Bordeaux 2023: vintage overview

There's more to Bordeaux’s 2023 vintage than the headlines will have you believe. Fresh from 10 days tasting and talking to the region’s leading producers and the FINE+RARE commercial teams, Sophie Thorpe reports on the year – and some of the stunning wines produced
Bordeaux 2023: vintage overview

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By now, you may well have read quite a lot about 2023. And there’s a lot to say about the year – which seems on the one hand to be simple, and then deeply complex. From our tastings, we can say one thing for sure: it’s not easy to make broad generalisations about the year – beyond the fact that the best producers excelled. As Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s Jean-Sébastien Philippe noted, it was a year for “people who work correctly” – those able to react and adapt. Those that spent the requisite time in their vineyards, those who understand the specificity of their terroir, those that picked when was right for them and their vines, and those that work with precision and care in the winery, have crafted exceptional wines.

As my esteemed colleague Simon Brewster noted, “classic” doesn’t quite fit a vintage like 2023. “Modern classic” has become the term used for almost every vintage in recent years – and I can’t help but sigh when it’s rolled out, yet again. Frustratingly, however, it does feel appropriate this year. The fruit expression of the 2023s is thoroughly modern, attributable to contemporary equipment and techniques, as well as global warming; while the balance of the wines (fresh acidities and modest alcohols), combined with their rooting in earthy, savoury, mineral tones, is much more traditional.

At Troplong Mondot, Ferréol du Fou described it as “a few vintages within one”, while Edouard Vauthier (of Ausone) was one of many who felt the year was an emotional rollercoaster. There’s no doubt it was a trying year (indeed, Haut-Bailly has named the vintage after Homer’s Odyssey for good reason), but it is one that also seems to have allowed producers to express their specific terroir. Just taste Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse’s phenomenal 2023 Beauséjour and see if it doesn’t scream of its limestone purity, with new levels of precision and elegance.

In the cellar at Ch. Haut-Bailly

Here’s everything that we think you need to know about the year.

In the vineyard: the 2023 growing season

“It felt so extreme – but it wasn’t,” said Lafleur’s Omri Ram of 2023, a year he feels doesn’t fit as solar or classic, it was just “tiring”.

The winter was cool with some rain, although not enough to fully replenish reserves after 2022’s dry season. January brought snow at Haut-Bailly, and temperatures stayed low into February. Budburst started in late March, a month which also saw a lot of rain – almost 40mm more than the 30-year average and three times as much seen in 2022. While early April has become a time for vigilance, there were only a couple of days where Jack Frost threatened to strike (4th and 5thfor the Eglise-Clinet stable), with little damage – although Lynch-Bages reported some damage on their white-wine vineyards.

Then, however, came a period of intense disease pressure in the vineyards. Mild temperatures and high humidity laid a breeding ground for downy mildew, and several producers reported black rot as an additional challenge (one that is increasingly present). Omri Ram described how it wasn’t just rain, but “txirimiri” as the Basque call it, a misty drizzle that drenched the vines and anyone unfortunate enough to be out in it. Many others described it as tropical – with alternating periods of rain and warm conditions.

Miraculously, there was a break that allowed for perfect flowering, laying the groundwork for a generous crop, with beautiful homogeneity. The challenge, however, was controlling the disease threat – seizing the narrow windows provided to get out into the vineyard to spray. Inevitably those working organically and/or biodynamically have fewer tools at their disposal and, with any more than 10mm of rain, they have to re-spray – although a handful of producers commented that they feel their vines are more naturally resistant having been farmed organically/biodynamically. Interestingly, David Suire at Laroque felt that massal selections also helped with resistance – the genetic diversity in their vineyards meaning that not all vines were impacted equally, and some handled the threat quite easily.

Tasting with Juliette Couderc at Ch. l'Evangile in Pomerol

With sodden soils, it was difficult to get into the vineyards on traditional tractors – and using caterpillars or quad bikes became key to protect the vines, especially on clay-rich soils. At Evangile in Pomerol, Juliette Couderc described the “week of horrors” in late June, where they had 15mm rain on Friday. She called the team on Saturday to spray on Sunday, then they received another 25mm on Tuesday, and 25mm again on Thursday – meaning they had to spray four times in one week alone.

