Bordeaux 2022 by appellation: St Estèphe, where terroir typicity rules
In the third of my appellation profiles I cross over to the left-bank. I have the habit of starting my Médoc reports in the South, with Margaux before proceeding northwards. But this year, with a couple of late Margaux samples still to taste, I will begin in the north with St Estèphe before following the Gironde southwards.
The first thing perhaps to underscore is that this is no more a right-bank vintage than a left-bank vintage. There are fabulous wines to be found on both sides of the water, even if there are significant differences in the manner in which the meteorological challenges of the vintage were experienced.
We get a clear sense of that if we look at Table 1. It shows that the left-bank appellations received significantly less rainfall over the winter months prior to budburst whilst experiencing essentially the same intense drought conditions between véraison and harvest.
Véraison to harvest
|Margaux||381 (-22.8%)||58.5 (-53.0%)||802 (-12.3%)|
|St Julien||364 (-25.0%)||61.3 (-47.7%)||780 (-12.2%)|
|Pauillac||364 (-25.0%)||61.3 (-47.7%)||780 (-12.2%)|
|St Estèphe||415 (-14.6%)||74.4 (-40.3%)||889 (-1.1%)|
|Pessac-Léognan||445 (-8.4%)||57.7 (-50.7%)||764 (-14.6%)|
|St Emilion||558 (+14.8%)||67.7 (-44.0%)||886 (-1.9%)|
|Pomerol||541 (+9.7%)||51.2 (-57.5%)||871 (-3.9%)|
Table 1: Rainfall during the vintage (mm, relative to 10-year average)
Source: calculated from Saturnalia’s Bordeaux 2022 Harvest report
It is not surprising, then, that as Table 2 shows, average vineyard yields were hit very hard throughout the Médoc.
|2018||2019||2020||2021||2022||10-year average||Relative to 10-year average (% change)|
|St Emilion (GC)||39.7||43.0||36.7||27.5||41.2||37.2||+10.7|
Table 2: Average vineyard yield by appellation (hl/ha)
Source: calculated from Customs data compiled by the CIVB Service Economie et Etudes
2022 came closer to disaster in the Médoc than it did on the right-bank. It was saved by a combination of factors: the replenishment of the water table in the comparative wet 2021 vintage; just enough rain in the winter (above all in December 2021); and the timeliness of the little rain that did fall during the growing and ripening season (above all in April and June). In the absence of any one of these factors things would have turned out very differently.
Crucial too was the early onset of the drought conditions. This encouraged the vines, in effect, to ration themselves. They searched early for water from below (rather than extending their root systems near the surface) and built smaller canopies (limiting transpiration). The result was a small crop of tiny but highly concentrated grapes.
What Table 2 also shows is very considerable between-appellation variation. In the Médoc, Pauillac and St Julien fared better whilst Margaux and St Estèphe fared rather worse.
In St Estèphe, where vineyard yields were less than three quarters of the 10 year average this was largely due to a specific factor we have yet to consider: hail damage. A three-day spike in temperatures in mid-June, culminating in temperatures of 40°C throughout the region on the 18th June, led to severe if highly localised hail episodes on the 20th June in two corridors. To the north, a fast moving storm ravaged parts of the northern Médoc, causing significant damage in some of the vineyards of St Estèphe. To the south, a second travelling storm impacted the Southern Médoc (between Macau and the city of Bordeaux).
Many vineyards suffered greatly, with Phélan-Ségur for instance losing almost a third of the crop (above all, much of its Cabernet Sauvignon) to hail.
But it has not prevented it from producing arguably its best ever wine. Indeed, although the meteorological conditions throughout the growing season were tough and posed compound challenges to the vines none of them in the end really came at the expense of quality.
This, then, is a very strong St Estèphe vintage in the context of a no less strong Médoc vintage. Particularly pleasing to me is that these wines, despite the intense heat and the incessant drought conditions throughout the year, taste of where they come from. Virtually none of the wines that I tasted from the appellation could easily have been mistaken , if tasted blind, as coming from across the appellation border in Pauillac or further south.
That is a triumph. It is a product of the evolution of the wine-making philosophy of the region – the return to terroir ushered in by Bordeaux ‘new classicism’. But it is also a product of the tiny and highly concentrated character of the grapes that had to search for and draw their water from below. That simply brought more mineral character and identity to the wines; all the more so given the high ratio of physical matter (skin and pips) to juice.
In short, 2022 turns out to have been a terroir-maximising vintage and I for one am happy to celebrate that. Appellation typicity is high and the words ‘very St Estèphe’ or their equivalent appeared very often in my (often hastily scribbled) tasting notes. They appear a little less in the final edited versions that appear below, but the point remains the same.
In terms of blend composition, 2022 is also something of a return to normality, odd though that sounds in the context of the meteorological excesses of the growing season.
In 2021, as Table 3 shows clearly, many vineyards reduced the proportion of their Merlot in the final blend – as a lot of it was simply not fully ripe. Montrose was the exception.
In 2022, the Merlot is back.
|Wine||% Merlot||% Cabernet Sauvignon|
Table 3: Percentage of Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon in the grand vin, 2020-22
The resulting wines are fabulous and very consistent at the top level.
Montrose remains, for me, a class apart – really now genuinely pushing the first growths in terms of sustained quality, vintage after vintage. It is the wine of the appellation once again, the quality of its tannins above all setting it apart.
But Cos d’Estournel, too, has produced a glorious wine, full of charm and guile and personality and, above all, coursing with energy, freshness and dynamism. In recent vintages it seems to have invented for itself a new and distinct style and this is the culmination to date for me of that refinement.
Calon-Ségur and Phélan-Ségur are both wonderful wines in this vintage – the latter by some distance the best wine I have ever tasted en primeur from the property. Its blend is, of course, unusual. But if there were ever a vintage in which to increase the proportion of Merlot it is surely 2022.
Lafon Rochet, too, seems with this vintage to have refined it style, reaching a level of elegance and finesse attained perhaps preciously only in the 2020.
Crucially, too, St Estèphe now offers fabulous value for money. It is difficult to think of wines anywhere in the world capable of matching the quality-price ratio of any of the following: Tronquoy, Meyney, de Pez, Lilian Ladouys and Le Crock. And a special mention should also go to two fabulous wines: Dame de Montrose and Frank Phélan above all.
Highlights in 2022
Wine of the appellation:
- Montrose (97-99)
- Cos d’Estournel (96-98)
- Calon-Ségur (94-96)
- Phélan-Ségur (94-96)
- Lafon Rochet (93-95)
- Meyney (93-95)
- De Pez (92-94+)
- Tronquoy (92-94+)
- Le Crock (92-94)
- Lilian Ladouys (92-94)
For full tasting notes, click here.
Please click link for db’s 2022 en primeur vintage report, along with appellation-by-appellation reviews (links updated as they become available) on Margaux, St Julien, Pessac-Leognan & Graves rouge and blanc, St Estèphe & Haut-Medoc, Pauillac, Pomerol, Saint-Émilion and Sauternes.