21 November 2023
2022 Burgundy Vintage Report
by Jason Haynes
2022 is full of some of the most exciting wines I have tasted from barrel— ever!
There is an air of both quiet contentment and tangible excitement in Burgundy at the moment. Back-to-back vintages of great promise and decent volume have turned the frowns that followed the frost horrors of the ’21 vintage upside down. There is a bounce in everyone’s step, and despite a physically demanding harvest this year, there are smiles and delight on many a Burgundian face. One vigneron stated very simply that 2022 was a ‘cadeau,’ and he is not wrong.
It’s still a little early in the evolution of these wines to make sweeping, grandiose statements, but the more one tastes, the harder it becomes to avoid doing so. When I first began tasting 2022, mainly whites, back in June, I was not prepared for wines of such tension and refinement. Like everyone, I was very aware of the warm conditions that prevailed for much of the previous summer. I expected to find wines full of fruit, very expressive and quite immediate. I could not have been more wrong, and a further five-week tasting this autumn has merely highlighted further the extent of my inaccurate pre-conceptions.
So watch out, here comes the first of my grandiose statements: 2022 is full of some of the most exciting wines I have tasted from barrel— ever! Tastings have been consistently good across a huge number of domaines (always a sign of a strong vintage), but every now and again certain producers have made me stop in my tracks and forced me to mentally re-calibrate where they stand in my internal league table of quality. I have no doubt that some have produced the best wines they have ever made (grandiose statement number 2!). I find that, sometimes, the best wines that one tastes inspire the least number of notes as they become more emotive than intellectual. And, in many cellars, specific wines were described quite simply by words like ‘thrilling’, ‘beautiful’, and even ‘perfect’. Nothing else needed to be written.
So, in this warm vintage, why are so many wines quite so lovely?
Two rather dull factors certainly played a strong part. The diurnal temperature range was one (please don’t fall asleep just yet!) and rain was the other.
Unlike the warm vintages of 2019 and 2020 which, to be fair, also produced some great wines, the vines gained welcome respite from the heat of the day with much cooler nights, allowing them to exhale and gather their thoughts before greeting the sun again the following morning. This has helped the red wines retain a strong Pinot feel about them and the whites to exude a wonderful, salivating salinity. Both these qualities were also enhanced by the aforementioned precipitation. There is little doubt that two bouts of rain were vital to the style and success of the vintage. In June, 100mm fell very quickly, with Gevrey being turned into a series of tributary rivers running amok between the historical houses. Other parts of the Côte d’Or had a little less, but still a significant amount and this kept the vines free from hydric stress throughout the summer. Then, when more rain was needed in August, it came, just as wished for. As a result, berries were able to take in moisture rather than losing it through evaporation and becoming almost too concentrated. This maintenance of yield was absolutely vital in crafting wines that will really excite traditionalists. We saw it work to some extent with the white wines in 2018, when the significant yields dissipated some of the impact of the heat, but the heat was more relentless in 2018 and it didn’t quite have the same success with some of the reds.
But what else could have played a part in making 2022 such a success? The more I tasted the more I wondered to myself whether if this vintage had arrived twenty years ago, the resulting wines would have been this good. Well, 2003 offers a fairly definitive response: I remember tasting them from barrel and, despite the then groundbreaking early harvest, the wines were low on acid, low on varietal character and low on charm, so clearly something has changed in a generation. Certainly, equipment has evolved very positively: new gravity-fed cuveries have sprung up in every village, bursting with the latest tech available. And in tandem with their expensive new toys, winemakers have adapted their approach to work with the warmer vintages not against them. Antoine Jobard mentioned that the powerful vintage of 2015 was a game changer for him, encouraging him to re-assess how he worked his wines. For him, working cleverly and more constructively with his lees has brought a definition and freshness to his whites that they may not otherwise have had in such a run of warm, early vintages. Judging by the brilliance of his 2022s, he has got it just right. Pigeage has been reduced in many cellars, often in favour of remontage, as the raw material winemakers bring in often needs less manipulation to give up its precious bounty. Less new oak, greater, well-thought-out use of whole bunch, and a more hard-nosed approach at the table de tri (one of the welcomed biproducts of today’s financial rewards for making the best wines possible) have all had an influence on the style and purity of the wines we get to taste today. Winemakers are also being very precise with their harvest dates now, as getting it wrong by a couple of days has much more impact when harvesting in August than it would have done in early October. Vineyard management has progressed, too, and organic and biodynamic farming, whilst more challenging on occasions in extreme vintages, has made the vines more naturally resilient and has arguably given them a greater freedom to adapt naturally over time to the change in climate. So, it’s probably not just one single thing that has helped shape this vintage, but rather a cumulative gathering of experience that has inspired a very tailored and refined approach to the idiosyncrasies of the vintage.