Logistical and financial resources defined the disease impact. It was essential to spray at the weekends, even when that meant paying double, as Lilian Barton Sartorius (of Mauvesin, Langoa and Léoville-Barton) said, or at night (as at Lafleur). At Palmer, Sébastien Menut explained how they were lucky to have built a new agricultural centre – allowing them to treat all 66 hectares of vineyard in 6-7 hours (versus 1.5 days previously – a valuable difference in 2023). He also commented how it was essential to spray not just the canopy, as humidity from the dew posed a threat to the fruit too.

Merlot is naturally more sensitive to mildew and therefore was generally impacted more – indeed, at Smith Haut Lafitte they lost 40% of their Merlot due to mildew. Not too far away, however, at Haut-Bailly, the team explained that the Merlot was more advanced and at bunch closure stage when the mildew was at its peak in June, therefore resisted the attack better.

There’s no doubt that producers have learnt how to handle mildew the hard way – with both 2018 and 2021 in recent memory. At Pichon Comtesse, Florent Genty told us how – having lost 70% of their crop in 2021 – they knew they needed to be aggressive from the start, rather than treating with the minimal amount of copper sulphate possible, meaning losses in 2023 were negligible, even in the final stages of organic conversion. Many felt it was essential to use more than copper sulphate – using a “bio-raisonnée” approach as described by Monique Bailly at Clinet, employing a combination of early chemical treatment(s) where necessary and organic sprays. Those sticking to their organic and/or biodynamic guns had to spray as many as 22 times.

With plentiful water and warm weather, the vines grew rapidly – producing huge, dark green leaves. As Ch. Margaux’s Aurélien Valance emphasised, it was key to keep on top of growth – as every inch of new growth was unprotected from mildew, so you had to spray or trim to manage this.

The iconic Ch. Margaux

Generally speaking, the vineyards most impacted were those that make entry-level Bordeaux – with reports of some estates entirely wiped out in Entre-Deux-Mers. Producers who have estates in satellite appellations saw these differences first-hand; with Le Pin’s Diana Berrouet-Garcia reporting they lost over 50% at their Castillon estate, L’Hêtre, while Jonathan Maltus won’t release Teyssier (Montagne-Saint-Emilion) en primeur as the yields are so low, with just 5hl/ha on the Merlot there.

When it comes to the main communes, it seemed to be the warmer Margaux and Pessac-Léognan that suffered most. The reality, however, is that in the world of fine wine, mildew only has a quantitative – rather than qualitative – impact. It is the luxury of these estates that they can afford to have teams on hand at the weekend, can afford the necessary equipment and make the necessary sacrifice in yield, green-harvesting as needed to remove affected fruit. As Jean-Basile Roland of Canon and Rauzan-Ségla said, the pressure was “historic” – and several producers remarked that they’d never experienced anything like it, and yet, as Noëmie Durantou Reilhac (of Eglise-Clinet) said, “It’s part of the job.”

Somehow the mildew made its way into international news, with significant mis-reporting that created a false image of the vintage – one that it is important to address. For 2023 was a vintage of two halves – and from mid-August, the weather changed.

Although little discussed, growers in some parts of the region also had to battle the threat of hail. In Saint-Julien, the three Léoville estates (which share an anti-hail system) used it five times between April and the harvest, while Saint-Estèphe has one for the appellation which was also employed. Despite the significant risk, there was no damage – although Noëmie Durantou Reilhac did report some hail early in the season in Saint-Emilion, meaning they were dependent on second crop for Saintayme.

In July and early August, temperatures were warm, but not hot, with cloud cover, and no water stress, and véraison took place in late July. Producers were divided on how to handle things, with an extremely generous-looking crop on their hands.

