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Pauillac 2023 en primeur: tasting notes

db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay gives his verdict on the 2023 vintage wines from Pauillac, following the publication of his appellation report. 

A note on the ratings

This year, as is now my habit, I have again decided to provide an indicative rating for each wine alongside the published comment. All such comments and ratings are necessarily subjective (they cannot be anything else when one thinks about it). I would urge you to look at the two together and, if anything, to privilege the comment over the rating. My aim is more to describe the wine in the context of the vintage, the appellation and recent vintages of the same and similar wines, rather than to judge the wine per se.

The ratings, of course, reflect my subjective evaluations and relative preferences between wines. Your palate is likely differ from mine. I hope that my comments give you at least enough information to be able to recalibrate my ratings and, in so doing, to align them more closely to your own palate. To give an example: if the idea of the ‘new classicism’ leaves you cold, you may well wish to discount the (typically high) ratings I have given to wines described in such terms.

2023, like both of its predecessors is, of course, a far from homogeneous vintage – and, consequently, my ratings span a considerable range (from the very top of the scale downwards). I see little interest, either for the consumer or the producer, in publishing very low scores. Consequently, I have decided not to publish scores for classed growths (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 90 (here the range 89-91) and for crus bourgeois (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 89 (here the range 88-90). Where no rating is published, the wine would have scored below these thresholds. Where my written assessment of the wine might also have proved unflattering to the property, I have simply chosen to publish neither the commentary nor the rating.

Finally, élevage is likely to be very important in determining the quality in bottle of these wines. I am no soothsayer and cannot predict how that will turn out (another reason for the use of banded ratings). But all en primeur ratings should be treated with caution and taken with a certain pinch of salt.

Detailed tasting notes


D’Armailhac (Pauillac; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; pH 3.75; 13.7% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then at Clerc-Milon with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy). Smokier and more ferrous and saline in its minerality than Clerc-Milon, it is also more red-fruited and a little less sumptuous in texture. Redcurrant and blackcurrant. Tense, with the tension almost of a white wine if you shut you eyes and project. This is fresh and vibrantly energetic, but the acidity is much more noticeable and it’s not, for me, quite at the level of the rest of the Mouton flight, texturally ethereal though the tannins are. The fruit feels just a little stretched over the frame. 91-93.


Batailley (Pauillac; 79% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; a final yield of around 49 hl/ha and late picked; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then at Batailley). I think I’d pick this blind (easily said, I know) and I like that. Again, it’s floral for Pauillac (and that makes it a little more difficult to pick), but it has a specific salinity to its minerality and a slight smoky note that feels reassuringly familiar. Damsons and blueberries, a little bramble and black berry too. Glossy. Comfortingly soft, a little less oak than there used to be and with considerable intensity to the red and darker berry fruits that define the core of this wine on the palate (here, as that suggests, the fruit profile is a little lighter in hue). A lovely clean cassis signature and good sapidity. Nicely balanced. 93-95.


Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; pH 3.70; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 13.2% alcohol; tasted at Duhart-Milon). Very dark berry fruited with a little damson. Herbal and almost a little herbaceous. Quite strict and austere, though with ultra-refined and super fine-grained tannins. A nice juicy sapidity. There’s a touch of crushed rock and rock salt minerality that lifts this on the chewy finish. Clean, lean and fresh on the finale which is nicely focussed and well-sustained. 92-94.


Clerc-Milon (Pauillac; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; 6.5% Cabernet Franc; 1.5% Carménère; 1% Petit Verdot; pH 3.83; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and at the property with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy). Rose petals, crushed and concentrated, damsons, brambles, blackberries all freshly picked and de-husked or de-stoned. Floral, petal-y and with a hint of saffron too. There’s a lovely cassis and cedar element to this that actually makes me think of Le Petit Mouton. There’s also mirror pool clarity in the mid-palate. Excellent. So juicy and refreshing. This used to be difficult to taste en primeur. Not today. 93-95.


Croizet-Bages (Pauillac; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). For so long a slumbering giant. Here I find it ambitious and quite punchy for the vintage. But the tannins are a little less refined than those of the neighbours and this is rather chunky. It finishes just a little harsher than many and the extraction feels a little pushed. It’s rather old school, in its way, but will be fine with patience. 90-92.


