During the week before Easter Vinum’s Vice Chairman, Lindsay Hamilton, and I spent a couple of days in Bordeaux. We were lucky to visit some of the iconic names of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. It was the perfect opportunity to gather some early impressions of the 2022 vintage ahead of the main en primeur tastings at the end of this month.
We were tremendously impressed and found some genuinely thrilling wines.
For those who would prefer me to cut to the chase, and even with the caveat that we only visited very top estates, we were tremendously impressed with the 2022s we tasted and found some genuinely thrilling wines. There will be no shortage of wines to be very excited about in the 2022 Bordeaux en primeur campaign. The hype from the chateaux has been palpable for some time, setting off justifiable alarm bells amongst many.
What should make Bordeaux lovers sit up and take note? We returned satisfied that 2022 has more than enough underlying substance and quality to deliver.
On our first morning in Saint Emilion we awoke to the sounds of wind turbines and vineyards wreathed in smoke. Pre-dawn temperatures had dipped enough, -2c at the lowest, for frost defences to be triggered. It was not an acute weather event, but it was enough to bring most the people we would meet from their beds to their vines well before six in the morning.
What was interesting about this was that, despite their rude awakening and natural concern for the vine’s vulnerable young buds, everyone’s mood remained upbeat when the discussion turned to 2022. This was our first sign that 2022 might have more to offer than just the hot air of marketing puff. Worried and exhausted farmers rarely have time for meaningless hype.
But what was the 2022 Bordeaux vintage like?
I was in French vineyards several times in 2022 and my overwhelming memory is of sunshine and heat. This impression was confirmed by a number of the people we spoke to. 2022 was one of the driest and warmest vintages on record. This brings immediate, and maybe worrying, comparisons with thenotorious 2003 vintage.
Edouard Vauthier, at Chateau Ausone, made this very parallel. I asked him which vintage he might pour as a compare / contrast if he was showing his 2022 wine to friends and family, and 2003 was his reply. However, before you put your Amex back in your wallet and disavow the 2022s entirely there are two points to bear in mind:
Chateau Ausone is one of the very few truly exceptional 2003s and a genuinely spectacular wine.
Edouard is as interested in highlighting the contrasts between 2003 and 2022 as he is in considering the similarities.
In the 19 years separating the two years winemaking techniques, and objectives, have changed considerably. On paper, 2003 bears a passing similarity to 2022; in the glass, the wines are wildly different. I venture that, today, Edouard and Pauline would produce a very different wine from the 2003 their father made back in the day (as astonishing as that wine is!). Ausone 2003 is concentrated, muscular and powerful; 2022s privilege freshness, scent and balance, over weight.
Tasting Top Tier Pomerol: Lafleur and Le Pin.
Our friend Omri Ram, at Chateau Lafleur, grasped this apparent contradiction by the horns. “2022 is the vintage that finally puts paid to the numbers” he told us. Omri’s point is that you can no longer make accurate judgements about a vintage based on the vital statistics of the growing season’s temperatures, rainfall, sunshine hours, etc.
Analytically, 2022’s vital statistics of heat and drought resemble those of 2003. However, you would struggle to identify those conditions from the vivid and expressive wines that have been produced.
I repeated my question from Ausone and asked Omri and his colleague Ralitsa which vintages they might pour alongside 2022 to help illustrate and explain the new wine. They were characteristically reluctant to make direct comparisons. However, Omri eventually settled on 1961 and 2010 as years that had similarly extreme conditions while producing exceptional quality. He also also highlight the results of today’s high precision farming and more intimate understanding of the Lafleur vineyard.
Tasting the range of Guinaudeau 2022s the brooding depth and intensity of Lafleur is extraordinary. It is also a resolutely backward and tightly coiled wine that is hard to understand at this very primal stage. Much easier to ‘get’ are the strikingly lifted and floral Grand Village and a Les Perrieres of the most phenomenal, reverberating energy and length.
The freshness and drive of these wines defies expectations of the vintage. 2022 Bordeaux en primeur shows that judging wine on the numbers is indeed dead!
In addition to our visits at Chateaux Ausone and Lafleur we tasted at Chateau Pavie Macquin, the trio of Jacques Thienpont properties – Le Pin, L’If and L’Hetre – and Pomerol’s Clos du Clocher.
At Le Pin, Diana Berrouet-Garcia and Guillaume Thienpont took us through some of the lots destined for the final blend. Some showed the characteristic flamboyance and Burgundian scent of Le Pin, others were bringing bass notes and structure.
Guillaume spoke about the resilience of the vines to the vintage conditions of 2022. He too dismisses stylistic comparisons to 2003, when no Le Pin was bottled. and instead believes the new vintage sits between the richness of 2009 and the structure of 2020.
We repeated the barrel tasting at L’Hetre, where Diana and winemaker Maxime Thienpont guided us around the stunning hilltop property in Castillon. L’Hetre is offered only in bottle, not en primeur, but this is clearly an estate to keep your eye on!
Our tour concluded at L’If, just next door to new superstar Chateau Troplong Mondot. Here we tasted the 2022 blending components with Diana and Cyrille Thienpont, before finishing with a sample of the final blend. L’If 2022 is a knock-out of perfume and mineral complexity from its limestone terroir. For me, it feels as though the property has come of age with this vintage.
Clos du Clocher – An Early Inside Tip.
At Clos du Clocher, proprietor Jean-Baptiste Bourotte showed us his well-situated vineyards – surrounding plots of Chateau Trotanoy – before leading us through his family’s 2022 wines. For Jean-Baptiste 2022 represents something of a combination of 2019’s lush fruit and 2020’s structure. His wines demonstrated it is not just at the exalted levels of Lafleur and Le Pin that have plenty to offer. Chateau Bonalgue is a modestly priced Pomerol that brims with floral promise in 2022. Clos du Clocher is more serious and the family’s flagship. It’s excellent, yet not a Pomerol you need to sell your firstborn to afford. The truffle and berry scented 2022 will be a wine to watch out for en primeur. I rated it an impressive 94-96pts.
2022 Bordeaux: Early Conclusions.
It’s very early days but our quick visit has left me very optimistic about 2022. My appetite for the new vintage has been well and truly whetted. I’m excited to return later this month and taste in more detail. I’ll report back prior to the 2022 Bordeaux en primeur releases with updates and insights.
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