Belle Brise vines
In amongst the old vines at Ch. Belle-Brise in Pomerol

Many felt green-harvesting was essential to balance the vines, especially on younger, more vigorous plants. At Cheval Blanc, they dropped some fruit on vines under 10 years in age, where they otherwise could have had as much as 90hl/ha (“It could have been good for cashflow, though,” joked Technical Director Pierre-Olivier Clouet). At many estates, they reduced the cropload by around 15-20%, especially on the Merlot. Those with old vines found it was generally less necessary, and Pontet-Canet avoided it entirely. At Laroque, David Suire normally only green-harvests the young vines, however he felt even the old vines needed cutting back, something that was essential for the mid-palate of the wine – even if it wasn’t an easy sacrifice when he’d just spent weeks shielding that fruit from disease.

Without water stress – which provides the signal for the vines to focus on ripening fruit rather than vegetative growth – some producers emphasised the need to restrict the vines. At Pontet-Canet, they kept the grass cover, while at Les Carmes Haut-Brion Guillaume Pouthier used cover crops, a larger canopy (to encourage evapotranspiration) and working the soils in the morning.

The overcast skies allowed gentle ripening of the fruit, with no sunburn or shrivelled berries as in a year like 2018, Ducru-Beaucaillou noted. For Noëmie Durantou Reilhac this period was key – balancing the phenology of the grapes, allowing the skin, seeds and pulp to ripen. It’s arguably also one reason for the freshness in the wines, with acids not degrading as rapidly. But in early August, some châteaux feared the weather was overly gentle – and needed to decide whether or not to de-leaf. At Figeac, they weren’t sure what to do and – conscious of the now-frequent late-summer heatwave – only removed leaves on five of their most humid hectares, something that Romain Jean-Pierre feels was one of the best decisions of the year. Suddenly, from mid-August, they had a 10-day heatwave, with temperatures up to 40˚C; now the test was to avoid over-ripeness. Luckily none of the plots de-leafed were on gravel, something which would have been “catastrophic”.

Dates for the heat differed – although most producers consistently reported a first incident in mid-late August (between 17th and 24th, depending on location) and a second in early September (sometime between 3rd and 11th). This hot weather saw the grapes concentrate, losing water from the then large berries. At Palmer they estimate they lost around 20% in volume, something that was essential for the quality of the fruit.

Tasting the Delon stable, including Ch. Léoville Las Cases

At Lafleur, Omri Ram highlighted how the nights stayed cool, describing it as two distinct spikes in temperature rather than consistent waves. For him, it transformed the style of the wines – creating deeper, more complex flavours, as well as revealing and refining the tannic structure – an opinion echoed by Laroque, who found it helped the maturity of the tannins.

Some producers found their vines stalled in maturity – contributing to lower alcohol and higher acidity levels. Younger vines, or those on particularly well-drained soils, may have suffered a little – as in certain plots at Mouton Rothschild, among others. Both Pontet-Canet and Les Carmes Haut-Brion used kaolin to help avoid sun damage, which was inevitable at some estates. At Cheval Blanc, Pierre-Olivier Clouet explained how the water-soaked soils allowed them to avoid any sunburn – comparing it to how producers in the New World might irrigate before a forecast heat spike.

The dry, warm weather in August and September provided an Indian summer and perfect harvesting conditions, giving producers time to pick with little-to-no risk of disease. The harvests were the longest-ever at several estates (at Beauséjour and Pontet-Canet, for example, with it also the earliest start on record for the latter).

The first whites were picked from the 21st August, with the Semillon suffering a little more in the heat. On both Banks, producers started picking Merlot from around 4th September, with the harvest stretching to 10th October for the last Cabernet Sauvignon. As Jean-Charles Cazes of Lynch-Bages said, “We were not forced to hurry.” Damien Barton Sartorius remarked on how there seemed to be plateaus of ripeness in 2023, making for a stop-start harvest. Similarly, at Figeac, the team realised everything was ripening early, picking Merlot over 10 days from 6th September, then pausing for 12 days, before bringing in the two Cabernets.

