Burgundy 2022: Buyer’s Report

By Catherine Jaën MW | Buyer
November 2023

There is so much to like about 2022. It’s an out and out crowd-pleaser, with the classical Burgundian feel to satisfy even the purists.

Both reds and whites have delicious freshness, appetising concentration, and remarkable drinkability to them; you can’t help but love them from first taste.

I write this after just starting to taste the vintage. What’s clear is the warm growing season resulted in wines that have a slightly higher pH but lower alcohol than similar recent vintages (like 2018, 2019, and 2020).

However, crucially, although it’s not a high acid vintage on paper, the wines universally share a sense of freshness. They also share a welcome return to normal volumes after a series of small vintages, culminating in the minuscule 2021. While by no means big, their relative abundance compared to 2021s is good news for buyers.

The growing season: manageable in the extreme

We are getting used to extremes. A growing season without any would now seem unusual. And 2022 certainly had its share, most notably in the summer heatwaves.

But the wines? They are anything but extreme. Balanced and fresh are two words that spring to mind. How did these characteristics result from such a growing season, you might rightly wonder? It’s a riddle I’m still trying to solve.

2022 was a hot year, even by current standards. In early spring, the sceptre of spring frost raised its head but didn’t mete out any serious damage. In May, flowering took place in warm, dry conditions, and as a result a decent-sized crop was on the cards.

A hot summer was punctuated by some heavy rainfall and localised thunderstorms. It was either very dry (most of the growing season) or very, very wet. Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, received 20% of its usual annual rainfall in just one storm in June. July and August were dry however, with the rain only returning in September towards the end of harvest.

It was yet another early harvest, with almost everyone out picking by the end of August. By then the grapes had reached a lovely stage of maturity: ripe enough skins, moderate levels of sugar, and thus moderate potential alcohol. The only thing that caused any anxiety was the level of acidity: picking too late would condemn the wines to a state of vulnerability. Low acidity and high pH are too hospitable to unwanted spoilage yeasts like Brettanomyces, and can result in wines that lack freshness.

But tasting the 2022s you’d never guess this: the wines simply taste fresh and vibrant. Perhaps the slightly lower alcohol and tannin of the vintage have helped here. Carefully considered picking dates certainly have. Everything is in balance, making these wines so appetising.

Growers have capitalised on the natural gifts of the season, and contained the potential problems in the cellar, thanks both to learned experience and advances in scientific understanding of wine chemistry.

The whites - plenty to get excited about

Rejoice! The cellars are once again replenished after a period of acute shortage. And a generous 2023 harvest only adds to this sense of glee.

And there’s something else in abundance: the wines’ purity of fruit. In Chablis, growers picked out 2017 and 2020 as the obvious comparisons: both full of fruit, drinking brilliantly from early on, but with the structure for serious ageing. This theme continues throughout the Côte d’Or and beyond, with Chardonnays and Aligotés of fresh energy, fine texture, and beautiful balance, though 2019 (minus the warm alcohols) was more often recalled.

The truth is, Chardonnay quite likes decent yields. Small yields can detract from its charm. Normal yields, as seen in 2022, meant that the great winemakers were able to hit it out of the park. They had the most fantastic material to work with, and now all the savoir-faire to cope with a warm season.

Alex Moreau, in Chassagne-Montrachet, is convinced that a big reason for 2022’s success is experience. The growers have learned a lot between 2015 and 2020. Vineyard husbandry has been adapted: canopy shade on the grapes is a more desirable asset than leaf stripping for direct, often scorching, sunshine nowadays. And perhaps the vines have learned, too. Repeated dry seasons have pushed the vines to dig their roots deeper into the soil.

2022 is just the white Burgundy vintage we’ve been waiting for. Dive in.

The reds: diverse and fascinating

Tasting from barrel this autumn, I was struck by what a wide range of styles 2022 has thrown up, particularly in the reds. While the whites are more uniform - fruit-driven, balanced, approachable - the reds range from light-bodied, crunchy, fresh tones through to structured, darker hues. Alcohol for most remains in check (around 13%), and while a few outliers achieved a slightly higher voltage, there is nothing extreme here.

Winemaking decisions, as ever, are a hot topic. But it’s impossible to say if there is a best way of doing things. Some feel the warm season gave them the ripe stems they were looking for and whole-bunch was the obvious route. Others said the volume of fruit made de-stemming a prerequisite, and that including stems would only raise the pH further.

In practice, I tasted many majority-whole-bunch wines that were on song, and others where growers had greatly reduced their use of whole-bunch, sometimes right back down to zero, with terrific wines resulting. So they both seem valid approaches, and their diversity only adds to the complex and fascinating picture of Burgundy. Wouldn’t it be boring, after all, if they all tasted the same?

The moderate acidity meant that malolactic fermentation zipped through quickly, many finishing before the winter set in (traditionally the wines wouldn’t kick into this cycle until the cellars begin to warm in the spring following the harvest). This has the effect of making the wines easy to taste from barrel and persuades most growers that the wines will drink well from early on after bottling.

I must make an honourable mention for Gamay, both in its Coteaux Bourguignons and Beaujolais guises, which seems to have loved the conditions in 2022.

If pushed to choose between, I’d edge reds over whites in 2022, but it’s pretty evenly split between the two. There is much to celebrate here.

The market: a welcome release

It’s no secret prices have exploded in Burgundy in recent years, both in terms of release prices and the secondary market. Nevertheless, demand for the top names remains at fever-pitch.

Each year we see a few more domaines choose to step away from the traditional January en primeur release. This is partly because an increasing number are favouring longer élévages, and feel the wines simply aren’t ready to show or sell at this point. These domaines will release 2022s sometime in 2024.

But rest assured there are plenty of exciting domaines being released in January, and for many you’ll need to be as quick as ever to secure a case or two. Given the better size of the vintage than 2021, far fewer wines will be as restricted.

A final word: a modern classic

If 2021 was an old school classic, a throwback to the ’80s and ’90s, then is 2022 a modern classic?

The wines are so well pitched, with all elements singing in harmony. They may not possess the high octane punch of elevated acidity/tannin/alcohol that we have seen in recent vintages, but their gentle charm belies profound depth and captivating beauty. It’s a great vintage to pick up some less famous communes: the warm conditions means you won’t find green, astringent, mean wines at the Bourgogne or village level.

Instead you’ll find juicy, fragrant, and exceedingly palatable wines that will drink well from early on. Further up the scale, the quality on display was as high as I’ve ever seen, and the great terroirs have produced phenomenal wines of elegance and poise.