Duhart-Milon (Pauillac; 80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; a final yield of 45hl/ha yield; around 65% of the production made the selection for the grand vin; 15% press wine; 13.1% alcohol). Rather closed aromatically when tasted under light grey skies with rain in the air at the property. Cedar, fruits of the forest, cassis. A big, plump and quite spherical mouthful of sapid, juicy, fresh berry fruits. This feels cool, autumnal, almost slightly austere in a way, with a hint of wild herbs and heather – wild, almost sauvage. Not terribly dense or, indeed, compact, but crystalline, clear, translucent and quite pixilated by the tannins, whose glossiness and finesse brings polish. The acidity picks up on the finish, which helps give it lift. If I have a quibble it is that, like Moulin de Duhart, this feels just a little herbaceous on the finish. The frame is almost too ample to sustain the fruit intensity. 93-95.


Echo de Lynch Bages (Pauillac; 55% Merlot; 43% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.62; IPT 78; 13.6% alcohol; tasted at Lynch Bages). Gracious, eloquent, pure and refined. Brambles, freshly plucked, de-husked and concentrated. Cedar and black cherry. This is plump and nicely composed, with the sense of density reinforced by the relatively narrow frame. A sumptuous evolution. Juicy on the finish. 92-94.


Forts de Latour (Pauillac; 55.8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40.2% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; 13.7% alcohol; IPT 75; nearly 40 per cent of the total production; tasted at Latour). More creamy in texture than Le Pauillac de Latour. Lithe. A little more spice from the oak, but it’s well integrated. Dark berry and cherry fruit. Wild sage. Heather. A little hazelnut. Sandalwood. A pleasing density that seems to reveal itself slowly as this evolves over the palate. Quite a punchy acidity and a relatively substantial volume of tannin that is still to be resolved. Crumbly, nicely so, bringing a gentle massaging of the fruit on the finish. 92-94.


Grand-Puy Ducasse (Pauillac; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 44% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 50 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). We’re already off to a good start when the second wine, Prélude, is rather better than most recent vintages of the grand vin. And the good news continues with the grand vin itself in 2023. Lush, plump, plush, opulent and yet elegant and classically refined on the nose, with dark berry and stone fruit, the damson and mulberry perhaps just stealing the show. Quite sweet fruited, enticingly so. The palate is soft and nicely filled, here with cherries, damsons, brambles and mulberries. Succulent through the mid-palate but chewy and substantial on the finish which is lifted, elegant and long. The best I’ve ever tasted from here and a new benchmark I am sure for the property. 92-94.


Grand-Puy Lacoste (Pauillac; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; a final yield of 48 hl/ha; 13.2% alcohol; tasted at the property with Emeline Borie). Lovely brambly notes with a wild, herbal and heathery streak that I somehow associate with Grand-Puy Lacoste. Spicy and peppery, more so that the 2022 and perhaps more dynamic too. Blackberries and a little redcurrant, bringing lift and freshness. A tight and densely charged mid-palate but a relatively narrow frame, accentuating the impression of concentration and, with it, a succulent and refreshing juiciness. Lots of refinement and classicism. The Merlot give a wonderful round plush frame for the somewhat more strict and linear Cabernet, creating lots of tension. Nice grippy, chewy tannins on the finish. Long with a gentle taper towards a distant horizon. Very pure and nicely composed. A very articulate expression of the vintage and appellation. Minty fresh on the finale. 93-95.


Les Griffons de Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 57% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; pH 3.8; 7% press wine; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; 13.2% alcohol; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely). Brighter and more vertical both aromatically and in the mouth than Les Tourelles. Redcurrant, blackcurrant, a little damson. This has a more traditional and quite chiselled structure, much more so than Les Tourelles (which is horizonal where this is more vertical). Pauillac depth and with more of a sense of gravitas and profundity. Intensely sapid. The tannins are nicely interwoven with the acidity producing an integral sense of freshness that is sapid, juicy and salivating. 91-93+.


