The 2022 vintage ushers in a new frontier in the world of fine wine. The hottest year on record for France since 1947 with severe drought throughout the summer, adaptation from both the vines and winemakers alike produced some of the most exciting wines in recent memory.
After a fascinating week in Bordeaux sampling the latest en-primeur vintage release, the Armit team returned excited to present what is shaping up as a truly unique vintage: the wines were generous and pleasantly textured without losing definition or perfume.
The Merlot was a standout with sensual purity and aromatics, and the Cabernet Franc added notable lift and vibrancy even when only comprising a small part of the blend: each varietal was so focused and expressive that they all played a clear role in the final wine. As a result, each appellation offers strong, well-defined options to buy different styles with the confidence that the wines will age gracefully over the years to come.
After a relatively mild winter, temperatures started to rise early in the season. From April – late March in some cases – the growers saw the signs of a warm vintage, with budburst up to two weeks earlier than normal. Most producers stopped all leaf-thinning to shade the fruit and decided against green harvesting to avoid over-stressing the vine, techniques which evidently contributed towards the production of balanced wines.
A much-needed burst of rain in mid-June replenished the groundwater for many thirsty vines followed by near complete drought for 6-8 weeks. Château Margaux didn’t see a single drop of rain from mid-July until the end of August, whilst Haut-Bailly recorded 50 days without rain through to harvest. The Right Bank was slightly less extreme, with less rain in June but scattered showers in July and August. During this drought, every month was up to 10% hotter than the average of the last 20 years, with 3-5 mini heatwaves pushing the temperature to 40°C – or over.
This consistency of heat and its early start allowed the vines to adapt and thrive. The roots dug deep into the subsoil to search for water, with old vines and their extensive root systems in particular performing well. Many producers noted how healthy the vines were, the leaves staying green and healthy all the way into October.
The harvest was early with most Merlot picked by mid-September, and Cabernet Sauvignon by the end of the month. The white harvest started as early as 18th August. Conditions were perfect: with no incoming rain or disease pressure, producers could take their time and harvest plot-by-plot – even bunch by bunch – to ensure perfect ripeness across the board.
The berries these vines produced were smaller than previous vintages but with thicker skins to combat the heat. This reduced some yields, particularly with Cabernet Sauvignon: Pontet-Canet mentioned that from a single tank they produced 20% less juice but double the quantity of solids. But it is important to note that the berries did not shrivel, they concentrated, resulting in a harmonious balance of freshness and intensity. Almost everyone we visited was very careful with their extraction to control the tannins, resulting in wines of firm structure whilst remaining remarkably approachable.
Margaux’s signature fruit intensity was in full force this vintage, with the tannins adding edges and keeping wines grounded.
St-Julien produced some very impressive wines, all quite serious with a real weightiness to them. In general, very complete wines, already melded together.
Pauillac is a very exciting appellation this vintage, with earthy, incense-like aromatics alongside the 2022’s floral perfume. There is a vibrancy here that gives a sense of energy with firm tannins wrapped around the fruit.
St-Estèphe displayed the vintage’s structure most clearly with mouth-coating, angular tannins and plush fruit built around a savoury backbone. These wines will need more time than most to come together.
Graves & Pessac-Léognan produced some truly exceptional wines. The fruit is dense and rich, darker than most other appellations, but with a sense of sweetness. The floral overtones of the vintage are well-pronounced here and the tannins are taut but crunchy, adding pleasing freshness.
St-Émilion made rich wines that are juicy and welcoming. Supple and silky tannins are layered in providing precision alongside the luxurious fruit.
Pomerol wines are firmer than St-Émilion with grippy tannins acting as a foundation to the bright, spicy fruit with a dense, velvety texture.
Some fabulous wines were produced in the hands of the most careful producers. A fresh pineapple character unified most of the wines, as well as a creamy, broad style. The best examples displayed an added steeliness and focus and there were some real standouts.
It is difficult to compare 2022 to other vintages. Pontet-Canet associated the complex aromatics with 2010 but the richer texture with 2016, while Angelus looked more recently and suggested a combination of 2018, 2019, and 2020. Some looked further back, with Cos d’Estournel comparing the early harvest to 1989 and the heat to 1947 and 1949, while Léoville-Las Cases landed firmly on 1870.
But really, it is clear that 2022 is its own beast. In the words of Matthieu Bessonnet, the head winemaker at Pontet-Canet, “there are no more ‘normal’ vintages”. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns have brought a new frontier to the world of fine wine, but with the 2022 vintage, Bordeaux has proved that it is more than up for the challenge.
With a range of in-house experts and historical relationships with iconic winemakers across the world, Armit Wines is here to guide you. If you're looking to engage with this year's En Primeur campaign, we would strongly encourage you to fill out our wishlist.
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