The cellars of Chateau Montrose house one of the great 2022s.
Having spent a week immersed in 2022 barrel samples, during our second trip to taste the vintage, the Vinum team is convinced that last year produced a number of red Bordeaux that will sit alongside the all-time greats.
As a vintage, 2022 is a paradox:
Largely due to its inconsistency 2022 is a complicated year that requires some careful navigation. The purpose of this report is to present our thoughts on the style and quality of the vintage, and to identify some of the highlights you might want to look out for during the coming en primeur season.
The iconic approach to Chateau Margaux.
Haters gonna hate…
The best red wines of 2022 have a seamless texture, concentration of exuberant fruit, inner richness and lifted freshness that makes them easy to love and a joy to taste. As such, there will always be self-proclaimed ‘purists’ who will sneer at the vintage.
“2022 is too ripe, too forward, too soft, too alcoholic, too rich, too California…” You get the idea. Most of this will probably be said by people who have never tasted a drop of these wines and most of it was said about 1982 and 1990. Doubtless it will be said about future vintages too – and it will be just as wrong then as it was with 1990 and it is with 2022. Haters gonna hate!
2022 is not consistent and there are wines that carry the heat of unbalanced alcohol or are blunted by too much extraction and insufficient acidity but there are also examples of Bordeaux expressed with stunning clarity, precision, harmony and finesse.
Oh yes, they also deliver huge amounts of pleasure and have enormous cellaring potential.
One of our highlights of our tastings.
To paraphrase Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur, 2022 is the vintage that finally puts the numbers to the sword. He meant that you can no longer judge a vintage based on its vital statistics but, perhaps, looking at some of the numbers might help unpick the mystery of 2022.
At Cheval Blanc, commercial director Arnaud de Laforcade told us that the pH of his wine is so high there was concern amongst the technical team about its balance. However the wine is one of the highpoints of the vintage, with exquisite poise and finesse.
pH measures the intensity of acidity and the higher the value, the lower the acidity. Chateau Palmer 2022 has a relatively high pH of 3.79 and alcohol of 14.4% yet it tastes compact, fresh and elegant. The fruit expression is red rather than black and it has superb definition and drive on the finish. The numbers do not suggest this.
To provide a contrast, Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion weighs in at 13.5% alcohol and a pH of 3.64 (it is a logarithmic scale so apparently small value differences are significant), and this is from an urban vineyard that should be warmer and therefore produce riper fruit. Led by 40% Cabernet Franc, the style is in total contrast with Palmer’s 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, yet the two share finesse, brightness of fruit and a sculpted quality to the tannin – despite their contrasting vital statistics.
In essence, 2022 threw up challenges for vines, farmers and winemakers.
The extreme heat and drought placed vineyards under significant stress. Those with older vines, superior terroir and forward-looking farming practices, adapted to climate change, were best placed to succeed.
Harvest dates were more crucial than ever in 2022 and it was important to pick the perfect moment and swoop! Those small enough to be able to pick everything themselves very quickly, those rich enough to employ large picking teams, those who know their vineyards most intimately, and those who were simply lucky, managed this best.
Precision is a new buzzword in Bordeaux and those with facilities allowing them to harvest plot A, whilst leaving neighbouring plot B to achieve that final degree of ripeness were rewarded. In the past wineries might have needed to fill large fermentation vats to the top and were unable to vinify precisely, plot by plot. Today, most new chais are equipped with smaller tanks to allow this precision in picking and fermentation.
In the winery, a delicate hand was needed. The 2022 conditions delivered small, thick-skinned berries which had the potential for enormous tannins. Old school extraction to the max, to please certain critics, would have resulted in ugly, coarse and monolithic wines. Luckily, many winemakers have learned from the hard and leathery 2003s and gained more recent experience of hot vintages in 2015, 18, 19 and 20. Employing a much more delicate and considered approach, punch-downs and pump-overs were reduced and fruit was allowed to express itself without being forced or over-worked.
The story of 2022 is much more than these few elements. For a fuller, more detailed picture I encourage you to read William Kelley’s report on robertparker.com. However, I do hope these examples start to unravel some of the questions posed by this vintage; I hope they explain some of the inconsistencies of quality and style, show how some estates have hit such heights, and suggest why there was no single pathway to success.
Every occasion, every mealtime covered.
Have we ever headlined a vintage report with Saint Emilion before? What was once the most disappointing of Bordeaux’s major regions has become the most exciting and dynamic. It is a gross over-simplification, and has taken several years, but it feels as though producers have come, blinking, out of their cellars and re-discovered the vines and terroir that had been labouring beneath all that oak and winemaking!
Of course Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Canon, Figeac, Ausone and others have been making terrific wine for a long time, and my comment is unfair to them, but now they have been joined by others including Beausejour Duffau, Troplong Mondot, Pavie Macquin and many others. In 2022, each and all of these wines merits a place in the finest of cellars.
Saint Emilion’s famous limestone was key to success in 2022. Rocky soil forces vines to grow strong, deep roots that delve for water. Limestone also retains moisture, sustaining vines through the hydric stress of drought conditions.
