have a friend with whom we can reflect, discuss ideas and ‘go deep’ with. That’s 2023. And the bottom line is we need both in our lives.

The Market and Pricing

There’s no doubt this release comes at a pivotal moment and the Bordelais must listen to the global mood-music if they are to have a successful campaign. All wine prices have softened over the past year and young Bordeaux more than most. Over-supply in many parts of the world and high interest rates matched with reducing inflation – not to mention strong stock markets and other appealing diversifications – have combined to make wine look like less of a hedge than it has in years gone by. For serious collectors and drinkers more concerned with the eventual enjoyment of their purchase rather than its value for its own sake, there remains the question as to when to buy. Nobody wants to see their purchase still on the market 5 or 10 years later at the same price (or lower) than they paid for it, especially after cost of carry. So, it’s clear that regardless of your intentions, a notable reduction is needed and regardless of the inherent qualities of this vintage there are very few wines we would recommend buying at the en primeur stage if these conditions are not met. If we were to see a reduction of anywhere from 15-30% from the 2022 release, there are plenty of fabulous wines to choose from.


CV Recommendations

We have nailed our colours to the mast with a few which for us deliver that soulful magic which makes the best Bordeaux so special. Some are long-established, some are enjoying a new lease of life or a change of ownership, some are very expensive, others less so; but they all meet our criteria for quality and transparency of expression, so given fairness in price, they will be well worth your attention.

Château Beauséjour, St-Emilion

9th generation winemaker Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse has her ‘Grand Cru’ vineyard singing from its limestone heart. This incredibly pure, fresh, deeply-fruited wine is a true Burgundy in Bordeaux fashioned from a single plot only fractionally bigger than La Tâche. No longer ‘one to watch’, it’s ‘one to buy’.

Château Cheval Blanc, St-Emilion

The most successful Bordeaux of the last two decades? I’ll wait for a better example. Stunning wines, smartly priced. The 2023 is pure terroir, fluid and silky but crisply framed, fizzing with energy and delightfully ‘al dente’ fruit. You can’t be surprised – I wasn’t.

Château Clos du Marquis, St-Julien

It’s sometimes hard to know how to describe CdM, as it’s not really the second wine of Las Cases, but it’s a sort of ‘baby brother’, run by the same folks but from specific vineyards. Anyway, the 2023 is the best one ever. The quality of the Cabernet is positively Mouton-esque. I drank a 1985 at The Arches a couple of years ago and it was still pure joy. Underestimate this wine at your peril…

Château L’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol

When asked ‘is it as good as you had hoped?’, Noëmie Durantou replied ‘in a vintage like 2023, there is no hope. Only work.’ She takes after her father, that one. Fortunately, she’s proving to be as skilled a winemaker and this 2023 has haunted my memory for two days now. So much rich fragrance, so much density and power but with exquisite balance, this has the potential for a very long life and is one of my absolute wines of the vintage.

Château Figeac, St-Emilion

As the kids might say, Figeac is a ‘cheat code’ of a property, with all three great Bordeaux varietals and all three great Bordeaux soil types. Add the winemaker of his generation, one of the finest new cellars in Bordeaux, and the nicest family owners imaginable, and you start to get it. Salty, and yet richly fruited, muscular rather than fleshy, and already with so much length and complexity. I mean come on, give the others a chance…

Château Leoville Las Cases, St-Julien

Whatever the vintage, you put your nose in a glass of Las Cases, and you’re in the vineyard. This takes me back to the 1996, a vintage I have drunk more than my share of, with all its purity and precision. If they can hit a price this is a must have for lovers of Claret Classicism.

Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Proof of both how well the vines took to this vintage, and the mildew pressure was handled, can be found here: manual sorting, optical sorting, density sorting – and still 50hl/ha produced. Great news that there will be more of this than last year, as it is a triumph of texture: explosive, persistent, with hidden power and cocoa-powder tannins which create a sense of breadth and lightness of touch. And it comes with a spangly new wax cap, better to control the rate of oxygen transmission (plus it looks cool). The new wave: get riding it.

Château Margaux, Margaux

There is so much depth in the 2023 Margaux that you could fall into the glass searching for the heart of its aromatic core. Reminds me of the 2015 with its incredible purity of expression and enormous vibrancy. So powerful, yet so nimble, with a massive finish, it’s a triumph in this taster’s eyes.

Château Montrose, St-Estèphe

Let’s not beat around the bush; this is First Growth quality. The 2023 sees only the fruit from the ‘terrasse 4’ sections of the vineyard, directly in front of and to the north side of the chateau (the original heart of Montrose) and it’s simply astonishing. Rich fruit, seaweed, white stones, fresh tobacco, layer upon layer of fruit, freshness, fruit, freshness… and with a joy to the ripeness that many of the great wines have eschewed in favour of seriousness. If the top wines of the vintage are like Christopher Nolan movies – serious, complex, powerful, thought-provoking – then Montrose is Interstellar. And don’t try to tell me that’s not the best one.

Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

The sister estate of Canon has been under Chanel ownership for 30 years this year and it vies with the very top estates in Margaux now. The 2023 has all the intoxicating floral and white gravel notes you expect from the commune and wears its power and density lightly. Driving, leaping forward, it has this amazing ‘sapidity’. Gorgeous.

Château Troplong Mondot, St-Emilion

Last year’s biggest seller for CV has done it again. The laid-back visage of this dramatically changed property obscures a Sisyphean mountain of work in order to make a wine that feels so effortlessly in control, laden with coiled power, stunning freshness and density of fruit.

Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac

Not a foot wrong at this address in at least a decade. After a bit of agitation this comes to life. Very riverside, super precise, penetrating Cabernet fruit and layers of mineral freshness. The dilute, green days of the worst vintages of the past feel just so long ago; this is so pretty now, but built for the really long haul.

 

We are big fans of many wines from 2023; not all got it right, but many did, and so we recommend being selective this year. We are here to guide you on this and so if you are looking for advice please do let us know and we will be very happy to assist. If you’d like to hear more news from CV HQ, including details of our 2023 en primeur offers, please click here to sign up to our mailing list.

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