Decoding the Enigma: Exploring the 2023 Bordeaux Vintage

By | 11 June 2024

Simon Field MW starts his comprehensive analysis of the 2023 Bordeaux vintage by discussing the climatic conditions of the year and the overall quality and profiles of the wines.

By Simon Field MW

Despite facing several challenges, the 2023 Bordeaux vintage does not reach the peaks of the previous year but still presents several refined, elegant wines with substantial potential, characterized by a modern yet classical freshness, according to Simon Field MW.

The ornate red carpet winds through the vat room, beside shiny stainless steel tanks, into the barrel hall where costly barrels are aligned, and ends in the tasting room. Troplong Modot turned its en primeur tasting in April into a gala event resembling the Oscars, confidently welcoming around 5,000 attendees to sample its new wines and thereby subtly supporting what seems to be a weakening system. The event was filled with smiles, humorous undertones, and anticipation for promising, though youthful, wines. The primeur system, traditionally predicated on a demand outstripping supply and expected asset growth, is now under scrutiny. The red carpet acts as a sophisticated rebuttal to these criticisms, asserting confident self-belief and playfully endorsing a highly effective marketing strategy. Yet, the question remains, has it truly been successful?

The dichotomy between the product quality and the fragility of its production infrastructure becomes increasingly apparent in a year that, while celebrated and well-defined, fails to exceed the quality of its predecessor. The primary aim of this discussion is to examine the vintage. However, it’s necessary to consider the broader business environment, which albeit focuses on only a niche segment of the Bordeaux market, overshadows some major issues in the less visible parts of the sector. Here, approximately 8,000 hectares of vineyards have been cleared, and the growing problem of mildew often goes untreated due to limited resources. Indeed, these are challenging times, but paradoxically, the quality of Bordeaux wines has never been better, which this report will eagerly highlight.

So, how did the year turn out? Here we present brief glimpses, a detailed seasonal analysis, journeys from vineyards to wineries, and additional insights from those directly involved. The voice of the public, especially that of a winemaker, is always invaluable, gathered during four weeks from April 9 to May 7. During this period, temperatures fluctuated from highs of 84˚F to dawn temperatures near freezing, coupled with frost fights, heavy rainfall, and ongoing battles with mildew. Growers even worried that a further temperature increase might accelerate the onset of mildew. Thus, in a way, all seasons converged in that one month, which acted as a microcosm of the contemporary threats to this heavily Atlantic-influenced vineyard.


Consultant Thomas Duclos encapsulates the 2023 Bordeaux paradox: “It was dry yet wet; warm yet cool; a vintage of high variability.” What does he mean by this? Simply put, 2023 was among the warmest and rainiest years, with a peculiar timing of these conditions. A whimsical vintage indeed. While 2022 is now acclaimed as “exceptional,” 2023 settles for being “great”—quite a consolation. It’s difficult to say if this is understated praise. Personally, I appreciate many of the wines for their “contemporary classicism,” evident in the low alcohol levels, robust tannins, and well-balanced acidity, which resonate not only with my preferences but also increasingly worldwide. Also, key figures in the industry, like Axel Heinz, who recently transitioned from Ornellaia, finds the 2023 Lascombes to exhibit a “neo-classical” style characterized by textural richness and moderate intensity and alcohol levels. Vincent Millet of Calon-Ségur also expresses a preference for the most recent vintage, noting, “In 2022, it was all about the climate; in 2023, the terroir itself speaks, revealing the unique characteristics of each plot in St-Estèphe. This is what appeals to me.”

