Bordeaux 2023 Vintage Report: truly Bordelais

By Beth Pearce MW | Buying Director
May 2024

The vintage

2023 is a surprising vintage in Bordeaux.

The best wines were the result of meticulous work in the vineyard, and a relatively hands off approach in the cellar. They are detailed and balanced, with juicy intensity and a moreish structure. Many of the wines are truly exceptional expressions of their terroir.

With rumours of attractive prices to match, this could be a vintage to back en primeur.

The season

Budbreak was early in April, with cool and mild weather until flowering. Flowering was very successful, with the potential for a huge crop.

Early Summer was marked by warm but cloudy conditions. This low level of sunshine early in the season allowed the grapes to slowly develop, which, I believe, explains the textural complexity and finer details in many of the best wines. 2022, by contrast, was slightly warmer but with intense heat events in this earlier part of the season, which left the wines powerful but not as easy to taste en primeur.

The counter to this, however, was the significant risk of downy mildew that comes with damp, mild conditions in the vineyard. It affects Merlot more than Cabernet, hence many wines including a higher proportion this vintage. Luckily the top estates have some natural barriers to mildew, and the financial ability to combat it. As a result, many of the ‘lesser’ appellations saw their yields tumble, with some, including Lay & Wheeler favourite Château Marsau, producing no wine at all, whilst conversely the top terroirs have posted impressive yields of 50hl/ha or more.

The lack of sunshine left the grapes behind schedule, but the vintage was largely saved by two heat events towards the end of the season. First, a heatwave from 16th August, which Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer said brought their ripening back up to date. It isn’t overstating to say that this heatwave changed the style of the vintage entirely. Then, in September, a second heatwave built concentration and richness.

September also saw a localised rain event in the middle of harvest, around the 20th September. This contributed to a long, drawn out harvest period, with many estates taking just over a month to pick everything. Some, with the financial means, were able to down tools for a full two weeks between the end of the Merlot pick and the beginning of the Cabernet pick.

This attention to detail in the vineyard, combined with a light touch in the winery, is one of the cornerstones of the vintage for me. Along with the weather, it makes 2023 almost impossible to compare with historic vintages. There’s a coolness to the fruit, but that fruit is dark and ripe. And there are some record IPT (tannin) levels, yet the wines are almost meltingly approachable now.

Alcohol levels are lower than in 2022, with pH also generally lower. As a result, the best wines have an energy and appetising quality that made them a delight to taste en primeur, and will hold them in place for many years to come.

The wines

Across Bordeaux, there are delightful wines that sing of their place. The top St-Julien taste quintessentially of this charming commune, with juicy blackcurrant and fresh mint. The top Pauillac wines have an aristocratic structure with lots of earthy complexity. My favourite wines came from the limestone plateau of St-Emilion, where the wines really could not have come from anywhere else. Tensile, energetic, and mineral, they were a delight to taste. Cabernet Franc seems to have been particularly successful, and wines with high proportions showed incredibly well as a result.

Although the red wines will attract most attention, you would be remiss to ignore what is an excellent year for Sauternes and dry white wines. The weather conditions were conducive to the development of botrytis, so you will find wines of depth and concentration from Sauternes, with a welcome return to somewhat normal yields.

The dry white wines are, to me, a mixture of 2021’s tension and electric freshness, and the generosity and depth of a warmer vintage. There are some very complex wines with impeccable balance and salinity on the finish.

The final word

Alexandre Thienpont put it best when he declared the 2023 a ‘Bordelais vintage’. It’s a year where the wines contain perfume, complexity, length, and freshness.

There is a lot to like about 2023. There’s an early drinking, charming quality to the wines, with concentration and structure to age well, but perhaps not as long as the celebrated 2022 vintage. As you would expect, quality is more mixed than in 2022, but there are some truly exceptional wines that tread the line between density and vibrancy.

These are wines that could only be made in Bordeaux, and demonstrate precisely why we love this region so much. If prices play ball, of which a great deal has already been written, then it’s a year that will be well worth securing en primeur.

Top picks:

Larrivet Haut-Brion
Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc
Mauvesin Barton

Top estates:
Pavillon Rouge
Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarosse
Beau-Séjour Bécot
Branaire Ducru
Domaine de Chevalier
La Gaffelière
Cheval Blanc
La Conseillante
Vieux Château Certan
Carmes Haut-Brion
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc


Beth Pearce MW
May 2024