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Bordeaux 2023 vintage report part I: quality and quantity together, for once

As the Bordeaux 2023 en primeur tastings get underway, our Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay looks at the meteorological conditions that have helped to forge an uneven vintage in the first of a two-part vintage report.  

Nothing it seems is easy in Bordeaux these days. After two vintages which, together, saw every conceivable climatic challenge present, 2023 might seem like a year of relative respite. But it did certainly not feel like that in the vineyards. Or at least, not until the harvest had been safely gathered in – and even then only for those whose attentiveness and reactivity in the vineyard had spared them from the ravages of mildew earlier in the summer and whose vigilance at the sorting table during the harvest itself had allowed them to remove all traces of desiccated fruit.

In the most general terms, 2023 is a vintage that is likely to be judged favourably – a good and perhaps even a very good vintage, but not an exceptional vintage. But it is also a vintage that would not have turned out well even a decade ago and whose heterogeneity prevents it from being regarded as exceptional even it if is likely to have produced a number of truly exceptional wines.

There are certain similarities here with 2018, even if the wines themselves are very different in character. For, as in 2018, we have a growing season in two parts – the first producing intense mildew pressure; the second producing precisely the conditions required to compensate for the deficit of the first half. However the contrast between the two halves was far less extreme than in 2018 – with the mildew pressure in 2023 coming not so much from excessive rain as from persistent rain in a context of already elevated temperatures; and with the second half of the season, though generally dry and warm, only becoming extreme in the final phases of maturation which took place under Indian Summer conditions.

In what follows I have had the good fortune to be able to draw on the first-hand witness testimony of those who responded to 2023’s particular challenges and from the excellent vintage reports produced, respectively, by Axel Marchal and his co-authors from the University of Bordeaux’s Institut des Sciences de la Vigne and du Vin (ISVV), by Gavin Quinney and by Saturnalia. In addition, I would like to thank Axel Marchal from the ISVV, Gavin Quinney and colleagues from the Conseil Interprofessionnel de Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) for their help in compiling, checking and making sense of some of the data.

In all of these accounts of the vintage, the bottom line is clear. There are, in Axel Marchal’s now almost famous terms, essentially five pre-conditions for a great vintage. They are:

  1. Quick and even flowering and fruit set;
  2. Weather conditions in the late spring and early summer sufficiently dry and warm to facilitate even pollination and to provide the pre-conditions for even ripening;
  3. A gradual rise in hydric stress over the summer (with, above all, a warm and dry July), slowing and ultimately stopping vine growth before véraison (colour change);
  4. Ripe grapes with optimum photosynthesis continuing up until harvest (without any significant resumption in vegetative growth);
  5. Dry and medium-warm weather during the harvest itself (ideally, with good temperature variation between night and day), allowing picking at optimal ripeness (and freshness).

None of these conditions were present in 2021; they were all present in 2022; and most, but by no means all, were present in 2023. By and large conditions 1, 4 and 5 were met; condition 2 was largely met but with some exceptions; condition 3 was not met. But we need to be careful not to condemn the vintage on this basis. The devil, as ever, lies in the proverbial detail.

An overview of the growing season

Flowering, fruit set and pollination all passed off well, with high potential yields established early (and with no coulure or millerandage). Yet, with a wet and warm spring and early summer, not only did hydric stress fail to establish itself (save other than on late ripening plots just before the harvest itself), but crucially, the threat of mildew was intense. This ravaged untreated, poorly treated and particularly susceptible plots, parcels and, in some cases, entire vineyards.

It proved especially difficult for properties practicing organic and/or biodynamic viticulture – limited, as they were, in the treatments they could deploy. These difficulties were compounded for those in transition to organic viticulture, without the experience of the mildew-threatened 2018 and 2020 vintages to draw on. Rauzan-Ségla is a case in point. It suffered tragically significant losses, with a final yield, I believe, of around 18 hl/ha. By all accounts, the wine is excellent; there is just very little of it.

Yet even where the risk of mildew was so well managed as to keep losses to a minimum, the damp and humid conditions gave rise to a further problem – that of swollen fruit with the potential for dilution and a lack of mid-palate concentration. Fortuitously, that risk was in turn significantly, if not entirely, attenuated by the Indian Summer that would follow. For it allowed, above all, the late-harvesting Cabernet to ripen slowly at first, then increasingly rapidly on the vine, into early October.

So whilst picking conditions were not what would usually be considered ideal (with picking taking place in heatwave temperatures, leading to some shrivelling – and the need for very careful sorting – of the grapes), they were by that point precisely what was required to maximise the quality of the fruit.

In short, those whose vineyards had survived the ravages of mildew were, in general, very both deeply relieved and extremely happy with the quality – and, for the most part, the quantity – of the harvest.

The details of the growing season

The details of the growing season are, as ever, complex. And that complexity is important if we are to understand the characteristics of the vintage – not least because, as in 2022 if for very different reasons, there is quite a lot of inter-appellation variation (with differences in final yields of over 20 hl/ha between neighbouring properties in Margaux for instance). That means that the kind of generalised overview typically presented in the various reviews of the vintage can be misleading (more so than in other recent vintages other than 2022).

Yet in what follows I draw significantly on these accounts, using a combination of CIVB and IVSS data to descend a little further into the appellation-level details only when it is necessary to do so (I will return to more of that detail in my appellation-by-appellation profiles that I hope to publish early in May).

There is, however, no danger in overgeneralisation if we stick to the basics.

These are clear to see from Tables 1 and 2, with some additional appellation-level complexity added by Table 3.

