Back in Bordeaux for the En Primeurs 2023

After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are delighted to return to Bordeaux for the En Primeur tastings. This annual event is a significant milestone in the wine calendar, as Bordeaux unveils its latest vintage— and it is a continuing privilege to be a part of on behalf of our readers. My colleague Reva and I first experienced the En Primeurs when Sommelier India was just three years old back in 2007.

Each visit since has deepened our understanding of Bordeaux, leading to a greater appreciation for the business of wine, insights into the wine making process, a better understanding of the true nature of each vintage, and enriching stories to share with our global readership. Spending time with the winemakers is always a highlight and we were able to have meals and taste with the winemakers at Château La Lagune, Chateau Haut-Bailly and Château Brane Cantenac among others while also tasting all the wines from each appellation. More on those Chateaux in the coming days.

We are barely into day two of our visit, and while it’s too early to form a definitive opinion on this year’s vintage, emerging themes and industry speculation are already taking shape. Here’s what we are observing so far:

  1. Challenging Weather Conditions: The prevailing sentiment among experts is that this year’s vintage may not achieve the exceptional quality of last year, largely due to difficult weather conditions leading to mildew in the spring, uneven rainfall in the summer and a heatwave late August. It’s important to note, however, that there can be significant variations across different châteaux and appellations. Despite the weather challenges, Bordeaux’s vintners have evolved their vineyard management and winemaking techniques to skillfully manage unpredictability. Their expertise ensures the maintenance of high quality, the preservation of each château’s distinctive style, and the consistent delivery of excellent wines (at least with regard to their ‘First’ or flagship wine).
  2. First & Second Wine Variance:  Gauging the difficulty of a harvest for a Château is not just by evaluating its first wine where quality control is rigorously maintained in the vineyard and the winery, often necessitating a reduction in production volume or a change in the grape blend. A more revealing method is to compare the first wine and second wines from the Château, observing the disparity in quality. A significant variation often reflects the extent of the challenges a producer faces, as seen in several châteaux this year.
  3. Intense Pricing Debates: Debates around pricing are intensifying, with some negociants voicing concerns that high interest rates will affect their tolerance for escalating prices. With merchants still holding inventory from prior years and secondary market prices faltering (you have the weak global economy to thank for that), their willingness to bear high interest costs and tolerate high prices is waning. In fact, some insiders believe that a 35% drop in prices from the preceding year is a real possibility. Although this situation isn’t unprecedented, it underscores the ongoing financial dynamics affecting the wine industry. We will know more once the First Growths release their pricing next week.
  4. Château Variability: As we continue to explore the nuances of this year’s vintage and its market implications, it’s clear that each Château has a unique story depending on its specific location, its reputation and what its goals are for the vintage. For example, historical data from Liv-ex highlights that estates like Château Petrus, Château Lafleur, and Château Lafite have consistently shown significant gains over recent vintages. So while, some generalizations can be made across the entire region or across a single appellation, always know that there are often exceptions to the broader trends.
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As we visit more vineyards and taste more wines across appellations, we look forward to learning how the Grand Cru wineries have navigated the challenges of 2023, to produce another exceptional vintage. Shiv B. Singh

 

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