Chateau Cheval Blanc leads the pack this year (97-99pts from me). It is noteworthy that no Petit Cheval has been produced as the quality of all but two blocks of vines justified inclusion in the grand vin. Against a backdrop of chateaux proud to bottle so little of their first wine, because of “draconian selection”, it is a bold statement not to produce a second wine!
Saint Emilion presents an embarrassment of riches in 2022 but I would mention a brilliant Chateau Belair Monange (95-97pts) from the Moueix family and a gorgeous L’If (93-96pts) made by Jacques Thienpont’s nephew Cyrille. Both share a limestone-derived minerality and tension that defines many of the best examples this year.
Chateaux La Gaffeliere, Moulin Saint Georges and Puyblanquet are all superb choices at more modest price points.
La Conseillante is a triumph in 2022.
In entirely different styles, Chateaux Lafleur, La Conseillante and Le Pin each made extraordinary 2022s. Lafleur (95-98pts) is a brooding and introspective monster of a wine with searing minerality. La Conseillante (96-98pts) is floral, scented, pure and elegant. I was sure I had under-scored Le Pin (94-96pts) from the moment I stepped out of the door, but I loved its luxuriant, seductive textures and distinctive aromatic profile. Le Pin won’t lack huge scores from the critics!
Pomerol’s consistent success owes a lot to its compact size, homogenous terroir (compared to Saint Emilion) and the concentration of high quality, small scale domaines. Most of the usual suspects – VCC, Trotanoy, etc – have made the 2022s you would expect and hope for. Chateau Gazin (94-96pts) has continued is run of form and is so much more silky and polished than the rustic Pomerols of old, plus you do not have to mortgage your kids to afford a case.
Wines that might not immediately leap out, but which merit a closer look, include Chateaux Nenin, Certan de May, Seraphine and Clos du Clocher.
Nenin is a wine, from the Delon family of Leoville Las Cases, that has never spoken to me at tastings. The 2022 (91-93pts) was sumptuous, velvety and rich, and really made me sit up and take note.
Chateau Certan de May has been a struggle to love for some time, despite a splendid terroir. There have been signs of an upswing in quality for a few years, since former Petrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet became the consultant, but the 2022 sets a new benchmark. Mineral, fragrant and pure, with lots of Cabernet Franc character (94-96pts), I hope they are starting to reclaim the glories of wines like their 1982.
Chateau Seraphine (92-94pts) delivers a bold and concentrated style of Pomerol with dark-toned fruit and plenty of muscle. What is impressive is how it finishes with fresh plums and lift, suggesting it might exceed the upper limit of my score.
Clos du Clocher 2022 (94-96pts) is fragrant and truffle-scented. The tannin profile is not a million miles from that of Chateau Trotanoy, which is praise about as high as I can give. I remember, about a decade ago, Neal Martin suggesting that Clocher was on a similar upward trajectory to that of Pontet Canet from 2000-2009 and it was a pleasure to reacquaint myself with the wine this year.
Saint Estephe’s most famous facade.
The Saint Estephe clay, from which the wines derive their tannic personalities, should have been an advantage in 2022, both holding precious water and providing a cooling influence for the plants. We did not taste extensively in the commune this year but did tick off one of the outstanding wines of the vintage at Chateau Montrose.
I am confident that Dame de Montrose 2022 is at the level of vintages of Chateau Montrose from 15-20 years ago, excluding the obvious big guns. Crisp and detailed, there is a lovely sense of harmony in this wine – what I call a sense of light and shade – that is just beguiling (92-94pts).
The grand vin takes it up a notch and I rated it 94-96pts. Whilst I love its purity, for me the 2022 misses the driving minerality of the greatest Chateau Montrose vintages, but only by a whisker. This is still very much in the forefront of the super second growths and I anticipate some huge scores from the critics.
Tasting at Pichon Lalande.
As one would expect, there is a crescendo of quality here, reaching its zenith with my two wines of the vintage: Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild and Latour, both with 98-100pts. Two extracts from my tasting notes:
The poise, composure and equilibrium is spell-binding
– Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
Builds and drives through the mid-palate…Very finely sculpted blackcurrant fruit and a paradigm of Pauillac tension and depth
– Chateau Latour
Just a nose behind its peers, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild also put in an extremely strong performance (97-98ps) and I loved its texture and signature flamboyant fruit. Numbers geeks might want to note the very high pH of 3.89 but there was huge energy through the mid-palate – this is another wine that confounds its statistics.
Beyond the 1st growths there are Pauillac 2022s to suit different occasions and budgets.
Christian Seely has overseen a magnificent Pichon Baron (96-98pts) that cements the chateau’s status as a challenger to the 1st growths. It is a wine that takes time in the glass to reveal itself, and will need a long sleep in the cellar to hit its stride, but it will be absolutely worth the wait. Sibling property Chateau Pibran may well prove to be one of the bargains of the campaign: its sweet, silky tannins and fleshy fruit are already dangerously charming (91-93pts).