An exciting vintage in this respect, then, described by Guillaume Thienpont as “intemporel” (timeless), due to its perfect balance of “classic freshness, tension, and bite, but also core muscle and the season’s gift of glorious fruit.” The winemaking process, poetically referred to as “le pilotage,” has indeed been refined, yet it remains true to the essence of classical, finely textured Bordeaux—pure and quite complex. Guillaume, acknowledged for his work at Vieux Château Certan and Le Pin, is certainly capable of making such authoritative statements. In simpler terms, the 2023 Bordeaux is characterized by relatively low pH levels, moderate alcohol content, and is most successful with Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank and Cabernet Franc on the Right Bank. Seasonal challenges included mildew early on, followed by heat spikes that, while threatening, did not lead to drought, thus benefiting the late-ripening Cabernets. Careful assessment of Merlots on the Right Bank is advised. Generally, conditions improved the further north one traveled in the Médoc. Specifically, St-Estèphe, Pauillac, and St-Julien enjoyed a particularly successful year, with more variation observed elsewhere.

Overview of the year: in 2023, total Bordeaux production reached 384 million liters, a drop from 411 million in 2022, yet close to the ten-year average of 390 million liters. The previous decade (2010–2020) saw higher outputs, averaging 581 million liters. Notably, production declines were most significant in the AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur designations, suffering from economic hardships and difficulties in managing mildew similar to those in 2018 and 2023. Thus, yields in general appellations decreased noticeably, whereas yields in premium sectors like St-Julien, Pessac-Léognan Blanc, and St-Estèphe averaged over 50hl/ha. The year’s production consisted of 81% red wines, 11% dry white wines, 4% rosé, and 1% sweet wines, with Merlot still the predominant red varietal. Interest in both Cabernet varieties and Petit Verdot is growing, while Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon continue to be favored for white wines. This year was favorable for both dry and sweet white wines.

Weather-wise, the vintage contrasted between being both wet and warm, nuanced and unpredictable without breaking records—attributes that perhaps enhance its allure. The average temperature during the growing season was 19.4˚C, with precipitation from March to September totaling 428mm. The annual rainfall reached 1,219mm. Notably, average temperatures in June were significantly above the ten-year average, exacerbating the mildew situation, but late-summer heat spikes on August 28 and September 4 and 7 allowed the Cabernets to fully mature, justifying the decisions of those who delayed their harvest. This late warmth, although delayed, prompted the plants to focus energy on fruit development rather than foliage growth.

Challenges of managing sun exposure arose—especially considering the risk of sunburn after reducing foliage to manage dampness. Philippe Bascaules at Château Margaux is exploring innovative vineyard orientations and potential sun-blocking solutions to adapt to these changing conditions, although such measures are not yet approved by regulatory bodies. At Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Guillaume Pouthier also emphasizes the importance of strategic water management—from adjusting the water table with cover crops to pruning strategies and canopy management throughout the growing season. The ample availability of water and sunshine in 2023 proved to be both a benefit and a challenge.

A warm fall in 2022 introduced what was to be an excellent vintage in winemaking. A mild and moist winter followed, bringing about 17 inches of rainfall from November to March, which was crucial in replenishing water reserves after a notably dry growing season in 2022. This set the stage well for the upcoming months, mitigating drought risks and maintaining a beneficial balance of moisture tension in the soil, which positively affected the structure of the grapes and the wines produced.

With the arrival of spring, conditions were moist and slightly earlier than usual, accompanied by occasional rains. The key phases of budbreak and flowering occurred mostly on time, though earlier in areas like Pessac, where vineyard caretakers had to prevent their llamas from grazing too soon. In contrast, these crucial vine cycle stages occurred later at places like Lafite, happening between April 5 and 19. The unpredictability of these patterns foreshadowed the diverse nature of the vine growth and wine quality across different regions.

