2023 Bordeaux vintage report

2023 Bordeaux: a sense of place

They are cool and focussed, balanced and vibrant. After the lifted, exuberant 2022 Bordeaux vintage comes something completely different. Bordeaux 2023s are not explosive, but they often impress with their length. They are very much wines of terroir. There are a lot of hits (and yes, a few misses, too). The majority are excellent, delicious and complete, very drinkable, with underlying depth and power. They have the density and body to age well. They are classically-formed and cellarworthy, and the best are exceptional.

Uncorked spent last week in Bordeaux visiting chateaux and tasting through a very wide selection of 2023s. At Le Pin, Jacques Thienpont summarised the vintage in a way that chimed with our tastings: '2023 is less homogeneous than 2022, but there are many good wines with a strong sense of place and identity. They are not as powerful as the 2022s, but they have good acidity.' The most common comparison to another vintage we heard was with 2019, when the wines married freshness and concentration.

In the vineyard, though, 2023 was (another) hot year. There were also some very wet stretches, which led to mildew pressure. That kept vineyard managers on their toes and demanded fast-moving, responsive vineyard teams. (We heard quite a few grumbles about having to work on a Sunday). The stop-start climax to the growing season led to a big difference in the ripening between Merlot (earlier) and Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc (later), which in turn meant many estates experienced their most extended harvest period ever. The other difficulty the vintage faced was two short spells of very hot weather in the run up to harvest, which caused some dessicated fruit. Nevertheless, and even allowing for some severe sorting at winery doors, yields were generally high, and much welcomed after a series of shorter vintages. In the winery, Merlot and the Cabernets proved to be very different beasts - at Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Emmeline Borie remarked that they felt like they were the products of two entirely different growing seasons. Merlot was richer and more alcoholic, Cabernet cooler, fresher and more structured. Partly because of the relatively high yields, alcohol levels are nicely balanced, with most left-bank wines clocking in between 13-13.5% and right-bank wines between 14-14.5%. Tannins are usually suave and smooth, as much because of progressive developments in the winery as long-term improvements in vineyard management.

And don't forget 'the other guys'. Pessac-Léognan has turned in a consistently high-quality set of very appealing white wines, with ripe flavours swept along by generous, moreish acidity. And 2023 was an exceptionally good vintage for Sauternes and Barsac. The early and extensive spread of botrytis in the vineyard has led to some stunning sweet wines. Ripe and high energy, these are riveting to taste.

The season: weather swings hither and yon

Winter 2022/2023 was cold by mild modern standards, with a good number of nights in January below zero. There was also ample winter rainfall (or snow) in November and January, which topped up the water table (depleted in 2022). Warmer conditions set in in March, and budburst took place at the end of the month. That was later than in recent years, and a late budburst is viewed as a good thing in terms of reducing the risk of frost damage. There was indeed a cold snap and frost in early April, but not significant enough to do much damage. The weather then swung the other way, turning warm and rainy. The combination of humidity and warmth encouraged fungal growth. Mildew spread, forcing vineyard teams to spend more time treating the vines. Happily, it became dry and windy around the crucial flowering period, which set in at the end of May. (Pollinated flowers become berries, so fewer flowers ultimately means fewer grapes – rain would have disrupted flowering). Once flowering was out of the way, rain returned. Grapes swelled, vegetation ran rife and mildew pressure became intense again. Veraison (colour change in the grapes) took place through the second half of July. The first half of August was relatively cool, and vineyard managers were left wondering if the swollen grapes would ever fully ripen. Then the weather flipped again, becoming dry and very hot. Temperatures hit 40 degrees around the third week of August. The harvest of white grapes began. There was a second heat spike around the 4-7 September. In some vineyards there was a danger of the most exposed fruit becoming sunburnt and dessicated. Early Merlot parcels were harvested, before rain put a temporary stop to proceedings. Harvest resumed in earnest in the second half of September, with the remaining Merlot being brought in first. At some addresses the Cabernet harvest stretched into early October.

Hot surprises

2023 was another hot year. In fact, it was a very hot year, the second hottest year (after 2022) in France since records began in 1900. (Yes, the two hottest vintages since 1900 came back-to-back in 2022 and 2023 – global warming, anyone?) Many vignerons said they were surprised to hear it had been that hot, commenting that, with the exception of the two spells of scorching heat in August and September, it hadn’t felt anywhere near as hot as in 2022. And it wasn’t, in the daytime - but average night-time temperatures were higher in 2023. 2022 had been defined by a larger difference between day and night temperatures. Diurnal variation is considered essential for great wines, allowing them to balance ripeness and freshness. While there absolutely was such diurnal variation in 2023 and the wines are fresh, the greater diurnal variation in 2022 might be behind that vintage’s sweeping sense of energy.

Mildew pressure: ‘we sleep on the tractors’

Fungus loves warm, wet conditions, and the tropical conditions in the vineyards through the first half of the growing season meant vineyard teams having to wage constant war against fungal diseases, principally downy mildew (aka peronospora). Like the vine louse phylloxera (and while we’re at it, another devastating fungal disease, powdery mildew) downy mildew is indigenous to North America. It arrived in Europe in the nineteenth century, probably on American vine stock intended for grafting (ironically, to defend European vines from phylloxera).

