The 2022 growing season is well remembered as a year of extremes in terms of heatwaves and drought, yet as we made our way through the Bordeaux’s Left and Right Banks, the words “surprise,” “unexpected,” and “adaptation” were a continuous refrain to try to explain the aromatic vibrancy and freshness in the wines. After tasting through hundreds of barrel samples, we can conclude that although the 2022 vintage is not uniformly excellent across each and every estate, it has undoubtedly produced some of the most thrilling wines of remarkable power and elegance that we have ever tasted en primeur.
The Growing Season – From Bud to Barrel
Following the cool and wet growing season of the 2021 vintage, 2022 began with a cool and dry winter that segued into a warm spring. Budbreak and flowering took place in mid-May under moderate conditions. Most regions received just enough rainfall in June to replenish their water table, but by mid-June the first of a series of heat waves brought temperatures above 40 degrees. Thankfully the evenings remained relatively cool allowing the necessary diurnal range required to maintain acidity levels in the berries.
Harvest began in early August for white wines, and in late August or early September for red wines – several weeks earlier than ever before for most chateaux. A clement September meant that vignerons could take the time they needed to pick exactly when they wished, with most keeping a careful focus on picking before acidity levels began to decline. Yields were down due the reduced number of bunches with small berries and unusually thick skins.
The Wines – Past Experience Pays Dividends
There is no question that the 2022 vintage has produced some monumental wines, without doubt the best ever for a number of estates with early comparisons being made to the landmark 1982 vintage. While on paper 2022 is linked to the notably hot 2003 vintage in Bordeaux, there are several key factors which differentiate them. In 2003, the heatwave came in full force in August with no respite of cool evenings. Whereas the heatwaves in 2022 began much earlier in June, giving the vines time to avoid hydric stress by adjusting their own production accordingly for the subsequent and intermittent heatwaves which followed in July and August.
One apt metaphor used whilst we were in Bordeaux described the vines as swimmers who were able to come up for breaths of air every few weeks to keep them going through to the finish line.
Another important difference of note is that while 2003 was one of the first hot vintages of its era, vignerons and the vines themselves have since weathered a series of solar vintages, including 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020. As a result, many have developed various measures to adapt the vineyards and the wine-making techniques to accommodate the heat.
When considering the drought conditions, the fact that 2022 followed the damp 2021 vintage meant that water reserves in the soil were better than average. The older vines with deeper roots performed the best overall, however, younger vines planted in largely clay soils also had access to the hydration needed to prevent themselves from shutting down production.
As the heatwave began early in the growing season, the vines knew to preserve their production so that they could concentrate their energy across fewer bunches overall. This resulted in a smaller than average amount of fine, caviar-like berries on the vines with thick skins and a lower-than-average volume of concentrated juice due to the relentless sunshine and lack of water. This meant that yields on the whole were much lower than even in 2021, but the resulting juice was extraordinarily intense and complex. Alcohol and PH levels on the whole were higher than average, which made the undeniable freshness and balance we tasted in the wines all the more inexplicable. Tannins were incredibly ripe and fine, leading to incredibly powerful and structured wines that were astonishingly attractive even when tasting from barrel.
On multiple occasions we remarked that so balanced and charming were the wines that they could be enjoyed that very evening – although the tannic structure and density of fruit would also suggest a drinking window that will span half a century at least.
Finally, while there has been concern surrounding the long-term potential of Merlot in the increasingly warm vintages in Bordeaux, the 2022 vintage proved that it has the ability to adapt beautifully to these increasingly warm conditions. Most estates were thrilled with the quality of their Merlot, and it played a significant part in their blends.
The dry white wines were not as successful in 2022, as even when producers were careful to pick quite early they admitted that they may still have been a few days too late. The higher PH levels meant the wines were not as crisp and refreshing and instead showed more tropical notes. Likewise, the Sauternes we were able to taste had high levels of residual sugar, without the mouth-watering freshness that typically tempers them.
Standouts by Appellation – IG Wines’ Top Picks
The 2022 vintage had many divergent styles of wines, but this was more a result of the specific terroirs and the viticultural and vinification decisions of the estates as opposed to the potential of the appellation. Overall, we did find a more consistent level of excellent wines in St. Emilion and Pomerol, with notable stand outs at Canon, Figeac, Conseillante, Cheval Blanc where they have deftly managed to harness an outstanding level of finesse and elegance in their wines. Troplong Mondot also deserves a special mention as an estate which has had a dramatic shift in style since 2017 and which has truly found their stride in 2022, performing alongside the very best in the appellation.
