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Goedhuis Waddesdon Bordeaux Buying Director, David Roberts MW, dives into the intricacies of a year in which the weather gods were as mercurial as ever; holding back frost but unleashing early summer rains. Precise vineyard location and a team with lightning-fast reactions was essential to success, in a year where late August heat followed a mild summer to ramp up the average temperature for the vintage.

Click here to view all our Bordeaux 2023 En Primeur coverage.
30 years of en primeur

30 years of en primeur

I have so enjoyed tasting the 2023 vintage, which by happy coincidence, is my 30th En Primeur tasting! This vintage has everything that fuels me, as both a wine lover and buyer. The seasonal challenges rewarded attentive husbandry in the vineyard with abundant yields. Aided by careful fruit management, terroir identity has shone through, highlighting appellational distinction and the individuality of each Château. The wines have taken me by surprise, and in some cases, exceeded all my expectations. There is irregularity as always, and the growing season set its challenges, but the heights of the vintage are outstanding and can stand proudly alongside some of the best of the millennium.

the wines

Whilst the overall average shows 2023 to be a hotter than normal year, the variations of the seasons meant that the wines do not give the impression of an année solaire. The best red wines have preserved the hallmark of their origin and location. However, it is also a year which required careful selection; as you will read later, the work in the vineyards was imperative and not everybody got it right!



This is a year in which each of Bordeaux’s three noble red grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, have excelled in their own way, but not necessarily in the same appellations. In Pomerol, the Merlots are unsurpassed: they are joyful and expressive, containing a delicious sweetness of fruit and rewardingly controlled alcohol levels. The great wines of the plateau of St Emilion have balanced a nigh-on perfect combination of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with racy brightness and minerality. Finally, Cabernet Sauvignon is at its finest on home turf in the Médoc. Benefitting from the later ripening season throughout the month of September, the Left Bank wines combine tension with precision, energy and longevity.


Harvesting the white grapes in August is now the norm. Châteaux owners have the confidence to pick their Sauvignons and Semillons early, knowing that the grapes are fully ripe whilst still preserving a high degree of freshness and lift. This year, they show a great intensity, but with an exquisite bite of acidity complementing the fullness of texture. These are wines which can be approached in their youth, but at the very top end can develop to show fine mature secondary fruit characteristics for which Bordeaux Blanc is famed.


Finally, after the stresses of recent years, it is wonderful to report a superb selection of sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac and at economically reassuring yields of around 18hl/ha. The berries were at an excellent level of maturity when the first wave of noble rot arrived after a rainfall on 20th September, setting the scene for the first picking. This was followed by two more rapid pickings in October in ideal conditions. They are stylish wines; honeyed with a degree of exotic fruit, but not excessively sweet and rewardingly fresh. Whilst they will age well, they will have a huge amount of charm in their youth.

2023 in the vineyard

2023 in the vineyard

  • Except for a very cold 10 days at the beginning of February, the 2022/23 winter was relatively mild, with an early bud break at the end of March and beginning of April. The weather gods obliged the vigneron’s prayers this year, sparing the vineyards from frost.
  • A warm and sunny May gave rise to a very healthy flowering at the end of the month and the prospect of an encouraging crop in terms of volume.
  • The warm and humid conditions of June and July brought greater cloud cover fewer breezes through the vineyards, increasing the risk of mildew. Vineyard vigilance was paramount during this period to give the vines maximum protection against mildew.
  • Superb summer conditions from mid-August to the end of September, with two important periods of rainfall, aided fruit development and the avoidance of hydric stress, particularly in the more permeable soils.
  • A red wine harvest of two halves. The Merlots were mostly picked in the first three weeks of September. The later-ripening Cabernets were mostly picked in perfect conditions from 20th September through to early October, after a light, refreshing rainfall.
  • Dry whites were picked at the end of August, whilst in Sauternes they had three pickings, with an excellent concentration of noble rot in two spells in October.
  • Excellent and healthy yields for all styles with the red yields at a similar average level to the 2016 vintage, approximately 40hl/ha.
  • “you can’t make great wine without great fruit”

    “you can’t make great wine without great fruit”

    In 30 years buying En Primeur, the concept of making a great wine has turned a full 360 degrees. In my early years in the trade, I saw a wine making revolution taking place, and a growing and risky belief that it was in the cuverie alone where all great wine was made, turning the spotlight away from the all-important vineyard work. Out went the wooden vats and cement, in came stainless steel with its great benefits of temperature control. The rise in use of cultured yeasts against natural yeasts and so on. The science of wine was entering a new era and there was a danger that the adage “you can’t make great wine without great fruit” was being forgotten.

    These past few years have seen a sea change of attitudes. The importance of an ever-growing knowledge of winemaking, starting with careful fruit selection at harvest time through to meticulous winemaking and cellar management, is still fundamental in the making of a great wine. But equally, so is what happens in the vineyard, and, as a farmer’s son, it is wonderful to see the growing return of respect for the land and vineyards and for those who work in them. Organic and biodynamic viticultural practices are no longer a passing fancy, and their benefits along with those who follow lutte raisonée (treatment only when necessary) shine in today’s finished wines.

