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Pauillac 2023: impressively homogenous quality

Continuing north up the Gironde db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay reaches Pauillac in his appellation-by-appellation guide to Bordeaux 2023. Here he finds the quality impressively homogenous, despite the challenging vintage, listing his stand out wines of the appellation.

Continuing north up the Gironde and leaving St Julien behind us, it does not take long for us to get to Pauillac. Given their geographical proximity and the fact that they share the same weather station, we might expect them to have fared similarly in the 2023 vintage. And that is just about correct. Yet the data can be a little misleading in this part of the Médoc.

Somewhat ironically perhaps, southern Pauillac (the part of the appellation south of the town itself) arguably shares more with St-Julien that it does with the northern sector of the appellation which, in turn, shares more with St-Estèphe than it does the southern sector. So, whilst the data from the Pauillac weather station arguably captures quite well the experience of the southern part of the appellation, we are probably better advised to look to the St-Estèphe weather station if we want to gauge the conditions prevailing in the north.

In the end, however, and as Table 1 suggests, it does not make a great deal of difference.



Budburst to Harvest

(April-mid October)



Pauillac 458 (-5.8%) 441.3 (+13.2%) 899.2 (+1.2%)
Margaux 398 (-19.3%) 464.6 (+11.0%) 862.6 (-5.7%)
St-Julien 458 (-5.8%) 441.3 (+13.2%) 899.2 (+1.2%)
St-Estèphe 550.7 (+3.0%) 411.8 (+4.7%) 912.5 (+1.5%)
Pessac-Léognan 426 (-12.4%) 469.4 (+14.5%) 895.2 (0%)
St-Emilion 306 (-37.1%) 490.8 (+18.1%) 796.8 (-11.8%)
Pomerol 338 (-31.5%) 470.0 (+14.5%) 808.1 (-10.9%)

Table 1: Rainfall during the vintage (relative to 10-year average)

Source: calculated from Saturnalia’s Bordeaux 2023 Harvest report

Overall, and in aggregate terms, Pauillac had a somewhat unexceptional year. Total rainfall was marginally above the 10-year average (as, indeed, it was, across the appellation border in St-Estèphe). And, as already noted for St-Julien, over the growing season itself only two months saw above average rainfall – June and September.

But this is where the story – or at least the implications of the story – start to diverge. For although Pauillac, too, suffered serious mildew pressure in June, a rather smaller proportion of its leading vineyards are planted with the more susceptible Merlot varietal. Moreover, in the north at least, the catalytic combination of alternating downpours and spikes in temperature that saw mildew spread like wildfire elsewhere was rather less present.

In short, the northern sector suffered less intense mildew pressure and both sectors were always going to be rather less susceptible to it than equivalent vineyards further south or, indeed, further north.

Fast forwarding to September, the rain that came in the middle of month set up almost perfect conditions for the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon that dominates the blends of the appellation to attain perfect maturity – above all for those with the means and the patience to pick it micro-parcel by micro-parcel. What was problematic elsewhere turned out to be something of an advantage in Pauillac, as is clear to see from Table 2.


2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 10-year average Relative to 10-year average (% change)
Pauillac 46.7 37.4 35.1 34.8 47.1 39.7 +18.6
Margaux 49.2 36.3 38.6 31.3 37.7 39.7 -5.0
St-Julien 45.5 34.3 35.2 34.3 50.3 40.1 +25.4
St-Estèphe 49.7 41.2 40.7 31.5 51.6 43.4 +18.9
Pessac-Léognan rouge 47.2 34.6 30.7 35.7 38.1 38.5 -1.0
St Emilion (GC) 43.0 36.7 27.5 41.2 40.5 37.2 +8.9
Pomerol 43.0 39.8 28.9 32.3 45.2 36.1 +25.2

Table 2: Average vineyard yield by appellation (hl/ha)

Source: calculated from Duanes data compiled by the CIVB Service Economie et Etudes

This shows average annual yields for the leading left- and right-banks appellations. Whilst Pauillac might not have attained the absolute average vineyards yield of either St-Estèphe or St-Julien, it has not seen yields of over 47 hl/ha for almost 2 decades.

Impressive, too, is the relative lack of variation in average vineyard yields between properties (as my detailed tasting notes below testify). And certainly no less impressive is that, not for the first time, the highest absolute vineyard yields in the appellation were achieved at a property practicing agroforestry and both organic and biodynamic viticulture, Haut-Bages Libéral.

Interesting, too, is the convergence in the blend composition of the leading wines of the appellation. We might well still think of the Médoc classed growths as Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends. But, in Pauillac at least, that is less and less the case. As Table 3 suggests, these are now perhaps better seen as Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends with a variable sprinkling of other varietals (including, but by no means restricted to, Merlot).

2020 2021 2022 2023
Lafite Rothschild 92 96 94 93
Latour 97 96 92.5 92.5
Mouton Rothschild 84 89 92 93
Pichon Baron 76 88 81 80
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande 77 88 78 80
Lynch Bages 60 67 66 71
Average (% CS) 81 87 84 85

Table 3: Percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the grands vins of leading Pauillac estates

The wines themselves are excellent and the quality, above all in the context of a challenging vintage, is impressively homogeneous.

Mouton Rothschild has, once again, produced a potential candidate for the left-bank wine of the vintage (alongside Margaux and a couple of others that we will come to as we continue our Médoc en primeur journey further north). It is incredibly energetic, dynamic and captivating in its purity and precision and it seems to provide for me now the reference point against which the other wines of the appellation have to be judged.

Lafite Rothschild and Pichon Comtesse de Lalande both run it very close for the wine of the appellation, even if neither for me quite attains the level of the 2020 or 2022.

Latour feels to me, in this vintage above all, a more traditional wine and it will be fascinating to see how each evolves over the decades to come.

And, in their different ways, Pichon Baron, Lynch Bages, Pontet Canet and Haut-Bages Libéral have each made thrilling wines, very true to both their terroirs and their distinctive styles. Each provides a more articulate and eloquent expression of its personality arguably than ever before; each feels more comfortable in its identify; and each deserves a place in any fine collection of the best wines of the last decade in Pauillac.

Once again Le Petit Mouton is for me the second wine of the Médoc.

But it is Grand-Puy Ducasse which perhaps deserves the most special mention. It may well still be something of a work in progress, but for the first time in a long time it has made a wine that is a true sublimation of the quality of its terroir. The collective effort that has gone into this is monumental. Welcome back!

Highlights in 2022

Best of the appellation:

  • Mouton Rothschild (97-99)

Truly great:

  • Lafite Rothschild (96-98+)
  • Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (96-98+)
  • Latour (96-98)
  • Pichon Baron (95-97)
  • Lynch Bages (94-96+)
  • Pontet Canet (94-96+)
  • Haut-Bages Libéral (94-96)
  • Le Petit Mouton (93-95+)
  • Clerc Milon (93-95)
  • Duhart Milon (93-95)
  • Haut Batailley (93-95)

Value picks:

  • Batailley (93-95)
  • Clerc-Milon (93-95)
  • Haut Batailley (93-95)
  • Grand-Puy Ducasse (92-94)

See here for Colin’s full tasting notes for Pauillac and his appellation analysis for Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe and Saint Émilion.

Read more:

A guide to Bordeaux 2023 in ten questions

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

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

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