Heavy rain was forecast for around 21st/22nd September, and some producers hurried to get fruit in before it, while others chose to wait – and felt it was key. Volumes and dates for this rain differed significantly across estates and communes; indeed, between just Duhart-Milon and Lafite-Rothschild (which are contiguous) there was a 20mm difference in rainfall in September. Although finer details range, one thing is consistent: the forecast was wrong and much less rain arrived (around 20mm according to most reports, rather than the 100mm expected), and several estates said it was the perfect amount to “refresh” the grapes after the heat, finish off phenolic maturity and add a “tenderness”. (Saint-Julien and Pauillac seemed to receive another shower of around 20-25mm between 12th and 17th September, and some producers on the Right Bank mentioned a similarly timed shower – as at Vieux Château Certan, Le Pin and Ausone.)

Ch. Duhart-Milon in Pauillac

The decision wasn’t clear-cut, however. At Pontet-Canet, Mathieu Bessonnet explained how it wasn’t the tannins but the aromatic ripeness that he felt they needed to wait for on the Cabernet Sauvignon; they held out and picked their Cabernet from 28th September to 10th October. Meanwhile, at Evangile, they picked most of their Cabernet Franc before the rain on the technical director’s suggestion – although Juliette Couderc held out on one plot, which in fact she found had lost its freshness and energy, and hasn’t made the final blend.

On both banks, producers noted having to do multiple passes – the homogeneity found at flowering not having carried through to the harvest date, as at Brane-Cantenac and in particular on La Conseillante’s sandy plots. At Ch. Margaux, the harvest was notably slow; with sun damage from earlier heatwaves, they wanted to ensure any dried or sunburnt grapes were removed before the fruit made it to the winery – meaning they could only cover five rather than the normal eight hectares a day, even with a team of 250 on hand.

For producers who have struggled with low yields over the past three vintages (losses of up to 40% in 2022, up to 50% in 2021 and up to 30% in 2020), the 2023 vintage was a blessing. It was “back to normal” as Jean-Sébastien Philippe of Domaines Barons de Rothschild said, with 43hl/ha at Lafite Rothschild and Duhart-Milon. For most estates, yields are the highest in a long time, often sitting between 40 and 50hl/ha – and it’s the first time newer wineries have been full (as at Léoville-Poyferré), with up to twice as much wine as last year. For many producers, the more generous yield is what has resulted in the wines’ “buvabilité” (or drinkability), as Nicolas Thienpont said at Larcis-Ducasse.

Not everywhere made such a generous crop, however. In Margaux, Marquis d’Alesme harvested a more modest 32hl/ha. They found the vines were struggling after the last three vintages and pruned back to two rather than three buds on many vines. At Mauvesin-Barton in Moulis-en-Médoc, the Bartons were attacked by frost, mildew and grape moth, while mildew – as previously mentioned – reduced yields significantly in Entre-Deux-Mers, Côtes de Castillon and other satellite appellations., especially those on gravelly soils.

How producers handled the 2023 vintage in the winery

When it came to winemaking in 2023, countless producers told us it was “easy”, shrugging their shoulders as if there was little more to be said. Without the extremes of previous years, perhaps, it wasn’t the focus – although there were certainly elements to be considered.

Looking across the vineyards to the winery at Ch. Latour

As has become increasingly common, producers used the ability to chill fruit once harvested – highlighted particularly by Pichon Baron, Haut-Bailly, La Conseillante, Figeac and Troplong Mondot. Although some argued little sorting was required, several producers emphasised its importance –with any botrytis and mildew, or sun damage, with scorched berries the main fear for the team at Latour. While some estates favour sorting by hand (as at Rauzan-Ségla), densimetric sorters – alongside optical sorters – are much more commonplace, and many estates now use both, as at Les Carmes Haut-Brion, where Guillaume Pouthier estimates they sorted out almost 10% of the crop. Given the quality of the fruit, Pouthier also reduced the proportion of whole-bunch fermentation this year, with 60% (down from 70% last year).