As the season progressed, temperatures increased significantly, with April and May seeing averages about 1.8˚F above normal, and June experiencing an even higher increase of 5.4˚F. This surge in heat came alongside more rainfall and the onset of mildew issues. Daytime temperatures with semi-tropical characteristics and unusually warm nights, particularly highlighted by Cyrille Thienpont at Pavie Maquin, exacerbated the spread of downy mildew. The worst periods were late May and early June, especially affecting the Merlot vines. To combat these issues, vineyard activities like leaf-plucking and green-harvesting were intensified to manage vine vigor and mitigate rot, specifically black rot. Copper-based treatments were applied but often washed away by subsequent rains. Both human and material resources were strained, significantly impacting yields. For instance, Smith Haut Lafitte experienced a 40% loss in its Merlot yield. Despite these challenges, some areas like the plateau of Pomerol and Pauillac were less affected. Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite found reasons for optimism during these times.

The weather disturbances did not greatly delay the agricultural timeline. The humid conditions did not hinder the progression of grape ripening; veraison commenced earlier than usual, completing rapidly within ten to 12 days by mid-July for Merlot vines and slightly later for the Cabernet Sauvignon at Haut-Bailly. However, as with other aspects of this vintage, veraison was not uniform, occasionally extending to a full month in duration in different vineyards.

Subsequently, there was a steady increase in temperatures. While the initial period of August exhibited moderate temperatures, the later part, and the onset of September, experienced the sole substantial rise in heat for the year. Although the temperatures didn’t reach 104˚F (40˚C), there were numerous days when they hovered around 95˚F (35˚C). Cyrille Thienpont, who is involved with Domaine L’If as well as Pavie Maquin, noted that in St-Emilion, there were two brief periods of heightened temperatures, the first from August 18–24, and the second from September 1–7. He mentioned that these periods did not result in heat stress or lead to any drought-like conditions. Unlike in 2022, this year did not have repeated calls for easing irrigation rules.

Matt Turmer at Pape Clément pointed out that the gradual warming of the season differently affected the main red grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, which ripens later, seemed to benefit more as the harvest approached. Despite this, the summer was marked by notable daily temperature fluctuations, sometimes varying by up to 27˚F (15˚C).

Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Cheval Blanc noted two specific temperature spikes on August 23 and 25, which nearly reached 104˚F (40˚C), slightly scorching the berries on the vines facing the setting sun. Despite this, no impact on the aroma was detected, and August experienced higher than usual rainfall (2.6in [65mm]), warding off any severe heatwave conditions.

The phenomenon, along with a cooler than usual start to August — with its average temperature dropping from a notably high 79.7˚F (26.5˚C) in 2022 to a more typical 69.8˚F (21˚C) in 2023 — contributed to a decelerated growth cycle, described by its end as not “precocious.” This slowdown was further influenced by relatively cooler night temperatures, contrasting the favorable springtime conditions that helped preserve acidity and synthesize polyphenols in the red grape varieties.

The white grapes were mostly harvested in late August, a wise choice considering the subsequent bouts of intense heat that could have potentially degraded their essential acidity, which lends to their lively character. Despite the heat, much of it occurred under cloudy conditions, reducing the effect of direct sunlight and, consequently, affecting the photosynthesis process differently than anticipated.

The 2023 Bordeaux season can be seen as a year of contrasting halves: the initial period was plagued by mildew and rain, creating risks of dilution without the stress of drought; the latter half’s warmth mitigated these rain-related issues but didn’t introduce drought stress either.

Addressing the issue of mildew is particularly pertinent, as this challenge largely defined this year’s harvest. Noticeably, the problem of mildew is proving to be significant again in 2024.

The year 2023 in Bordeaux might be remembered for the disparity between those who could afford extensive vineyard management and those who could not. As Antoine Mariau from Nénin pointed out, it was “the vintage of the wealthy,” due to the high costs associated with combating mildew. These costs required continuous reapplication of copper treatments and necessitated additional labor and resources—expenses not feasible for many producers, especially in the more afflicted regions like Entre-Deaux-Mers and Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux. Those who could manage these costs largely protected their vineyards from severe damage.

