“No-one has ever known a vintage like 2022,” said Eric Boissenot when I interviewed him this May. “I was worried about waking a sleeping monster when I was tasting the grapes before harvesting,” commented the discreet, highly talented winemaking consultant who has continued in the legendary footsteps of his father Jacques, consulting to nearly all the big names in the Left Bank.
It is indeed a surprising vintage. After the coldest winter of the decade, Bordeaux saw frost (April 3rd and 4th), hail (June 20th and 30th), and the hottest summer since 2003 combined with hydric stress, and bushfires (July 12th and August 14th).
Yet the resulting wines are astonishingly fresh. Perhaps the fact that acidity is produced during fermentation helps to partly explain this.
In addition, in terms of sensory perception, freshness does not necessarily come from high acidity and low pH. It’s like eating any fruit, the peak of freshness is when one bites into it immediately after it has been picked at optimum ripeness. Before grapes are ripe, the acidity is higher but the freshness may not be fully present. On the other hand, when grapes are overripe, the overall pleasure decreases.
The 2022 wines are not just surprisingly fresh. Many are surprisingly magnificent. It is perhaps another vintage of the century, as so frequently claimed by the bordelais in previous years that one has almost become immune. Regardless of how sarcastic it may sound, I am inclined to agree that the best wines – and happily there are many – are indeed showing the character and quality of some of the finest I have ever tasted, surpassing themselves. It should also be pointed out that quite a number of samples under performed, due to over extraction, or lack of body, or lack of balance in other ways.
(Note: I have limited tasting experience of Bordeaux vintages prior to 2000, lacking the vertical and horizontal tastings to have a sufficiently broad database.)
What might have saved this vintage?
There is perhaps an explanation. Bud burst for this vintage started on March 24th. Frost (April 3rd and 4th) had moderate impact and the damage was localized. By contrast, in 2021, bud burst began a lot earlier and thus more damage was sustained. After this, the season continued with relatively homogeneous flowering (it began on May 16th, 10 days earlier than the average of the last decade, according to Derenoncourt Consultants), and fruit set. Pollination happened smoothly, followed by even ripening. Hydric stress built up slowly, allowing the vines to adapt to nature gradually until véraison. Consulting winemakers (Boissenot, Derenoncourt, Duclos, Rolland, Thunevin) commented that little growth blockage was observed.
“Only young vines under 10 years old may have suffered but it also depends on where they are situated, and also the type of rootstocks they have. Generally speaking, young vines from soil types like sand, or with less vigorous rootstock, suffer more from hydric stress,” said Julien Viaud of Laboratoire Rollands & Associés.
Julien Viaud of Rolland Laboratoire & Associés
Phenolic and sugar ripeness developed regularly up until harvest, when the weather was perfect: dry, with medium-warm temperatures and marginal difference between day and night. “Sugar ripeness came before though. We could have harvested in August if we just read the potential alcohol. But we had to wait for the phenolic ripeness to be present,” said Julien Viaud.
But just how the vines managed to perform so extremely well under this high level of draught and heat remains something of a mystery.
Could accumulated epigenetic modifications be part of the explanation? Perhaps the vines have adapted to the increasingly constant heat and hydric stress. A good lesson was learned in 2003, followed by more practice in the more recent warm, dry vintages of 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Naturally, the vines might instinctively protect themselves when there was little choice. Or perhaps plentiful rain filled the water table in the humid year that was 2021?
When tasting at Vieux Château Certan, winemaker Guillaume Thienpont (he prefers to be known as a vigneron) showed me a map of his vineyards’ hydric state before harvest 2022. His data concluded that the vines resisted even better in 2022 than in 2020, for example.
Nature is indeed fascinating, and full of surprises.
