2023 Bordeaux En Primeur

'A Return to Classicism' - Fresh Wines with Great Drinkability

Before we set off for Bordeaux, the rumour mill was already going full pelt. Faced with higher interest rates and stodgy market conditions, banks in Bordeaux are disinclined to extend credit to either Châteaux or to the Bordeaux trade. So there's a bit more of a need for this year's en primeur campaign to 'work' - which means it must sell all the way through to you, the consumer. Good news, therefore, it's a buyer's market.

The Wines

As we tasted it was clear that this was the opposite of 2022, where you had to be unlucky or clumsy to mess things up – in 2023 great winemakers with top sites have made some wonderful wines. We found wines with a wonderful sense of place - wines that relay their terroirs perfectly – there is a transparency, a fresh purity that was a real joy to taste. Where full ripeness was achieved and gentle, thoughtful work went on in the cellar, we found wines that you just want to drink. With lower alcohol and wonderfully fresh zip, they make your mouth water and are deeply satisfying. The best 2023s manage to dance a fine line between joyous concentration and bright, lifted aromatics, with superbly fine tannins that seem barely there.

Heavy-handed work in the cellar, with too much new wood or too much extraction has stilted some wines – but canny operators have nurtured bright, detailed wines with real energy, and it will be thrilling to see how they evolve.

‘A return to Classicism’ is how Alexandre Thienpont described the 2023 vintage as we tasted together at Vieux Château Certan – he has certainly made fresh, precise and yet charming wine here in Pomerol. And this bright freshness and energy, allied with a gentle weight of pure fruit is something we found throughout the week.

The Season

Having kept abreast of the tricky season via our contacts, we knew that the Bordelais had experienced an intensely complicated year. They had more rain in 2023 than they have seen for more than a 25 years and this wetness was paired with a warm growing season - hotter on average than even 2018 - and in the same time-period only beaten by 2022. However, focusing on the average temperature can be misleading, in that while it was consistently warm, it was rarely ‘hot’. There was also less sunshine – so the resulting wines are not obviously the fruit of a hot year. Far from it – in fact achieving full ripeness seemed like a hopeless dream when inspecting the vines at the end of July. A burst of heat for the final fortnight in August bought things back on track – then a warm and mostly dry September and October allowed the fruit to ripen gently and completely if the yields were kept in check. Matthieu Bordes at Château Lagrange was keen to point out that the conditions in September and October can often ‘save’ a vintage – but that in 2023 it was these final weeks of the season that really ‘made’ the vintage. His wines this year are a remarkable success.

Harvesting was done in ideal conditions, with plenty of time for plot by plot picking and several runs through the vineyards to ensure each bunch was picked with optimum ripeness. Merlot came in over a three-week spell before the rain on the 20th of September, the Cabernets were then brought in the following week and into early October.

It’s clear that on paper this was far from an ideal growing season for vignerons - and in great contrast to the easy time they had in 2022. Yet Bordeaux’s winemakers are resourceful and have the tools and experience to take on the challenges presented. The quantity of rain that fell throughout the year caused some problems with disease most notably - and sometimes catastrophically - with mildew, but it also presented another issue - that of dilution to the juice. Many bunches of plump grapes are great for yields - but not helpful when you want concentration, detail or identity in your wine. This meant that in June winemakers set about a radical crop-thinning program, 'green-harvesting' bunches from every vine to allow the plant to concentrate its efforts on the remaining bunches. Jean-Michel Laporte from Château Talbot explained that he 'dropped' the equivalent of more than 20 HL/HA which is enormous, but this was necessary to reach his target yield of between 52-54 HL/HA. The resulting wine is super, with good concentration but also that tell-tale lift and complex detail we found in the successful 2023s.

A Mixed Bag, But With Some Real Successes

Not surprisingly we found very mixed results. This is undoubtedly a vintage in which, as Christian Seely of Château Pichon Baron put it: ‘the great terroirs have produced some great wines’ (and he certainly has made exceptional wine this year). It is also true that the Châteaux on the great terroirs often have great resources, and this was really what was required to make the best of the opportunities.

Repeatedly, we were told how technical teams across Bordeaux have grown adept at coping with mildew, so it was not a great issue. However, having the nous is one thing, but the real trick to coping is to act fast, and this costs money as you need people, tools and tractors. 2023 was a ‘millésime des riches” (a rich person’s vintage) we were told by the team at Château Nénin. This was backed up as we tasted our way across the region. Margaux is the appellation that suffered most viciously from the onslaught of mildew this year with the lowest average yields of the Médoc at 35 HL/HA on average (as opposed to almost 50 in Saint Julien and about 45 in Pauillac). However, at Palmer they pulled in a healthy yield, of super quality - 32 hl/ha as opposed to last year’s 21 hl/ha. They explained '...with a large team and our new tractor shed we were able to be really rapid in responding to any mildew episodes, with our new equipment we’re now able to treat every vine on the estate within five and a half hours.'


Quality is one thing and there are certainly some winning wines, but the other big question, as always, is price. This year, more than ever, Bordeaux must recalibrate. The global market has slowed, interest rates have gone up, and the banks are reluctant to offer new lines of credit to either the Châteaux or to the Bordeaux trade. The latter are gently pushing back and not committing to buy everything they are offered. Word on the ‘quais’ in downtown Bordeaux is that there will be a firmer stance held. If the price is wrong and you, the final customers, do not buy - then the négociants will not buy either. This has put the onus back on the châteaux to make this vintage an appealing prospect for buyers. With good volumes in 2023, they are eager to sell and so we hope that they get it right as there are some wonderful wines that will be great additions to any cellar.

What was surprising and very encouraging - was that this year pricing was no longer the elephant in the room. Bordeaux château owners were very willing to talk (in general terms) about the need to act dramatically on pricing this year. We were told that reductions from last year’s release prices will be in the range of 20% to 40%. Which is encouraging to hear, and with Château Lafite’s Saskia de Rothschild agreeing to lead the charge with an early release, we are hopeful that a great level will be set for others to follow. There certainly seems an eagerness to get things done, and we look forward to releases starting this Monday, the 29th of April with Château Batailley, and Château Lafite following later in the week on Thursday the 2nd of May.

As ever, as the wines are released Jack and his team will keep you up to date with all the latest news and our honest appraisal of each one, recommending those that have got it right - both the wine itself and the pricing.

A bientôt,

David Porter, Bordeaux Buyer

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Pricing & Availability

All prices are quoted in bond by the case size stated. Some wines are highly sought after so we give priority to previous buyers and those who have pre-ordered. If you don't want to miss out, it's best to get your wishlist order form to us as soon as possible. You can order any wine in any format offered by the Château, and this is a great opportunity to stock up with elusive halves, magnums and larger sizes. Just make it clear which you want in which format when ordering.