The outbreak of mildew was due to a steady escalation in temperature starting from budburst, affecting the years 2018 and 2021 similarly, but with less severity and danger. As spring progressed, temperatures continued to rise, with June experiencing the harshest conditions in this episode, marked by unusually high temperatures combined with constant rainfall, which spurred a rush of preventative measures. Pomerol experienced these events with fewer difficulties compared to the extensive Bordeaux region, though Juliette Couderc of L’Evangile vividly described it as a “week of horror” from June 19-24, during which they received 2.7 inches of rain and applied four consecutive treatments. Vineyards with limited resources faced substantial crop losses, a situation captured by media outlets as “decimation,” a description not entirely exaggerated. Even more distinguished estates like Smith Haut Lafite suffered losses, with its technical director, Fabien Teitgen, acknowledging the unpredictable nature of such events, describing himself as “an open-minded peasant,” a statement that certainly could be half agreed upon.

Mildew can return later in a growing season, as shown in 2018. Although there was lesser recurrence in 2023, the ongoing threat influenced later agricultural decisions, such as increased leaf-plucking and green-harvesting, especially under humid conditions favoring lush foliage.

The variable response to the mildew threat in 2023 largely depended on available resources rather than just expertise. Christian Moueix acknowledges the exceptional and prompt response of the teams, which managed to maintain a normal harvest both in size and quality. Once controlled, the mildew had little impact on the final character and quality of the vintage, yet underscored nature’s fickleness and the ongoing need for vigilance.

A significant change in Bordeaux between 2023/24 compared to a decade earlier is the precision in vineyard management, from advanced drone analyses at estates like Giscours and Pontet-Canet to proactive responses to minor weather changes. Noëmie Durantou at L’Eglise-Clinet uses GPS apps to monitor specific plot conditions regarding humidity and temperature—important in April when frost poses a real threat. This approach reflects a pragmatic attitude, moving away from traditional perceptions of Bordelais as one-dimensional. Key techniques such as green-harvesting, leaf-plucking, and the use of clones or massal selection are now widely embraced, ensuring historically or functionally appropriate grape varieties are cultivated. Many vineyards now meticulously manage individual parcels similar to Cheval Blanc’s methodical approach to their 54 unique plots. Axel Heinz at Lascombes demonstrates how each plot relates to Margaux’s terraces, highlighting the significant growth of the vineyard from its original size during the 1855 classification, sparking ongoing debate. Interestingly, the parcels currently deemed as best coincide with those cataloged in 1855.

Intense scrutiny encompasses various vineyard practices, from investigating rootstocks and their ability to cope with water shortages to optimizing the use of cover crops to enhance water use and promote ideal transpiration rates. There is a strong focus on agroforestry, with Cheval Blanc and Haut-Bages Liberal leading the initiative, as well as the alignment of the vine rows, a subject of interest not just at Château Margaux but broadly within the industry. The year 2023, marked by challenges like mildew and unusual cooling periods followed by late but intense heatwaves, urged a deep dive into optimizing viticultural cycles to characterize the vintage’s unique profile.

The dialogue around vineyard practices could be significantly extended. Particularly, the link between these practices and the grape varietals thriving in Bordeaux 2023 is noteworthy. Climate conditions generally favored Cabernets for those who patiently delayed harvest until late September. In contrast, some Right Bank Merlots showed a lack of mid-palate cohesion, although not necessarily being bland. Notably, the best outcomes were from Pomerol’s blue clay or St-Emilion’s limestone plateaus. Increasing attention towards Cabernet Franc, or Bouchet at Château Lafleur, hints at prioritizing these varietals due to their stellar performance. Vineyard managers like Vincent Priou at Beauregard and Mickaël Obert at Gazin are betting on these grapes. At Figeac, Frédéric Faye was content with both Cabernet varietals, praising the Franc for its harmony and the Sauvignon’s adaptation to Figeac’s gravelly terrain, enhancing the final assemblage. The growing inclination towards Cabernets and Bouchet across esteemed vineyards like Ausone and Angélus reflects a nuanced yet historically grounded shift in Right Bank wine profiles.