From the vines to the barrel:
a chronological flashback
If one only looks at the figures in the technical report, the 2022 vintage appears mixed with some highs as well as some lows:
- High pH value
- High Total Polyphenol Index (TPI)
- High in anthocyanin
- High alcohol content
- Harvested grapes have low acidity level, especially in malic acid
- Grapes have small berries, resulting in lower yields (Note: the yield in Saint-Émilion is not low, it is even higher by 10.7% when compared to the average of the last 10 years)
An interpretation of the above points to the critical aspects of the vintage: extraction, and balancing with the other components of the wine. The extraction needs to be sufficient to support the alcohol while not overloading the wine. Key factors include:
Harvest this year was advanced for the majority of wineries. For those who has worked carefully after intentionally waiting, the results can be surprisingly impressive. Château Durfort Vivens for example, harvested in two stages (from September 1st to September 15th and from September 19th October 12th). The resulting wine was like a deep-toned cello, with velvety texture, great tension and brilliance. However, poor samples show a lack of energy and vibrancy, due to being harvested too late.
Château Durfort Vivens and other wines from family of Gonzague and Claire Lurton
Once picked, grapes went through different schools of vinification. Regardless of whether the fruit undergoes cold maceration or post-fermentation maceration, or press wine is used, great wines are made by those who have successfully established a holistic point of view throughout the winemaking process.
Consultant Thomas Duclos is a big fan of cold maceration. In 2022, many of his clients’ grapes went through 3-15 days of cold maceration at 5 – 8°C. He believes that working this way brings the fruitiness and an expression of energy out of the grapes. At Troplong Mondot, the fruit had undergone 10-15 days of cold maceration which made it highly expressive in its fruitiness but also very well structured, lean and juicy with a superb tannin profile. Julien Viaud also echoed this approach, stating that cold maceration helps to fix the colour and obtain attractive fruity aromas.
Thomas Duclos, an uprising name among the young generation consultants
However, Eric Boissenot considers cold maceration undesirable as he finds it gives the tannins a notion of hardness, and thus he always avoids this approach. This is consistent with his preference to achieve a rounded texture, to envelop the wine (“enrober” in French) and thus give the wines a smooth mouthfeel. He only uses a cold chamber to gently settle the temperature if the harvest is too warm.
However, both schools of thought have produced outstanding examples. My observation is that cold maceration can result in greater fruitiness and floral notes. It introduces immediate accessibility, making the wine more enjoyable in its youth. After ageing, this floral fruitiness will gradually fade. On the finish, the wines don’t necessarily have what the French call “gras” – a mouth filling roundness – to envelop the tannins and give a gentle caviar-like finish. Instead, the wine has a crunchier, racy style – rather like the difference between AC/DC and Pink Floyd.
All the consultants I interviewed mentioned that very little acidification was done. This was a firm “no” from two consultants (Duclos and Boissenot), and in other cases it was only used very sparingly for specific cases where the pH was too high and volatile acidity risked exposing the stability of the wine. However, acidification was not used for this vintage for the grands vins, as previous experience shows that it stresses the wines.
Usage of yeast
For traditional Bordeaux wineries, using commercial yeasts is not uncommon. Fermentation with no added sulphur dioxide is also trialled in estates working at the cutting edge, with a specific style. To reduce risks of contamination, special strains of yeasts that can quickly replicate without affecting the flavours are introduced. However, biodynamic-certified winemaking need to use indigenous yeast (note: exemption can be applied case by case), and successful samples are often more complex, more vibrant and layered in their flavours. These include Clos Puy Arnaud (Grand Vin), which I have always loved, and Château Jean Faux, which has performed consistently very well in recent years.
Alcoholic fermentation and extraction
Fermentation temperatures for the fine wine category in Bordeaux are generally standardized at 25-30 °C. For vintages like 2022, those looking for lower extraction would go for a range of 25-28 °C.
What makes the biggest difference at this stage is more determined by the method and frequency of cap contact, the length of time that the juice stays with the cap, in readiness for post-fermentation (if that follows, and under what conditions). A myriad of combinations of choices have been observed, but the key is to gain sufficient substance to age (for those wines that are age-worthy) yet not over-extract the drying components. Obtaining this balance is a delicate task.
It is no surprise that gentle extraction was the focus in 2022.
