10 May 2023
What are the best Bordeaux vintage years?
Despite a growing season of climatic and meteorological excess, it seems possible to imagine that greatness has indeed been achieved. The proof of that is, of course, still to come. But it is certainly credible to believe that 2022 will join the pantheon of the truly great vintages of the last century.
- Colin Hay, Drinks Business
It appears 2022 will soon take its place among the better Bordeaux vintages of recent memory. It is the tradition in Bordeaux to compare each new vintage to past years that featured similar growing conditions or styles of wine. Comparisons to 2022 are difficult, however, due to the surprisingly fresh and balanced set of wines (for the most part) that emerged from the hot, dry growing season.
Nonetheless, this unique 2022 vintage provides a chance to look back and reminisce about Bordeaux’s finest wines from vintages past.
The best Bordeaux vintages of the 21st century
Bordeaux has produced several stellar vintages in the past 23 years. Prior to the new 2022s, the 2018-2020 ‘trilogy’ offers three different styles of Bordeaux red that all deliver in the quality department. The 2018s are rich and opulent, the 2019s full of finesse and nuance, and the 2020s generally considered a mix between the two where individual terroirs really stand out.
Before that, we enjoyed back-to-back strong vintages in 2015 and 2016. The former is luxurious and velvety while the 2016s are overall charmers that many view as some of the best wines of the decade.
You’re not wrong to notice that good vintages seem to have become the norm rather than the exception. This isn’t just hype. Improvements in technology and winemaking ‘know-how’ are resulting in more consistent high-quality wines. Growers better understand how their vines and terroirs will respond to certain climatic conditions, allowing for better decisions regarding when to harvest and then how to handle the wines during fermentation.
Many also believe that the vines themselves are adapting. The recent spate of warm vintages could mean that the vines are responding better to hot, dry summers than they would have a few decades ago.
The 2013, 2017, and 2021 vintages are often viewed as the ‘lesser’ vintages of the past decade. However, this is an oversimplification. Many 2017 and 2021 wines still offer great quality but just didn’t quite compare overall to the surrounding years and/or may not offer the same degree of ageing potential.
Going back to earlier in the century, the fantastic 2009s and 2010s helped expand Bordeaux’s market in Asia. The 2005 and 2000 vintages are also considered great, classic Bordeaux wines with the 2000s enjoying added collector’s appeal as it fell at the end of the millennium.
The best Bordeaux vintages of the 1990s
The 1990s do not boast as many exceptional Bordeaux vintages as the 2000s, but those that made the grade certainly passed with flying colours. The decade began with the exceptional 1990, for example, which marked the final year in a sequence of three very good vintages. For many years the 1990 vintage remained underrated, largely due to its release during a financial downturn. Now, it’s one of the most highly sought-after vintages on the market. Elsewhere, the 1996 and 1998 have seen great acclaim from critics, with the former producing excellent offerings from the Medoc, and the latter from Pomerol and St Emilion.
Other vintages from the latter half of the decade were of reasonable quality, but critics generally shy away from earlier offerings. The 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 are often regarded as a down period – perhaps in payment for the huge success of the 1990!
The best Bordeaux vintages of the 1980s
The 1980s was a pivotal decade for Bordeaux wine, ushering in the first representation of the region’s modern winemaking style and ultimately launching the career of renowned critic Robert Parker. For oenophiles, the decade begins with the exceptional 1982, which is widely proclaimed around the globe as the first important vin de garde since 1970.
The 1985 and 1986 produced some very good wines but the decade’s other gems came at the end. In what eventually culminated in the exceptional 1990 vintage, the 1988 and 1989 saw the 80s draw to a very triumphant close in Bordeaux. Sauternes drew particular acclaim from Parker for its 1988 offerings, while Pomerol was the stand-out in the largely faultless 1989. Specific regions aside, however, both years are recognised as being among the best in Bordeaux’s history and should certainly form an integral part of any Bordeaux collector’s portfolio.
The Cult Wine Investment approach to vintage variation
We view Bordeaux as an essential component of a fine wine collection during all vintages. The region’s legacy and prestige along with its track record of stable performance mean many of its wines deserve buyers’ attention even during ‘lesser’ years.
But we believe a selective, analytical approach can get the best value out of Bordeaux’s diverse market. Our individual selections have delivered stronger post-EP price appreciation than a fixed basket of Bordeaux wines (see chart below) during both the top vintages and so-called down years.
Figure 1 - Cult Wine Investment Selections vs Fixed Basket of 40 EP Wines
Source: Pricing data from Liv-ex as of 31 Mar 2023. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Whether you’re an investment-minded fine wine buyer or just looking to make your Bordeaux spending go further, Cult Wine Investment’s approach can unlock the full potential of this historic region in any vintage. To learn more or register your interest, see our Bordeaux En Primeur coverage.
Past performance is not indicative of future success; the performance was calculated in GBP and will vary in other currencies. Any investment involves risk of partial or full loss of capital. The results depicted here are not based on actual trading and do not account for the annual management fees that may be charged to a Cult Wine Investment customer which range from 2.25% to 2.95% depending on the size of the portfolio, and there is no guarantee of similar performance with an investor’s particular portfolio.