My scores for Chateaux Duhart-Milon and Grand Puy Lacoste were identical: 94-96pts. Both wines also had characteristics that reminded me of Lafite. The parallel is not unusual for Rothschild property Duhart-Milon, where I saw the resemblance in the wine’s classical elegance and restraint. With Grand Puy Lacoste it was the cedary sweetness of fruit and sense of harmony that reminded me of Lafite. It was a wine that felt totally effortless and at ease with itself.
The gardens at Ducru Beaucaillou – clearly 2022 enjoyed rather sunnier weather!
As usual, Saint Julien will provide Bordeaux lovers with a rich hunting ground for quality and value in 2022.
Writing these reports, I always begin with the standout wines and work downwards. To change things up, in 2022 I would consider filling my boots with Chateaux Gloria (90-93pts) and Langoa Barton (92-94pts). Neither is expensive, both are habitually overlooked in favour of more glamorous estates and both consistently impress when in bottle.
Chateau Gloria 2022 is brambly, fresh and sappy; Langoa Barton is fragrant, lifted and supple. I think it might be time to stop being surprised when these two exceed expectations further down the line and start buying them en primeur. It would be well worth considering them in larger formats.
Chateau Branaire Ducru continues to be the dark horse of Saint Julien. The 2022 is lithe and fragrant, with wonderful acidity (92-93pts), and is worth a close look.
From the commune’s most famous names, I enjoyed Chateaux Leoville Barton, Leoville Las Cases and Ducru Beaucaillou.
2022 Leoville Barton (93-95pts) felt like quite a departure from the usual style of the chateau, playing more to elegance than muscle and with the piling tannins of some vintages tamed to something finer-grained and creamy.
In a similar fashion, Chateau Leoville Las Cases (93-95pts) was fragrant and scented, with classic notes of cedar and tobacco and none of the austerity I have occasionally struggled with in the past. The property’s literature joked that the 2022 reminds them of the 1870 vintage!
Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou was typically glossy and stylish. At first, the sample was quite marked by its 100% new French oak but, with air, masses of plush and fleshy fruit emerged to balance everything out. This is one of the bigger and more powerful wines of the Medoc in 2022 but it finishes fresh and resolved, with a saline minerality (94-96pts).
Two typically gorgeous wines from Chateau Palmer.
On paper Margaux should have struggled in 2022, with its free-draining gravel soils providing poor water retention as well as storing and reflecting heat. In the glass, as you might be coming to expect from the vintage, there were some special wines to be discovered.
I have already written about Chateau Palmer’s poise and definition (95-97pts). This was my wine of the commune, out-performing its 1st growth neighbour. There is also an excellent Alter Ego that is full-bodied but without carrying any excess weight (91-93pts). It is seductive and fragrant with a heady, spice-laden finish.
Equalling Palmer’s score, but in a style much more filigree and delicate, Chateau Brane Cantenac 2022 is a wine that went straight onto my personal shopping list. Pixellated in its detail and fine-spun in its tannin, this is archetypal Margaux (95-97pts).
Les Carmes Haut Brion is now one of Bordeaux’s finest and most distinctive wines.
In addition to the challenges of heat and drought, the vineyards of Pessac suffered frost in early April. In an era of global warming, and a region warmed by its proximity to the city, frost may seem an unlikely challenge. The issue is that a warming climate is encouraging an advanced growth cycle in the vines, leaving them vulnerable when temperatures drop and bring frost on colder nights.
The two wines that shone brightest for me amongst Pessac Leognan’s 2022s were Chateaux Les Carmes Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. Carmes Haut Brion’s distinctive winemaking, with 40% Cabernet Franc and 70% wholebunch fermentation delivering a heady combination of perfume, spice and aromatic lift (94-96pts). The two wines are almost polar opposites: La Mission expressing brooding depth and soaring black fruit sheathed in cashmere tannins (96-98+pts).
Elsewhere in the region, Chateau Haut Bailly 2022 opens as a wine of focused tension before transitioning to a mid-palate of floral perfume and elegance (92-95pts). The marked structure of Haut Bailly is beautifully buffered by the flesh and richness of the 2022 vintage. With 92-95pts I gave Domaine de Chevalier rouge exactly the same score for its filigree tannins and scent. In a vintage that can tend towards density and mass, I was very impressed by the delicacy and precision Olivier Bernard and his team have achieved with this wine.
Faced with a red Bordeaux vintage of concentration, richness and occasionally outstanding quality, Vinum might be out on a limb in not describing 2022 as exceptional. A truly exceptional year for Bordeaux is something very special, where producers are able to excel at all quality levels and in all appellations. 2022 simply does not have the consistency of quality demonstrated by the likes of 2016 or 2019. However, 2022 is a vintage blessed with numerous individual wines of exceptional quality.
From Pessac to Pauillac to Pomerol, and beyond, there are wines likely to achieve legendary status in the years to come. I am going to enjoy following their progress and am confident that you will too.