Downy mildew appears first as a cottony growth on the underside of leaves. If not treated quickly it will spread from vine leaves to grapes, and cause them to split open. It is treated with a spray of either traditional Bordeaux mixture (bouillie bordelaise, a copper sulphate solution) or dedicated fungicides. Bordeaux mixture is one of the few preparations permitted in organic and biodynamic viticulture, though its use is not without controversy – some growers claim the copper it leaves in the soil is harmful in the long-term. Bordeaux mixture or its fungicide equivalents are contact treatments which wash off after the first rainfall, so in wet conditions they need to be frequently re-applied. Many vineyard managers told us that you need to spray soon after rain (and before the first signs of mildew), or events may overtake you.

Mildew pressure in Bordeaux in 2023 reached a climax in mid-July, with the Sud-Oeste newspaper reporting a vineyard worker as saying, ‘we sleep on the tractors, it’s a battle’. Thin-skinned Merlot berries fell victim to mildew before thicker-skinned Cabernet. That goes some way to explaining the higher proportion of Cabernet in many left-bank wines in 2023. Grapes that become infected with mildew burst, and thereafter shrivel and fall off the vine.


When we arrived in Bordeaux, one of the first things we were told was that 2023 was a ‘rich man’s vintage’. Well-resourced classed-growth chateaux had the resources to muster large vineyard teams to fight off mildew, and enjoyed good yields as a result. But those chateaux are only a fraction of the full story. Bordeaux produces more fine wine than any other region in the world. There are over 6000 producers here. Most are not part of the en primeur system, and a lot struggle to make ends meet. Many such smaller chateaux found themselves unable to rise to the challenge of extensive mildew pressure, and saw swathes of their vineyards devastated. It was especially the story in Entre-Deux-Mers.

Thanks to the pressures of the growing season, overall yields for Bordeaux in 2023 are (once again) low. But for the prestigious appellations that drive the en primeur system, they are reasonably generous. Good flowering meant generous bunches, and well-resourced chateaux that were able to fight off mildew pressure brought in a good-sized crop.

The results, commune by commune

St-Estèphe: The weightiest, fullest, most alcoholic wines we saw on the Médoc, with wines clocking in at between 14-14.5%. There is more clay in St-Estèphe, and as clay terroirs favour Merlot, there is more Merlot; more ripe Merlot nudged up overall alcohol levels. Montrose and Cos d’Estournel are statuesque. Meyney and Tronquoy are excellent at their level and should be good value picks.   

Pauillac: Muscular and structured, cool and fresh, 2023 Pauillacs conform beautifully to type. Pontet-Canet is luscious and silky, Grand-Puy-Lacoste is classical and composed, Lynch-Bages is structured and serious. Both the Pichons are as magisterial as ever.

St-Julien: The smallest of the classic Médoc communes, quality is always concentrated here: 2023s are superb across the board. Léoville Barton is monumental, Léoville Poyferré is succulent and spicy. Branaire-Ducru is both charming and profound. Talbot has never been better.

Margaux: From the flashy to the very classy, there are a lot of exciting wines on show in Margaux. Angludet is smart and understated. Brane-Cantenac is stunning. Rauzan-Segla is deceptively silky and seriously long. Palmer is perfumed and expressive and full of energy. 

Pessac-Léognan (reds): Pessac reds are said to be defined by a smell that can remind us variously of tobacco, minerals or warm bricks, and these aromas are very much on show. There’s even a gravelly quality to the tannins (though the top wines eschew that in favour of finesse and silkiness).  Domaine de Chevalier have made an extremely impressive, expressive red.

Pessac-Léognan (whites): Pessac whites excel in 2023, with ripe but fresh flavours swept along by generous acidity to saline finishes. It’s a great ride, and I kept going back for more.

St-Émilion: We were struck by the very savoury, salty-mineral finish we found time and again in St-Émilion. We were told this was a characteristic specific to the wines made on limestone (so, on the plateau or the slopes immediately around). Grand Mayne is likely to be good value and was immensely attractive, plummy, vibrant, finishing stony and fresh. Canon was intense and velvety, but with big underlying structure. 

Pomerol: The dark plum-and-violet expressiveness of Pomerol was lifted by a lovely freshness. Jeremy Chasseuil has made a lovely Feytit-Clinet (though his sons claim it is all down to them). Vieux Chateau Certan is silky and exquisite.

And an 11-out-of-10 vintage for Sauternes

After a series of difficult vintages, Sauternes and Barsac excelled in 2023. The combination of rain and warmth saw the early and widespread development of botrytis in grapes that had high levels of acidity. Then the warm, dry weather at the end of September concentrated these grapes. They were textbook conditions for great sweet wines, and the 2023 Sauternes are riveting to taste. The electric combination of sweetness and energy is rarely so well expressed. /NT

With thanks to Stéphanie Nicol, Maya Liebe, Jacques Thienpont and François-Xavier Maroteaux

View all wines released

Email us your primeurs wishlist