Temperature (°C) 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Average (April-Sept) 18.2 19.0 18.2 18.9 17.7 19.8 19.4
Difference to 10 year average -.3 +.5 -.3 +.4 -.8 +1.3 +.9

Table 1: Average growing season temperatures in the Bordeaux region 2017-23

Source: calculated from Gavin Quinney’s Bordeaux 2023 weather and harvest report


Rainfall (mm) 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
March-Sept 470 443 399 560 469 278 428
relative to 10-year average (%) +10 +3 -7 +31 +9 -35 =
Annual* 736 785 998 1157 885 639 1219
relative to 20-year average (%) -20 -15 +8 +26 -4 -31 +32

Table 2: Average rainfall in the Bordeaux region 2017-23

Source: calculated from Gavin Quinney’s Bordeaux 2023 weather and harvest report and (* for Bordeaux-Mérignac alone)


Budburst to Harvest




Margaux 464.6 (+11.0%) 862.6 (-5.7%)
St Julien 441.3 (+13.3%) 899.2 (+1.2%)
Pauillac 441.3 (+13.2%) 899.2 (+1.2%)
St Estèphe 411.8 (+4.7%) 912.5 (+1.5%)
Pessac-Léognan 469.4 (+14.5%) 895.2 (0%)
Saint-Émilion 490.8 (+18.1%) 796.8 (-11.8%)
Pomerol 470.0 (+14.5%) 808.1 (-10.9%)

Table 3: Rainfall during the vintage (relative to 10-year average)

Source: calculated from Saturnalia’s Bordeaux 2023 Harvest report

Taken together, these various data show that the 2023 growing season was both hot – hotter, on average, that any growing season of the last decade save other than 2022 and hotter even than 2018 – and, perhaps more surprisingly, no wetter than the recent average (though set in a wider calendar year in which the water table was significantly replenished).

This helps us to make sense of the three most important factors shaping the character of the vintage. These are: (i) the intense mildew pressure at the start of the growing season; (ii) the absence of hydric stress and associated fruit concentration until the very end of the ripening period; and (iii) the heatwave conditions established immediately prior to the harvest itself.

The consequence of the second of these factors – the absence of hydric stress – is clear to see from Table 4. This shows the relative size and composition of the grapes at harvest, with the data coming from the ISVV’s sample vineyard sites throughout the region.

Weight per 100

grapes (g)

Sugar (g/L)

Total acidity


Merlot 2023 154 222 3.3
Merlot 2022 122 241 2.4
Merlot 2021 176 205 3.3
Merlot (2018-20) 140 235 2.6
Merlot 2013 118 219 3.4
Cabernet Sauvignon 2023 113 222 3.1
Cabernet Sauvignon 2022 95 232 3.0
Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 138 205 4.0
Cabernet Sauvignon (2018-20) 110 233 3.2
Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 119 215 4.0

Table 4: Characteristics of the grapes at harvest

Source: calculated from with the historical data drawn from Marchal et al. (2023)¡; 2023 data collected in the first three weeks of September from the ISVV’s sample vineyards

What is clear to see is that, at least in the vineyards here sampled, and, above all for the Merlot, we do not have anything close to the fruit concentration attained in Bordeaux’s recent great vintages (the trilogy 2018 to 2020 and, above all, 2022). But what is also clear is the striking difference, in effect, in the quality of the Merlot and the later-ripening Cabernet at the point of harvest.

Whilst, in terms of levels of sugar and total acidity, the Cabernet is closer to the quality of vintages like 2019 and 2020, the same cannot be said for the Merlot – with sugar and acidity levels that more closely resemble 2021 or, even, 2013 than they do 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2022.

All of that said, we need to be careful here. This data comes from sample vineyards. It does not come (we can be sure) from Mouton-Rothschild nor Cheval Blanc! The point is that, above all in 2023, there is a great deal of inter- and, indeed, intra-appellation variation – none of which is captured in the above data.

But, if there are issues in general with this vintage, they are already made clear by this table. They are principally two-fold: (i) the potential for dilution and a certain lack of concentration in the wines (above all those based on young Merlot); and (ii) the rather elevated acidity (good for freshness and longevity on the one hand, but with the potential to bring austerity and a certain sternness to the wines on the other).

These data also suggest that this is likely to be more of a Cabernet vintage than a Merlot vintage and that wines with unusually high proportions of Cabernet Franc (on the right-bank) and Cabernet Sauvignon (on the left) might well prove exceptions to whatever the general trend might be. As ever, these are conjectures based on the figures. What matters more is what these wines taste like. That perspective I am not – yet – in a position to provide.

In part 2, I will look at the principal features of the growing season and the challenges it presented.

Read more:

Bordeaux vintage report part 2: a vintage of reactivity, vigilance and surveillance

Bordeaux en primeur system ‘at breaking point’

Bordeaux en primeur: will a ‘35% reduction to recalibrate’ be enough?

  • Axel Marchal, Valérie Lavigne, Elodie Guittard & Laurence Gény (2024) Note du Millésime 2023. Bordeaux: Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of the University of Bordeaux, Oenological Research Unit
  • Gavin Quinney (2024) Bordeaux 2023 weather and harvest report,
  • Saturnalia (2024) Bordeaux 2023 Harvest Report, January 2024,
  • Axel Marchal, Valérie Lavigne, Elodie Guittard & Laurence Gény (2023) Des conditions climatiques inédites pour des vins hors norme mais parfaitement équilibrés, les paradoxes du millésime 2022. Bordeaux: Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of the University of Bordeaux, Oenological Research Unit

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