    2023 is most definitely the year of the land. Appellational personality has come to the fore. The nuance and variation of a Château’s terroir and location was apparent and vineyard decision making was crucial.

    The weather gods laid down their challenges this year, revealing the strength of each appellation’s reputation. Pomerol has made superlative wines. Alexandre Thienpont at Vieux Chateau Certan nonchalantly explained: “it’s normal. The rain from the west arrives at the rise of Pomerol and splits down the valleys either side, hence we and our neighbours escaped the worst of the disease risk that affected the satellite appellations beyond.”

    The clay and limestone soils of the famed St Emilion plateau, on which sits Canon, Beausejour and Ausone amongst others, acted as a sponge, absorbing any excess of water at certain times and then releasing it at other guaranteeing a constant and steady growth programme.

    In the Médoc, the mildew challenges were different. St Estephe, as always, saw the benefits of the coastal Atlantic breezes in keeping its vineyards clean and healthy. Similarly, these breeze benefits could be found in vineyards such as Haut Bailly, where its rising aspect keeps everything fresh. Vineyard management was the number one factor for a healthy crop, with many of the wealthier châteaux at a clear advantage.

    Recent climatic changes have seen Bordeaux experience tropical styled conditions, and with it associated disease risks. Predictive action and foreseeing these dangers is imperative. Investment has been crucial; gone are the days where growers would go out with a single tractor and take a number of days to treat their vineyards. Saskia de Rothschild explained they now have 15 tractors which can cover all 100 ha of Lafite in 7 hours! We heard the same story wherever we went.

    2023 sets the mark of another era for the wines of Bordeaux. Ch Cheval Blanc maybe leading the way in their move to agroecology and sustainability, but it is the hot topic throughout the region and is increasingly becoming the norm.


    Bordeaux has a long history of selling its wines en primeur, with records dating back to the 18th century. It became common practice after the Second World War, relieving the financial burden borne by the châteaux of covering storage and maturation costs of their wines. Merchants had the opportunity to buy wines immediately after a vintage at an advantageous price to help the châteaux with their capital costs.

    These benefits were then in turn passed on to consumers, who bought the wines ahead of bottling with the potential for capital growth. Today, the en primeur system is considerably more sophisticated, with many reasons for considering purchasing at this early stage.

    • Quality | This has to be top of the list. The wines must have individuality and overall quality to justify cellaring.

    • Rarity | Either due to vineyard size or limited production. The en primeur process offers the opportunity to purchase wines that may be hard to find at a later stage or when they are at a peak of maturity.

    • Price | En primeur prices generally offer advantages to buyers of the sought after wines.

    • Provenance | The greatest Bordeaux wines need 15 – 20 years of age before they reach optimum maturity. Buying en primeur guarantees the wine has come direct from the châteaux cellars and, if stored reputably, avoids the pitfalls of poor storage conditions.

    • Availability | The leading châteaux are increasingly releasing a smaller proportion of the latest vintage en primeur, keeping as much as 40% in their own cellars for later release at a matured ex- château premium.


    The Vintage in a Nutshell

    • As with any vintage, 2023 was not a year without its challenges. It allowed the best winemakers to shine and their attention to detail in both vineyard and winery has been extremely impressive. The wines clearly express appellational differences and the success of individual grape varieties according to their location.
    • This was not a year of extremes. Spring saw early budbreak and flowering. The greatest threat was that of mildew in late June and early July, particularly for Merlot in the Médoc, but this abated from mid-June onwards thanks to the lower-than-average rainfall.
    • A warm, early summer with days of high cloud cover extended the growing season, finishing with outstanding conditions from mid-August to late September.
    • Light rainfall at the end of August and mid-September helped to rejuvenate the vineyards and protected against any hydric stress.
    • A large and healthy crop with most estates producing yields similar to the 2016 vintage at 40 hl/ha.

    • The quality of Cabernet Sauvignon was particularly evident in the Médoc, where it has given classic, precise and elegant reds. Many blends include a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than in previous vintages.
    • Terroir and Château differences shine through in 2023; the heat of the summer has not over-imposed stylistically. There are many high-quality wines with excellent ageing potential.
    • The Right Bank has excelled, with Pomerol benefitting from its unique position and microclimate, giving joyous, sweet, and expressive Merlot, meanwhile the limestone plateau of St. Emilion has produced some of the best Cabernet Franc we have seen in a long time.
    • Overall, the reds have balanced concentration with inviting vibrancy, great freshness and a strong appellational identity.
      There are also some very inviting white wines on offer, combining fruit-forward exuberance with energy and vivacity, while Sauternes saw another good vintage for botrytised wines.
    • Chateaux owners are sensitive to the market conditions and early releases have been set at 30-40% price reductions on the 2022 prices.