On the Left Bank, traditional vine management and closeness to the estuary continue to be crucial. Another significant factor was the duration of the harvest season, noted to be the longest on record by vineyard managers like Philippe Blanc at Beychevelle and Mathieu Bessonnet at Pontet-Canet, and Jean-Pierre Delmas at Haut-Brion. Delmas highlighted the warmest September since 1820. Starting white wine harvest in late August and concluding Cabernet Sauvignon in early October presented challenges yet opportunities for enhanced ripeness and complexity. Borie at Ducru-Beaucaillou, who delayed Merlot harvest to mid-September, emphasized the virtues of patience by avoiding predicted poor weather, allowing extended ripening that benefited the Cabernet grapes. In turn, this approach led to successful wine profiles with balanced freshness and complexity.

Ample discussions could arise from the mild extraction methods now employed, softer than ever before, and the diversity of maturation vessels used, more varied than in past times.

2023 Bordeaux may have been warm, but it was essentially an Atlantic (“classic”) vintage. This is the source of its enigmatic appeal but also the reason for vigilance in the winery. The musts were not to be treated in the same manner as 2022… or 2021… or, in fact, like any other recent vintage. Therefore, both the length and the temperature of maceration had to be judiciously invigilated. And before the grapes even got to the vats, the mildew threat had necessitated an unprecedented rigor when it came to sorting: empirical sorting in the vineyard, then optical sorting on reception, and finally densiometric sorting to eliminate anything remotely blighted or affected by millerandage or dust or anything else, for that matter. Olivier Bernard summons up his inner Duc de La Rochefoucauld (he of the Maxims) with his own pithy summary: “We were able to make choices from choices already made.” Quite!

There was similar focus in the vat room, needless to say. Jean-Claude Berrouet recommended at Clos Fourtet an approach that was widely followed: delicate manual pigeage, fermentation temperatures that did not exceed 79˚F (26˚C), a modest length of cuvaison (just over three weeks), the malolactic in tank rather than barrel, and a reduced use of new oak (40% in this case). There is, he says, an inverse relationship between the putative alcohol levels and the weight of the hand on the tiller. On the other side of the Gironde, Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal at Angélus advocated a ten-day cold-soak (in the name of aromatic purity, depth of color, and ensuing fruit definition), then a longish, cool fermentation (71.5–73.5˚F [22–23˚C]) is definitely on the low side), with minimal use of sulfur dioxide; all this despite the thick skins of the grapes and the power of their inherent structure. In terms of élevage, there is significant use of foudres (30hl) for the Cabernet Franc used in the senior wine, along with the more traditional 22 months in new barriques.

The use of new wood has clearly been reduced by many producers (even Pape Clément no longer employs 100% new barriques), and the cooperage generally moderated with regard to the tightness of the grain or the toasting of the wood. Sometimes—almost paradoxically—the fermentation tanks are now smaller (see the new winery at Branaire-Ducru), but the maturation vessels are larger and more varied in provenance. Examples abound: Stephen Carrier at Fieuzal uses more 400-liter barrels than previously for its Merlot; Matt Turner at Pape Clément uses barrels from Austria; Ben Sichel at Angludet uses 40% amphorae; up to 30% of the wines at Les Carmes Haut-Brion are aged in 18hl vessels—one could go on… Suffice it to say that the long vistas of neatly regimented barriques—a symbol of success if ever there was one—has now been somewhat compromised by the infringement of common sense. Once again, there is more than a whiff of humility and openness at large.

2023 was not especially challenging; every vintage has its challenges. The point is that the modus operandi is now realigned; the product comes first, and some of the gloss that has grown up around its mythology is less thick. This can only be healthy.