With the high yields, some estates felt saignée – bleeding off of the juice to further concentrate it – was essential. The Barton family bled off half their vats, while Brane-Cantenac bled off their Merlot only, and Ausone did saignée for practically everything. Clos de Sarpe had no such need, with their naturally low-yielding old vines, but argued that using saignée may concentrate must but it creates something unbalanced.

Cold soaks were common (as at Troplong Mondot, Figeac and others), but when it came to extraction, opinion was divided. Many commented on how quickly colour was released into the must, instantly developing a deep colour, and therefore chose to keep temperatures cooler, reduce the number of punch-downs/pump-overs (by as much as two thirds), and often cutting back vatting times too. There were others, however, who said that extraction was slow with the low alcohol levels, and the wines needed more time or more extraction – as with the Barton estates, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Latour, where they found the Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was hard to extract.

At Ch. l’Eglise-Clinet, Noëmie Durantou Reilhac had already pressed off their wines and had the pomace outside when some of her neighbours hadn’t yet harvested. There was a moment of doubt, but, as she told us, “You have to trust your gut, you know?”. And thank goodness she did – for her wines are stunning this year. While “infusion” has become a watchword in fine wine, Juliette Couderc at Evangile was quick to emphasise that extraction “is not a bad word”. She explained how fruit from gravel-dominant parcels needed careful handling this year, but on clay soils she could push the extraction a bit more, while similarly at Ch. Margaux, the team found some vats needed more work than others, with no discernible pattern.

Similarly, press wine was a point of conversation – as with last year. Lafite used more, while Pichon Comtesse and Mouton opted for less, for example, but there’s no pattern in relation to the end result.

The smart new cellar at Ch. Langoa-Barton

Whether a producer pulled back on extraction or not, excellent wines have been made in both ways – and, intriguingly, IPT levels (the Total Polyphenol Index – now a commonplace reference for phenolic compounds) are – much to most producers’ surprise – similar to 2022. When it comes to élevage, few producers seem to have changed much – Ch. Latour was the only producer we came across who had reduced the proportion of new oak, with 89% on the Grand Vin in 2023, and most plan to leave the wines in barrel for the same amount of time as normal.

What are the 2023 wines like?

The best 2023s are extremely impressive. The wines generally have very moderate alcohols, refreshing acidity levels and beautifully smooth, supple tannins. There’s concentration of fresh, ripe yet crunchy fruit, and a saline, earthy, minerality to them, that makes them feel classically Bordeaux. They can be effortless in their balance, which gives them great drinkability, even at this youthful stage – however every structural element is in place to allow the wines to evolve in bottle.

On the Left Bank, alcohols are largely around 13%, often with pHs that sit between 3.6-3.75 – classically structured wines that can vibrate with energy. The results here are a little more varied between appellations (and we’ll dive more into this in our breakdown by commune – published in the coming days) than on the Right Bank, but there is consistency in quality when you look to the top Growths.

Although on paper the year could seem like a Cabernet vintage, with Merlot’s susceptibility to mildew, the Right Bank seems to be singing this year – and especially Pomerol. Alcohol levels sit around 14% (very occasionally approaching 15%), and pHs vary significantly according to soil type – from 3.35pH on limestone (at Clos de Sarpe) to 3.82 (at Cheval Blanc). Despite these numbers, the wines show lovely consistency of freshness (which – as Noëmie Durantou Reilhac noted – is about much more than pH), integrated alcohols that rarely stand out, backed up by sufficient concentration and mouth-watering minerality. The best have delicate floral aromatics too.

Tasting in the cellar at Ch. Tertre Roteboeuf

At most properties, the blends reflect the proportions in the vineyard – although a handful of estates favoured Cabernet Sauvignon this year (with the highest-ever percentage at Rauzan-Ségla). Pontet-Canet included more Merlot, as did Figeac, finding the Cabernet Sauvignon overpowered the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Given the plentiful water in the growing season, a number of châteaux mentioned how young vines had excelled – with some third-leaf plantings making it into Grands Vins.