On the Left Bank, we found some estates who embraced the potential power of the vintage, particularly in St. Estephe where Chateau Montrose was absolutely tremendous in its refinement, earning every bit of its Super Second status. Pauillac produced a bevy of superb wines, including a top showing from First Growths Mouton and Lafite as well as an other-worldly Pichon Comtesse. St. Julien was a masterclass in consistency with Leoville Las Cases rising to the top as well as terrific showings from Leoville Barton, Leoville Poyferre, and top value pick Branaire Ducru. Moving South to Margaux, Palmer and Margaux were formidable efforts in their more powerful styles this vintage while Brane Cantenac and Rauzan Segla were as sleek and seamless as we have come to expect. Finally in Pessac-Leognan, Haut-Brion slightly edged out its stable-made La Mission with its densely layered complexity whilst Haut Bailly found that fine line between power and finesse. It should be noted that the quality of second wines was at an all-time high in 2022, to the point that some estates like Cheval Blanc elected not to produce one at all. It is well worth seeking out wines like Reserve de la Comtesse, Dame de Montrose, Clos du Marquis and Haut Bailly II amongst many others for their tremendous quality this vintage.
From the Critics – A United Front
Thus far the critics have been unequivocal in their praise, with James Suckling leading the way with his declaration that 2022 “sets a new benchmark for Bordeaux after my first reference vintage for the region from barrel, 1982.”
William Kelley (joined by Yohan Castaing) has also released his report with a commanding 8 potential hundred-point wines, including a few names who have been steadily become cult favourites in recent vintages like Carmes Haut-Brion, Conseillante and Troplong Mondot. “Bordeaux has produced some monumental wines in 2022” confirms Kelley.
While we still await the verdict from a number of the other influential critics, the energy and enthusiasm for the wines was palpable and we are expecting blockbuster scores across the various publications.
With 2022 shaping up to be considered exceptional from the leading estates, we can begin to draw certain assumptions on price and demand, extrapolating from pricing cycles and FX changes. Bordeaux is defined by peaks and troughs in price and quality; the overpriced 2009 and 2010 vintages forming one peak in price and quality, followed by 2011 – 2014 as a valley, with prices plateauing. Once again, after the superbly priced 2014 vintage, the 2015 and 2016 vintages formed another peak in quality and a peak in price with 2016. The next price drop came in 2019, with some wines experiencing double digit returns post release and exceptional vintages priced just as exceptionally – a unicorn driven by a global pandemic.
The Bordelais snapped back once again in 2020 with a superb vintage, but repriced in line with similar vintages in the market. In 2021, the Bordeaux secondary market saw a surge in demand from buyers in the US, Asia and Europe. This was largely due to a combination of improving economic conditions and a general sense of optimism about the future of the wine market. However, the 2021 en primeur vintage was rather caught on the wave of overarching global bullish wine trends and the vintage failed to react to market perception, with some exceptions. It is noteworthy however; increased sales were seen in new markets such as South Korea and Cambodia.
The graph below reflects the release prices of the Bordeaux First Growth in GBP since 2005.
The next Graph represents the average performance of the First Growths since release. It is non-weighted and shows the average price increase over the same period.
It is worth reflecting that since 2016 the Pound’s weakness has resulted in diminished buying power, but as of today (04.05.2023) at 1.14 GBP/EUR it sits at a medium price in its mid-term trading channel. Equally, during this period Euro buyers will feel a more linear distribution of pricing and US buyers will enjoy a strong dollar.
The Importance of En Primeur
A strong en primuer campaign galvanises the Bordeaux market, not just from a single vintage perspective but an overarching market standpoint. The 2008 en primeur vintage (released in 2009) was keenly priced due to market conditions and sentiment at the time. Prices of First Growths, on average, more than doubled from barrel to bottle and coincided with a 70% rise in the Liv-ex 100 (209-357) from May 2009 to 2011. Additionally, the 2014 vintage kick-started another 40% bull run from May/June 2015 to mid-2018 (242-338). Once again, the stunningly priced 2019 vintage saw its own 37% rise when it sparked a run from May/June 2020 to Mid-2022 (300-412). When the Bordelais are forced/inspired to provide a stellar pricing campaign, this coincides with bull runs.
In conclusion, taking into account the high quality of this vintage, the market sentiment and the recent price releases, we estimate a price increase. This can be predicted at around of 5-10% on 2021 for the First Growths, and therefore higher than the 2020 release prices. This could also be reflected in a similar increase for the other leading wines, with up to 20% for some of the highest scoring wines. This will place the First Growth comfortably below the secondary market prices of equivalent vintages, such as 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. As always, the wines that offer any discount to back vintages will likely see strong demand in a vintage of this calibre, with the promise of some equalling, and perhaps exceeding, the great 1982s.