And what about the individual wines, their character and their potential? As always, it is sensible to deal with the whites and reds separately, although it must be said that, unlike most vintages where one colour takes centre stage, 2022 sees a very close fight for supremacy. Beginning with the whites, one cannot help but be struck by the wonderful tension in the wines; there is underlying richness in most, but it’s not the leading characteristic. In a vintage with lower acidity than 2020, when the concentration of the juice also concentrated the acidity, the salinity that runs through the majority of the wines gives them a beautiful sense of vibrancy and zip. They are torturingly mouthwatering, with a strong sense of place and vineyard definition. At the lower end, the Bourgogne Blancs are a delight and well worth stocking up on, but even more eye-catching is the extraordinary excellence of all the Aligotés. In almost every cellar, the entry wine, normally made from very old vines, wows with its once in a lifetime perfect balance. 2022 must be the best vintage for Aligoté ever, and by a country mile (grandiose statement number 3!). If you have never bought Aligoté before, this is undoubtedly the time to pop your Aligoté cherry.
Will the wines last? Well, the dark days of premox seem to be behind us now, and with this level of concentration and balance the wines should really blossom with time in the cellar. Having said that, so many are so well balanced that they are already rather too gorgeous to put completely to one side in the short term. We’ve requested a lot of magnums this year as it feels like an ideal vintage for large formats, with the salinity, richness and complexity only likely to become ever more intertwined with time. Maybe just buy loads so you can drink them all the time and for a very long time!
It’s hard to say which village prospered more than others as there were highlights from all of them. Away from the Côte d’Or, there are some lovely wines from the Mâconnais, though thanks to drier conditions down there, yields were a fair bit lower. Chablis looks to have done really well, too, despite flirting with another frost-destroying spring. There was a very similar frost to the previous year, albeit about a week earlier, when temperatures dipped to -7 or -8 for a few days. However, unlike in 2021 when pretty much everything was decimated, in 2022 the second bud survived and flourished, and produced a high-class crop of quite serious wines; a minor miracle indeed.
After the minuscule volumes of 2021, thanks to the aforesaid frost, growers will no doubt keep back a little stock to replenish very barren reserves and thus, the volumes available will still be quite limited in many cases— a problem that may be exacerbated by the probable strong demand for the vintage. In terms of vintage comparisons, most growers seemed happy to put 2022 in the mix with the other three top vintages of the past decade (2014, 2017 and 2020), although given their youth, few were ready to stick their necks too far out and give their definitive order of those four beauties.
And how about the reds? Well, again, the entry level wines are great; another clear sign of a strong vintage. Juicy, croquant and full of deliciously bright, red fruit. And the climb up through the vineyard hierarchy is a joyful one to make. If Tinder did a sideline in vineyard dating, then the once hard or sometimes rustic appellations of Pommard, Nuit-Saint-Georges, Beaune and Clos Vougeot would have just found themselves swiping right to the gorgeously seductive 2022 vintage. Overall, the average quality is really consistent and really high, but where it really makes its mark is the quality that some winemakers have managed to achieve: where everything they did just came together perfectly, where harvest dates were spot on, where the percentages of whole bunches used were perfect, where extraction was handled with the skill of a surgeon. However, for all of the skills of a top vigneron, nature still dictates whether a wine can be brilliant or not. Being the capricious creature that she is, she offers both opportunities and challenges. For example, 2021 was a vintage that really challenged the vignerons; mentally, physically and technically. Many rose to the challenge and produced some impressive wines amidst difficult conditions. In contrast, 2022 was a vintage bubbling with opportunity. Those growers who grabbed it with both hands, and there are plenty of them, have worked their individual magic and produced some truly great wines in enough numbers to make this a vintage from the very top drawer (grandiose statement number 4!).
Some growers said they felt it was a mixture of 2019 and 2020, which is high praise indeed and, for those who picked a fraction later than some, that is probably right, but for those who picked a touch earlier, I can’t help but feel that the wines are more savoury (the red equivalent of saline) than those vintages. They are much less hot than the 2018s, more intense than the 2017s and more Pinot than the 2015s. So where does that leave them? Well, this may well be a vintage without comparison, the first warm vintage that has truly been tamed and embraced at the same time. In terms of longevity, the wines may retain generosity and accessibility in youth. Post bottling, they give every indication of having all the staying power of a grand national winner and should make delicious, classical old bones.
It only seems appropriate that I should finish with one, final grandiose statement to sum up the vintage: the very best wines are simply ethereal and that will do for me.
All pictures © Antoine Martel