Bordeaux 2023: redefining “classic”

Our team has spent the week in Bordeaux, getting to grips with the latest vintage to emerge from the region. Ahead of the first releases, Senior Key Account Manager Simon Brewster offers some early thoughts on the 2023s – and the prospects for the campaign
Bordeaux 2023: redefining “classic”

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It will likely come as no surprise that our team entered en primeur week this year with a certain degree of trepidation. Ever since the 2023 growing season ended, the general press surrounding the vintage has largely focussed on the negative; absorbed with the struggles faced by the vignerons rather than the highlights. Bordeaux-bashing is a facile yet favourite pastime for some, and this has led to some collectors and even merchants pre-emptively dismissing the vintage out of hand – before the wines have even been tasted.

The Bordeaux marketing machine, it must be said, should take its share of culpability for this attitude. Too often the hype surrounding solar vintages, with phrases such as “best ever” practically shouted from the rooftops, leaves both the press and collectors thinking that anything less than a string of superlatives means the new vintage is a dud. There is no room for middle ground or a happy medium. Enter 2023.

The vines at Ch. Montrose, which is clearly a stand-out performer in 2023

We started our week in Saint-Estèphe – historically a tough place to make truly great wine in any but the most relaxed growing season. Starting with Calon Ségur, making our way through the range, culminating with the Grand Vin, it gradually dawned on us that these wines aren’t just good, aren’t just classic; they’re something else entirely. Our next visit, at Montrose, cemented this. It is certainly one of the vintage’s highlights and confirmed beyond any doubt that it was absolutely possible to make exceptional wine in 2023.

Our full vintage report, due next week, will cover the ins and outs in more detail, but suffice to say that through our tastings across the Left Bank we found plenty to get excited about. A vintage in which Cabernet Sauvignon took the fore (at many châteaux it represents the highest ever proportion of the final blend), fans of Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Julien et alia will find a great deal to like in the classical freshness of dark-berry fruit, spice, graphite and cedar aromas. In the best wines, this is balanced by a more modern palate of suave tannins, depth of flavour and elegant but plush-textured bodies, donated by the (largely unreported) warmth of the growing season.

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The stately Calon Ségur, our first visit of the week, set the tone for a vintage that has defied expectations

As for the Right Bank – having lived and worked in Saint-Emilion in my 20s, entering the town always feels a little like homecoming for me, but this year it was tinged with foreboding. Merlot had struggled on the Left Bank, and we were concerned as to what we would find on the other side of the river, where it is the dominant grape. I was therefore relieved and frankly delighted to discover that our fears were largely baseless. Throughout our tastings across properties in Pomerol and a few in Saint-Emilion (several of our team remain in Bordeaux and will visit more châteaux here on Monday), we actually found a higher level of homogeneity than on the Left Bank.

Some strikingly beautiful wines have been made. Characterised by delicate floral and mineral aromatics, sensual tannins and pure, precise flavours, terroir really shone through in 2023. Many of the absolute highlights of the vintage can be found here – I left Cheval Blanc wondering which kidney I could sell in order to get my hands on some (a moot question as after 15-plus years in the industry, nobody would pay money for my kidneys). Lafleur was so special I don’t want to sully it with hyperbole. Anyone who tells you there were no great wines made in 2023 didn’t put in the effort to travel to the region and taste properly – it’s as simple as that.

The 2023s resting in tonneaux at Larcis-Ducasse in Saint-Emilion

As to the market, there is no getting away from the fact that conditions are tough. Through our extensive conversations with the châteaux, we are relieved to confirm that they are well aware of this, and it is now all but confirmed that action will be taken in the form of significant price reductions. As was the case with the 2019 vintage, this is an exciting prospect for Bordeaux lovers. William Kelley neatly summarises this in his report, released just two days ago: “Word in Bordeaux was that the 2023s would be released at significantly lower prices than the region’s last three vintages. If that is so, consumers will have the opportunity to acquire exceptional wines for an attractive price.”

With releases due to start as early as tomorrow (with Ch. Batailley), and with the First Growths and other top châteaux promising to lead the way and set the tone, there is little time for us to unwind the many mis-informed vintage pre-conceptions. I will therefore end by saying this – as is the case with all vintages, there will be triumphs, and missed opportunity for others. Some châteaux will listen to the market and release at reasonable prices, others will allow ego to dominate their decisions and make costly mistakes. All eyes are now on Bordeaux for what is undoubtedly a pivotal en primeur campaign.

Our team is still furiously working on our full notes and report, the first part of which will be released next weekend. In the meantime, the campaign is set to start on Monday, and you can now pre-order or register to receive alerts for specific 2023 releases.


Simon Brewster
Simon Brewster