Haut-Bages Libéral (Pauillac; 86% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% Merlot; an impressive final yield 53 hl/ha; pH 3.48; 13.5 alcohol; practicing agroforestry and certified both organic and biodynamic; tasted with Claire Lurton). At Haut-Bages Libéral it’s as if the terroir speaks! Limestone-accented, chalky, vertical and with a very dynamic sense of lift. There’s great aromatic purity and pixilation here too (even if one typically thinks of pixilation in visual terms)! And it is so very different to Durfort Vivens (tasted immediately before) in terms of its essential characteristics and fruit profile. Red berries – raspberry, loganberry, just a little hint of bramble and wild strawberry too (a note I tend to associate with Haut-Bages Libéral). Graphite but none of the cedar of Durfort. There’s a little touch of flint too. This seems to glisten with energy. Vivid and vibrant, the acidity so well incorporated. Full, cylindrical in the mouth, rich and fully charged – quite a mouthful in fact. Super-svelte tannins, nice grip and with great freshness on the long finish. Fabulous. 94-96.


Haut Batailley (Pauillac; 71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; 13.2% alcohol; aging in oak barrels, 65% of them new; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and, a second time, at Lynch Bages; 20,000 cases made, with roughly 60 per cent of the production selected for the grand vin). Lovely and quite distinctive now in its personality. Lighter, more delicate but also more refined than many of its ostensible Pauillac peers, this is quite a subtle, almost intellectual wine. A very pure and pleasingly cedar-inflected dark berry fruit. A saline note too – almost a hint of salted peanuts (though better than that makes it sound)! Lots of cassis, which really comes through in the mid-palate and on the finish (but which is more suppressed aromatically for the moment). Articulate and engaging, with lovely detail and delineation. I’m very impressed. Quiet progress each years brings us something of excellence and ethereal beauty in 2023. 93-95.


Lacoste Borie (Pauillac; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 48 hl/ha; 13.2% alcohol; tasted with Emeline Borie at Grand-Puy Lacoste). Bright, crisp and fresh, this provides a pleasingly representative and authentic introduction to the grand vin. Lots of cassis and blackberry fruits, a little wild herbal note too. Some redcurrant too, with additional acidity than implies. Cool, hyper-fresh but with enough substance that this always stays sapid and juicy and never either becomes or threatens to become astringent. Very well-balanced. 90-92.


Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac; 93% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; pH 3.76; aging in oak barrels, 90% of which are new; 12.9% alcohol). This is so beautifully redolent of Lafite and could be no other wine. Carruades might have been starved in a way to make this, but you would, wouldn’t you! Gorgeous refined blackcurrant and black cherry, oodles of cedar and a little graphite, HB pencil-shavings fresh from the sepia-tinged classroom of the 1960s and a hint of dark chocolate-coated violet. Restrained, elegant, relaxed and plush, with a very soft-focused but dense and compact spherical core – a black hole of black fruit. Gracious and almost hinting at opulence but for the freshness of the vintage which brings instead a striking energy and vivacity. But this is relaxed and measured where Mouton is more vivid and dynamic, cashmere replacing the fine silk layering of its near neighbour. I love the Cabernet fruit that pulses through all of its veins. There’s lots of fruity capillarity here! 96-98+.


Latour (Pauillac; 92.3% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7.7% Merlot; 13.2% alcohol; IPT 73; nearly 40 per cent of the total production; tasted at the property). A particularly big step up from Les Forts in this vintage. Complex aromatically, with a cassis leafiness and a lovely bouquet of freshly picked spring blooms. The fruit profile is delicate and it is almost as if this part of the aromatic profile remains intimate and shy. Red and darker cherry, bramble and black berries, a little redcurrant reinforcing the sense of freshness. Sandalwood. Lithe and aerial aromatically giving the impression of a less substantial wine than it turns out to be on the palate. Quite pixilated with a subtle granularity to the tannins – not the glacial mirror pool texture at all of Mouton. But very fine too. Almost a little foursquare for the vintage and maybe more traditional in a way than either Mouton or Lafite. 96-98.