Post-fermentation maceration and press wine
Post-fermentation maceration is widely proposed by Boissenot. Coherent with his avoidance of cold maceration, in his opinion this stage helps to structure the wine and give it the aspect of gras mentioned above, along with the vin de presse step. He suggests about 15 days on the skins before écoulage (ie. draining the tank).
Tasting reds with Mr. Philippe Blanc, Director of Château Beychevelle
A majority of wineries used higher percentages of press wines than in other vintages, simply because the grapes were smaller grapes, with a higher proportion of juices contained in the skins; gentle extraction helped bring out the more interesting flavours and aromatics found in the skins. “We added press wine a lot earlier in 2022, in winter, right after the malolactic fermentation finished, instead of waiting for spring, which is more commonly done. As the result, the press wine has more substance and thus will benefit from earlier integration and thus, longer ageing”, Julien Viaud added.
Some estates didn’t use any press wine: examples include wines made by Guillaume Thienpont at Le Pin, and Vieux Château Certan. “They were good as they were, there was no need to add more press wine”, when asked the reason behind, “I have no scientific theory about it. It’s just how I tasted the wine and made the decision,” said Guillaume. The same was true at Château Cheval Blanc , where the wine was pressed directly after alcoholic fermentation finished, and none the of press wines were used in the final blend.
Pierre Olivier Clouet – Technical Director of Château Cheval Blanc
An alternative approach is to use whole bunches or add additional stems during fermentation: although an increasing number of wineries have begun to experiment with this, overall adoption of the technique is still quite low for Bordeaux. Duclos only applies to Malbec. While the Derenoncourt consulting team is at the forefront of whole-bunch fermentation and strongly championed it in 2022, mostly for Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This is in line with their advocacy of organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. By avoiding the use of commercial yeast, they focus on using other methods to provide aromatic and structural complexity, and to add freshness in a vintage like 2022. However, this technique requires a certain level of hands-on experience to be successful, otherwise it can be simply irrelevant and even a failure.
Regarding the use of oak, the recent trend indicates that increasingly, wineries are moving away from heavily toasted barrels. In the 2022 en primeur tasting, there were more wines with clear floral and fruity notes than in previous years. Whether delicate and elegant or rich and luscious, all the wines are fascinating to enjoy. However, it is worth pointing out that oak usage can be necessary for certain wines; as the Chinese saying goes, we shall “never stop eating because we may choke.”
How great is this great vintage?
Three years ago, Michel Rolland told me “Great terroir produces the greatest wines in the best vintages,” and during my sampling this year this idea truly resonated with me.
Michel Rolland at his lab
In order to demonstrate the greatness of 2022, many wine archaeologists compare it with historical vintages such as 1945, 1947, 1961 and 1982, and as I am a research addict, I did not sit idle. Thomas Duclos lent me a copy of Maturation et Maturité des Raisins by Jacques Blouin and Guy Guimberteau, which contains the weather statistics from 1924 to 1997. Amongst the data recorded, two important indicators are seasonal rainfall (April 1st to September 30th) and days over 30°C in each year.
1947: rainfall 259mm, 42 days over 30°C
1949: rainfall 286mm, 43 days over 30°C
1961: rainfall 213 mm, 27 days over 30°C
1982: rainfall 289mm, 18 days over 30°C
2022: rainfall 275mm, 44 days over 30°C
Judging from these two indicators alone, 2002 is very similar to 1947 and 1949, but, times have changed and winemaking techniques are very different now. After all, even Michel Rolland, who was born in December 1947, has remarked “I didn’t taste the en primeur wines of 1947…”
The obsessions with finding similar years in the past is a little like comparing one’s former partners. No matter how rigorous the logic is, the results cannot be taken seriously.
My overall impressions
In my humble opinion, the best performing sub-appellation of the Left Bank is Saint-Julien. The average quality of the wines is quite high and the wines are highly accessible, smooth and beautifully textured. My favourite from the Right Bank is Saint-Émilion. Most of the wines show firm and solid structure, and a savoy note that brightens the finish.