The results are not homogenous and at some estates the wines can feel disjointed – with sometimes austere tannins, a lack of concentration on the mid-palate but firm acidity. A handful felt hot and just occasionally the aromatics drift into the dried-fruit spectrum. This is more true on the Left Bank than the Right, and certainly the quality is largely synonymous with an estate’s reputation. It does mean advice is important – and our team is on hand to do so, while the many critic reports that have been rushed out alongside the early campaign will provide further sources of information.

As Jean-Sébastien Philippe of Domaines Barons de Rothschild said, there is “a smiley face” to the wines – an openness that is incredibly charming at this youthful stage. For Mathieu Bessonnet, the maturity of the Cabernet Sauvignon is something distinct to Bordeaux – and several other producers feel that the grape thrived in the vintage, as at Pichon Baron. At Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pouthier suggests it’s a pivotal vintage – the first where the consumer can truly decide whether to drink it after two years, or after 50. While on paper the wine has similar chemical analysis to 2022, it’s totally different – especially the tannin profile, something he attributes to the longer growing season.

A number of producers emphasised how each lot was representative of its exact site – the wines very terroir-driven. “When you have a certain classicism in climatic conditions, each place expresses its personality,” said Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Cheval Blanc, feeling that while 2022 might be a vintage that overrode the estate character, this year Cheval Blanc is “very Cheval Blanc”. That’s certainly true, and Lafleur, Laroque and Figeac all said the same thing: however, it doesn’t feel quite that simple. It is true for the best vignerons, but this wasn’t a year that didn’t require a wine-grower to take the steering wheel – it took direction to express site so purely. Each decision throughout the growing season, in particular, as well as the vinification, mattered. As Canon’s Jean-Basile Roland said, “It’s a very technical vintage.”

A new plot of Malbec at Ch. Berliquet

Undoubtedly, this makes it hard to compare to other vintages. A question undoubtedly dreaded by producers (“each year is unique” will inevitably be the start to any answer), it is one we reluctantly ask. On the Left Bank, producers tended toward a combination of 2016 and 2019 – combining the more classical profile of 2016 with the tannins of 2019, not having the latter’s warmer, sweeter profile.

On the Right Bank, responses were more varied. Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse (Beauséjour) said that the expression of terroir, elegance of the tannins, length, chalkiness and freshness reminded her of 2001, a vintage that was proposed by several others – with David Suire saying that even the growing conditions, with no extremes, were similar. Looking further back, Alexandre Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan) said that – although the growing season was like no other – the structure, traditional style and acidity reminded him of 1988, but with a modern purity and focus.

While on paper the vintage was as hot as 2018 or 2019, it doesn’t speak of that warmth, tempered by the more abundant rainfall. As Le Pin’s Jacques Thienpont said of the wines, there’s a balance, minerality, precision and drinkability that is “very Bordeaux” – there is fruit in the wines, but that’s not what they’re about. David Suire at Laroque perhaps put it most elegantly, “It’s not a vintage of superlatives, but one of great balance.” Much though we hate to say it, it really is both modern and classic – with wines that are well worth seeking out.

Bordeaux 2023: the vintage in brief

  • Generous yields and some outstanding quality

  • A warm wet spring brought disease pressure and demanded diligent farming, and reduced yields in some parts

  • A shift in weather in August brought warm, dry weather

  • Long harvest period throughout September and into early October, allowing producers to choose when to pick

  • Modest alcohols, bright acidities and fine, supple tannins

  • Stunning wines from the Right Bank, especially in Pomerol

  • Slightly less consistent results on the Left, but many superb performances

  • More classically styled wines with purity and precision, underlined by savoury minerality

    Extremely approachable in youth yet with great ageability

Keep an eye out for our breakdown of the vintage by commune in the coming days

Find out more about Bordeaux 2023 and browse the latest releases


Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe joined FINE+RARE in 2020. An MW student, she’s been short-listed for the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer Award twice, featured on and won the 2021 Guild of Food Writers Drinks Writing Award.