The journey began on a foggy Friday morning, in an Uber crawling though San Francisco traffic, followed by one very long flight, then a more civilized two-hour train journey to Bordeaux. It would be my first time visiting the storied region, as I arrived to join the FINE+RARE team for en primeur week. With appointments booked on both the Left and Right Banks, as well as a full dance card of lunches and dinners, I was looking forward to seeing the spectacle firsthand.
Why travel so far, after all? I’d wondered this myself more than once. From the outside, “Primeurs” week can seem like an antiquated relic of the past, as merchants, brokers and media from around the world descend upon Bordeaux during the last week of April to sample the previous year’s vintage while it is still in barrel. First scores are handed out by critics, and the wine trade prepares to offer these wines to their clients in the weeks and months following as futures, not to be released from the châteaux’s cellars for another two years.
We were prepared. Armed with new notebooks and fresh palates, we were chauffeured around the region by Benoît, our driver extraordinaire. With so many visits booked – over 50 in just five days – maintaining an orderly and very punctual schedule would be of the utmost importance. We all came to love Benoît, who was quick to remind us of travel times, but more importantly, offer a much-needed roadside pâtisserie pitstop.
I was told that this year marked a return to normal for the châteaux, after several pandemic years that kept many home. The châteaux were bustling, with a steady stream of visitors entering and exiting at nearly every property we visited. With handshakes, hugs and kisses all around, the sense of joy and excitement to be around other wine enthusiasts was palpable. Though the skies were cloudy and rain showers dotted the week, the smiles and laughter were a wonderful contrast.
Though I think Bordeaux is often thought of as a stuffy place, where voices are kept to a low whisper and only very serious wine tasting occurs, I was taken by the diversity of the region, as well as the tasting experiences themselves. To be sure, many of the châteaux are grand, but we spent an equal amount of time in smaller wineries tasting out of barrel in chilly cellars, as well as walking through the vineyards to see the baby leaves of 2023 unfurling.
While of course Primeurs is a first look at the vintage – an opportunity to test hypothetical opinions based on weather and early conversations – it is also a chance, perhaps most importantly, to meet the people behind the wines. From grand estates with sweeping views of the countryside, to humble family-owned properties carving out their own piece of the historical region, Bordeaux cannot be boxed into a tidy generality.
The one commonality, however, was the enthusiasm and excitement for the vintage. Descriptions repeated throughout the week (from both our team and the vignerons we visited) – were “surprising”, “unexpected” and, perhaps most often, “unique”. While many in the wine trade may be quick to draw parallels between 2022 and other warm, generous vintages such as 2003, comparisons were made to 1945, 1947, 1949, 1961, 1982 and other legendary years – but more often than not we heard the opinion that 2022 is a year that will stand alone.
The vintage was bound to be remarkable in some way: the hottest year on record in Bordeaux, marked by four heat spikes, as well as drought during the growing season. After years of discussion concerning the increasingly extreme weather, it would seem that the test had finally arrived: could Bordeaux cope with climate change?
While I think we’re all still mulling over our tasting notes, and double brushing our purple teeth, truly, the wines were a pleasure to taste: uniform ripeness and density of juicy fruit, balanced and braced by fresh acidity, all while remaining true to the character of Bordeaux. The initial results of what many thought would be a nail-biting vintage are very promising indeed. We will publish our full thoughts on the vintage and wines in the coming weeks, but one thing’s for sure: 2022 will be a vintage that will be remarked upon for decades to come.
Keep an eye out for our full vintage report – coming soon