And so, the enjoyable part begins when winemakers engage in the delicate task of describing their impressions and drawing comparisons. It’s customary first to claim that the current vintage is incomparable, highlighting its distinctiveness; however, soon after, comparisons inevitably arise, satisfying all parties involved. At Léoville-Las-Cases, experts artfully compare the 2022 vintage to that of 1870, while suggesting that 2023 more closely resembles the pre-Revolution year of 1771—a claim both intriguing and unchallengeable. Presently, the general opinion leans towards the 2019 vintage in terms of structure, for the wines exhibit less overt ripeness than those of 2020 or 2018, yet they possess more vitality and complexity than those from 2017 or 2021. Carrier of Fieuzal orchestrates a blind tasting, revealing that, despite 2019’s strong showing, the vintages echoing the 2023 profile most closely are 2014 and 2016, with 2023 nestled between them. For Faye at Figeac, 2019 draws the closest parallel, yet he emphasizes the exceptional aromatic quality of Cabernet Franc in 2023, which, he believes, enhances the stature of Bordeaux from that year, with only 2022 surpassing it.

The dialogue continues. Marielle Cazaux at La Conseillante compares 2023 to both 2022 and 2020, but notes that 2023 is more approachable than either. She perceives a Proustian quality in its classicism, with the aroma evoking nostalgia for her childhood home. Conversely, Priou of Beauregard sees a reminiscence of 2008 in its slight austerity, while also appreciating the elegance and length that bring to mind 2016. Although 2023 is a year of varied personalities, it nonetheless offers an elusive allure that resists straightforward comparison. This uniqueness is, perhaps, appropriate.

Saskia de Rothschild approaches the matter differently, eschewing direct comparisons and instead provoking tasters to evaluate the vintage through both tasting and analyzing ink-blot cards designed by psychologist Hermann Rorschach. For instance, after sampling 2023 L’Evangile, tasters interpret a specific abstract design named “Blue Clay Arrow,” linking the interpretation of the art to that of the vintage. This method introduces a Freudian element, adding layers of intrigue and insight.

In the tangible world, it’s crucial to remember that interpretations, like the metaphorical arrow—whether blue or not—are constantly evolving, and the diversity of perspectives should not detrace from understanding the essential qualities of a vintage. Keeping in mind M Duclos’s paradoxical observation—”dry yet wet; warm yet not warm”—one can grasp the inherent contradictions within the vintage.

There is considerable debate on whether the Bordeaux primeur model is broken, despite high wine quality and record attendance at en primeur week. Discussion of this issue is ongoing elsewhere, but it’s crucial to acknowledge that the primeur system, though small, has been successful and resilient for over thirty years. The current global situation poses challenges, including geopolitical tensions, uncertain Asian markets, inflation, high interest rates, and overstock issues. Notably, négociants, who have traditionally supported the system, are now less willing to do so.

Early observations suggest that the system persists, helped by lower initial pricing. The 2023 Bordeaux primeur campaign mirrors aspects of the 2008 and 2019 campaigns, which revived a struggling market. However, significant price reductions in release rates, such as Lafite at 31% less than the previous year and others following suit, might not recalibrate but deflate the market. If lower prices become the norm below secondary market levels, this could negatively affect the economic viability of the system. The debate over whether fine wine should remain a supply-driven prestige product or become a demand-led commodity is crucial, especially for the fragile Bordeaux en primeur system. This topic may be discussed further in The World of Fine Wine.

Initial reports indicate that wines priced below the secondary market are performing well. The 2023 vintage quality, though not as high as 2022, supports the system. Alternatives, like Latour and Palmer with their distinct marketing approaches, aren’t necessarily outperforming the primeur system, which remains delicate.

For the white wines, the 2023 vintage benefited from cooler mid-season weather, early harvests preserving ripeness and freshness, and significant day/night temperature variations that maintained acidity. The increased use of varied fermentation and maturation vessels like concrete and amphorae helped preserve the wine’s structure. Practices like enzyme use and bâtonnage were balanced, enhancing the uniqueness of different wines such as Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc. Notable distinctions were also present in other wines, showcasing the character of their respective regions. Among them, notable mentions include Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Laffitte Blanc, highlighting the overall excellence of the 2023 dry whites.