Lynch-Bages (Pauillac; 71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 47 hl/ha; pH 3.75; IPT 95; 13.7% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and again at the property). A most fitting if silent tribute to the indomitable Jean-Michel Cazes. Floral, almost as never before, and both restrained and relaxed. A little cassis. A little violet. Blueberry. Bramble. Tasted a second time, it is more closed still and it is walnut and walnut shell that reveal themselves first. Soft, elegant, refined and glossy with beautifully-refined tannins and a shimmering quality to the mouthfeel (all the more impressive when you consider the IPT level – 20 points above that of Latour yet you would never guess). Not as ample as it used to be and so much more impressive for that. Glacially pure and crystalline in the mid-palate. Generous, long and multi-layered. So precise and so focussed, intensely juicy and with a lovely touch of menthol and fleur de sel on the finish. 94-96+.


Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; a final yield of 49 hl/ha, with half of the production making the selection for the grand vin; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and at Batailley). A little less engaging when tasted after Lynch-Bages, which I guess is the cross it must bear, but soft, gentle, easy and lithe. Raspberry. A little sloe and damson. Lithe and quite plush if not exactly plump. The tannins are a little less refined on the finish, but the progress here needs to be underscored. A much stronger wine than it used to be and an impressive showing from a wine that used to be rustic and even a little coarse. 91-93.


Moulin de Duhart (Pauillac; 55% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon). Plump. Succulent, though there’s a little dip in the mid-palate –  even if it starts to fill in with a little aeration. Blueberries and black currant. Fresh, juicy and sapid. A nice fluidity. Energetic. Easy and very accessible. A lovely harmony. A little herbaceous on the finish. 88-90.


Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac; 93% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Merlot; 13.3% alcohol; pH 3.79; the old-vine yields here were above the 10 year average for Mouton; tasted with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at Clerc-Milon). Very floral. Crushed rose petals, fresh rose petals, rose water and iris. Black cherries and brambles, damson too. Black pepper. Candlewax and candle smoke from the cathedral hinting perhaps at the gothic cathedral architecture of the palate to come. Walnut and olive oil. Chiselled. Incredible texturally. Broader than Le Petit Mouton but with something of the same kaleidoscope of velvety layers imparting a great sensation of depth. But this is deceptive as it’s so glacial, glassy and mirror pool. I love, too, the hint of blackcurrant that appears like a phantom from the lake just before the finish. A wine with a staggeringly dynamic freshness, almost a whirlpool of upwelling Cabernet cassis disrupting the cool tranquillity of the surface that we encounter first. So soft and gracious. Beautifully composed. And yet thrilling and utterly captivating at the same time. 97-99.


Pauillac de Latour (Pauillac; 62.5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 34.1% Merlot; 4.7% Petit Verdot; ; IPT 74; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at Latour). Pretty aromatically, with a little rose petal alongside the bright and quite dark shaded berry fruits. A little leafy and lifted with a nice note of cassis and a touch of cedar joining the frame towards the finish. Light and aerial. The tannins are perhaps just a little prickly on the finish, but that will be resolved before this is released. 90-92.


Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac; 79% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; pH 3.74; 13.3% alcohol; tasted at Clerc-Milon with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy). So cool and gracious. Plunge pool. Bramble and loganberry, mulberry. The fruit darkens with aeration, the berries joined by black cherries and assorted dark plums. Graphite. Quite broad initially, but then the tannins pinch and bring this back to the spine. Cascading layers of silky and velvety fruit make this very deep and reinforce the impression of concentration, density and compactness, but not at the expense of the sheer mobility and fluidity of the wine, with eddies of freshness disturbing the mirror pool. A fabulously composed and refined, cool and spiritual Petit Mouton. Very pure. Once again, I find this to star turn of the Pauillac 1st growth second wines. 93-95+.


Pibran (Pauillac; 54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 46% Merlot; pH 3.7; 13.1% alcohol; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely). A little closed under overcast skies at Pichon Baron. Peppery – pestle-pounded white and black peppercorns. Brambles. Sage. Bright, crisp with croquant berry fruits. The quality of the tannins again really impresses me. Quite broad-framed though never quite pushing at the cheeks. Silky, layered texturally and impressively pure and precise. Very clean on the finish. Not the length of the great wines of the appellation, but very impressive nonetheless. 90-92.


Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; pH 3.7; 13.2% alcohol; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; 12 % press wine; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely and Pierre Montegut). Very beautiful and refined aromatically. I love the purity of the fruit profile. So croquant and bright. Blackcurrant. Graphite, a touch of cedar, but with a lot more still to come. So fine texturally. Singularly pure, with a glorious Cabernet fruit completely at the centre of the stage. Broad but hyper-layered. Finely delineated, with a sense of inter-layer pixilation and a crystalline character and finesse that I’ve never felt here before but that is very consistent with the direction of travel of this wine over recent vintages. The closest in signature to the 2019 for me, but with the additional density of 2010, 2016 or 2020. Gracious and composed. 95-97.

Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac; 80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl//ha; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then with Florent Genty and the property; very strict plot selection with just 40% of the production making the grade for the grand vin; they are practicing biodynamic viticulture over 80 of the 98 hectares). Exquisite as it now so reliably is, and once again pushing at the first growths in qualitative terms (though not in price). In a way this is the wine that everyone aspires to emulate. Loved by vigneron(ne)s – and by me. Violet, black cherry, iris and wisteria – all beautifully integrated and interwoven. A little rose petal. Graphite. There’s an extraordinary mirror pool clarity to the mid-palate, if perhaps not quite the plunge-pool depth of the 2020 or 2022. Texturally sublime nonetheless. So suave and succulent. So juicy. So composed. A mirror pool of fresh sapid fruit. This is if anything even more impressive at the property when I nudge up my rating just a notch. 96-98+.


Pontet Canet (Pauillac; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 35% in concrete amphoras; the rest in oak barrels of 1 previous use; a final yield of c. 40 hl/ha; 13.8% alcohol; the longest ever harvest here, with 250 pickers harvesting over 34 days; tasted at the property with Alfred Tesseron). Gracious, plump, though a little closed at first. Bramble and blueberry, a little graphite. Cool and quite intimate at first. But, with air this becomes intensely saline with liquorice notes very prominent. The greater use of spherical cuves has helped to keep the extraction as soft as possible, reinforcing the quality of the mid-palate. Glossily textured and silky in the mouth, with quite a broad frame (in contrast, say, to Grand-Puy Lacoste, visited just before). Quite a lot of still unresolved tannin on the finish and, in the context of the vintage, a bolder and fuller, richer wine than in recent years. A pleasingly luminous core. 20 years of biodynamic wine-making gives this a natural energy. 94-96+.


Réserve de la Comtesse (Pauillac; the 50th anniversary release with a special commemorative one-off label; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 5% Cabernet Franc; tasted at the property with Florent Genty; 60 per cent of the total production). Sumptuous and so impressively Pauillac. Dense and compact and yet with the most gracious of tannins once again. Cedary. More cassis than the cherry of the grand vin. Plump and very classically of the appellation, with dark and lighter berry fruits – cassis and blackberry, loganberry and raspberry. A little walnut oil. A wild herbal note too. I love how the fruit profile seems to turn, mid-palate, from berries to cherries. This is wonderful on the finish – all chewy grape skins and cherry skins. The florality is all that is left in the empty glass. 92-94.


Domaine Les Sadons (Pauillac; a tiny property of three parcels next to the Pichons and Latour and just 0.87 hectares in total; over 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, a little Petit Verdot and the rest Merlot 13.2% alcohol). A wine I very much enjoyed in 2022 and this is very close to attaining the same heights. Very authentically Pauillac, with a satisfying deep, rich yet well-structured and tight central core of dark berry fruit – predominantly black cherry and with a little suggestion of leafy cassis. The tannin management is excellent and this is sapid and juicy on the finish. What’s not to like? 90-92.


Les Tourelles de Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 72% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.7; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely). Darker berry fruits when compared to Pibran. But much more berry than stone fruit, though a little damson too. The palate is very supple and lithe, rather less spice and salt than in previous vintages. Lovely grip and chewiness on the finish, with an impressive sense of textural evolution and then lift. A nice graphite note, borrowed or at least copied from the grand vin! A touch of menthol on the finish. 91-93.

See here for db’s appellation analysis for Margaux, St JulienPauillacSt Estèphe and Saint Émilion.


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