Bordeaux 2022 A Collectors Vintage. A Personal Story

Château Margaux is a 1st Growth estate with a unique terroir located in the Médoc region of Bordeaux

Namratha Prashanth shares her personal experience of the wines at the 2022 En Primeur tastings in April

There was a certain buzz in the air as we entered. We were a team of four tasting the 2022 vintage. We quickly got our invitation badges scanned and headed up the stairs to the top of the vat room where the best wines of Saint Julien, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en- Médoc were showcased. The room was filled with merchants, importers, distributors, journalists and critics. They were busy swirling wines in glasses, spitting into spittoons, scribbling notes and saying a quick hello to colleagues and friends.

Every year in April, these spitting experts travel from all across the world to the beautiful region of Bordeaux for a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s called En Primeur. They judiciously taste wine samples that were vinified the previous year after the harvest and filled into barrels. Famous critics like Jane Anson, James Suckling, Jancis Robinson accord points for each wine after which the châteaux release their prices. The courtiers then step in and get working on allocating these wines to merchants who in turn take pre-orders from importers, hotels, restaurants, private collectors, etc… Mind you, all this while the wines are still evolving in barrels.

We hurried to the place where a sea of clean glasses were neatly arranged. Taking one in my hand, I split from the group and headed straight to the counter where Château Beychevelle was being poured. A wooden stand held a sample bottle for viewing and a flyer with a picture of the château, the appellation Saint Julien, a QR code and details of the blend that mentioned 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. The lady behind the counter said bonjour before graciously pouring a splash of wine into my glass. Immediately the room went still and the noise around me drowned. My focus intensified towards the glass of wine in my hand. I swirled it a few times before bringing it closer to my nose. ‘A beauty,’ I thought. Then, I took a sip and felt content. It had everything that was needed to evolve into a great wine. The purity of fruit, concentration and freshness. I moved on to other wines in the room. Château Léoville Poyferré was marked with luscious fruit and fine tannins, Château Clarke felt like the best example of Listrac in a good year and Château Chasse-Spleen was splendid.

Aerial view of Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux’s historic Graves region

Before leaving, I walked across to the French windows that gave a spectacular view of the vineyards. The vines were beginning a new season. They had not only survived the intense heat of 2022 but bore the most rich and concentrated berries that every winemaker would dream of having to make his wine. I recollected harvesting grapes that year. They were much smaller in size, had deeper colour and thicker skins. It was due to a drought-like summer. The wildfires were a testimony to that. Then in late June, it rained. It was a relief after the first heat wave. But soon the temperatures soared to 40°C and above. This was a testing time for winemakers. The rain gods heard their pleas and finally in mid- August sent rains that perfectly ripened the berries.

At Château Ausone we were welcomed by Alain Vauthier who poured us many of his wines including Ausone. If a wine could be compared to poetry it is this wine

From SI’s archives: Photo of En Primeur wines lined-up for tasting

Our next stop was Château Margaux, a first growth and one of the most renowned estates in Bordeaux. We got a beautiful view of the facade of the castle as we walked towards the cellar. It looked stately with rows of trees lined on either side. A tasting was arranged and soon we got to work sipping, spitting and analysing. The wine was impressive with plenty of density and concentration. Made by blending 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, this wine is powerful, yet delicate and has a beautiful balance of fruit, acidity and refined tannins. We also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. The aromas were remarkable and so was the fruit on the palate. The wine was made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc, marked by a long and brilliant finish.

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Our tasting continued on the right bank but not before a quick stop at a boulangerie in Saint Emilion. There, we were quite amused to find a bread named ‘Pain Cheval Blanc’. Upon us enquiring, we were told that they were solicited from Château Cheval Blanc to supply them with this special bread full of dry fruits and nuts. After tasting the bread, we were joined by two other colleagues with whom we visited Château Ausone. At the estate we were graciously welcomed by Alain Vauthier and his team who poured us many of his wines including Château Ausone. If a wine could be compared to poetry it is this wine. It is the finest expression of the terroir that has borne fruit — the most delicate and concentrated Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine is a blend of equal portions of both these grape varieties. The resulting wine was full of power, elegance and finesse.

A red carpet was laid at the entrance of Château Smith Haut Lafitte for the Primeurs campaign. As we walked in, I saw two adorable dogs of the owners, Florence and Daniel Cathiard, resting next to the door. I had a feeling they’d bring good luck, dogs always did. After a quick petting session, off we went to meet Fabien Teitgen, technical director, Ludovic Fradin, commercial director and Daniel Cathiard himself. We were poured the red wines first and the white wines after. Both wines were charming, elegant and classy. We were preparing to leave but were in for a surprise. Daniel suggested that we also taste their wine from Flora Springs in Napa. What a treat!

Then we moved to the tasting at Château Haut Bailly. Situated in Pessac-Léognan, the estate is known for its unique terroir. I think of it like a little wonderland of wine. Their cellar looks like a spaceship and the gardens above the dome transport you into another world. It is one of those estates where, both, technology and heritage are kept alive. I stood in a tastefully decorated room while I tasted Château Haut Bailly 2022. I scribbled three words in my book, richness, power and elegance. Another brilliant tasting was at Château Phélan Ségur in Saint-Estèphe. The wine is incredibly rich, has fine tannins and beautiful fruit. It tails off with a long and distinguished finish.

One of the highlights of this season were the new labels of Domaine de Chevalier and Château Siran. Both wines speak of excellence. Olivier Bernard celebrated his 40th harvest with a unique label that is the work of a famous Chinese artist, Xu Bei, Hong. It features a galloping horse. The white wine of Domain de Chevalier is nothing short of outstanding. My fascination with Château Siran dates back to 2017, when I made a life-changing decision of moving to Bordeaux and studying wine. The Miailhes, owners of Château Siran, hired me as an intern for a span of five months. Since then, I’ve tasted Château Siran year on year. It has all the makings of a great wine. I’m still in love with the wine and the gorgeous red and black fruit it offers. The pepper and sweet spice that renders this wine its signature style. The 2022 vintage is exceptional and is one to cherish.

After a week of hopping around Bordeaux left and right bank, I felt content. We had tasted and analysed more than 400 wines. Most of which were marvellous. The smiling faces and stained teeth, said it all. It’s not often that we come across a vintage like 2022. It’s possibly one of the best seen in decades and could even qualify as the vintage of the century. Every wine I tasted, I found to be vibrant, having exceptional fruit and freshness. It is certain the wines will age very well. Yields were lower than usual and so the number of bottles produced will certainly be limited. So if you are
looking to collect, invest or sell, this vintage could be ideal.