Andrew Jefford Observations: ‘Global Warming Triggers Significant Changes in Bordeaux’

By | 22 March 2024

This deeply maritime region that borders the unpredictable Bay of Biscay has historically struggled to produce more than three excellent vintages per decade. However, out of the eight vintages between 2015 and 2022, only 2017 and 2021 did not meet the standard of excellence, though the 2017 Pomerol and Sauternes still delighted the palate.

The 2023 vintage is currently under evaluation, and the possibility of another excellent yield seems promising. Though vineyard caretakers will always encounter difficulties, it seems that climate change has propelled Bordeaux into a different state of being – one characterized by dependably warm summers.

As indicated by data from the regional Météo-France annual reports, the months of June, July, and August in the years 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, and now 2023, all experienced temperatures exceeding their respective 30-year moving averages. While the increase was modest in 2016, it was remarkably higher in 2018 and 2022. Most seasonal difficulties have occurred during the first half of the year, with a primary concern being the threat of downy mildew due to the heavy rainfall in spring seen in 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2023.

Fortunately, this pattern of damp early months equipped the vineyards to handle the summer heat exceptionally well. When the anticipated spring rain was absent, timely summer storms sustained the vines. Thankfully, none of these vintages suffered from drought, though the fear of it loomed in 2022.

Significant changes have taken place in the vineyards and cellars of Bordeaux‘s top châteaux. The short-term appearance of vineyards have morphed due to the employment of cover crops and heat-adapted canopies. A shift towards new rootstocks and row orientations, utilization of massal selections for replanting, and experimental approaches to agroforestry mark a more gradual yet meaningful transformation.

The processes of harvesting are speedily executed and meticulously pinpointed; fruit sorting adopts futuristic preciseness; the use of gravity systems deem pumps unnecessary; extraction is light as a feather; lesser amounts of new oak are being employed in favor of alternative storage options. A thorough division of vineyards and a switch towards small-batch fermentation render extensive possibilities for blending: the most impactful change thus far.

However, there’s a notable shift in the taste of aspiring Bordeaux within the last ten years. The sunny, breezy richness that connected 1982, 1989, 1990, 2000 and 2009 is currently taking a backseat. The character of young ambitious Bordeaux has taken a turn towards strictness and sharpness, attributed to the acidity, freshness, and ‘precision’ sought by cellarmasters and admired by wine critics. On dissecting these wines, it is impossible not to be blown away by their concentration, their intricate layering, their focus, and their drama.

The direction of these wines, their aging process, the superior vintages – these are all elements that nobody seems to have a certain answer for at this moment. Classical European palates highlight 2016 and 2019; Bordeaux itself seems to be set on 2022 being the star; the ornate 2018 presents numerous thrills; 2020 remains an enigma but has turned out to be extraordinary for some properties. Elevated point scores are constantly being awarded, with ‘perfection’ being a common verdict. Despite the frequency of wine regions experiencing three reliably hot summer months, it is yet to be suggested that Bordeaux has fallen into a pattern of monotony amidst its rising surge.

Top wines’ prices seem to have had negative impacts. Interestingly, they’ve managed to disrupt 2022 en primeur sales. In fact, since 2010, there hasn’t been a successful campaign. It’s peculiar, isn’t it? Are these awesome wines finding it difficult to find a warm, loving home? If you’re like me and tend to purchase wines priced £35 or less per bottle, you’ll realize there’s no better deal among the highly ambitious underdogs. Mid-priced Bordeaux from these years might offer the greatest red-wine value globally.

Maybe I’m unable to see the old warmth that a ample Bordeaux vintage provided, its warmth, its welcoming – but the Bordeaux’s genes haven’t altered. These fantastic spots have always delivered beauty and comfort over time; why would they stop now? Climate change, which is currently uncontrolled, is real; such abundance won’t last forever. Take advantage of the present.

This month’s white… tastes like white wine. Absolutely. Nothing more, nothing less—beauty devoid of adjectives. The Amos Cuveé Weiss Bianco 2021 from Kellerei Kurtatsch in Alto Adige, cultivated in high, east-facing dolomite vineyards between 600m and 900m, is what we’re talking about. Despite there being five varieties mixed in there, it was the ‘white essence’ symbolized by Pinot Blanc that I found myself gravitating towards: pure, invigorating, subtly salty, as bright as the sky and flawless.

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