Bordeaux 2023 vintage report

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Bordeaux 2023 vintage report


Words: Mark Pardoe MW & Charlie Geoghegan
Published: 25th April 2024



The new vintage in Bordeaux is a delightful one, with bright, charming fruit and marked freshness. Here, we examine the year that was, and how these precise, energetic wines came to be.

In Bordeaux, it’s a recurring curse to be the vintage that follows a truly exceptional year. Consider 2001, overshadowed by 2000; or 2006 by 2005; and, more recently, 2021 by 2020. Overlooked they may have been, but these vintages have since proven themselves to offer years of joyful drinking. It would be a great shame if 2023 sat undiscovered in the shadow of the superb 2022s – because our early conversations and tastings with the châteaux reveal it to be a delightful vintage.  

While the vintage doesn’t have 2022’s density, there are examples of superb Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank and wonderful Merlot, particularly from St Emilion’s limestone. The wines have purity and transparency, beautiful freshness and a charming immediacy, but with more intensity than the perhaps similarly styled 2021s.


Bordeaux 2023 Harvest

What was true for one château was not necessarily true for its neighbour; there was considerable variation between and within communes.


Winter was cold and wet, ensuring the vines had access to good water reserves from the beginning. The season started early, with budburst in mid-to-late March; this raised the risk of frost damage, though there was little impact reported.

Spring was “challenging” for some producers. There were elevated temperatures in April and May, along with storms in late May. Rainfall varied widely between estates. Flowering took place in late May into early June, followed by fruit set; most châteaux were very happy, with several highlighting the large potential crop.

The summer was hot and sometimes stormy. The consequent humidity meant considerable pressure from mildew throughout, but recent, equally potent, attacks in 2018 and 2020 have given vignerons practice in managing the infections. The mildew meant that some châteaux lost volume, like Domaine de Chevalier and Ch. Rauzan-Ségla. But with proper treatments and selection, there is no impact on quality. Indeed, the removal of any affected berries was potentially beneficial to the eventual quality because of the lower yields. 

What was true for one château was not necessarily true for its neighbour

High temperatures and storms continued in July, though it wasn’t excessively rainy. Nor was it all that sunny, despite the heat. Only July was within the 20-year temperature average, reports Matthieu Bordes of Ch. Lagrange; June, August and September exceeded it.

 The veraison stage of ripening was slow, reports Romain Jean-Pierre of Ch. Figeac, owing to the cloudy conditions. The lack of sunshine saw some producers opt to de-leaf, hoping to aid ripening.  Some welcome August rain, followed by heatwave conditions, helped the vines to ripen in the late stages – though the threat of mildew was never far away.


This was the second hottest year on record, after 2020. But it was not a baking heat, due to the consistent cloud cover until late August. These conditions were then broken by a heatwave, with temperatures above 40°C, lasting into early September. The heat was fundamental in defining the character of the vintage, accelerating maturity and dehydrating the grapes – giving the wines more detail and focus. 


Bordeaux 2023 Harvest

Picking started in late August for the dry white wines. Picking for the reds started around 5th September, lasting until mid-October. There was a storm forecast for the weekend of 30th September, so many estates picked everything before then. Others waited; the forecast storm never materialised. A “beautiful Indian summer” followed in early October, says Matthieu Bordes, leading to wonderfully ripe, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon.

Harvest-time temperatures were as high as 40°C, with occasional showers. Damien Barton Sartorius of Ch. Léoville Barton and Ch. Langoa Barton credits both the rain and sunshine in helping the grapes achieve full ripeness at this late stage.

With some exceptions, relatively large crops were reported. Clinet got a special dispensation for its crop, higher than the maximum permitted by the Pomerol appellation; and after some particularly low yields in recent years, Haut-Bailly reports a healthy 40hl/ha. 


Bordeaux 2023 Harvest

Strict sorting was crucial to remove any mildew-affected berries. The use of optical sorters and other measures ensured that only healthy, ripe fruit made it into the cellar. There was good phenolic ripeness in the grapes; for the most part, extractions were gentle.


Bordeaux 2023 Harvest

According to Véronique Sanders of Ch. Haut-Bailly, the style of Bordeaux 2023 overall ranges from dilute to hugely tannic. The best wines sit between the extremes. 

On the Left Bank, there are gloriously bright, perfumed and structured Cabernet Sauvignons. The Merlots have sometimes suffered a little, particularly when on gravel. Those on cooler, more water-retentive clay soils are less affected, but expect many grands vins to have lots of Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the Left Bank, there are gloriously bright, perfumed and structured Cabernet Sauvignons

Except where Merlot is grown on limestone, in St Emilion it is the Cabernets (Sauvignon and/or Franc) that will provide complexity. The reds we’ve tried from St Emilion’s limestone have a lovely chalky character, with persistent, fine tannins that just melt away. There’s also a real brightness of fruit along with vibrant acidity. In Pomerol, the heatwave yielded homogenous Merlots, and the cooler clay soils provided precision. The aromatics are very persuasive on the Right Bank, and the tannins relatively gentle, so the wines will be ready to enjoy quite early. 


Many producers avoided direct comparisons with other vintages: “2023 reminds me of 2023,” says Frédéric Faye of Figeac. Others compare it with 2019: Damien Barton Sartorius cites similarity in the tannins and acidity; for Ronan Laborde, it’s about the aromatics (though he notes that 2023 doesn’t have 2019’s depth or volume). 


Indeed, the 2023 reds do not have the concentration of the 2022s. More immediately accessible in style, they will delight and charm – without quite the long-term ageing potential of 2022. These are not lean wines, and they have more structure and backbone than 2021. But there is an earlier-drinking character to many of them – with the attractiveness of the fruit and the freshness of the acidity. 

Many dry whites benefited from being harvested before the heatwave; they show the intensity and juiciness of a warm summer. Occasionally high alcohol levels are generally balanced nicely with piercing acidity. Plump but still very fresh, potentially this looks like it could be a very interesting white vintage. 


The sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac had to wait for the noble rot in mid-October. Either side of that were harvests of dried grapes, and a late picking of botrytised grapes. But the heart of the harvest has given reasonable volumes of very good quality, akin to 2021 in style, but with more intensity. Pierre Montégut of Suduiraut considers 2023 a better vintage than 2022 for dry and sweet whites. 


Bordeaux 2023 Harvest

The key to a great vintage is that the vines must suffer a degree of hydric stress during the season – not too much to force the vines to shut down, but enough to challenge them. In 2023, the vines were never short of water, and so the vintage falls a little short of 2022. But intelligent viticulture was able to impose a modicum of stress. This is a large harvest, but the end-of-season heatwave accelerated maturity, gave concentration and removed disease pressure, as well as concentrating the yield. 


If 2022 was a vintage of intensity and spicy richness, 2023 is one of precision and energy.