En Primeur 2023 | Bordeaux 2023 coverage: Weather and wine characteristics

A bottle of Château Figue at an en primeur tasting

Just like clockwork, each year, the iDealwine team steps up as your loyal correspondent throughout the Bordeaux En Primeur campaign. Let’s kick off this series by introducing the vintage’s characteristics, both in terms of weather conditions and the wine itself. But stay tuned, as we’ll report on specific wine tastings, appellation by appellation, later on.

As you know, iDealwine has been offering Bordeaux En Primeur for several years now through its dedicated website (see below). With the official En Primeur wines tasting week having taken place last week, here’s an early peek into what the 2023 vintage has in store for us.

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Read our article dedicated to the workings of the En Primeur campaign to find out more about this yearly sale of Bordeaux wine.

Let’s start with a brief summary of the year from a weather perspective, based on the invaluable observations made by the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of the University of Bordeaux.

2023 weather: A fresh and relatively mild year

It all started with a relatively cool winter with little sun, especially in March, which was great news for vines as this resulted in a slightly delayed budburst, preventing frost damage across most plots.

Mild and cooler spells succeeded one another in the spring, with high levels of rainfall encouraging mildew to develop. The disease was exceptionally severe and caused extensive damage in some vineyards, particularly on Merlot vines. This accounts for the wide disparities in yields across the different estates. The pressure of mildew required the winegrowers to be actively present in the vineyards. As for May, it was warm and sunny, resulting in good, rapid and even flowering.

The summer was fairly hot but not very sunny, and was punctuated by several thunderstorms, leading to a long veraison period. Then, from the second half of August, a heatwave set in, bringing growth to a standstill and facilitating excellent grape ripening. At times, the vines suffered from drought, with occasional wilting phenomena, although occurrences were rare, mainly affecting young vines or the most filtering soils. Merlot vines were more severely affected than Cabernet Sauvignon vines, the latter being less prone to water stress.

Ideal weather conditions for harvests

Harvests started on 12 August in the Sauternes region, with a large wave of picking during the second half of August and finished in early September. From mid-September onwards, alternate wet and dry spells led to the emergence of the infamous botrytis cinerea on some very fine, ripe and healthy grapes. The hot, dry weather led to rapid concentration, leading to a quick and fairly condensed harvest that took place between the end of September and mid-October – a relatively early harvest for the Sauternes region.

Merlot picking started in the first week of September, which was followed by the Cabernet grapes being gathered partly before and partly after a rainy spell around 20 September. An exceptionally fine late season allowed the harvest to be completed in excellent conditions. The ideal weather conditions throughout the harvest campaign offered a wide choice of dates, based purely on analytical and taste criteria rather than on the weather, as is often the case.

Chateau Pedesclaux and its vineyard

2023: An exceptional year for dry and sweet white wines

The relatively cool, overcast weather for much of the year is largely responsible for the excellent quality of the white wines from the 2023 vintage. It helped maintain a good level of acidity – though initially quite high, it decreased slightly thanks to the lovely weather at the end of the season – and a rich aromatic potential, both crucial for the success of Bordeaux white wines, whether dry or sweet. The grapes were slightly less sweet and more acidic than in 2022, displaying all the physical qualities of a great vintage.

In more detail, the Sauvignon Blancs are highly aromatic, fresh, sapid and fleshy. The Semillon grapes, meanwhile, reveal their subtle aromas of white flowers and their sweetness.

In the Sauternes region, the average yield came to 12.5 hl/ha, down slightly on 2022 (14.5 hl/ha), although the situation is relatively heterogeneous in this respect. The relatively early harvest in this region also contributes to the freshness of the wines. The Sauternes wines are highly aromatic, powerful, fresh and balanced.

2023: A diverse year for red wines, with some outstanding results

The dry and sunny weather at the end of the season was conducive to excellent berry ripeness, including for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which can sometimes lack maturity. Anthocyanin levels were also very high, and comparable to those of the 2020 vintage. The grapes exhibited no vegetal qualities, with methoxypyrazine (the molecule responsible for green pepper aromas) levels negligible and below the perception threshold. The Cabernets achieved near-perfect ripeness in many cases, releasing floral and black fruit aromas and, above all, beautiful, highly elegant tannins, good density, depth and a fairly structured, racy style. The good ripeness thus prevents the vegetal character that is sometimes associated with this grape variety. As a result, the proportion of Cabernet increased slightly in many estates this year.

The quality of the Merlot harvests was relatively modest but varied depending on the plots as this variety was particularly badly hit by mildew. Overall, the Merlots are generous, crisp, juicy and very fruity, without developing aromas of jammy or brandied fruit, both signs of over-ripeness.

The iDEalwine team on the way to an en primeur tasting

The quality of the 2023 Bordeaux vintage in a nutshell

Once again, the diversity of Bordeaux terroirs, soils and vines, combined with the choices made by the winegrowers, result in a wide range of quality and, more importantly, wine profiles.

Overall, the wines contain slightly less alcohol than in 2022, and at very reasonable levels compared with recent years. And when it comes to the white wines specifically, they display good levels of acidity. They are doubtless less full-bodied than some other vintages (which stand out in this respect), which is far from unpleasant in our opinion. A far cry from feeling diluted on the palate, the wines are beautifully balanced and easy to digest.

To sum up, this vintage is shaping up to be a pretty good one, with excellent dry and sweet white wines and fine reds, with some outstanding achievements, in a classic Bordeaux style yet very well balanced by freshness, letting the different terroirs fully express their qualities.

In upcoming articles covering the En Primeurs, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of the wines by appellation and reveal our top picks. Stay tuned!

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