The sweet wines are generally very good indeed, the harvest carried out rapidly and efficiently, with yields, thankfully, on a par with 2022 and appreciably higher than in the desperate 2021. Taking a long view, the main difference between today’s harvest and that of 20 years ago is today’s need, once the botrytis has set in, to harvest at great speed. In 2023, the onset was uniform and took place in the first week of October (“a massive attack,” was how Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu at Doisy-Daëne described it) and the number of picking outings (les tris) was far fewer than usual, with one or two all that was required, itself posing logistical problems when it came to ensuring that there were enough pickers. At some properties, however, especially those with more Sauvignon Blanc (Semillon now makes up 75% of the vines, we should remember), there may have been preliminary tris, generally, admits Laurier Girandot at Coutet, for grapes that were passerillés (shriveled, but not by botrytis) rather than actually nobly rotten. In general, however, 2023 witnessed a fast and furious harvest in early October, and one that was finished well in advance of the heavy rains that came on October 18. Yields, averaging 12.5hl/ha, were a little down on both 2022 (14.5hl/ha) and the ten-year average (14.2hl/ha), but not back in the disaster zone of 2021 (3.5hl/ha), when all everyone could talk about was the urgent need for the introduction of a new appellation for dry Sauternes.

A good sign, surely? Simon Deleporte at Lafaurie-Peyraguey thinks so. This is only his second vintage, and even if he didn’t quite manage to achieve the phenomenal level of residual sugar of 2022 (225g/l!), he was happy enough with the 180g/l that he has notched up. Despite not quite scaling the heights of indulgence of 2022, 2023 is being recognized as a powerful, structured year, more in the vein of, say, 2005, 2009, and 2015 than more “elegant” years such as 2014 or 2011. There is, of course, a healthy constituency who favor the more delicate and elegant style, including Girardot at Coutet, who goes against the flow a little when he says that his 2023 is most like 2014. It does not lack elegance, for sure, and the same can be said for the very classy Climens, thereby perhaps underlining the traditional differences between Barsac and Sauternes, stylistically speaking.

François Amirault, the long-serving technical director at De Fargues, points out the “new” dilemma in making Sauternes today, in that the grapes are fully mature far earlier (the middle of August), but one still has to await the rains and the onset of the noble rot. There will be a thickening of the skins in the interim (especially when the interim is as hot as it was in August 2023) and a degree of degradation of both malic and tartaric acid. This may jeopardize both the efficiency of the botrytis attack and the resulting profile of the wine; it will also make the task of achieving successful balance between residual sugar and alcohol by volume more challenging. This balancing act once again calls upon variables and explains the multiplicity of styles evidenced in what, prima facie and given the uniformity of the onset of the noble rot in 2023, would appear to be a fairly homogenous harvest. Overall, however, the quality is excellent.

2023 Bordeaux is a fine vintage; the best wines are elegant, refined, and with no lack of potential. The interface between acidity and alcohol is tilted a little more to the former than in 2022 or 2020, and yet, paradoxically, there is a generosity of fruit and a ripeness of tannin that defies any overly nostalgic comparisons. Thus “new classicism” or “contemporary classicism” are the best descriptors, since they implicitly doff to the subtle and ongoing changes in vineyard and winery alike. This most traditional of regions, with the unremitting influence of the Atlantic Ocean, is especially vulnerable to climate change. The combination of warmer and wetter springs is increasingly tricky in Bordeaux, to which the recurrence of mildew in 2024, possibly even more virulent than in 2023, bears witness. Far from resting on their laurels, the Bordelais are battling constantly against possibly insurmountable forces. The doldrums of the en primeur market is but one of these, and probably the easiest to remedy. Challenging times ahead, then. All the more reason to appreciate the crop of 2023, some of which is outstanding. Keep rolling out the red (and white) carpet.

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