Bordeaux 2022: Pessac-Léognan reds, dry and sweet whites


Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte has made an expressive Pessac-Léognan in 2022. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Reds from Pessac-Léognan 2022

In some ways, the wines of Pessac-Léognan have the best of both worlds this year. The strength of the tannins from the Cabernet Sauvignon is (mostly) counterbalanced by the juiciness of the Merlot. And the more assertive expressions of freshness found in the Médoc are more moderated and integrated here.

The Léognan section in the south of the appellation was closest to the pine forest fires of July. But, in truth, they never came close enough to cause major concern to the harvest. There was a bit more rain here in August: 48 millimetres versus 28 millimetres in the Médoc. As long as it fell on your vineyard, the rain made a major difference to the evolution of the grapes.

That rain helped to push up average yields to 36hl/ha, although many châteaux had lower yields after some marginal frost damage in the spring. With Cabernet Sauvignon playing its part, some wines showed a significant tannic presence, notably at Haut-Brion.

But overall, the reds are exceptionally pleasing, especially in Léognan. There is a lush density to the wines, with Merlot playing a more important role. Here the country is more bucolic and seems to lend itself to a more environmentally adaptive ethos. At Domaine de Chevalier, the success of the vintage was attributed to the resilience of the ecology of the vineyard. Similarly, Haut-Bailly, with its sustainable and covert new winery, seems to express a more suave and seamless fruit. Smith Haut Lafitte is also more expressive, although seemingly looser knit, as is not uncommon with wines made following biodynamic principles.

In Pessac, surrounded by the city of Bordeaux’s southern suburbs, the summer heat was more intense. Both La Mission Haut-Brion and, especially, Haut-Brion, are deep, structured and tannic. But the ripeness of the tannins for nearby neighbour Les Carmes Haut-Brion allowed the highest-ever proportion of whole bunches to be used. Whole-bunch fermentation is almost unheard of in modern Bordeaux but is a superb vehicle for moderating alcohol levels and retaining freshness. The results at Carmes this year are astonishing and really impressive.

Dry white Bordeaux 2022

After the brilliance of the previous vintage, the 2022 dry white Bordeaux wines are more forward and open, with exotic aromatics consistent with a hot year. There are lower levels of acidity after the heat and drought. Plenty of pleasant wines for earlier drinking and without the mineral complexity of the best have been made, but still with a handful of very successful wines, which may yet surprise with their ageing potential.

Pessac-Léognan whites

The best whites of the vintage are from Pessac-Léognan. The star is Domaine de Chevalier, which has almost reinterpreted itself this year as a new expression of white wine from a hot, dry climate. The whites of the Haut-Brion stable are certainly good, if lacking the dimension of a fresher vintage. Latour Martillac has also performed creditably.

Dry whites from the Médoc

There are now several châteaux making whites in the Médoc. Overall, these wines have a little less heft than those of Pessac-Léognan, while the good ones are still cleanly and very competently made.

Those that stand out have a component to set them apart, such as Talbot’s Caillou Blanc, with its old vines; Mouton Rothschild’s Aile d’Argent, lifted by its seasoning of Sauvignon Vert; and the Blanc de Lynch-Bages, for which old-vine Muscadelle plays a similar role. Château Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc also impresses, with plenty of salty minerality.

Sweet white Bordeaux 2022

A first pass of naturally dried (passerillé) fruit and rapid onset of botrytis from mid-October means this vintage may not have the filigree freshness of 2021. It does however have more volume (13hl/ha) and monumental richness. These are impressive wines to keep.

At this stage, we don’t tend to taste the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac in detail. But based on the examples we did see, this is a very interesting vintage of high quality and useful quantity. The bone-dry summer meant that there was little sign of botrytis by the end of September. The first picking of fully ripe passerillé grapes was undertaken at that stage. There was then a little rain, followed by humid conditions, precipitated by the noble rot very quickly.

The already small berries were quickly affected, with the harvest gathered typically in two further passes; everything was picked by the end of October. Very high sugar levels were recorded, with 190 grammes per litre at Suduiraut. Doisy-Védrines and Coutet show very similar characteristics.

Find out more about Bordeaux 2022 En Primeur.