The qualities of the wines from Margaux and Pauillac are more mixed. Some are tannic and awkward, but there are plenty of good wines, and some which are outstanding. In particular, Château Rauzan Ségla is well worth mentioning and is one of the best in Margaux. For Pauillac, the accolade goes to Château Lafite, one of three wines to which I awarded perfect scores. My Swiss friend Philipp Schwander MW jokingly said that it was because I am Chinese. In fact, after tasting about 40 vintages of Lafite, this is the first vintage I gave a perfect score.
Nicolas Audebert, General Manager of
Château Canon, Rauzan-Ségla and Berlique
A beautiful lined up of trio
From the perspective of historical evolution, quite a few wines have surpassed themselves. Some estates have made breakthroughs within their own style, but others have changed dramatically and are difficult to identify. For example, in the past Château Margaux could be described as an intricate and nuanced realism painting, rather like a Rembrandt, but their 2022 vintage could be compared to the unorthodox, wild and passionate works of Picasso. This is very likely due to the fact that Châteaux Margaux recorded the highest Total Polyphenol Index in its history.
Among the high scoring wines, those of which I am particularly fond share some similar traits despite their differences. They all show both depth and breadth, are magnificent yet refined, have precise yet impactful texture, and are already displaying great ageing potential.
Finally, and interestingly, I found one particular flavour occurred repeatedly when I tasted in 2022: this was Pu Er tea (the fermented version) from Yunnan Province (south west China). I have rarely found this in Bordeaux, and have not found a correlation to certain terroirs or vinification details. I would be most interested to follow up on this in the future.
A few words about the white wines
For the dry white wines of 2022, familiar Pessac-Léognan names like Château Pape Clément, Domaine de Chevalier and Château Smith Haut Lafitte all performed well and are amongst the best offerings of the vintage. However, the most exciting whites come from Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion.
Well performed Smith Haut Lafitte and Let Thil
Outside of Pessac-Léognan, there are many surprising wines and some of these excel beyond the classic Bordeaux appellations. Among them, the highly strategic AXA Millésimes deserves a mention. Managing Director Christian Seely has set his sights on Semillon. In 2020, Château Suduiraut – a subsidiary of the company – launched a truly amazing dry white made from 100% Sémillon. I asked him if this wine had been less well received in France than in the UK, as the French seldom experience old Sémillon wines, and he confirmed this suspicion. However, those who have tasted older, quality Sémillon from Australia might be as excited as I am. I believe that the new dynamics entering the dry white wine scene in Bordeaux will bring a positive shift to the region.
Christian Seely, Mr. Bow Tie at the new tasting room of Pichon Baron
Regarding sweet white wine, 2022 is a good year for botrytis in theory, if one is brave enough to wait. However, many estates harvested early, and thus their wines show dominant dried fruit flavours rather than botrytis character. If one is not fixated on the idea that Sauternes should display flavours of noble rot then these wines are still quite drinkable, and some can be excellent.
In the near future
At the en primeur tastings every year, the wines have usually completed malolactic fermentation and are just entering maturation. There are still some variables that can change the wines before bottling.
When asked about the maturation process of this year, almost all wineries indicated that they plan to reduce the number of rackings (soutirage in French), or even not rack at all. Racking increases the risk of contamination, which is especially dangerous for wines with high pH and low acidity, so caution is the watchword.
Given the amount and extremely high quality of the phenolic substances, the remarkable freshness and the overall outstanding quality of many wines, we have reason to believe that this vintage is a milestone for some of the best Bordeaux wines, a vintage as great as 1982 at the very least.
I very much look forward to tasting the 2022 vintage after they are bottled, to revisit and verify my current impressions.
Below is a summary of ratings from the 2022 vintage. The specific tasting notes will be uploaded to www.winemaniacs.club on May 25th batch by batch. All other tasting notes will be uploaded by May 28th. Most of the selected wines scored over 90 points, but I have also included some wines with less than 90 points with limited complexity but which are pleasant to drink.
Certain renowned wines are not listed due to unstable samples presented during en primeur weeks, and new samples will be tasted in due time. And there is one estate whose wines I have decided I will never taste…